Wednesday, 10 July 2013

June 2013

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Best Film of the Month
1. Daisies (Vera Chytilová, 1966/Czechoslovakia) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
2. The Phantom Of Liberty (Luis Buñuel, 1974/France-Italy) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
3. Rumble Fish (Francis Ford Coppola, 1983/USA) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
4. Seven Beauties (Lina Wertmüller, 1975/Italy) – 10/10
5. The Intruder (Claire Denis, 2004/France) – 10/10
6. L’Enfance nue (Maurice Pialat, 1968/France) – 10/10
7. Murmur of the Heart (Louis Malle, 1971/France-Italy-West Germany) – 10/10
8. Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966/UK-USA) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
9. Au revoir les enfants (Louis Malle, 1987/France-Italy-West Germany) – 10/10
10. Wax, or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees (David Blair, 1991/Germany-USA) – 10/10

Honourable Mention: Born on the Fourth of July (Oliver Stone, 1989/USA) – 10/10; Milou en mai (Louis Malle, 1990/France-Italy) – 10/10; Lacombe Lucien (Louis Malle, 1974/France-Italy-West Germany) – 10/10

I swear I saw more films last month. The amount I saw is actually larger than other months, thanks to short films, but I swear I saw more. Maybe I'm deluding myself, but what I can prove is that if you choose from a rich source of films to view and rewatch, you'll be viewing a great deal of truly incredible films. This entire list of 10/10s could be seen as me abusing the score but I am continually reminded of someone on a film forum I used to go onto saying I had a very strict and picky taste in films. If these films are all 10/10s, there are countless many, more than double in quantity to this list, that were awful or average that I have seen over the years. These ones are what happen when you search out for the better looking films, including the introduction to Louis Malle which stands out as the highlight of the month if not the year. Pretty much a list of cannon European art films, but the whole thing is full of films with great ideas, presentation, and even with the slick and proto-cool Rumble Fish, humanity and soul. There are of course the few rouges in the list, all from the US of A fittingly, Oliver Stone growing as a director to admire, Coppola just being consistently great and the strange, one-off known as Wax... that desperately needs a DVD release outside of the director's own website, dated CGI or not, for showing a low budget can still make a truly imaginative and awe inspiring creation.

Biggest Surprise of the Month
1. The Intruder (Claire Denis, 2004/France) – 10/10
2. Seven Beauties (Lina Wertmüller, 1975/Italy) – 10/10
3. The Curse of Frankenstein aka. The Rites of Frankenstein (Jesus Franco, 1972/France-Spain) – 8/10
4. Dracula: Prisoner Of Frankenstein aka. Drácula contra Frankenstein (Jesus Franco, 1972/France-Spain) – 7/10
5. Dialogos (Ülo Pikkov, 2008/Estonia) – 8/10
6. Son Of Man (Mark Dornford-May, 2006/South Africa) – 7/10
7. Sailor Victory (Katsuhiko Nishijima, 1995/Japan) – 7/10
8. Invasion Earth: The Aliens Are Here (Robert Skotak, 1988/USA) – 7/10
9. What Richard Did (Leonard Abrahamson, 2012/Ireland) – 7/10

Jess Franco is still consistently becoming a favourite for me, while in the least expected of places a film like Invasion Earth, cheesy and cheap, manages to take clips of 50s science fiction and make a fascinating collage of images of Cold War anxiety, fear of the destruction of humanity, and eye popping images of strange, practical effect made monsters. It threw at me an entire end credit's worth of films I need to see now too, which is applaudable for such a minor movie. Denis is a fascinating director, but The Intruder makes you stand up and realise her talent, and while Seven Beauties is highly regarded, I found myself encountering the work of a completely unique voice for the first time, a new individual for me to investigate her work, which sticks out. (Oh yeah). Estonian animated referenced in a review by your co-writer on Videotape Swapshop is awesome and delightfully mixed rough, drawn-on-film aesthetics with a great surreal sense of humour, and obscure Artificial Eye DVD releases like What Richard Did show that interesting films slip out of my radar continually, too many to keep up with in the year and disguised as average drama. Sailor Victory continues my ability to love most anime, no matter how obscure and historically minor it is, especially when it's actually the last two episodes of a straight-to-videotape series and the first parts, with a completely different setting, aren't actually licensed and released for the West. Son of Man deserves its moment of praise too; people will probably dismiss it as being too earnest, but in a world where Christianity, and religion in general, is mostly off-putting to people and pushes them to agnosticism or atheism, a take on the story of Jesus Christ set in modern Africa that promotes the need for peace and kindness is something we need. As an agnostic who was baptised as a Protestant, I will still defend the virtues of Christinity's core virtues of humanitarianism and selflessness, but find myself disappointed by the brutalism and dominating attitude pressed by a loud minority. The Passion of the Christ (2004) is not the film to promote the religion's virtues - heavy-handed, overbearing and using cultural aesthetics of that time, comparable to horror films like Hostel (2005), that are self-defeating - while a film like Son of Man  should be that film people use to promote it. I only knew of this film from an obscure DVD copy in a library, thus proving how vital it is for a film viewer to be willing to try things just for the sake of it.

Discovery of the Month
1. Louis Malle Films
2. Wax, or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees (David Blair, 1991/Germany-USA) – 10/10
3. Chronicle of a Summer (Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin, 1961/France) – 8/10
4. Key Largo (John Huston, 1948/USA) – 8/10
5. Dialogos (Ülo Pikkov, 2008/Estonia) – 8/10
6. On The Comet aka. Na komete (Karel Zeman, 1970/Czechoslovakia) – 8/10
7. Souls in the Moonlight (Tomu Uchida, 1957/Japan) – 7/10
8. The Curse of Frankenstein aka. The Rites of Frankenstein (Jesus Franco, 1972/France-Spain) – 8/10

Buying a second hand Louis Malle box set was the best thing I did this month in terms of cinema; four masterpieces out of five, and the fifth film is still Black Moon. The others are a mix of auteur cinema, cinematic curiosities, an important essay film that shows the BFI's DVD releases are vital, and at least one film with rubber dinosaurs within its narrative.

Biggest Change of Opinion
1. Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966/UK-USA) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
2. The Saragossa Manuscript (Wojciech Has, 1965/Poland) – 8/10 [Rewatch]

Not that much, but the change of opinion of these two films is such an exhilarating thing to feel. It shows how much I've changed from the younger guy who found these films boring and never progressing to anything clear; now I realise now the journeys were more important.

Most Divisive Film of the Month
1. A Scream From Silence aka. Mourir à tue-tête (Anne Claire Poirier, 1979/Canada) – 6/10
2. 35 Shots Of Rum aka. 35 rhums (Claire Denis, 2008/France-Germany) – 6/10 [Rewatch]
3. Triangle (Christopher Smith, 2009/Australia-UK) – 6/10
4. Manborg (Steven Kostanski, 2011/Canada) – 5/10

A Scream From Silence is one I still think about. A disturbing but necessary film that needs more attention brought to it, dissecting the damage rape causes to women. Its first quarter is probably the most disturbing take on the act of sexual violation, and the most morally well done interpretation of such an act onscreen, by forcing you to experience it through eyes of the victim herself. You cannot distance yourself from it as you see everything from her own perceptions, making the realisation of what rape does more clear. Unfortunately, this is a film that, afterwards, becomes too academic and cerebral on the subject when it should have been a primal scream of rage, the lengthy debates distancing one from the pain of what the act causes and abstracting it into a topic of discussion rather than a horrible reality. If I could rewatch it again, and have the courage to view the first part again, I would, but it's sad that such a powerful film proves that you can actually make a serious issue vague and not relevant to a viewer through discourse.

It's difficult to talk about the others, especially the more genre related material, after such a serious film being on the top of the list, but fittingly in a negative way, all the films on it have great virtue but take the wrong directions with their material. 35 Shots of Rum could succeed eventually if viewed through the wide framework of Denis's whole filmography, if viewed as one single world, but it feels slight by its own even if its casualness is lovely. Triangle deserves praise for a director-writer trying to go forth with a labyrinth-like film that, unlike the works of Christopher Nolan, don't moddy coddle the viewer with vague intellectualism but play with the idea of being stuck in a maze. It doesn't succeed more than an interesting and bold attempt because it doesn't get past the virtues of the presentation; The Saragossa Manuscript, years before it and with much more humour to its never-ending tale, is a successful take on this idea. Manborg has its virtues, and thankfully its creators have dropped the terrible aspects of Father's Day (2011) and made something far better, but making a film that is just to amuse the viewer with how tacky it is has made films like it and others worthless beyond a first viewing. Bio-Cop, the trailer that plays after the film on the UK DVD, was superior for being the length of a trailer, having a whole narrative progression, and not making the joke drag on. For a narrative length film or something that is truly memorable, you need to take the film completely serious or, as with the films the makers were probably influenced by, make an accidental clusterfuck of surreal tangents and unintentional sabotages of conventional narrative plotting. Making a joke of it all from the beginning is a half hearted attitude to a type of film that needs the creator to go for broke or go insane.

The Most Underrated Film
1. Rumble Fish (Francis Ford Coppola, 1983/USA) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
2. Wax, or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees (David Blair, 1991/Germany-USA) – 10/10
3. Chronicle of a Summer (Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin, 1961/France) – 8/10
4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (Tobe Hooper, 1986/USA) – 7/10 [Rewatch]
5. The Legend of The Surami Fortress aka. The Legend of the Suram Fortress (Dodo Abashidze and Sergei Parajanov, 1984/Soviet Union) – 8/10
6. Son Of Man (Mark Dornford-May, 2006/South Africa) – 7/10
7. What Richard Did (Leonard Abrahamson, 2012/Ireland) – 7/10
8. On The Comet aka. Na komete (Karel Zeman, 1970/Czechoslovakia) – 8/10

Probably odd to put Chronicle of A Summer on this list because of its reputation, an early attempt at the essay film that follows members of the French public of all walks of life, but I had never heard of the film until it was starting to be released in the US and here in Britain by Criterion and the British Film Institution on DVD. A lot of great films, important ones as well, are not that well known, and it's going to need more DVD releases like that film's and being put in sections like this to bring attention to them.

Biggest Disappointment of the Month
1. A Scream From Silence aka. Mourir à tue-tête (Anne Claire Poirier, 1979/Canada) – 6/10
2. Alexander Nevsky (Sergei M. Eisenstein and Dmitri Vasilyev, 1938/Soviet Union) – 6/10 [Rewatch]
3. Manborg (Steven Kostanski, 2011/Canada) – 5/10
4. Much Ado About Nothing (Joss Whedon, 2012/USA) – 5/10
5. The Castle of Fu Manchu (Jesus Franco, 1969/Italy-Liechtenstein-Spain-UK-West Germany) – 2/10
6. The Land Before Time (Don Bluth, 1988/Ireland-USA) – 4/10

A Scream From Silence needs to be seen, but it's fatal mistake has been pointed out. Manborg, on a lighter, failed to live up to its trailer. Probably the controversial choice is Alexander Nevsky, but for Eisenstein, whose silent work when I saw them in college in film studies blew me away with their visual complexity, seeing the awkward and stilted dialogue sequences really crushed the heart even if there are still great moments where his eye of editing and images were still there. I'm not really interested in Joss Whedon, but for a man with such a large stature for geek culture a film based on a (admittedly great) play - encountering this piece of Shakespeare's career for the first time through the film - that lets the great acting down with its average cinemagraphic look and feeble "cuteness" is not good enough. This, the empty Avengers film and The Cabin In The Wood (2012) do not justify his credence when he should be able to slam cinematic and screenplay homeruns, full of wit and playfulness, considering his reputation. As for the last two, unfortunately there are such things as bad Jess Franco films, which are is painful when against the great and entertaining ones, and while it's unfair for me, having only seen it now as an adult without nostalgia, to dismiss a film like The Land Before Time, which has great artistry and a willingness to tackle the mortality of one's parents in its favour, it's the kind of sickly sweet, feebly "cute" (again) film that pushed a lot of my generation to Japanese anime like My Neighbour Totoro (1989)  which are legitimately sweet and view the world, for adults and children, with a much more honest and thought out viewpoint.

The Long Awaited (Re)Viewing That Lived Up To Expectations
1. Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966/UK-USA) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
2. Wax, or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees (David Blair, 1991/Germany-USA) – 10/10
3. The Intruder (Claire Denis, 2004/France) – 10/10
4. The Saragossa Manuscript (Wojciech Has, 1965/Poland) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
5. Black Moon (Louis Malle, 1975/France-West Germany) – 8/10
6. The Legend of The Surami Fortress aka. The Legend of the Suram Fortress (Dodo Abashidze and Sergei Parajanov, 1984/Soviet Union) – 8/10
7. Hors Satan aka. Outside Satan (Bruno Dumont, 2011/France) – 8/10
8. Mondo cane (Gualtiero Jacopetti, Paolo Cavara and Franco Prosperi, 1962/Italy) – 7/10

Only one here I will mention is Hors Satan - which I choose to call it as because the name sounds more evocative when pronounced, not for pretentious means. I feared, part the way through, it would be disappointing, seeming to drag itself nowhere, but as it reached it ends it started to make sense in its complete vagueness. Fittingly, alongside Son of Man, this is another film with a far more interesting and rewarding take on the issue of Christian morality. Some will raise their eyebrow to this, because of the film's abstract tone and certain scenes, including a literally case of sexual awakening, that may feel blasphemous, but it's actually trying to tackle the concept of faith and miracles in a peculiar but rewarding way. It also means I have now seen another good film by Dumont, and that I have both 1) another film in my slight list of 2013 UK releases that were memorable and b) there is another contemporary director in him who is justifiably an auteur with his own distinct worldview and (hopefully) a consistent output.

The Pleasure of the Month I'll [Sadly] Have To Defend
1. Sword for Truth (Osamu Dezaki, 1990/Japan) – 6/10 [Rewatch]
2. Apocalypse Zero (Toshihiro Hirano, 1996/Japan) – 7/10 [Rewatch]
3. Magnos The Robot [English, Feature Length Edit of TV Series] (Tomoharu Katsumata, 1976 & 1984/Japan-USA) – 6/10
4. Invasion Earth: The Aliens Are Here (Robert Skotak, 1988/USA) – 7/10
5. Dracula: Prisoner Of Frankenstein aka. Drácula contra Frankenstein (Jesus Franco, 1972/France-Spain) – 7/10
6. The Curse of Frankenstein aka. The Rites of Frankenstein (Jesus Franco, 1972/France-Spain) – 8/10
7. Sailor Victory (Katsuhiko Nishijima, 1995/Japan) – 7/10
8. Mondo cane (Gualtiero Jacopetti, Paolo Cavara and Franco Prosperi, 1962/Italy) – 7/10

Ironically the more downright foul, wrong and twisted anime in the top spots, Apocalypse Zero, is actually the more defendable of the two because it may be intentionally assaulting the viewer's expectations. I can't defend Sword For Truth; its hand drawn breasts depicted just to lust over female anatomy in drawn form, pointless bloodshed, cheap animation and none of the distinct atmosphere of the morally questionable but artistically evocative film Ninja Scroll (1993) this was released years later to cash in on. I would still have to defend Jess Franco films in certain quarters, explain why Invasion Earth actually becomes an accidental cinematic essay on 50s sci-fi, and admit that few know Sailor Victory actually exists and my knowledge of it only comes from the regular Amine News Network articles series The Mike Toole Show. Magnos The Robot, when an entire anime series reaching over thirty episodes is condensed into a ninety minute feature (!?!), is bad but fascinating for being a relic of its time and a condensed blast of pulp science fiction and anime candy colours that would influence a band like Daft Punk to make an entire concept album around such images. How I justify that to actual anime fans, when most only know it for the pilots forming into the belt buckle of the titular robot, is something I've yet to deal with. The final film, Mondo Cane, is a complicated issue by itself. No way near as discomforting as Africa Addio (1966), and tame by current standards, it's a film with praise worthy viewpoints, and fans including the late J.B. Ballad to defend its virtues, but it's still an exploitation film dismissed by others as being merely exploitative. Films with undermine the distinction between art and poor taste are a problem for many still, and for every defender of Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi like the Celluloid Liberation Front, there are viewers who think these films are worthless. The sub-genre of Italian mondo films, when they keep being evaluated, are probably going to cause this divide for years to come.

The Abstract Film of the Month
1. Wax, or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees (David Blair, 1991/Germany-USA) – 10/10
2. The Intruder (Claire Denis, 2004/France) – 10/10
3. Daisies (Vera Chytilová, 1966/Czechoslovakia) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
4. Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966/UK-USA) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
5. The Phantom Of Liberty (Luis Buñuel, 1974/France-Italy) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
6. Rumble Fish (Francis Ford Coppola, 1983/USA) – 10/10 [Rewatch]
7. The Saragossa Manuscript (Wojciech Has, 1965/Poland) – 8/10 [Rewatch]
8. Black Moon (Louis Malle, 1975/France-West Germany) – 8/10
9. The Curse of Frankenstein aka. The Rites of Frankenstein (Jesus Franco, 1972/France-Spain) – 8/10
10. Hors Satan aka. Outside Satan (Bruno Dumont, 2011/France) – 8/10

Honourable Mention: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (Tobe Hooper, 1986/USA) – 7/10 [Rewatch]; Apocalypse Zero (Toshihiro Hirano, 1996/Japan) – 7/10 [Rewatch]

Most of the films in this section will be reviewed or already have reviews, except one or two, so keep an eye out for them for further explanation.

Worst Film of the Month
1. The Castle of Fu Manchu (Jesus Franco, 1969/Italy-Liechtenstein-Spain-UK-West Germany) – 2/10
2. The Desert of the Tartars (Valerio Zurlini, 1976/France-Italy-West Germany) – 4/10
3. The Ruins (Mrinal Sen, 1984/India) – 4/10
4. Room in Rome (Julio Medem, 2010/Spain) – 4/10
5. Radio On Remix (Christopher Petit, 1998/UK) – 4/10
6. Stolen Moments + Lone Star + Godzilla – Last Of The Creatures + Rosa Canina (Jeff Keen, 1972-1975-1976/UK/4 Short Films Made Into One Work) – 4/10
7. The Land Before Time (Don Bluth, 1988/Ireland-USA) – 4/10

Unfortunately, there are such things of atrocious Jess Franco films, ones where even Christopher Lee is dragged into them. As much as his era of UK co-productions lead to great films being made, it was for the better, if The Castle of Fu Manchu is to go by, when Franco went his own way and made more cheaper, less marketable films. This month I actually had to fill this section out with 4/10 films for once, but that's nothing to be proud of still. Again, I don't want to harm people's nostalgia for The Land Before Time, but it cannot be escaped from, and the two experimental works on this list didn't work for me. The two choices that could be upsetting for some is the inclusion of The Desert of the Tartars and The Ruins. Drama is a fickle genre for me; it could be that I am not mature enough to appreciate their emotional cores or that it's not enough to merely present their themes but to actively try to bring a viewer into them to make them feel something about the material. Finally, Room In Rome actually went down a score when I thought about it more and proves to be one of the most embarrassing filmic moments I've seen this year. It'd probably be less dubious and more virtuous a film if it was upfront, softcore titillation which revelled in the voyeuristic obsession with lesbianism, especially for Natasha Yarovenko's Amazon tall, physical beauty and Elena Anaya's charismatic charm, because the angsty drama of Room In Rome should mortify gay women for having these characters mope about the pain of love and treat this area of sexual orientation as an excuse for bad melodrama. While one could argue the nature of titillation is just as objectifying and treats a sexuality held from birth for many women as a mere fetish, at least if one celebrated the brazen delight and ecstasy of two women enjoying sex and each other's company it could be positive and able to show the full nature of the joys of the women and the viewer, maybe beyond men and maybe even for women and actual lesbians. Room In Rome's pontifications are far and away more offensive because its trivialises the experiences by real people who have probably, sadly, endured discrimination and misogyny for their life choice and, also, probably have enjoyed their sexuality in a way that this film does bugger all to attempt to show.

80 Works Watched In March
14 Rewatched Works
66 New Works Seen

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