Sunday, 30 June 2013

Wrapping Around Upon Itself By Its Tongue: The Saragossa Manuscript (1965)


We are like blind men lost in the streets of a big city.

Dir. Wojciech Has


Storytelling itself is inherently beautiful even if the story being told has no end. My younger self, admittedly only five or so years ago but a vast jump to now, didn’t understand this and only got a lot from films which explained everything about themselves. With exceptions that would eventually chop away at this mentality, most films that rejected or subverted narrative fully were pretentious and dull in my eyes. I found The Saragossa Manuscript to be boring, and as the dinglebat I was, got rid of the DVD version I viewed. Like the ghosts that haunt Alfonse Van Worden (Zbigniew Cybulski), an officer for the Walloon guard who travels to Spain and finds himself unable to escape from a continuing loop, all the films (so far) I once dismissed are creeping out the grave I put them in as some of the films I praised the most turn rotten and feel pedestrian and lacking. The discarded films prove to be more potent now I realised the virtues of dreaming, plotting structure by itself and throwing yourself into something without any idea what is exactly going on. Films like American Beauty (1999) are vacuous and insignificant while The Saragossa Manuscript, seen again finally after all these years, runs rings around it in content and presentation.


The film is a celebration of storytelling, starting off with a framing beginning of the protagonist’s future ancestor, and the members of the opposing army he’s fighting about to capture him, becoming transfixed with the titular manuscript, a beautiful, giant tone (presumed to be) written by Van Worden and with evocative illustrations. It goes into the tale of Van Worden, unable to leave an inn and the area around it, stuck in a labyrinth that circles back onto its beginning point, whether it is two Tunisian princesses who want to marry him or the Inquisition after his hide who drag him back to the starting point. He becomes a minor figure in his own tale as everyone else speaks of their lives. The film becomes a story-within-a story-within-a story as it juggles these characters’ tales of cuckooed husbands, demonic possession, pranksterish attempts to marry two people and duelling injuries with figures of the film interweaving and entering others’ stories. The film even becomes a story-within-a story-within-a story-within-a story-within a story, topping the one moment joke of Detention (2011), a film I covered on this blog, by making this an extended, multi-layered tales within tales narrative that humorously admits to the absurdity of this structure at one point. Like dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams, pockets open up in the film’s existence which develops pockets of their own.


The film is elaborate in tone, with clear nods to Surrealist art but also with a dense visual look of extensive sets and moving camera shots. From a source material that, from what I’ve looked into, is even more dense and full of more pockets in its obsession with tangents – a book I’m adding to my To-Read list at the top now – this layered and vast film manages to breeze past despite being three hours long, but the sense of joy to it all is fully felt and intoxicating. Despite its obsession with death – piles of skulls, hanged men, fencing duel deaths, rotting flesh and demons – it’s on the side of the macabre that is playful. The score by Krzysztof Penderecki, electronic noises and layered demonic yabberings over the Napoleonic Era setting, is anachronistic but adds to the unearthly nature of what’s onscreen. As the film progresses, it’s clear Van Worden will never reach his destination, permanently in this loop that, unless he is only dreaming it, will continue timelessly. Far from a bleak end, it suggests the sense of the Ouroboros, the snake that eats its own tale and keeps existing, that reality has always repeated itself, and in a place of these stories-within-stories, of gypsies, princesses, pranksters and merchants, Van Worden at least is somewhere which is vivid in its life and populous despite the insanity that he may end up in. The story could have gone for six hours, spiralling into further tangents and areas, and felt succinct with its long length making sense to the material. Van Worden is a figure in the middle of a storyteller going through their tale, the onlooker as it continues as long as the narrator can muster it. This richness vastly outmatches other films I once praised for their lack of this depth, like films like it I unfair have given premature burials of. Such a controlled stream-of-consciousness, The Saragossa Manuscript is a welcomed self discovery for me. If my reviews of films like this dangerous veer towards being identical in their praises of the work, it is only because they end up intertwining together in one form showing how movies can be both entertainment but open up one’s perception of their creation and form. If there’s a virtue to my dismissive attitude I once had, it means that now I’m rewatching these films with a new perception it feels like each one is a first time viewing with new eyes. The revenge of The Saragossa Manuscript on me for wanting to fall asleep in the middle of it once was justified but was good for me too.


Saturday, 29 June 2013

Anime 18 Review Link - Baccano! (2007)


Dir. Takahiro Omori

Despite being a huge fan of anime, whose finally starting to get at the stage of viewing anything in large quantities, I'm likely to stay very picky with what anime series I will buy without viewing first or put a lot of anticipation in. I will watch anything, but only the most offbeat and unconventional anime series immediately grab my interest. Considering how much the box sets for television anime is, even when it's on sale, for me, and I realise I may be a complete skinflint Scrooge when spending my money, I can't slam money on the counter unless its something that, upfront, is going to be unique. Baccano! is very glib and very violent, but its defiantly not conventional for many reasons. It didn't even need to be based on American gangster films and be a series set in Japan and its presentation is still unconventional. It's the sort of anime that (sadly) doesn't sell as much as the Narutos of the world but would ultimately be the more memorable work.

Review Link -


Friday, 28 June 2013

Anime 18 Review Link: Alien From The Darkness (1996)


Dir. Norio Takanami

Well, to not seem like a hypocrite when I put in the website page's tagline that "everything will be covered", it seems befitting to have covered this.  I feel that I come off as defensive in the review, despite the fact I shouldn't care about what the content I covered was, and I think that happened because, brutally, the work was bad even if compelling. There's no way of circling around the low quality of mid-nineties pornographic anime with a tasteless premise which, censored in the version viewed, makes it even more scuzzball in presentation. But this is what most motion works - film, one-off animations etc. - are, tasteless, pornographic in various, ridiculous and found in second hand stores on DVD, and its quantity over everything else cannot be ignored. When you know what you are getting into buying it, let alone watching it or reviewing it, you are letting yourself into this material and there's a clearly reveling in the content even if you find yourself off-putted by some of it or embarrassed. The more rarer ones, like this kind of hentai anime, which get Western releases, especially in Britain, become fascinating looking glasses into what was going on in someone's head making it. Entire pieces of human culture could probably be extracted from such miscreant works, and unlike trying to watch something like a bad parody film like Disaster Movie (2008), or really gross porn, something like Alien From The Darkness - despite being really queasy sexual fantasies, tacky and scatterbrained in tone even for its short length - goes so over the top with its tone that, knowing how indefeasible it is, it engages you even in the worst of ways. And its just forty minutes long and I'm a sucker for anything animated to the point it'll give something an extra point unless its truly painful for me to sit through.

Let's be honest too, sex is a commodity in culture, and the more eyebrow raising ones like this anime plays with, along side the sapphic softcore that one would find in live action porn, is something that has existed in many forms back in painting and literature. Its better to prod it with a stick, to paraphrase the words of someone I knew in secondary school, than to leave it as it is and get embarrassed by it. The censorship of the version I covered show as well how something can be drastically changed, even if a single second was removed, in how you react to it especially if a censor gets at it. I cannot say anything truly profound beyond this because, as much I confess to finding a perverse pleasure in the car crash, I still was reviewing a bad anime called Alien From The Darkness.

Review Link -


Thursday, 27 June 2013

Anime 18 Review Link: Apocalypse Zero (1996)


Dir. Toshihiro Hirano

If there is one other thing to add to this review, I will say that a work that provokes any kind of reaction and "wakes" you from viewing it from a safe distance, where you can forgot it immediately afterwards, is worth taking seriously even if the material could be viewed as dubious to other opinions. This bizarre and ultra-gross anime, if I had viewed it back when I was between sixteen or seventeen, would probably be viewed as garbage. Now, rather than thinking I've regressed in my thoughts by giving it praise, I think its more the realisation - as someone who became obsessed with provocative art like the Dada movement before films, as mentioned in the review - that even in the most foul of areas a streak of subversion can be seen and given some merit. Back then, I didn't try to defend films that were clearly badly made like I did now, or defend works like this anime with questionable content, and probably would be viewed as having a better taste in films if one views cinema through the IMDB Top 100 list of films. I also however had such a narrow minded view of cinema and art in general that presumed anything that didn't follow a clear narrative or clear point was bad, including films by the likes of Jean-Luc Godard and truly great works of abstract cinema. Now my willingness to suggest that I find something like Apocalypse Zero to be a work of worth has also developed my ability to see the virtues of the likes of Godard and abstract cinema too because, after some of the films I've seen and covered on this blog, I'm prepared for films to take directions in content and presentation that the presumably "artless" works had. The erratic nature of the less defended films only differ from the celebrated works because they're repugnant to most or ended up the way they were by accident. That this anime may actually be intentionally getting a reaction out of the viewer, as I try to explain in the review, makes me want to defend it more.

As one find in live action, exploitation films, the most base of material can be the most daring in poking at taboos other filmmakers, or creators, are too cowardly to tackle. Yes, they can end up being offensively conservative at times, but others push the content in ways that make them impossible to view as celebrating bland stereotypes. In simple terms, sometimes the best weapon is to purposely show things so deeply "wrong", and in this case make it look like a Saturday morning cartoon on crack, and attack good taste even if the purpose of the anime was to just be an entertainment product. Rather than merely be offended or baffled by it, its worth actually thinking about why being offended by the images in a work happens and see if it has virtue from it. Plus, frankly people, including myself, get a perverse pleasure from these transgression and weird images, and to not admit it is lying to yourself. Sometimes its more healthier to submit yourself to something that isn't just blood for blood's sake, but something legitimately bonkers and throws images like "Double Big Tit Bomb" and other distorted animated images at your retinas. Far from viewing Apocalypse Zero as just an excuse to view Japanese culture as "peculiar", something like this is just in an entirely different orbit to anything else regardless of its country of origin. And far from being conservative, I seriously doubt anyone, except those who is going to celebrate how perverse the anime is, will come out as a fan of it. 


Tuesday, 25 June 2013

This Is Anime 18: Introduction And Review Of Sword For Truth (1990)


The following is a start of a new series at Videotape Swapshop dealing with the more scuzzier, adult and more explicit end of Japanese anime, specifically how it has been released in the United Kingdom. This season does revel in more lurid content then I usually cover, some of it difficult to defend, but as I have found with everything I've written about on that site and this blog, good and bad, it all brings up so much to say about the stuff they touch upon, the creators and viewers like myself when you give them the chance to be chewed upon and thought about more. I'm also getting a lot braver in covering material like what is covered in this series. In terms of the anime itself, there's two works covered in the series that I will argue have legitimate merit, one that's an amusing failure, and one that straddles the line between unnervingly sincere and a brave attempt at a parody of the content its repeating. Only the ill-advised review of censored erotic anime is indefensible and even then that was compelling for all the wrong reasons.

Introduction To Series -
Review of Sword For Truth (Directed by Osamu Dezaki) -


Saturday, 15 June 2013

Gun Battle At Monterey (1957)


Dirs. Sidney Franklin Jr. and Carl K. Hittleton

You will have noticed that alongside continental curiosities, anime and abstract cinema, I have a taste for covering certain well trodden genres like martial arts films and westerns. Above other genres that have more mainstream currency, above most if not all other genre types, I am more willing to watch all of the films in these two genres because I am becoming enamoured by the mythologies and legends interconnected into their cores above any other pulp cinema. Other genre cinema is only interesting when it’s good, spectacularly ridiculous or is inherently cultural. The western and the martial arts genre are entirely based on social, mythological and cultural content by their natures. Others could become more interesting for me – I will watch almost anything from Japan and Italy – but especially with the western I’m seeing the real and fictional stories of an untamed country, America’s or set in another land, being repeated over and over again like the repeating ghosts of the past. Gun Battle At Monterey is unfortunately not a good film, but I’m still grateful for watching it and I will be willing to watch more westerns like it in promise of good qualities and with the devotion I share with anything from anime to avant-garde cinema.

Also anything with Sterling Hayden in it has now grabbed my attention. The one-two of Terror In A Texas Town (1958) and revisiting Johnny Guitar (1954) has made the man a badass who I admire for his screen presence, charm and how he clearly looks like a real life tough guy onscreen. Carrying a fuck-off huge whaling harpoon nearly twice his size in the former Joseph H. Lewis film helps just as much solidify his image. He is a robber who is shot in the back by his partner Max Reno (Ted de Corsia). Going to return the favour and get his promised share of their stolen wealth back, he finds that Reno has taken over a small town like the corrupt man he is. Things pick up from here. The unexpected sight of Lee Van Cleef, as Reno’s right hand man Kirby, in the opening credits was an additional enticement, already promising with Hayden but just as it starts topping the cake with a giant cherry while you’re in front of the TV watching it. He is young, angry and playing the stereotypical evil hothead with aplomb. Hayden even if he’s coasting is still Sterling Hayden. The addition of Cleo the card dealer at Reno’s gambling joint (Mary Beth Hughes) improves things further. Charismatic and likable – far more so than Hayden’s good girlfriend and moral compass (Pamela Salvador) problematically for the plot; Duncan feels like a loose end when, despite being the girlfriend of Van Cleef’s character, Hughes’ Cleo and Hayden work well with what they had, so far that she manages to rip off his shirt in their first encounter in his rented room in a way incredibly gratuitous and pornographic for a family friendly, fifties western. Like film noir, it’s the femme fatales who are more charismatic, beautiful and thoughtful when depicted onscreen, although here I think that’s a botched failing than an intentional thing done, sad since both actresses could have been equals in these qualities in their characterisations.

The film around them is the problem that doesn’t make it good. Shabby, rushed, even when the plot in this very short western starts to get interesting in the ending, killing its potential. The actors are shot in mid-to-torso distance images that look like they’re trapped in that camera space, and the black-and-white cinematography does not show the scope of the land or the bustle of the gambling den and confined sheriff’s jail cell. As some of the westerns I’ve seen, not a lot but enough to prove this point, have shown, low budgets don’t stop a film looking exceptional and being resourceful. The actors in this film, going for their best, make the film rewarding to view once, but the cinema around them lets the side down. But this is the reality of being enamoured with watching a certain type of cinema on mass. It means wading through bad ones, or imperfect ones like this, in the desire to still see them and that there’s always the hope of uncovering one that you’ve never heard of and love, even if you’re its only defender. And it proves Hayden and Van Cleef, even in something like Gun Battle At Monterey, are able to shrug off cinematic limitations around them and stride on the screen. It’s like two kaiju standing in a model western town, the cardboard buildings completely unable to hinder them as they squabble onscreen and show, regardless of who wins, that neither is truly a loser. 


Thursday, 13 June 2013

Mini-Review: Krakatit (1949)


Dir. Otakar Vávra

A scientist Prokop (Karel Höger) who is an expert in explosives is left dazed and badly injured after his new compound krakatit destroys his flat by accident. It leads him into a murky, distorting conspiracy of people vying for his creation, a subjective one where everyone wants the mega weapon that takes the form of white powder and an elegant woman (Florence Marly) keeps appearing in many different guises with the same, distinct and sensual face. The resulting film, adapted from a Karel Capek novel, is a fascinating hybrid, science fiction with the characters and monochrome shadows of an American Film Noir, oneiric cinema as the reality of the scientist’s world is under question and abstract manipulations take place, and digressions looking back at World War II and its devastation through the outspoken moral the film has. The cinematography is rich befitting the material – befitting a film as well from a country whose cinema for me alongside Iran is creeping up to the level that I will watch anything from the nation like with Italy and Japan – especially as it becomes more unconventional and hazy in tone as it goes along. Looking like the visions created in the illness and fading thoughts of its protagonist, it is suitable “off” and in its own realm distant from ours, the closest comparison being Guy Maddin to help you with the tone of the film picturing it. The individuals that eventually kidnap him and want him to create more of the krakatit have a militaristic edge, a foreign country whose military uniform for the grunt soldiers and the officers in command are similar to German uniform. Made at the end of the forties with only a few years absent from the chaos of a second global war, this film clearly wears its anti-war and anti-weapon message tattooed to its face, even more so when you consider the fear of nuclear weapons that was simultaneously felt in the period. As the scientist finds himself surrounded by numerous people who just want the compound for their nefarious desires, the reoccurring woman becomes a femme fatale of a more omnipresent type, everywhere he goes and part of his mind at the point she is introduced onwards, smouldering and yet completely out-of-comprehension. Florence Marly is sexual and alluring in just looking cold and aloof, the advantage of cinema before the sixties, of black-and-white and femme fatales, in that just her expression she’s both erotic and more powerful than the men in the same location. It has to be asked though whether Krakatit stands up as a great film; the word “rewatch” threatens to creep out from my thoughts, but there’s the question of, regardless of the look and unique tone, whether the storytelling in the centre is fully engaging. It’s interesting to see a film that is clearly influenced by American cinema of the time even if its mood is like that of a silent era, German Expressionist work, but as a narrative film which has to deal with dialogue, plotting, and the obvious message it has, it somewhat doesn’t have the full weight to carry such an immensely interesting veneer, especially as its begging to become even more abstract and dreamlike than the director allows it to be. To be narrative driven you need to either need to be willing to tighten it or completely throw it out the window. Matter of fact, it’s simply my own tastes which makes me hesitant to give it higher praise; outside of this it’s really something I cannot say I’ve seen before.


Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Mini-Review: Dracula – Prisoner of Frankenstein (1972)


Dir. Jess Franco

For a B-movie, it’s amazing to see how more economic and more watchable it is when it removes all the perceived requirements of a horror movie that usually hampers it. The first conversation between two characters takes place, in the eighty minute film, at fifty nine minutes, in vast contrast to a genre which is usually full of tedious character dialogue. Exposition is kept to an extreme minimum and it’s all about the images. Wide eyes heightened by makeup and prosthetics. Rubber bat abuse. Erratic camera zooms and female vampires. Times in Dracula: Prisoner Of Frankenstein I drifted off but I was not bored. Instead I found myself catching up with going on after this happened and finding myself gleefully pleased by the fact this happened. Dr Frankenstein (Dennis Price) and his hunchback assistant take over the castle towering a small village only to find the remains of Dracula (Howard Vernon, fake grey makeup, but with the look and bugged-out eyes perfect for a more corpse-like, mute Dracula). Resurrecting him, Frankenstein intends to use him and his turned victims, alongside his own Frankenstein creation, to start his own army of creatures to dominate the world. He now has to deal with Dracula’s arch enemy, a doctor (Alberto Dalbés) and the female clairvoyant who, almost catatonic, he uses to detect the evil beings.

The story is simple. It is stretched out for the whole of the film, languid and slow paced, with the main story only starting proper halfway through. But instead of padded, unbearable dialogue, which sadly can be found in Jess Franco’s own The Bloody Judge (1970), and like that film, ultimately uninteresting plotting, this one instead reveals in the material in what it shows onscreen. It comes off like a silent film in tone in how it, unlike many other movies, managing to convey its story economically through the images themselves and atmosphere. It’s ridiculous – the rubber bats being wiggled up and down just off camera, the idle attitude to plot points – and its last quarter throws in another classic movie monster and ends in the most abrupt of ways possible. But not only does it outdo Van Helsing (2004) in every conceivable way in terms of movie monster mash-ups, but this mix of economic storytelling and the complete lack of it makes it far more engaging. Franco is capable of some striking images even in a low budget film like this – Vernon’s mad eyes and blood around his lips, a hand poking out of a coffin – and scenes, such as Frankenstein’s monster kidnapping a female single with little effort whatsoever, are memorable. Its non-sequitur ending makes it better, adding to pulling the rug out from under your feet with a kick to push you further into its tone. Its far more entertaining like this, and it’s a testament to Jess Franco, as I’ve started going through his filmography, that its already clear that he had a distinct style which used weaknesses to his advantage and, decades later, makes films like this that could have been atrocious an immensely watchable surprise.


Sunday, 9 June 2013

Mini-Review: Rumble Fish (1983)

Dir. Francis Ford Coppola


Rumble Fish manages to tackle a great deal in only ninety minutes. One of its director’s most well know film, The Godfather: Part II (1974), is over three hours long but he is able to make a film just as rich that is half the length or more. Many films procrastinate, but Rumble Fish both feels long in scope yet physically is brisk. This befits a film of adolescence and how short it is even if it feels long for the youths. A young man Rusty James (Matt Dillon) idolises his older brother, the quiet voiced Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke), but when he returns he is shown to be unable to, without “the smarts” of him and within a period where he is completely adrift. The monochrome clouds move rapidly above him and others in fluid rich swathes and time peters, Tom Waits behind the counter of his diner expressing how none of the youths realise they have little time, shot from the angled perspective of the wall clock looking down on him too. Days go on but for Rusty James he is nearing a drastic change in his life. His relationship with Patty (Diane Lane), youthful exuberance, who he obsesses over in classes rather than pay attention to the lessons, is precarious. His life is going nowhere and his father (Dennis Hopper) is alone and stuck in an alcoholic dependency. The Motorcycle Boy, and his younger brother’s view of him, is not who he thought he was despite the graffiti of “The Motorcycle Boy Reigns” on street corners.


Never does Rumble Fish become pretentious despite the options that could have lead it there. It is too simple and clear in its thoughts to confuse them. It is cool in rich black-and-white with echoing post-synch sound. It has Dillon, Rourke, Waits, Lane, Lawrence Fishburne, Nicolas Cage and Chris Penn onscreen. Even an adolescent Sofia Coppola in a small role as Patty’s little sister, making the lambasting of her performance, older, in The Godfather: Part III (1990) overdoing it even if it was justified. But beneath the timeless veneer, motorcycle jacketed rebels against arcade machines, it’s about the restlessness of youth. Aimless, not connected to adult life. The violence, Rusty James continually battered and experiencing an out-of-body experience in one such incident, as much the pent-up desires of the males asserting themselves as the desire for sex with girls their age. The fighting fish of the title, bright colours, are trapped and feel the need to assault even their own mirror images. Coppola is controlled, nuanced in every moment angled and lit in an interesting way, but he is as much obsessed with his characters meaning a lot for himself and the viewers. His characters are trapped in situations against their own wills and have to make their way out of it, drastically changing by the end. Gene Hackman against his paranoia in The Conversation (1974). Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now (1979). Michael Corleone and his divine punishment by the end of The Godfather trilogy. Mina Murray and Dracula in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). The protagonists of Tetro (2009) and Tim Roth, against his superhuman burden, in Youth Without Youth (2007). Like them all, Rusty James is not in control of what happens to him, barring the final decisions, having to decide after it’s too late what to do next. The music, by Stewart Copeland, is precise as clockwork and as varying and changing as a heartbeat. It is cool but weaves with sincerity. Filtered through dialogue by S.E. Hinton, author of the original source novel, Rumble Fish is cool but never aloof, as varying as the drama changes even in its style. Its end is at the ocean and the route to it is justified and felt. In only ninety minutes you are there for characters like Rusty James and the Motorcycle Boy and feel everything that happens. Even if I am distant from their lifestyles and older than them, a young man like myself cannot help but feel, through this stylish film, how my youth is fresh and running quickly on the clock too. 


May 2013 in Film


A slimmed down version of this for the month with less awards than before. They may return however for the end of the year since when everything it correlated together, so look out for that. Also this was the month of my birthday, leaving me with 366 days (or less as this is posted up) before I reach my mid-twenties. There is no point in trying to look back and view it all in some quasi-wisdom about life and meaning of existence, especially since most of it was the tired act of unemployment and taking buses to-and-fro, so instead I will say that I want to become twenty five years old with the thought that the year before was compellingly memorable even in the most silly and ridiculous of ways. Many of these films were a great start in terms of my hobby of cinema.

Best Film of the Month
1. Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954/USA) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
2. Belladonna of Sadness aka. Kanashimi no Beradona (Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973/Japan) – 10/10
3. The Holy Mountain (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1973/Mexico-USA) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
4. Inferno (Dario Argento, 1980/Italy) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
5. The Color of Pomegranates (Sergei Parajanov, 1968/Soviet Union) – 10/10
6. Le Monde Vivant (Eugène Green, 2003/Belgium-France) – 10/10
7. O Lucky Man! (Lindsay Anderson, 1973/UK-USA) – 10/10
8. Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman, 2008/Australia-Belgium-Finland-France-Germany-Israel-Switzerland-USA) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
9. eXistenZ (David Cronenberg, 1999/Canada-UK) – 9/10
10. Pistol Opera (Seijun Suzuki, 2001/Japan) – 9/10 [Rewatch]

Honourable Mentions - Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1977/USA) – 9/10 [Rewatch]; The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik, 2007/Canada-UK-USA) – 9/10 [Rewatch]; Altered States (Ken Russell, 1980/USA) – 9/10 [Rewatch]

It seems strange to write more about the worst films but little about the best, but the films here should all speak for themselves. Re-evaluated gems, a film (Belladonna of Sadness) from my Holy Grail list that is sadly not available in the West at all except online, two immense surprises which have opened up the potential of the filmmakers' filmographies (the late Lindsay Anderson and current filmmaker Eugene Green) and were from the MUBI Directors Cup I am participating in, and a metric ton of rewatches. And of course there's Pistol Opera's re-analysis, a happy ending that makes second viewings drastically needed for certain films.

Biggest Surprise of the Month 
1. Le Monde Vivant (Eugène Green, 2003/Belgium-France) – 10/10
2. eXistenZ (David Cronenberg, 1999/Canada-UK) – 9/10
3. They Called Us ‘Les Filles du Roy’ (Anne Claire Poirier, 1974/Canada) – 8/10
4. Hades Project Zeorymer (Toshihiro Hirano, 1988/Japan) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
5. Dumbland (David Lynch, 2002/USA) – 8/10
6. Fast & Furious 6 (Justin Lin, 2013/USA) – 7/10
7. Daughters of Darkness (Harry Kümel, 1971/Belgium-France-West Germany) – 7/10
8. All Ladies Do It aka. Così fan tutte (Tinto Brass, 1992/Italy) – 7/10
9. The Key aka. La chiave (Tinto Brass, 1983/Italy) – 8/10

A list of unexpected results. Who knew I would be in actual tears of joy at the end of Le Monde Vivant because of how sweet and imaginative it was. Who knew a Cronenberg film could be so criminally ignored and as relevant now as his other earlier films were, or that even making a crudely put-together web series, David Lynch is still startling? Who knew I would find something as obscure as the feminist documentary They Called Us ‘Les Filles du Roy’ and wish it was available on disc, and that re-seeing an anime I had panned, Hades Project Zeorymer, would show the virtues of Japanese dubs over the English ones again and that even such a rushed narrative can be jaw dropping in the ideas its cramming in the smallest of details? Who knew Fast  & The Furious 6, getting into the phenomenon now, is the closest thing now to a current day film serial and that my first Tinto Brass films, with their posterior obsessions and rampant sex, were so fun or interesting? Daughters of Darkness could be a cheat since it's well regarded, but you can't agree with that statement unless you view it once.

Discovery of the Month
1. Belladonna of Sadness aka. Kanashimi no Beradona (Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973/Japan) – 10/10
2. Le Monde Vivant (Eugène Green, 2003/Belgium-France) – 10/10
3. O Lucky Man! (Lindsay Anderson, 1973/UK-USA) – 10/10
4. Nuits rouges (Georges Franju, 1974/France-Italy) – 8/10
5. They Called Us ‘Les Filles du Roy’ (Anne Claire Poirier, 1974/Canada) – 8/10
6. Succubus (Jesus Franco, 1968/West Germany) – 8/10

The push to watch more Jess Franco films has proved to be far more rewarding than the perceived notions of his erratic filmography could suggest. I regret only doing this after his untimely death, but while there's so many films to go through, and many unavailable to buy, it's great to do this now nonetheless. Same applies to Georges Franju although not a great deal of his work is known let alone available if you view his filmography, making his case an interesting cinematic expedition if you can actually find the films. 

Biggest Change of Opinion
1. Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954/USA) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
2. Inferno (Dario Argento, 1980/Italy) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
3. Radio On (Christopher Petit, 1979/UK-West Germany) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
4. Pistol Opera (Seijun Suzuki, 2001/Japan) – 9/10 [Rewatch]
5. Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961/France-Italy) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
6. Malice@Doll (Keitarou Motonaga, 2000/Japan) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
7. Partie du Campagne aka. A Day in the Country (Jean Renoir, 1936/France) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
8. Hades Project Zeorymer (Toshihiro Hirano, 1988/Japan) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
9. Altered States (Ken Russell, 1980/USA) – 9/10 [Rewatch]

Many works I'm only appreciating now, whether it has been only a few months since the first viewing, or years. The exception is Malice @ Doll, such an obscure, unloved anime, but one that is turning into my personal obscurity I obsess over.

Most Divisive Film of the Month
1. Africa addio (Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi, 1966/Italy) – 7/10
2. Looney Tunes: Back in Action (Joe Dante, 2003/Germany-USA]) – 6/10
3. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942/USA) – 6/10 [Rewatch]
4. Chopper (Andrew Dominik, 2000/Australia) – 6/10 [Rewatch]

Casablanca has plenty of great aspects to it, but I feel I have seen greater films from before the 1950s even though I haven't seen as many as I wish. Looney Tunes: Back in Action has plenty to love but suffers from having to have its story line. Chopper loses a great deal on this viewing, director Andrew Dominik improving greatly with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Africa Addio, the full Italian version, is such a controversial and unsettling work that you are forced to question it. I am glad I've seen it, but you need to be prepared for what you are going into even beyond the animal deaths.

The Most Underrated Work
1. Inferno (Dario Argento, 1980/Italy) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
2. Belladonna of Sadness aka. Kanashimi no Beradona (Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973/Japan) – 10/10
3. eXistenZ (David Cronenberg, 1999/Canada-UK) – 9/10
4. Altered States (Ken Russell, 1980/USA) – 9/10 [Rewatch]
5. Malice@Doll (Keitarou Motonaga, 2000/Japan) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
6. Dumbland (David Lynch, 2002/USA) – 8/10
7. Nuits rouges (Georges Franju, 1974/France-Italy) – 8/10
8. Succubus (Jesus Franco, 1968/West Germany) – 8/10
9. The Key aka. La chiave (Tinto Brass, 1983/Italy) – 8/10
10. Torn Curtain (Alfred Hitchcock, 1966/USA) – 6/10

Biggest Disappointment of the Month
1. Le Pont du Nord (Jacques Rivette, 1981/France) – 4/10
2. Bathory: Countess of Blood (Juraj Jakubisko, 2008/Hungary-Slovakia-UK) – 3/10
3. Ninja (Isaac Florentine, 2009/USA) – 4/10
4. Dredd (Pete Travis, 2012/India-South Africa-UK-USA) – 5/10
5. Dyketactics (Barbara Hammer, 1974/USA) – 5/10
6. Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996/UK) – 6/10 [Rewatch]
7. Chopper (Andrew Dominik, 2000/Australia) – 6/10 [Rewatch]

Chopper and Trainspotting no longer grab me anymore; the drop is sadder for Trainspotting, once a masterpiece, but now encapsulating the least interesting parts of British cinema. Barbara Hammer has left me somewhat cold from the few works I've seen from her now, not living up to the hope of someone whose title choice for Nitrate Kisses (1992) is not only one of the best ever but evokes a vast experimental and dense body of work that changes you with dreamlike images rather than merely documenting them like Dyketactics does. Ninja raises questions about which direction the Vulgar Cinema movement is going if its letting bland film making like this pass instead of celebrating the true surprises like Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012), and Dredd does not deserve the praise it does at all for its mediocre images of grey rooms and repetitive gunfire. Le Pont du Nord could grow for me, but it feels like the failed version of Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974) and was a disheartening viewing experience from a director who I know, while only seeing four of his films including this one, can do better in incredible ways.

The Long Awaited (Re)Viewing That Lived Up To Expectations
1. Belladonna of Sadness aka. Kanashimi no Beradona (Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973/Japan) – 10/10
2. The Color of Pomegranates (Sergei Parajanov, 1968/Soviet Union) – 10/10
3. Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954/USA) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
4. Inferno (Dario Argento, 1980/Italy) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
5. Radio On (Christopher Petit, 1979/UK-West Germany) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
6. Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977/Italy) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
7. Blood Simple (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1984/USA) – 8/10
8. Partie du Campagne aka. A Day in the Country (Jean Renoir, 1936/France) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
9. Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961/France-Italy) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
10. Baccano! (Takahiro Omori, 2007/Japan) – 8/10 [Anime Series]

Honourable Mentions -  Altered States (Ken Russell, 1980/USA) – 9/10 [Rewatch]; Pistol Opera (Seijun Suzuki, 2001/Japan) – 9/10 [Rewatch]

The Pleasure of the Month I'll [Sadly] Have To Defend
1. Double Dragon (James Yukich, 1994/USA) – 6/10 [Rewatch]
2. 8MM (Joel Schumacher, 1999/Germany-USA) – 7/10
3. All Ladies Do It aka. Così fan tutte (Tinto Brass, 1992/Italy) – 7/10
4. Spookies (Genie Joseph, Thomas Doran and Brendan Faulkner, 1986/Netherlands-USA) – 6/10

Double Dragon is dumb, but I'm fascinated by nineties films like this adapting pop culture franchises. Only Mortal Kombat (1995) was indefensible because it took itself too seriously and was ultimately bland. I am willing to call 8mm an underrated film though; heavy handed and lurid, but its attempts to be more morally complicated are rewarding. All The Ladies Do It sadly has to be defended for all the sex, and its incredibly dated music and look, but if more softcore (with hardcore images) was this positive about sex the world would be a better place. Spookies, what happens when you attempted to finish a uncompleted project by adding new footage years later, is a compelling mess that brings farting zombies to horror cinema.

The Abstract Film of the Month
1. The Holy Mountain (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1973/Mexico-USA) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
2. Belladonna of Sadness aka. Kanashimi no Beradona (Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973/Japan) – 10/10
3. Inferno (Dario Argento, 1980/Italy) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
4. Pistol Opera (Seijun Suzuki, 2001/Japan) – 9/10 [Rewatch]
5. Altered States (Ken Russell, 1980/USA) – 9/10 [Rewatch]
6. Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961/France-Italy) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
7. Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977/Italy) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
8. Malice@Doll (Keitarou Motonaga, 2000/Japan) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
9. Radio On (Christopher Petit, 1979/UK-West Germany) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
10. Dumbland (David Lynch, 2002/USA) – 8/10

Honourable Mentions - Judex (Georges Franju, 1963/France-Italy) – 8/10

Worst Film of the Month
1. Texas Chainsaw 3D (John Luessenhop, 2013/USA) – 2/10
2. Bathory: Countess of Blood (Juraj Jakubisko, 2008/Hungary-Slovakia-UK) – 3/10
3. Faces of Death (John Alan Schwartz, 1978/USA) – 3/10
4. The Wicker Man (Neil LaBute, 2006/Canada-Germany-USA) – 3/10 [Rewatch]
5. V/H/S (Various, 2012/USA)

V/H/S does have the segment Amateur Night which is worth looking out for, but the rest is terrible. The Wicker Man remake is only saved by Nicolas Cage wearing the bear suit. Faces of Death is ultimately a tired work of shock that shows how Africa addio, for all its moral dubiousness, is still trying to say intelligent things, and Bathory is unrepentant, bland historical cinema at its worse that I sat through in a numbed dazed. Texas Chainsaw, not viewed in 3D, is on top of the list though because there was no point to its existence at all where the others could have been great films. Even The Wicker Man remake had ironically "good" dialogue. At least The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994) was so compellingly weird to view. Nothing can be said for this new part of the franchise, and how its attempt to be a direct sequel to the original film both unfairly dismisses Tobe Hooper's second film in the series out of the canon, when its the best kind of sequel to have been made, and is completely lifeless. Attempting to put us on the side of the Leatherface family against evil country folk, it shows the vacuous nature of remakes like this in that it was not a subversive attempt to undermine our perceptions on evil, but a cheap attempt to grab young adults who are anti-conformist in the manufactured, pop-grim sort of way made by the companies they are supposed to be rebelling against. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) gave viewers eyebrow raising gender subversion, lunacy, Dennis Hopper and an interesting view of America at the time emphasised by the repeated word of "Nam-Land", and that was the production of Cannon Pictures of all people.

75 Works Watched In March
25 Rewatched Works
50 New Works Seen


Friday, 7 June 2013

The Nicolas Cage Project Link #5 - Snake Eyes (1998)


Dir. Brian De Palma

The final link for the Nicolas Cage Project series of reviews. It will not be the last one though as I will probably be covering more of Cage’s films on Videotape Swapshop. There are plenty to choose from and at least a few where he’s allowed to go for broke like a lunatic. Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001) could be covered even if the justification for it will be lost on my co-writers of the site.


Monday, 3 June 2013

The Nicolas Cage Project Link #3 – The Wicker Man (2006)


Dir. Neil LaBute

I wish I could avoid following the same consensus as most people with this remake...but there’s no way around it. On the plus side, the following screenshot immediately brings up one of many phrases which will be remembered in pop culture lore and will (thankfully) be made separate from the film. Don’t tell you weren’t thinking of a particular one looking at the juxtaposition above.