Quinoa1984

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Limite
(1931)

The Lack of Limits of Poetic Control
Limite is the kind of abstract film, where the author behind it, Peixoto (as director, scenarist, producer, editor, cameraperson and I'm sure protectionist for that splendid "Carlito" Charlie Chaplin scene taken from The Adventurer), is out to create a distinct and practically unrelenting mood that cinema can indeed express, that I don't think I would have had the attention span or patience for ten or fifteen years ago. Have I built up more cinematic fiber to the point where an excursion into the realm of that idiom critics love to throw around but gets used sometimes too much, a Tone Poem on celluloid, where I can find not only sections of this fascinating but intriguing as to where something might go next? It's hard to say exactly, except that by a certain point in my life I find myself connecting morr with more intricate visual flows of images and cuts and am curious as to how long a director like this can take a single image much less a sequence or Kuhleshov set up... if only it weren't quite this long.

I completely get the two sides of an audience coin for this, that someone might turn it on (via the recently restored, to the best of the World Cinema cum Brazil cinema foundations abilities, on blu ray on Criterion) and find it punishing in its lack of any traditional narrative momentum. And to an extent I get those who think the word "Masterpiece" in the description isn't even high praise enough, like the one moment where the camera following behind the one woman walking depressedly along, as she does through much of her flashbacks, and then pivots to get close on a bug resting on a small flower off to the side is worthy of a chapter in a dissertation on the whole thing, or that imposing image of the man in that hat and suit walking along like he owns all. I'm somewhere in the middle, but I want to be more positive than not.

A film like Limite was made at a time, not least of which by a director at 22 who was formed by a medium before sync sound came in to the picture quite literally, when how to express an idea or series of new and experimental ideas visually was being discovered seemingly each week, each day, all over the world. While there is this flashback uh we can call it a structure I suppose to what's happening here, albeit with very few intertitles between characters talking (I may be able to count them on one hand), this strikes me as closer to a Visual Symphony of sorts or a cavalcade of images ala Dziga Vertov, only instead of it being a place like Berlin or Russia it's a small village in Brazil where nature and the objects inside the buildings takes precedence over the direct feelings of people... OK is that accurate? Maybe there's just so much beauty and misery in the world these three, the two women and the men, one feels like they can't take it, right?

In other words, there was and there still is a place for a work like Limite which means to explore through a rhythm that is, frankly, slower paced and (another dreaded word) meditative series of not events but wanderings and this sense of loneliness and perpetual desolation, which seems to also reflect the mood in this little boat out in the sea that we don't exactly know how they got on to or why they can't just leave (as an aside I saw someone compare this to Un chien Andalou for Latin America and nope don't see it sorry but that element of dedicated surrealism to the situstion of these three can call Bunuel in his later period).

There are even some moments where we get at least suggestions of lives lived in a certain way or class or tradition that the film itself may be breaking apart, seen most clearly in a scene at the cemetery where a dramatic confrontation occurs around a parentage. Other times, I get the feeling the director means to keep human interactions to a distinct remove or distance, whether it's shots of feet or shoes as characters speak together or when two meet on a street we see it in two shots cut together that are from afar and in this bizarre looking-up way that obscures their faces.

Maybe part of that is meant to connect to the fuzziness of memory, of how a mind picks and chooses things... or is it hallucination as may be want to happen when stranded on a boat without any amenities? This is a film that has very expressive and creative camera work and some dazzling and dizzying editing - when that one man is calling out in repeated motion (mayhap like stanzas repeated in a poem or song or musical piece) and the camera rushed along like someone is rushing along, it's thrilling - and other times it's simply about solitude and disarray. Again, something very much worthy to express in a film. But I can't say I wasn't also tried by the film, at times left wanting more, that two hours makes this a lot to endure. Even Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh would be like "Enough" with the many, many shots of Soggy gray clouds.

To put it in a harsher sense, Limite is a film I'm glad exists, yet I'd be lying if I said it wasn't more engaging for me to write about than experience; later films that are the children of this sort of deliberatice poetic expression, of people more as ideas of psychology and emotions than people we can live through but have more symbolically to chew on, like Tarkovsky and Resnais films, are more my speed.

(PS: One last thing; it may be incidental, but there are points in this film where clearly the restoration team did the best they could but parts seem to be coming apart and are almost blowing away throug the wear and tear of the elements, and yet that isn't a distraction for me - on the contrary I find that to be overwhelming in this larger sense as someone who watches a lot of films, how fragile the entire medium can be (or once was). If this is an artifact of a specific time and place, how easily it can fall apart makes it still very special, quality of the substance of what was shot besides. So, God bless you, Saulo Pereira de Mello for your efforts to save this film.)

The Burning
(1981)

A Crop(sy) above the rest
Well, first of all, one of the glaring things that Fear Street 1978 was missing were several personalities straight from New Yawk casting - Larry Joshua in particular is a total riot as a guy who was just about to get cast in Saturday Night Fever but hey whaddabout it they're a bunch of jerk faces etc - and it points to something that makes The Burning genuinely stand out from the overcrowded pack of Slashers which is that this has actors who are playing it big and the characters (the guys mostly) are a-holes and pushovers and idiots. Even the presumed lead Todd played by Brian Matthews is fairly incompetent when you get down to it (and frankly the worst of the lot? I don't want to spoil anything, though).

The Burning doesn't hide its sleaze and violence and sex (and all too quick sex, haha woops dummy) and rampantly stupid characters under a bushel - and yes, there is a scene where the characters make a raft instead of like walking back to camp, you know, for easier access to the mangy killer who is there on a raft - and it's all the better for it. It's blatantly a quick cash-in on the period, and I'm sure the filmmakers (including also a young Brad Grey which is also a trip) started frantically writing the script before Friday the 13th finished its opening weekend.

But where that movie (an important if just slightly overrated one) had characters that were with a couple of exceptions stock and forgettable, you at least enjoy or find morbid fascination with the young people in The Burning, as awful as some/most of them are, because they are bringing it as performers, like they know this is schlock but they're going to try anyway, damn it!

And that goes for Savini and the makeup fx crew for the kills all the more; it helps that the killer's weapon allows for particularly bloody and flesh-slicing set pieces, but thesr are brutal and In Your Face and visceral in ways even the best of the Friday the 13th sequels didn't quite get to. Add some creative camerawork and editing (the latter by underrated genre craftsman Jack Sholder) and you got a second half of a movie at least that doesn't stop once it gets going.

So come for a full-head-of-hair Jason Alexander (and small parts for Holly Hunter and Fisher Stevens), stay for an unapologetically mean spirited, often sadistically and darkly funny horror movie that makes clear that revenge is a dish best served with blood and body parts and Turn to Red scene transitions. The Burning is what you want to come to a Camp-set In the Dozens body-count horror movie, where no one is safe and so many are miserable and it doesn't kid the audience with how far it will go even as its feet are still planted in Schlock-ville. One thing you can't say about The Burning is that it is unremarkable or easy to forget, and that goes for Cropsey most of all.

Pig
(2021)

An astonishing and assured debut with a stunner of a Cage turn
An astonishing and assured debut; Pig may get you into the theater with the veneer of a darker/darker hued John Wick (by way of, hmm, how's about Leave No Trace, that works for me), but it's much more than that suggests. This is a rather devastating and deeply emotional film about loss, of self and others and the toll that takes, and how it shows ultimately much more courage to reach into someone else's soul, especially if it's a person who wronged you, than to go about the usual revenge narrative. I won't say how this happens, but it's a film that earns its tragic countenance and the look of the film itself (as I told my wife on the way home, the color choice almost looks like a truffle).

On that level the filmmaker is also rigorous into exploring forgiveness and how painful opening those wounds can be. I don't want to give too much of the experience away, it's a true character piece in a vein we so rarely get with this actor - I'll go ahead and say it, this is on the level with a Leaving Las Vegas or Joe - but what turned this from very good to one of the year's best was the scene where Rob talks to the chef at the restaurant. What a character. And Cage only brings big displays of this person's grief and anger a handful of times; he's now at that stage where he can come into a room and say little and command attention. And the supporting work from Wolff and Arkin et al is also excellent and matches him.

In sum: That'll do, Nicolas. That'll do.

Bara no sôretsu
(1969)

Breaking apart the form but keeping emotional resonance as incendiary and necessary
I know this term doesn't necessarily get thrown around much by critics when describing most films - though conversely it may be used too often when trying to pin a label on counterculture or subversive: films from the late 190s or into the 70s - but Funeral Parade of Roses is a fairly accurate example I think of a film that is kaleidoscopic. You can't say it's one thing or even three things because it will shape-shift or twist over into something else entirely.

The director Matsumoto clearly knows what the rules are for directing a "normal" scene, whatever that is, and by that I mean how to cut between shots and show two characters talking to each other, or to create some suspense between two sets of people (ie right before that girl gang fight, before it leads into the fast motion), and that's good because he's not just ready but committed to breaking the rules of film grammar and storytelling. Story? Who needs that when you can follow things by feelings and moods, or how deconstructing everything has its own construction (and the interviews are so crucial because it gives us a base of how real Trans women are in Japan, or at least those interviewed and how they, in fact, are the most "normal" ones here).

And even trying to ascribe Oedipus Rex, which I've read is what this leaps off from, is not something I would think immediately.... no, that's not entirely true. Where the film ends up, a particular revelation that brings to a climax what we saw midway through, in a jarring flashback involving crimes of unhinged passion that is shot and acted and presented without any pretense and yet has an air of how memory creating a heightened style of violence - being so real it becomes unreal and then loops around to real again - is staggering and shocking, not necessarily for the violence itself but for the effect of it, how there's so much of it that what has to come next is when other people see it, how spectatorship takes on another dimension... and isn't isn't what cinema does itself?

I'm not Trans and can't claim I can be wholly in the sense of knowing where characters like Eddy or Leda or the others are at or have been here, but that almost isn't an issue because of the raw power that Matsumoto brings as a director and that the performers like Peter bring in every frame (especially those where nothing is said but the face and physical movements tell more). I have also/however been in an environment with fellow film freaks as much Marijuana is consumed and weird unclassifiable shenanigans ensue (hey, college you know), and in a sense Funeral Parade of Roses is like witnessing creation while under the influence; when one is high, there can be a sensation if one is tapping into the creative spirit that you can (and *should*) do or try anything.

So why shouldn't Matsumoto cut to inserts of butts with one holding a rose? Why not the fast speed that feels like an homage to silent comedy (and lo and behold Kubrick followed suit)? Why not have flesh and body parts that have comet together through sex and lovemaking like abstract images, not connected to beings but still very alive (Hiroshima Mon Amour comes to mind, a little, but this is still a unique way to do it)? All those faces and reactions and how a person moves through a frame? Go for it!

Funeral Parade of Roses is last but not least a compelling example of how what seem to be condtradictions in execution are part of the intended style, of confrontational the audience to say that you can't take for granted what cinema can do. So sex and eroticism is silly... until it isn't. Violence can be quite silly and comical.. until it very much isn't. How someone chooses to be as a human being, identity as a gender, looks so theatrical with the long eye-lashes and coiffed hair and slathering of make up... but it's very much who these "Queens" are and that being a woman is not some parlor trick or game, or just a lustful object for men. Humans are complicated and so should cinema, and that's what I got from seeing this for a first time.

Pink Flamingos
(1972)

So meaty!
Somehow, I think my biggest single laugh here was "I think the couch rejected you!"

You know there's that Mel Brooks quote where the old woman on the elevator that one time told him his movies are vulgar and his response was "my movies rise below vulgarity." Pink Flamingos rises so below vulgarity that it comes back around the other side through an open asshole covered in vomit and poo with a side of eggs and incest. So... it sure is... what it is!

I find it's difficult to give any kind of intellectual take on this because it successfully resists it every step of the way (though I'm sure if I get high enough I can wax poetic about how it's a more honest depiction of filth and destructive political personification than like Joker or some claptrap). It's a freakshow shot with the same clinical documentary realism of a Blair Witch Project, and it's this dichotomy that makes it so provocative.

Waters knows what's real and what isn't, yet this isn't quite fantasy (maybe an alternate reality) - it reminds me most of all like when I've read long-form fiction written by Fetish authors online, where it's more about sticking to what turns someone on than a "good" story, that the key is the level of commitment to the turn-on. And how could you not be turned on by Edith Massey in that crib, non? While Divine is of course the reason he had the uncanny iconic uh Anti Hero status (is that true, whatever), I'm a big fan of Mink Stole's and David Lachary's This Goes to 11 performances. They don't need to be "great" actors, they just need to be right for these roles, and lord they are.

All the same, I still think I prefer Multiple Maniacs as far as a precisely sordid saga of murderous heathens because of the set pieces in that were more distinctive and the pacing was less relentless. This is a gauntlet of sleaze, dick (both regular dick and dick attached to meat), that poor chicken, and opulent degradation, if that contradiction makes sense. On the one hand, as far as production quality, I hear Crow from the MST3K on Manos the Hands of Fate in my head - "Oh no, Joel, not another Snuff film!" - on the other hand, I found myself laughing. A lot.

Like Rocky Horror, I'm fairly certain I would get more out of it with an audience tapped into the parade of filth. At home, it's easy to find it all numbing after a while... until you get those arresting shots of the trailer in flames and the entire climax where Divine goes HAM. I have a feeling rewatching this with the audio commentary will be a blast.

Last but not least... I want that Baby Doll poster.

Zola
(2020)

I mean, you had me at Florida
Zola is pure, uncut black market Florida. Like Sprinbreakers or Florida Project, it IS the state incarnate - or at least what's so endlessly scrollable about it). It's also a riotous funny dark comedy about how uncanny and gross the sex work world is (visa vi Backpage and so on), but also how black women always seem to have to come to the emotional and physical rescue of white women. And ironically as much as I love Paige and Keough's performances here (the latter sounding like she listened/watched a lot of Nikki Minaj's Anaconda song and or video, a fully sincere compliment), Braun - Greg from Succession, a true treasure at playing dumb and awkward, and Colman Domino's X (and his going between two accents just ::chefs kiss::) are stunning in their perfection of identifying an authenticity of these people. That's the key here: as wild as this gets, we always believe the people... at least as far as Zola's oh maybe 85-90% reliable narrator takes us.

I do wonder if this will have the same punch once the surprise wears off on a repeat viewing, but for now I can bask in the glow of this magnificently directed and truly modern comic exploitation yarn. The secret MVPs here though are the background detail players, like the two kids repeating the same basketball moves on the balcony at the motel or the couple performing whatever the hell music that is in the hotel lobby when Zola comes storming in.

The Amusement Park
(1973)

How to Feel the Problem cinematically speaking
First of all, you know you're a forever Dawn of the Dead fanatic if you can spot the canned-public-domain music cues in this film (hint, it's the rich man/poor man food serving scene, shot like a silent film "comedy" of course).

This is above all how the pain and agony in life itself and all of the irreparable harm that it causes, from the police and classism to bonds and simple human connections to infirmary and violence both mental and physical, can catch up to what is supposed to be good gay old times. If the undead were a metaphor for chaos and unbridled instinct and what it means to be human, the Amusement Park is about reality itself becoming unglued when whatever made sense is dissolving away. And God help you if you don't have insurance for that bumper car accident!

What does it get old? Well, it means realizing how much people, so called polite society working in the Social Contracts, don't care so much about other people if it doesn't mean what it did before - if use and transactional purpose are null. We're savage cretins, folks, is what Romero uses the form of an Educational program to get at, and let's use the camera to get under your proverbial skin! It's satire that is Dead serious, no pun intended for this filmmaker, and it surely would've cracked Kafka's top ten list had it come out at the time (or if you know he was alive but why carp). This is how a nightmare works, or at least like one of those funky dreams that goes on for far too long and is too vivid to not revisit.

Like the Other Side of the Wind (by one of Romero's idols Orson Welles), the rediscovery serves as a solid reminder that innovators will use whatever is accessible to not necessarily (or not just) seek out to find new ways to tell stories but to use the tools of Cinema to try to create impressions via style. Romero like Welles was also an editor, and how he cuts this together is what makes it; the 16mm is grainy and washed out even in 4k restoration, but that's also the dark allure of it. Too clean and it wouldn't have the effect of being kicked the s*** out of this way and that.

Oh, and what a phenomenal performance by Maazel!

Superman III
(1983)

That is a bad script-fit!
First question on Superman 3: How does Gus Gorman do ANYTHING he is doing in this? Where does he come from? Why is Gus Gorman? Like... he just stumbled on to this computer gig and manages to have the capabilities of the guy in Die Hard who hacks into the Nakatomi tower times 100. It is just so so wild how this plot stumbles along like a drunkard - or more precisely someone on coke riding an elevator up and down to hell - and Superman gets stuck in the middle with some good scenes with Lana Lang (Annette O'Toole innocent) and then be becomes Bad Superman from handling some Kryptonite that is not the usual Kryptonite and does a series of things like fixing the tower of Piza from leaning and like spraying an oil tanker all over the ocean and... WHAT IS THIS?!

Superman III is less a movie than a collection of scenes stuck together from a not convoluted but just bizarre plot by Robert Vaughan to control the world's oil and Lex Luthor would look at this mishegas and be like "Calm down, sir!" There's no narrative momentum because it's moreso Gus Gorman's story and we don't really know on a basic level what he *wants* except that he's kind of being blackmailed because of his thievery early on and he wants to use his unexplained computer genius to do a whole lot more than we think he can do and... huh?

It hit me late in the film by the time we get to that super computer in the mountain: this is a series of comic books from a run stuck together, yet it's a run where different writers and artists came and went without a clear plan and at the same time you can see certain ideas that got laughs and pats on the back in the room. While the movie is still lurching forward after that spectacular comic-action junkyard fight, it has these little nuggets like the one character who becomes a robot and how that creates some memorable mania even as the bulk of the action in this scene is poor.

All the while, I like how the Evil Superman is still a dork - sorry/not sorry, I also enjoy the "Bad" Peter Parker stuff in Spiderman 3 (a better movie than this, fight me) so this worked for me - and Christopher Reeve is still so astonishing as a fully endearing being as Sups and Kent, and moreover makes the bad Superman different than how he has been, and he's giving the character 10,000% every scene (yes, that horror drunk bar gif included), and I admire the uncanny comic swagger Lester has with the garbage dump scene. I don't think this has, what the word I'm looking for ah yes, stakes that the movie could ever earn (like, why does Superman going bad matter for *this* movie), but divorced from any context it's a memorable sequence in and of itself.

In other words, what 80s All Over said years ago holds true. WHAT ARE WE LOOKING AT? WHAT ARE WE WATCHING? Oh, and Pryor looks so adrift here, like Anything for a Paycheck mode (an interesting thought given Gorman himself). A totally fascinating mess of a movie that I'm sure I'd have stronger feelings on had I see it at 7 instead of 37 but here we all are.

PS: A simple fix for this story - Gus Gorman isn't some unfortunate dude without a job at the start who joins this company with this hackneyed plot (gee where did that get reused again, #stapler), but he has been working for years for Vaughan and has gone disgruntled. In other words, Batman Forever with Nygma is a better version of this basic antagonist plot - and if Lester had more balls he would've just cast Pryor as a villain instead of someone stuck in the middle.

Alley Cat
(1984)

Superb B movie
I appreciated that there was a little ambition as far as straightforward revenge 80's exploitation goes; it posits itself as a kick-ass woman vigilante movie (Frank Miller I bet woulf approve, and if it had been set in NYC Is half expect Daredevil to show up), but then it becomes a woman-in-prison movie for 15 minutes. It may not be much, yet what's fascinating is that the lead Karin can't escape being assaulted anywhere. In this world, it's not just men that can be villainous rapists but women too... That is if they're already behind bars. It still seems significant in some way, whether the filmmakers understood it or not, that there's another level of commentary with just those scenes. Bottom line, there is no shelter in this Hollywood.

I also liked this lead, albeit the amount of nudity makes it so that I might question if anyone ever tries to pull this out as some hidden-cum-underrated feminist treasure. It's a movie made for men AND women, it's not exclusionary really, and she certainly has a gigantic load of her own agency. On the other hand, frankly, if I were to show this to, say, my father in law (a B movie diehard for decades), he'd probably find a couple other reasons to dig this. That said, she does the role well and did the work necessary for it (I imagine she was a sruntwpman either before or after this too).

Anyway, good exploity times! PS: I advise my many female friends on social media who I've seen over time complain about men who pull the kind of crap the men do visavi hitting on others... Learn all the martial arts.

River's Edge
(1986)

A simple but necessary message to convey: what's the value of a life, or anyones
River's Edge is a reminder that we need to see more films where a killer isn't some crafty wizard or even some clever manipilator but just a total dumb loser. The important thing in a story like this when depicting the drama is simply to not glorify people, especially young men with young women, who snuff out life. This is often brutal and would be so nihilistic if not for the Keanu Reeves character who is the heart of this thing, but I was surprised to find myself laughing a few times, if only from Glover and Hooper's line deliveries.

But it's also not by any accident or misdirection that the movie opens with the younger brother (Joshua John Miller I believe) of Matt, the Reeves character - he is truly the most craven and nihilistic of the bunch because he has no sense of self, aside from the lack of maturity. And yet what I love about River's Edge is it doesn't judge him; this is about something much more morally hazardous as a question, especially for the kinds of youth that might not even cut it at the school from Over the Edge (which this could be a double bill with): what's the value of a human life? So few here do, and to find one that can actually reckon with the image of a dead person lingering is somehow a major accomplishment. Incidentally, based on a true story.

Did I mention that Crispin Glover's Layne is mindblowingly live-wired in this? He finds ways to say dialog that is just completely off kilter and how no one else would say these lines, and it makes it special. And what's so remarkable about Hopper, delivering another of his I'm Back performances from 1986, is that he starts off in what we might see as almost typical crazy Hopper mode, but as the film goes on he let's out the crippled and damaged heart of a broken man who carries around a blow up doll and carries so much pain over the life he once ended. By the time we get to that scene by the river, he nearly steals the show... from Crispin Glover of all people. It's one of his best performances, which saying a lot for his whole career.

Last but not least is Reeves, who is... really good here. If you got the script and director and character just so, he's there for you. And the scene between him and Miller near the end brought some tears - this is about how broken people are, from poverty, from a lack of parenting, from the total confusion of being young and overloaded with hormones and nothing to do, and the film never cheapens it. It's that remarkable film, the more I think on it, that depicts without sensationalism. 9.5/10.

Final Account
(2020)

An important film for any time you may be wondering why it's important to look at the past
I know this is the kind of piece of media, a historical document that has storytelling intertwined inextricably as I oral stories do have more power sometimes, that isn't really applicable tk star ratings, but I'll give it this anyway simply for the reasons that this director (who's grandparents died in the camps) has a strong sense in the editing of how to pace these interviews with the B roll of the camps and the cities surrounding them (for once a drone shot that has a thematic purpose), and what he gets in the interviews shows that he knows how to ask the right questions and make it about what they knew or are still in the deepest depths of denial. There are those who take full responsibility and there's a very interesting theme of jow culpability leads to guilt and what it means to be German today, and this is best highlighted in that conference room scene (at the same place where the Final Solution idea was put forward, January 20th 1942). There are also one or two chronic deniers and double talkers are confounding, and yet it speaks to how reckoning with one's national identity and one's own sense of self can be very muddy. And it's especially important now for Americans to watch a film like this as it speaks to our own countries past horrors (this last week with the Tulsa massacre at 100 years made that clear). Hard to watch but just as hard not to.

Smile
(1975)

sublime and savage, an underrated American satire classic
A sublime and exceptional giant rubber band of a satire that contains strands that should collide with one another, since Michael Ritchie and the writer Jerry Belson have sympathy and I think even want people watching the film to see themselves possibly in some (or all) of these young women who have been put into an incredible and ego-boosting yet at the same time ultimately demoralizing circumstance that is a pageant for showing what they can do (which has less import than if they're pretty or have good skin or, ultimately, that they're milk-fed fresh white girls), but they also don't want us to forget that so much of what's around them is full of crap, and that there are people who see it for what it is.

A good example of the he semi-famed musical director (Michael Kidd, unstoppable funny) most of all, hired to train these young ladies to do a dance number to which at one point is quips in a perfect deadpan that they're "less Ginger Rogers and more Roy Rogers" and how be clashes with one of the major pageant sponsors or producers or whomever, like when they demand a change to the stage ramp, the gloves figuratively come off. And I liked very much how the filmmakers chose a few key women to focus on here - Melanie Griffith in an early role doesn't get much to do, but why carp when Annette O'Toole and Joan Prather who have to try and navigate for themselves what's there to do and not do in advancing ahead in the pageant (one scene between them in the hotel room says it all, with, as with so many scenes in the movie, a howler of a line to end the scene with) - and that people tend to float in and out from scenes and make impressions, like the school custodians who also see through the BS from time to time. But they don't lose sight of the lead here, which is Bruce Dern's Big Bob.

Of course, one can safely assume that if a man is named Big Bob and sells vehicles in a mid-sized town in the 70s then that man is probably an asshole, and perhaps on paper Big Bob came off more that way. But Dern makes him engaging and compelling just by how he stretches out certain words or uses emphasis at times like with the scenes between Bob and his bedraggled and mess of a good friend played by Nicholas Pryor (another stand out). You get as soon as Dern starts talking why a) he would be Big Bob and his horn dog of a teenage progeny would be Little Bob, and b) why he is in a lot of ways like the film itself around him. This is a character who we know is written as a comment on the national character in a sense, that here's a guy who sells for a living and has to put on a big smile (hey the title again, as the young women do), and he has a sense of who he wants to be. And when he becomes the main judge of the pageant - we know he is because he has the gold name tag - he takes it totally seriously, despite the distractions of his own making (*that* scene which all I will say involves a creepy halfassed chicken outfit is so uncanny it nearly derails the film till it whiplashes back in a stunning way).

At the same time that he is these things he is a real person, a veteran even as we find out at the very end, and when he gets called out for having a shallow sense of how to live and be by his good friend when this guy is at his lowest point the shock or even hurt in Bob's face is direct and true. How could he be... like a pageant girl?! But that's the thing about a beauty pageant, isn't it? There's so much that goes into creating a persona and yet there's this knowing sense that it's an act (not to say that Big Bob is a poor salesman, on the contrary as we see), and yet what is there when all is said and done when something major is achieved? I could write a whole dissertation I think about Bob and what these days reveal about him, about these ladies, and that surfaces are paramount to how a pageant queen thrived and dominates, not what's actually inside a person - and yet at the same time how important that the person believes their own bs (hence why the Mexican contestant rings false to everyone around her, ultimately she's a token and relies solely on that without it seeming genuine).

For all that this could be drawn in broad strokes, like if someone in the Kubrick vein (or the madman himself) had made this, what's so great about Smile is the accumulation of small moments and lines, sometimes ones that another filmmaker would think are throwaways, and Ritchie mines these little nuggets for all they're worth and indeed many of the funniest parts come from these exchanges - take as one example when Dern and Pryor are ordering takeout (from a dog-themed hot dog joint, of course) and a man inside hears the real talk between them and chimes in with his own thoughts on their existential musings - and it's all about behavior and timing.

I'm not even sure everything here is necessary, like the whole minor subplot with the teen boys going through rigamarole to get a camera so Little Bob can snap a picture of some (even partial) nudity, but then again what else would young aimless teen men do in a small town knowing dozens of women specifically there to be shown off? It all adds up to this overwhelming sense that when people prime themselves to want to enjoy the spectacle of this kind of show, and that the people putting it on understand what their roles are. Again what's so good is how Ritchie rides that line tonally so that he makes fun of the situations, not so much the people, and even when they deserve it there's this cringe that's deeply felt - weren't we all there once in school or some other place, playing a part to advance in society?

And by the end, Dern's Big Bob sees that the result of who won is not that... well, inspiring or leaving him with any good feeling. It's more like, well, that happened and now we are wrapping up this pap and moving on. It's the kind of ending that must have inspired the sort of writing one saw on masterful early Simpsons. Moreover, Smile seems to me like if (and why if I'm like 99% sure) Alexander Payne saw this he owes like half his career to this kind of honest, humanist but savage satire on the American dream.

The Hot Spot
(1990)

"That's pretty ballsy of you, Harry"
Ten stars for Virginia Madsen, first of all, and that one leg she always seems to be shaving outside of the bathtub.

The Hot Spot is from a book by Charles Williams (a good title "Hell Hath no Fury"), but it most reminds me of Jim Thompson in the most complimentary sense: it's mean and with central characters driven by id and greed but not people who we can't recognize in everyday life to a degree, plus violent, tawdry and with some subversion of the tropes while being completely immersed in what Nasty Noir is all about. This is about a man who is a total Loner Dude without much of a past except that we know he can intuit he has a good sense about himself when it comes to planning a step or two ahead (until he gets boxed in) and can more than use his fists, gets caught between two women and hatches and executes a plan to rob a bank in broad daylight and with a (seemingly not really almost) air tight alibi. What's not to like?

The cast is excellent, but in particular Madsen and the always top notch at being a dickcheese William Sadler as Jennifer Connolly's squirrel-hunting man, Charles Martin Smith as the hapless other salesman who just looks always slightly bewildered at the movie happening around him, Jerry Hardin from the X-Files as the owner with the bum ticker, and Barry Corbin (who was "Can't stop what's comin'" guy from No Country For Old Men) as, you guessed it, a cop, oh and Jack Nance as the horn dog bank manager, perfection, are a delight as they fill the bill well for the nondescript but totally Texas part of the Southwest they're in. It's really the Madsen show, which is a shame as Connolly does fine as the somewhat innocent young woman (too young for Harry, but why carp, they certainly dont), and Johnson himself carries himself with a straight face, taciturn, sweating composure more than anyone here - the women seem to not uh sweat exactly, but then again what do their characters have to sweat over or about - and it makes total sense that once upon a time the project may have been written for Robert Mitchum.

The length is a problem as far as a tighter film could have mase the pressure on Harry more gripping, but it's not one that derails the film, at least for me, and the ambling nature turns the story into something else more or less in a clever way as it's more about mood and character than A to B script beats (my wife made a good point while watching it that the bank heist is almost an after thought albeit well staged and fairly tense, followed by that fire). Characters talk in that heightened style that is precisely stylized, past normalcy and heated to 1000 yet it has the honesty in its bigness if that makes sense, from Madsen but really in the space between dialog and reactions from everyone. It's there that Hopper more than acquits himself as a director in tune with Neo-Noir, not to mention he has a practically intoxicated-with-the-thing collaborator in Jack Nietzche. I know the parts are greater than the whole, but it's my kind of B movie partsapalooza. And the ending is so great.

Screen Two: The Firm
(1989)
Episode 8, Season 5

"Come on, let's have it!" Gary frigging Oldman
Well, that's definitely a memorable way go get "That's Amore" into your movie.

For all the rage and fury and gang rule (this is almost like a less rapey Clockwork Orange with the structure if not the cover of it being about "Sports teams"), and that the fact that I could expect to see various Football hooligans anyway if I were to go to the working class UK and that the violence here is merely a slightly more extreme version here, this becomes most alive and interesting because of the scenes of domestic life for this Bexby bloke. What's he like when he comes home after he riles up his group of badgers high on a million pints and p and vinegar? Well, he comes home to a younger than we may be used to Lesly Manville and who we see at first is to say the least attracted to him on a lust level (and he with her) and that he cares for the kid and can almost be believable at playing the calm man of the house... but not for long, and not that this means he is automatically a sympathetic creature.

That would be the tact of a less assured filmmaker, to soften him up for the audience; Alan Clarke means to present this family home that Bexby has made as completely tenuous and ready to crack at the worst moment, and that break comes about halfway through in a (charitably put) awful mistake in judgment, and it leads to a total breakdown of what's been between this man and woman and their child. Him having a kid is just a matter of fact thing to witness, and that when he has to settle down and be 'Normal' he can't, and if anything brings his street shit home in the most unfortunate ways. He only knows how to operate through violence and abuse, and eventually he takes it all out on his own organization. It doesn't mean this is an exactly unique representation of a ruthless (and racist) gang, but it is honest about the nature of the violence - Clarke isn't showing it to be exploitative, despite what the stedicam and fast editing might suggest.

It certainly more than helps Gary Oldman and Manville are exceptional at playing blistering and tragic and hurtful and hurt with each other. Oldman in particular is so Prime Cut and on fire that you wouldn't be off your meds to think he might reach through the TV set and give you a smash or slash with his knife or what have you if not careful. But why it isn't simply a one dimensional portrait of excessive manic masculine brutality are those moments early on where he tries to justify himself to his group and others. Those (to paraphrase another iconic Oldman violence merchant) quiet/calm little moments before the storm are also what make this a little more complex. My other last impression is I've now seen two Clarke films, and as slim volumes as they are they acutely and with a terrific, palpable cinematic energy about what they're about and will dig in to more of his ouevre.

They could all just, I dunno .. enjoy the game.

Junior Bonner
(1972)

"I'm working on my first million. You're still working on eight seconds."
Is there anything more American than a modern Western s***kicking rodeo shot and edited by Prime Sam Peckinpah and his team into a rough and gorgeous montage with constant slow motion in (I'm just throwing out there) 100 fps? Not even that Red White and Blue Pancake Dennys commercial can reach that US of A height. And I'm only being a smidgen jokey, I legitimately love how that whole fifteen minute sequence moves and feels, like an artist wants you to understand the appeal of this rodeo on a near metaphysical level - especially to those who could give less of a damn about the activity.

This thing is like putting on a much-worn but comfortable shirt and set of boots. The longer you're in them, the more at home you feel. And coming in to this, I thought it could go either way; a few weeks back I watched Peckinpah's Convoy first the first time, also about a whole way of life that goes over my head which is the group dynamics and perseverance of truckers. That movie ended up being fun junk, but a problem there was the director had delusions of grandeur about his subject, trying to pump up the milieu of CB truck drivers to like great Western heights and mythology, and yet it lacked the substance to match the ambition.

Junior Bonner is also a modern day Western that connects more literally to cinema and mid/west Americana being that these are Cowboys, albeit in a more entertainment and sportsmanlike setting, yet what makes this stand out as a legitimate triumph is that the director has a more humane script to work off of, and when you strip away the setting it's really about things that always make for solid drama which are a family disconnected from each other, or perhaps ways to make life more interesting (ie Ace's plan to move to Australia), and at heart it's about a son and his dad and letting go and acceptance of things that can't be anymore and so on.

In other words, it has a real emotional reason for being, and Peckinpah shows what a superb director he is not so much in those big rodeo set pieces but when brothers McQueen and Baker are having that talk on the porch that has a rising Arc that one can see in the farmer's face and eyes, subtly, that leads to the latter being punched right through the window (instead of violence breaking out when things are already at 11, here it's more out of quiet resentments and buried family trauma that, you know, can't be talked about because these are mid 20th century men who don't show feelings etc etc), or when Ace and Junior are passing that bottle and talking at the railroad station with that moving, poetic beat where the dad gets up after hearing his son admit a kind of defeat of spirit, and walks past a part where the train rolls by, and then he comes back and the scene goes on with this metaphor between them. Subtle? I dunno, but it works, and Preston and McQueen are just SO good together here (it's low key one of Mr Bullit's major roles).

Films like Junior Bonner and Balad of Cable Hogue make me ponder, as I'm sure many cinephiles have done, what could've happened had Bloody Sam sobered and cleaned up and continued to forge a variety of stakes in exploring Americana and masculinity and to be or decidedly not be at peace with oneself - not to mention without the levels of violence that made the other ones so notorious to an extent - since this speaks to a more nuanced potential. The film still cranks up the style, with the slow motion photography coming in almost like guitar solos or links to emphasize visual grandeur and metaphor (ie the bulldozers rolling through that old house early on, like a wild bull or horse), but it's more remarkable for the tenderness and depiction of wounded pride, male ego, and ultimately even existentialism, how life can be so uncertain when what one does so well is all but over.

Oh, and you get a bar fight with Joe Don Baker, Ben Johnson and (no BS) the grand-dog of Old Yeller that had to take a pause due to the band playing the Star Spangled Banner, so yeah it's pretty darn satisfying. And for such a "Guy" movie, who is the secret MVP? Ida Lupino.

Ishtar
(1987)

Once Upon a Time... in Morocco
This film is successful in very large part because the stars are in sync with the director's satirical sensibilities, of lightly yet directly mocking pretentious musical songwriters (I have to think Hoffman was channeling Leonard Cohen in that one piano scene early in the film) and culturally insenditive golden age Road movies, and who all know how to mine like expert excavators for comic timing in places that are disarming in how ludicrous and, more literally, knowingly absurd this situation is these two dopes get into is. And yes, that is up to and including that crazy gun deal scene in the desert where Hoffman as Chuck goes into full Moroccan gibberish and, what can I say except it's so stupid but it's *my* stupid, you know?

But more importantly these two men, who are not lifelong friends but more recently befriended based on this mutual connection of, you know, they love writing songs that we know are cheesy and not that good (but they just love it), get set up so well in the first twenty minutes. Yes, that not only includes Carol Kane but a botched near jump off a ledge and a sorta montage of the process that makes these two endearing in their dedication (as hapless as the end product is). I was ready to follow what happens to them as they get embroiled in such a convoluted political plot that the movie even has trouble keeping a straight face explaining it to us.

This isn't that much a problem because the dots connect - barely, but they do - and we can enjoy what May is best at as a filmmaker, which is providing ample time for natural and electric behavior, comic or just generally speaking, to spark fairly consistently. It's also a smart idea to make Beatty's Lyle just a bit less uh... sharp or on the ball than Hoffman's Chuck, so that while they're both a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic there is a scale to what or how long it takes to wise up to the deceptions around them and other oddities (as for the Blind Camel... screw it I just went for it and chuckled like a doofus as he swung about).

Is it all funny or successful every single scene? Maybe not. And for all the legit laughs that Beatty and Hoffman and Grodin get (the latter has such a good little scene trying to explain stuff to a government official and how that falls apart through miscommunication) it's a shame Isabele Adjani is mostly the but of "But you're a WOMAN" gags. She's not bad in the movie but is given such a slim character ultimately, despite being committed to the part. As another flaw, the climax feels a bit amorphous, albeit saved by the real conclusion (oh what a live album to come!)

This story is such a flimsy clothesline for what is a silly buddy movie that it threatens to break apart via it's three editors. But it does hang together; now separated from the hubbub over the cost of the movie, it can be judged on its own terms, and it's nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary, it's entertaining and sometimes even memorable (Matt Frewer in one scene as a CIA guy explaining who is who undercover got maybe the biggest laugh from me). It's 1000% not something that should have wrecked a career in filmmaking, but... well, that's a longer write up for another time.

Hell, the only thing that's sillier than this movie is me for not watching this for so long, in some part due to my mother of all people telling me how much she disliked it seeing it at the time.

Starlet
(2012)

An unlikely friendship in a very good movie
Sean Baker, from the few films I've seen from him, has such a tenacious eye and conviction as a director and hand at editing, and his films (well, this and Tangerine and Florida Project, I haven't seen the earlier ones yet) show people in totally unvarnished humanity, and the jagged edges are what leads concurrently to the pathos.

There's some misery and anger and bile and just odd, crude, and rigorously capitalistic times for these characters - in this film, the main character is an actor in porn movies and rooms with a erm less successful and stable one also in the industry and a total dickhead dude-bro (oh James Ransome, quite funny), so her profession is less than what 'normal' society considers respectable - but his film also treats these two main women like fully complicated and spirited people, who can do crappy things and try to do good things and in particular Jane does go into overdrive because it's the only way she knows how. On the surface is could seem to be sloppy in its mis en scene and construction, but that's either ignoring or looking past that it's a deliberate choice and moreover Baker's style reflects this character's heightened state of mind - naturalistic and "documentary to a point, but there's an energy that's different, and this can be seen in Tangerine too. It's cinema that throbs with a state of being like a restlessness, which also reflects youth, too.

Or, other times, he has a heightened sense of pace in some spots and then wisely, as any editor worth his or her or their salt knows, there's got to be some time to calm down on a shot and express space and the lack of a presence, like when they visit the closed down zoo with those empty cages (a stark contrast to a little later when Jane, in her pseudonym, is at a porn convention surrounded by stuff and people and detritus, including her so called airhead friend). And, of course, this is intercut with the part that made me go "oh no" out loud to no one in particular when little Starlet temporarily goes awol. I should also mention Hemingway is good here, stripping away most melodrama or easy comedy for just ...listening and bits of behavior that Baker must have allowed through improv and the like.

It's hard to put into words what makes this and Baker's other films click for me, except that they are ecstatically naturalistic, to turn a Herzogian phrase. But one other point I'd add: he doesn't try to make more of these people, if that makes sense. While someone like Jane may try to be a better person after she finds this long lost/forgotten(ish) money, with varying results, and her roommate can go even more ugly than we might expect, they don't get softened or made into fake BS movie versions of themselves; by the end of Starlet, the catharsis is a lot quieter than one might expect, and the ambiguity if it's there is maybe unnecessary, but it fits in a satisfying way. And last but not least, Beskeda Johnson, dog bless you in your one and only performance!

The Mitchells vs the Machines
(2021)

A Rhombus of Infinite Delights!
My first impression with this was to say, clearly, the thing that A Goofy Movie was missing (or even the human-character parts of Toy Story 3) was the AI super-charged Robopocalypse. But it's much more artistically ambitious and driven by a theatrical, hyperkinetic vision than that. Thrilling, heartfelt, hilarious. Lord and Miller productions match and in some cases surpass Pixar. It's got deliriously and constantly inspired animation, an aesthetic that works for and earns respect within 6 minutes of when it starts (what else to say about a teenage filmmaker who makes the kind of magic that is akin to Wonder Shozen, only better because it's 2021 and we've all learned so much how to do it better), and Olivia Colman voices an evil app.

Without question this will inspire a ton of young people to go to film school, and hey maybe one of you will call your lovable doofus of a dad and see how he's doing. Mitchells vs the Machines is about how to or how not to function in a family, especially how a daughter with a mental/emotional block with a dad (and it's very much a Why Are Dads saga), and why having a simple conversation can, you know, do a lot. Oh, and Furbys will kill you all.

And more than comparing to Goofy Movie, you know what this is? It's The Simpsons back when it was *great* - cutting edge satire, self conscious and knowing so deeply about culture right now, but with a heart as big as a... Rhombus!

What else should the Black Void of Distant Space have but Wifi?

Together Together
(2021)

I like this Lamp, too
This took a little while to get fully formed for me into a satisfying experience, largely because for about the first half hour or so (or sorry just before we get to 'second trimester') Ed Helms as Matt is doing an awkward character shtick where he says lots of things ala like an Office character (not his or even Michael Scott's, but in that ballpark), blurring out inappropriate or Oh No Dude bits to this lovely young woman carrying his child, via a charming and amusing and yet sad performance from Patti Harrison as Anna. It's like Beckwith is finding her footing with writing for this man who isn't fully sure about who he is around people - as if to hit the nail so far on the head that it comes out the other side we find out his dough comes from an app called "Loner" - and the acting is all real while the dialog is trying to be funny and Helms is too and it just isn't there.

And then these two souls, lo and behold, sit down and have a conversation and it isn't so much that it goes into high drama as we just get interesting character development not only through what is said but what isn't, and how Helms and Harrison find little beats in between their lines that can get us completely invested in them from then on. What's revealed doesn't mean we should expect that they'll wind up together, though I might lean that way if it wasn't made more on the independent route (I know the first note from a studio would be about the Woody Allen font for the credits, what must itself be a self conscious irony given a dialog exchange about his films at one point and how this will inevitably be compared by some short sighted film critoc, but I digress), but it does mean that we can understand then deeply as people who are not lonely but comfortable, or at least that's what they can tell themselves in the moment, with being alone, which is a different thing.

For the rest of the movie then on, I got more absorbed into the emotional wavelength Beckwith was presenting as far as Matt and together and how they just become friends and is about forming an intimacy that naturally unfolds because of the actors finding nuances and little details to play in every scene (and as Harrison plays up the mounting hormones, which aren't just that) and the care in building them up as people in the script. It helps that there aren't any giant contrivance points along the way or like this or that misunderstanding that blows up all over, instead these are filled with Life's Little Moments, and how a connection is formed through Matt's sincerity and Anna's vulnerability.

One should point out some exceptions to breaking up this flow - I can once again hear Patton Oswalt from his bit shouting GAY BEST FRIEEEEND on movies (Rom Coms notoriously) with that trope and good lord this one has a doozy, and it wouldn't even be a problem if he were funny, but the actor doesn't transcend the weak writing for the character - and that Matt's mom (Nora Dunn!) and some of the friends at that one party scene are overbearing to an extent you only get in little Dramedies like these to momentarily up some stakes (think like, say, much more low stakes Shiva Baby in that one scene, or maybe that's just me).

On the other hand, there is this sense underlying much of the film that perhaps Beckwith is also playfully but unmistakably satirizing people who take their lives and how they go about the process of getting to delivery unmistakably in San Francisco, and that helps to ground Matt and Anna as basically good people trying to navigate a world that takes itself at times very seriously. Maybe, ultimately, we all just need someone we can watch a 90s sitcom with and can help pick out a color for a wall without so much pretention. And again, it comes down to believing these two people, separate and together, and I do. It's not great and only ok as a comedy, but as a low-key but powerful drama it's terrific.

The Hospital
(1971)

Chayefksy and Hiller on the Impotence of a System
First impression: even just twenty minutes in with that scene where George C Scott' Dr. Polk talks with the hospital's therapist, this following discovering that a doctor died overnight through bizarre and frankly stupid circumstances through total human error, I firmly believe that (and forgive me for ranking) his performance in this is superior to that in Patton. And given the wicked fierce intelligent writing (forgive that sounding like I'm a cliche from Boston), and how quickly yet precisely Hiller gets things moving, I can tell I'm going to at least enjoy this one a good deal.

Second impression: as *more* bodies pile up (hey, heart attacks and other uh 'freak accidents, you know), a character remarks to the beleaguered Dr Polk that there may be a killer stalking the halls. My first impression is to reply "I know, it's called the American Healthcare System." As extreme as this Network meets ER tome gets to, which means this is a giant work of savage yet totally human and bittersweet satire (more so bitter, noche) that moves from one beat to the next with a Movement upon Movement and here's ANOTHER thing that's Happening Now pacing, has much fully changed here (at least for the hospital that is in a part of the city that has so few resources)? It's not just awake to the problems of society, it's on ten pots of coffee and thankfully aware of how there can only be so much done with fists in the air raging against the machine and/or dying of the light.

And... Oh yeah, we lost Diana Rigg last fall. Gosh, what a major talent, total glamor but poise but she can tell a story where disillusionment becomes very funny, and can give better than she can take from that big Method Acting Ass "Hulking Bear of a Man" Scott. By the by: "Power to the impotent, right on, baby!" Now, who else could deliver that line with such clear-eyed but devastated aplomb like George Captain Holy Cow Scott? That is part of just one monologs where he makes the mood of the movie clear: absurdity, depression, fury, and... yeah, impotence, in one package.

Third (hot/controversial take): I do like MASH, but I'm inclined to say this movie, which comes on the heels of the end of the 1960s and set in an institution where smart people work in a place where nothing works, gets MASH right even more than Altman did. And I get why that movie is better remembered and more influential, but this is like angry-brainy punk rock, with some wonderful character actors (Nancy Marchand, Richard Dysart, Robert's Blossom, Katherine Helmond, that one guy I swear was in All the President's Men) filling this out throughout with artistic credibility.

If it falls short of Network, it's only because a) what else can live up to that film, and Arthur Hiller on his best day isn't still, well, Lumet on his, and b) it's working on a tonal Rollercoaster, and as thrilling as it is to see the first time I wonder how if it would hold up on another viewing. That said, it deserves to be rediscovered and I'd love to teach it to students as an example of a screenplay that can swing for the fences between tones and manage to feel real.

Joshû sasori: Dai-41 zakkyo-bô
(1972)

unlike any other movie... until I see the rest of this series!
On the one hand, I should have perhaps done some more research into this series and put on what is the first film in this Female Prisoner saga before going to the sequel. On the other hand, there is something to be said for a follow-up to work completely on its own terms. I never felt so lost or that I was missing much, mainly because the film is unlike nearly any one I've seen (I'm aware this is part of a movement of films under the "Pinkie" distinction) presented as such a decidedly crazy (because this world is crazy), confoundingly colorful and even visually assaultive abstract work of surrealist art, taking apart this story which is by itself not all that deep and transforming it into an experience that is all springing from what emotions can be conjured up through its heightened direction. It all works on the level of a harrowing dream, yet it's happening to these people.

This is action and a chase movie and a thriller, but it's also horror and even Noh theater (at one point the escapees come across a... ghost who explains who each one of the women is and it almost puts you into a trance how it's shot). The women aren't exactly all virtuous, and that's OK. Or really, that's not meant to be the point. The larger point here is... the bad men of this world (and they're all men) must pay, and making revenge cinematic means making it larger than life, and using genre to probe the darkest, most twisted realms of the soul. And for as much as this (rightly) can be a Grindhouse sort of promoted film, the compositions seem considered with the same rigor and care as any other Wildman Japanese director of the time.

This isn't supposed to be presented naturalistically (I originally typed realistically and that's not the same thing), at least on the surface. This is exploitation on a whole Gonzo other level - the Japanese go big or go home, you know - and because it's stretched into the abstract it becomes something else. It's not that it isn't true- it's achingly, brutally honest... about how rotten patriarchy is, and that, well, some of these other Prisoners that escape with our (anti)heroine have done some horrible things! Female Scorpion 41 depicts the emotions of a nightmare - frankly, if I'm going to get a woman in suffering and getting payback, I much prefer this over a I Spit on Your Grave any day of the week.

And my God, Meiko Kaji keeps the face of determined "I'm gonna mess you up" every second. She's every woman, it's all in her.

Two Distant Strangers
(2020)

Obvious story with strong performances, a mixed bag
I guess reading James Baldwin does this to some folks out there. But seriously, it's too bad with this short film about a black man being repeatedly killed Groundhog's Day style by a racist white cop doesn't fully click. To put it this way, the hands are heavy enough to break a whole city block Incredible Hulk style. Unimpeachable for the acting and it showcases some solid cinematography, but will it hold up years from now as weed is legal? I know that's a minor thing besides the point, it's just that my mind wanders to this when the conceit is so screaming this in your face, song choice included (or to make the dramatic framing of it about the now, it's hard to see it hold up when we currently have Russian Doll and Palm Springs), not to mention that I believe I saw the Cop actor in Perry Mason and was better in that too(?) I get it, I totally do. Does it mean it's interesting?

In other words, I agree 1000% with everything this is saying - my Twitter handle has BLM for Pete's sake, but it doesn't mean this short in its script and some of its execution (ie how about an overhead shot of a rooftop as a cop car is driving along shows the names of George Floyd and Freddie Gray and so on) is more on the nose than even Stanley Kramer and Paul Haggis could take. And speaking of names, would we be seeing this in the Oscar group if it weren't produced by Lawrence Bender and Sean Combs? Two Distant Strangers has anger and passion, it just doesn't have anything original or different to represent or show with those things.

The Letter Room
(2020)

a different kind of prison story; Oscar Issac is one of the new great star-actors
First of all, there's Oscar Isaac, and... isn't that enough for a review? What else am I going to say? "Hello, Cleveland!" No. This should suffice. That and his mustache. Maybe we should all just be thankful he wasn't cast as Superman a few years back.

Ok, a little more. This is largely driven by Isaac, a star-actor who has the charisma and of a Harrison Ford, being an inherently captivating presence who understands how to draw out behavior and a psychological depth and nuance through just a look or a series of furrowed brows next to that epic stache. But it's furthermore a fairly unique set up and pay off for a story set in prison, in particular death row, and how this officer gets drawn in to this one couple's melancholy and seemingly distressing circumstance is dramatic gold to me. It's always good for me if there's a story where you have a character learning about another without them knowing - voyeurism 101, yeah, of course - but through it being in letters and how the information is doled out alongside direction that means to express that aloneness and genuine want (or even need) to help someone is quite moving. And if you were somehow ever wondering, Alia Shawcat is a devastating dramatic performer and gives her all to a character in just two scenes.

This should get the Oscar (oh hey pun intended I guess?) Not even for the star power but because it combines all that cinema can do in a brief time to leave the greatest impact (White Tiger is a pretty close second IMO).

STOP
(2019)

Powerful, disturbing, what the subject requires dramatically
On YouTube, which is where I saw this rather excellent and appropriately tense and (by the end, realistically) mortifying short film, the description is there next to the title: "2 balck men get pulled over by a cop on a power trip." This is a curious thing because for one there is also a white woman in the passenger side (or she's probably mixed race, I don't want to assume or pretend to tell), and, let's cut the crap, it's hard to find a cop thay isn't on a power trip.

It's practically a redundancy at this point.

The quality here is tight and solid as a rock. This is ten minutes and barely any feels wasted. Though it may be a little much to throw in the mention of a gun late in the proceedings, and it might have been interesting to see more of the other cop who is just lurking in the background, it doesn't take away from how every line and the choices in delivering every line and moment to moment behavior is just about what this needs to be. Power corrupts absolutely, as does implicit - or just outright - racism and prejudice. This could almost be a PSA except that would be too obvious. Stop is just... what it is. And it's sick.

Interesting to note that DeGennaro and Scott Weinberg are usually in horror writing and filmmaking - both cohost a fun podcast called Science vs Fiction and Weinberg has been primarily writing horror film criticism for a while - since this is itself, on the nose or not, modern political horror its is basic form (political in the literal sense - what does it mean to interact and be "polite" in that sense of the word). But it's cast so that all four main players get to show what they can do and once it gets to that final shot your heart appropriately (if one has a conscience) drops to the floor. Very good work.

Kuai can che
(1984)

comedy action classic from Golden Harvest, Hung and Chan
Want to know what kind of deluxe cinematic experience you're in for with Wheels on Meals? At one point, Jackie and his friend Yuen Biao get into some momentary trouble and two cops are about to haul them away and grab them by their shirts. But wait, not so fast as they just quickly slip out of their shirts (like in a second this happens) and then they just run away, as you do when you're Jackie and his friend. If you aren't on board by this point with the movie, and this is a good 40 minutes in, just give up and go watch some more Grimdark tough guy crap.

In other words, this is so very broad as a comedy but sometimes I am just in the mood for a movie that knows how to use actors that can tap into showing BIG reactions with clockwork timing, and the story lends itself to big reactions and exaggerations and set pieces. This starts off after all with Jackie Chan on a skateboard taking down orders like he is performing a perfect ice skating routine and then delivering the food and drinks to people with little tricks and moves that are by itself enough for him to be a minor legend.

But then you throw in Samo Hung as a uh "Replacement" P. I. who is tasked with finding a woman and then it turns out to be beyond gorgeous pickpocket, who I should add can give just as well in her scenes with Chan and Biao (watch for example as she calmly asks which of the two guys wants to sleep with her when she comes over to stay at their place and their immediate doofy reactions, it's just delightful, even if it curs away to the next day and one wonders what uh happened next).

Sure, some of the BIG broad comic moments haven't aged all that well. That's putting it lightly, specifically with the part where the two go to see David's dad in the mental hospital and there are all of those "colorful" characters doing Crazy Person Shtick around them. But because much of this is about how bumbling these three are, Chan, Biao and Hung keep themselves as the but of many jokes and gags (another moment that made me chuckle, the music at a club getting turned off just as Hung is slandering Spaniards for everyone to turn and hear).

All of this is to say the movie is enjoyable enough on its own terms with these borderline live action cartoon characters, so that by the time we get a wild car chase - one that, I kid you not, gets the title to make sense - and the fights, we're in a good state of mind. Indeed, starting with the ascent up into the (yes) villain's castle lair where he is keeping the heroine, it's a total blast of daring action, choreography that doesn't stop for a good gag but keeps the intensity up to 11, and I just marvel at it all knowing that it must have taken dozens if not *hundreds* of takes to get these fights just so. And Hung is smart enough to show that, hey, sometimes these guys can get hurt in all this combat. And, naturally, Hung gives himself the (DOUBLE) swordplay (duh).

Wheels on Meals is playful, a little crazy, and violent in a way that can be enjoyed I'd say by like anyone 10 and up - or for anyone who wants to tap into their inner adolescent out to watch Chan kick a whole lot of ass (not as much as some of the other movies at this time, but hey, quality over quantity you know),

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