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Generation X

Yeah, my rating is too high objectively, but I loved it.
This is a total reach on an actual objective film rating level-there's no sugarcoating that-but I now have my revisionist lens on to give y'all the lowdown on this failed TV pilot from FOX that premiered in February '96 (when I was but a wee lad).

This is how subverted 90s culture is when you watch a film from the time in today's world post 2010 (here's looking at you 21 Jump Street): the tough guy/cool guy lines come across as minuscule and sad yet hilarious, the school dynamics between kids has drastically changed, just because a dutch angle is being used for every other scene doesn't make the film extra "interesting" or rebellious, and while being embarrassed by your parents is definitely still a thing it's a far cry off from only getting a phone call in front of all your friends. There's more but those are the big ones you can check off your list. Somehow the plot point of the dream world and being an angsty mutant teen particularly in the 90s strikes a chord, and because our world and film is drastically different today, Generation X comes off as perfectly grungy and surreal.

Superhero films are a dime a dozen these days, it's what the masses want. The technology we have at our fingertips has allowed for us to create vast worlds and rather intense sequences of pristine ship chases and bright colorful zap-fights (new word, cool right?). We live in a time where it almost takes less imagination to think of these things because we are able to harness how real it all looks, but I'm here to argue how real something looks shouldn't always be the goal. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that Generation X with all it's massive flaws in whichever category you choose (writing, directing, lighting, casting, etc) spurs up a ton of admiration from me for the practical (and special) effects pulled off here for such a small budget (after reading many disappointed reviews I also set the bar really low). And even with said flaws (I have my revisionist glasses on remember) there's this alluring nostalgia that festers off this thing; dipped in the intensely off-putting color clashes and over-utilized dutch angles that made the 90s "cool".

I also tend to be a comic nerd (less so these days than what I used to be-feel like I've forgotten so much), and this is an entirely other viewpoint many share in regards to this failed pilot. Jubilee is white! Mondo is a jerk! Skin is no tough-guy! Why are some characters missing and others are heroes I've never heard of? While I once was someone who moaned and griped about such specific details I've come to learn that creative license is not really a bad thing when proper commitment is also brought to the table. The only compliment I can give the writing here is its said commitment regarding the character arcs (while remaining mostly weak). I'm even ok with the fact the writers chose to rip off the Nightmare on Elm Street films with its dream plot. It's pulled off rather successfully here for what little everyone had to work with.

There is something other than the nostalgia though that works for me, and looking back makes it seem all the more screwed up that this was for a teenage crowd. The production design and direction in some sequences are absolutely stellar and are definitive hallmarks of 90s filmmaking in particular. The sequences in the dream world are distant and disturbingly surreal (that moonlit path). These sequences are aided by great sound design and come off as superbly eerie. The eerie-ness is compacted with the major contrast between Matt Frewer's poor man's Riddler in the vein of Jim Carrey versus the sudden moments of intense and wacky melodrama. The tonal execution somehow works with so much going on in some areas yet not enough in others, potentially a conundrum I can no more explain, but is just meant to be consumed.

Watching this brought me back to my younger years in more ways than 98% of the super hero movies that come out today. I'm not sure if I've really made my case or justified my rating. I'm reminded of Charmed in some sequences which has turned into a good thing as I watched the entire series with my wife months back during lockdown. Generation X is another film (failed pilot) that showcases some good autumn vibes, some decent melodrama and minor character moments mixed with nostalgia and a ripped off plot (that tends to not make much sense but sort of works). With all that said, I loved it. Where's our gritty remake of this Generation X, Hollywood? Give me more Jubilation Lee (whether white or Chinese) kicking ass and taking names.

Thank you too fellow Letterboxer Todd for putting this on my radar. Give him a follow cause he's a great guy writing great reviews! This was a night well spent going down memory lane.

Life After Sex

Traces of Schlock And A Good Dose of Comedy With Tons of Heart
It was a relationship thriller. She was a Venus snatch-trap.

A major upgrade from Serge's debut feature Bold Stroke/Brush With Death, in that, Life After Sex attempts to actually grapple important relationships and mature topics. The kicker here is that Serge's eye for acting is not altogether fantastic but the incredibly awkward "lo-fi" realness adds some sensible charm. There is also some absolutely wacky writing and inane dialogue that will either leave you slightly wondering how it was left in or laughing joyously or both (see intro quote). Even through all its flaws, it suggests the silliness of one's selfishness that prevents a true romance from blooming and says commitment is the key. The weird, cumbersome acting of the characters almost works for the betterment of the story's message. They act immaturely when single and just starting out, to later fully develop a more honed in sense of urgency.

The main character, Stephen, falls in love with an actress (Shannon) he meets at an audition for his new film, and not before long a relationship sparks. Between the scenes of this couple quickly falling in love, having gratuitous sex, enduring long walks on the beach, and fighting Rodnunsky inserts segments of his character's new film. A fascinating introspective unfolds, surprisingly, subverting the schlock facade I was completely prepared for. There is literally a conversation about science vs God between the main man and woman that somehow simultaneously becomes the funniest and potentially most serious clip in the film. It left me elated, confused (in a good way), and questioning how and why this could be. It isn't just that one scene either, (and this could totally be my insane taste in film) but there are several other moments between Stephen and Shannon that made me gasp (from sheer authenticity). Have you ever in your life witnessed a film where a woman asks to hold the man's penis while he pees? That may sound silly, but for those of you who have not experienced this I guarantee you it is a real thing in real life. 100% one of the most genuine things I've seen occur between a couple in a film. Or how about a 2 minute rendition of a dude dancing with panties from a woman he invited over to his house and didn't sleep with? Or arguments that make little to no sense? And there is more. AND IT ALL WORKS. How? Why, God, Why? Whatever it is, the unmeasured formula makes me wish rom-coms were more like it. The tricky thing is if more were like it then it wouldn't be that special, but I think you get my point.

There's this theory an internet acquaintance suggested to me months ago at the beginning of quarantine regarding rom-coms and I think its important to bring up in the context of this review. Rom-coms are a genre that so badly falls into a dialed formula (more so than other genres). This formula, he says, was birthed with Nora Ephron's When Harry Met Sally: man and woman meet in some casual way, they question relationships over the years, have the somehow super convenient super wise best friends who they confide in for advice, and endure a cyclical pattern of fall in love, insert issue, and fall in love again. This theory gave me an epiphany and I think must be somewhere in the realm of 90% accurate. At the very least it's much harder to suggest one that doesn't fall into such common traits. I bring this all up to suggest that even with all its amateur moments, severe awkwardness, and glaring imperfections Life After Sex is the rom-com I never knew I wanted. It less follows a formula and more than anything clearly follows the heart of its director. Up until now, something I've never used to describe any director ever. Serge may not have the perfect films, but goddamn if they don't have the heart.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.


The Master of Romance
Marnie Edgar: You don't love me. I'm just something you've caught! You think I'm some sort of animal you've trapped!

Mark Rutland: That's right - you are. And I've caught something really wild this time, haven't I? I've tracked you and caught you and by God I'm going to keep you.

We all know Alfred Hitchcock. The man behind the camera, the Master of Suspense, as we've all called him, but watching Marnie an epiphany struck me looking back at Hitchock's career. He is also, undoubtedly, the Master of Romance.

Tippi Hedren's Marnie Edgar is not only the embodiment of an Ice Cold Queen. She is mentally and emotionally one as well-an unapologetic, stubborn, personality of damaged goods. The performance is now one of my all-time favorites from an actress. On her personal journey of thievery she is caught by the thorough, perverse, demanding grasp of Sean Connery's Mark Rutland. Together they trot an impressive psychological tango of man and woman on the screen. A tango that perhaps turns into a tragic waltz, a beautiful sonata, a maddening ballad. At times deafening, but how the ears want to keep listening, and so they do. Bernard Hermann's impeccably dynamic score lives and breathes like an animal all it's own, writhing beneath the sharpened conversational quips and emotional quandaries.

Marnie Edgar: I don't need to read that muck to know that women are stupid and feeble and men are filthy pigs!

When it comes to Hitch, we also know he pursues the psychological and the track record is impressive (Rebecca, Spellbound, Psycho, Suspicion, etc). In his masterpiece and greatest example of psychological duress (and romance), Vertigo, Scottie is entangled in a web of psychological longing that stems from the Oedipus complex (and something Hitch revisited again more bluntly (HA!) with Psycho). In Marnie (three films removed from Vertigo, two from Psycho) Hitch pushes the envelope yet again as he places this psychological complex upon a woman, seemingly distracted and utterly fragmented-tormented by the color RED and cannot allow a man to touch her. Is this a woman with daddy issues? Or a woman with mommy issues? Why is this so? Just how bad is her mental illness and past abuse?

Enter Mark Rutland who ensnares this woman, this helpless creature. As a cultured man of the hunt he very well knows the female is the more predatory gender across the spectrum of the animal kingdom. Rutland can't help himself, just like how Marnie for herself. Yet the film doesn't focus on Rutland's background, he is just the flawed, semi-endearing, yet perverse body to help Marnie with her internal struggle. As lust began the relationship, marriage soon enters and more questions pop-up regarding this dynamic. More specifically, there is a focus upon how men and women treat each other in a marriage (or how they don't). Having Mark and Marnie married allows them to both be stuck, or at least in the thick of it together. Something Hitch always gracefully touched upon in past features but never expanded upon until here and later in Torn Curtain. The most sacred relationship between a man and woman (or any two people in love) brings an interesting spice to the quest of solving psychological issues, finding a formula, or committing murder. The marriage between Mark and Marnie is a complicated one, and the two characters as much struggle with each other as they do with the other major problems on hand.

However, even with the major "power" struggle between the couple there is still a romance--other than the innate, animalistic sexual desire of Rutland, his love for Marnie is the only thing that keeps him coming back. Technically he never leaves her but it is what has him go all in from the start-a love that is at times perverse and dirty, grotesquely tragic, yet strangely beautiful when it comes to the end (the music probably is to blame for this description). And even with his raging flaws, Mark Rutland understands the core of the matter for Marnie. I found myself naturally thinking this myself while watching...

Mark Rutland: Marnie, it's time to have a little compassion for yourself. When a child, a child of any age, Marnie, can't get love, it takes what it can get, any way it can get it. It's not so hard to understand.

The final 30 minutes is unquestionably amazing (while many may find Hitch's techniques to be a bit outdated they didn't at all take anything away from my experience). All the psychological impulses and seemingly irrational emotions are answered. One scene with Bernice Edgar (Marnie's mother) is so powerful it makes a previous scene from the beginning that much better. The psychology of this piece is meticulous, well-stated, and amazingly transferred to the screen by Hitch (from the novel, and boy, is Hitch one of the very best at that). The sublime poetry of the final scene possibly gives us the idolized happy ending to the struggles of mental illness... a road once blocked, blocked no longer.

The Thief and the Cobbler

Review for The Recobbled Cut -Mark 4 not studio produced version
One of those long time films I've always wanted to see and now I can say I have. Thank you!

The Thief and The Cobbler is an absolutely stunning piece of cinema and animation that is all the more fascinating for its notorious and doomed production history. Richard Williams certainly had a vision. One so grand that it transcends pastiche of his forefathers and friends of the industry. And even though it will forever be unfinished, The Recobbled Cut, represents the amazing fandom and dedication of other fellow artists and animators; a collection of folks who care and appreciate everything Williams tried to do. His efforts have not gone in vain.

The Thief is perhaps the pinnacle role for all those Wile E. Coyote types; the giant goofball who just wants that one thing and can never quite taste the glory... a true homage, and yet there is another found in The Cobbler, a great silent hero, apparently modeled after Harold Lloyd (and others). The two together (but not really) are a tandem for the ages. The Thief in particular comes across as annoying at first but becomes really like-able. His journey for something simple simultaneously triggers and resolves issues left and right; an unaware creature of happenstance that fits beautifully in and out of the story. I cannot recall a more "useless" yet important character ever. And it works so so well (easily an influencer of the nutty squirrel from the Ice Age films).

An important note to make, there are apparently other versions to this film as well-one or two others at least (Miramax one specifically and I believe it is the original) that were taken over after Williams went over budget and couldn't complete any deadlines. In these versions choices were made to give every character a voice actor (not necessary) and the story and characters revamped and trimmed to great lengths. I have not seen them so I cannot compare, but The Recobbled Cut is the version you should probabky see considering the differences and how it is potentially the closest to Williams' grand vision. In The Recobbled Cut the Thief and Cobbler are voiceless (which works to great affect), rough animated sketches are places in for the scenes that were never polished, other characters also remain voiceless, and it is much longer (by an hour). While I can agree that voice acting adds levels of emotion and detail to animated characters it is not needed here. Their silence makes the Thief's and Cobbler's actions much more monumental and adds an atmosphere of stoic-ness to the drama and comedy to the slapstick. Regarding the voice work however, the brunt of it is left to Vincent Price as the vile Grand Vizier ZigZag (who speaks in rhyme!) as well as the actors for King Nod and Princess YumYum.

The film embraces surrealist chase sequences that mesmerize with colors and shapes, and at times captures texture remarkably well (a tack on the floor, moving a drain lid, or the castle moat). Many moments are memorable, but the war machine sequence is the greatest animated sequence I have ever had the privilege of viewing.

A must see for all.


"Poetry is untranslatable, like the whole of art."
While seemingly pretentious and over-indulgent, it is easy to see how one may find boredom while trying to engage with Tarkovsky's work. In fact, Tarkovsky poses such questions himself regarding the meaning of art as a whole and what it also means on a personal level. Are artists mind-openers and world-alterers? Or are they really sappy, pretentious and over-indulgent fools?

Nostalghia has all the Tarkovsky traits: long quiet takes that may go on for minutes, shots of water, the sounds of water dripping, and sometimes painfully slow-zooms and dollies. But this is Tarkovsky showing us yet another visual poem, and when we read a poem we generally don't understand the first time around or the second. It may take the third or fourth time around for everything to click and while we don't normally think in such a literary way when it comes to film as entertainment, we are aware it is a possibility and it isn't for everyone.

The beauty of what the camera captures is magnificent, and almost seems fool-proof when Tarkovsky is behind the camera. He could film a dirty puddle filled with literal crap and human fluids and we'd still be inspired and amazed.

Feelings unspoken are unforgettable.

Nostalghia is so far Tarkovsky's greatest effort concerning faith and broader spirituality as we find the main character so reflective in his past as he is in another country looking for a composer. His remorse and longing for what was is harrowing and comes full circle by the end. While during the entire film he has been an observer (as we are given his perspective from the camera many times throughout) and in a sequence of something on its face does not seem special, he realizes he must take action to rekindle the faith he lost.

The closing minutes are as picturesque as anything I have ever seen put to film.

Conte d'hiver

There's a profound moment I experienced over the internet years ago that feels like the embodiment of this film. I don't remember exactly what was said, but to paraphrase it went something like this (the individual was sharing a romance they had):

I met her on Oct 17th 1994. We lived together and loved each-other. I brought her to the airport on Sept 5th 1995. It was the last day I ever saw her. I think about her with every day that passes.

It was just an internet comment on an IMDb forum, yet the stranger blew me away with their mundanity, nostalgia and poetry of their words. It's stuck with me ever since because I remember thinking how profound it seemed in the way of love and how these types of relationships really do happen, even if we mostly see them in films. But the craziest thing about Rohmer's A Tale of Winter is it develops its themes gradually, while making us think we are headed in one direction he decides to shift it (subtly) and create magic. The kind of film magic you find in a fairy tale or the most coincidental/fateful moments of reality.

After a startling and bravado montage of a passionate summer romance, we dig into the woman's life from the montage. What later ensues is the observation of her life having had a child and attempting to make a decision for a suitor between her two current options. What honestly comes across as malicious flirtation at first sublimates into her philosophical and faithful outlook on life; a most welcoming tale of warmth amidst a frigid Paris backdrop.

I have never seen a Rohmer film before, and maybe this isn't the usual place to start but I had access and took the chance. I low-key ended up loving this. Perhaps I've only felt this way after first watching Linklater's Before Sunrise, and while that film is executed much differently, they both harbor this constant feeling of warm, romantic fate. And I won't even start to dig much deeper or even scratch the surface with the Shakespeare material this film wrestles with as well as some of the more intricate socratic dialogue that occurs between characters, as I don't feel capable enough to expand in those areas. But I know there's plenty more to come back to when I decide to cozy up and watch this during the next dreary winter day.

Tears of joy.

Torn Curtain

Mathematical logic and romantic inconsistency...
This is certainly no Vertigo or Rear Window but it may very well be Hitch's best cat and mouse espionage thriller. It absolutely gets more dislike than it should, but then again, what makes it great doesn't necessarily appeal to the masses. What makes Torn Curtain stick out for me is the love story at its center, Hitch's evidence of something new in filmmaking, and the 4-5 scenes of absolute excellence that add the burdensome weight of suspense upon the chest. For all intents and purposes this is the best of Hitch at his most subdued.

The entire film is an allegory for ice and fire, cold and hot; the opening credits, the intro of our main couple under a cozy set of blankets in a place where the heat isn't working, the coldness of Michael's sudden change of heart towards Sarah, Sarah's obvious passion, Gromek's inconsistent lighter, the wood stove at the farmhouse, how the climax utilizes fire and how it gets metaphorically doused out with water... And of course, the pivotal expression of the film's main exercise between the Cold War science and the passionate strain of a particular couple... it's all right there but never really discussed by folks who see this film--including me who completely missed this on my initial watch.

Paul Newman and Julie Andrews play a newly engaged academic couple overseas for an important meeting of the minds, but not before long does Sarah (Andrews) realize something is up with Michael (Newman) and she suddenly doesn't know if she can trust him. The dilemma for her is if she should go home or stay with Michael to see what his true motives are. She follows him out of love. Michael wishes for her to leave for her own safety as he pursues something behind the Iron Curtain but the non-calculated detail of his future wife's love persisting ultimately saves his life (see interrogation scene). That particular scene has so much tension and Andrews' shining moment is rather anti-climactic, but it is Hitch's brilliant use of subtlety that showcases her wit. On rewatch, this is a huge moment that moves me especially since Andrews does not fully understand the "why" of it all until the scene after (what I'll call the scene on the hill). Hitch makes an interesting choice also, giving the film from Sarah's perspective for the near-first half and then effectively switches to Michael's for the second half.

The love story then takes a back seat to the espionage (Michael's perspective) after the scene on the hill and doesn't come back to the forefront until the masterful (and totally Hitchcockian) theater scene. It is no coincidence Hitch perfectly selects Francesca da Rimini Opus 32 by Tchaikovsky as the music (shout out to Daniel K. for helping me realize this kind of detail from Hitch), as it is about a woman who is married for political reasons to make peace between two warring families. She instead falls for her husband's brother and is cast into the second circle of hell; the couple in an eternal whirlwind doomed by their passions. And this is metaphorically the couple we are seeing in the theater stirred with fear. They are stuck in their own form of hell which is Cold War Era Berlin. It is also thanks to the play that Michael concocts a brilliant last second plan of chaos, adding more heat to the fire.

It is interesting that Hitch decided to return to espionage after coming off of Psycho, The Birds, and Marnie--three films removed from his last such spy thriller found in North By Northwest. In the wake that most find Torn Curtain boring, I think Hitch is actually trying to experiment further in giving us suspense with inactivity as opposed to the breathtaking action of NxNW. He had learned from The Birds that creating a silent atmosphere with minimal action can induce something startling and be hugely affective in its suspense (more specifically its 15 minute finale). I also think at this point, many were looking to Hitch for the next great innovative idea in the vain of Psycho. Something much more in your face. But because this film is subtle and he was still stuck in his ways (seen mostly through his use of projection screens and set pieces while filmmakers like Kubrick were giving us real places) the film has been known publicly as a failure. Looking more closely, I think Hitch had given us something innovative, which is the seemingly impossible creation of suspense via stagnant sequences. Posing this question, is this possible? Or more accurately, can suspense be possible without any sort of desired out come?

For Torn Curtain, take the scene with Lisa Kedrova and the scene at the Berlin Museum for prime examples of inactivity; the former has us waiting in a post office repeatedly asking for Albert (while we know the cops are coming, the threat is not at all in our face) and the latter has a chase scene that ultimately doesn't go anywhere. Both instances in which many would find as pure failures on their face, while I think Hitch is actually pushing the boundaries of filmmaking. Watching both of the aforementioned scenes had me internally writhing in my seat; impatient--even though they result in nothing. As another reviewer stated, he is indulging the audience in the lack of indulgences. In a more poetic way, getting us hot and then cold repeatedly; perfecting the allegory of the film. A totally unexpected Hitchcockian poem.

The entire cast is great, especially the german characters who add some awesome atmosphere to the film, especially Wolfgang Kieling and Gunter Strack (who I swear gives off a crazy vibe of Raymond Burr in Rear Window). Julie Andrews, in particular, gets a ton of flack while I think she does a great job (I am aware she has admitted she didn't do much of anything in this), but her scenes that highlight her love for Michael are all the better for having her in the film.

In other highlights, the always mentioned farmhouse scene is the showstopper--in the exact opposite sense of Psycho's famous scene--portrays how hard it is to truly kill someone. And so many more good scenes follow (Berlin Museum, the dinner party, bus chase, the interrogation, the hill). Newman and Andrews don't get enough credit here (just see their faces in the theater scene) as that one spot holds it down for what we weren't able to get from any other part of the film. They are purposefully restrained, and not to be impassioned once they are in the thick of it. The runtime which I found to be a major detractor on my first watch wasn't a problem at all this time. In fact the film zipped by. Most likely because this time I found plenty to admire and be engrossed by.

Torn Curtain drastically improves from a 5 to an 9.


Teshigahara in Top Form
The joy of creating things lies in revealing something new in the world. It's difficult to know the value of something new... it's beyond calculation. Thus sometimes, creators may indeed appear selfish. Rikyu was an example of this.

This is going to be kind of long, but I really do hope you read. Call me a mega-fanboy of Hiroshi Teshigahara but I will stand by these words.

His films from the 60s are frenetic, higher energy, faster paced, creative, photographed in b & w (with one exception), and focus so greatly on the loss of identity. His final two films of his career, Rikyu & Go-hime, are slower-paced, more deliberate, more calculated, disciplined, refined, filmed in color, and have characters who thoroughly understand who they are. The evolution of going from these 60s pieces to the 80s ones, is not a conventional one (although there are probably plenty of examples of artists becoming more disciplined and refined as they get older). For HT, the journey came from his father's calling and eventually his own to the art form of Ikebana (flower arrangement) and his pursuit of this other art turned him into a master. Our own version of Rikyu, for example; a man of his time, of his art; dedicating his life in full. It just so happens his mastery and understanding of one art form carries over so well to film. The man had an eye like no other.

The most impressive thing to me is the calculated layout and geometry of his camera work and photography; a man's head clearly reflecting off a gloss table (what he had utilized to massive effect in The Man Without A Map), a gardener in silhouette between two columns, hooves of horses trotting in tow, a man yelling in frustration in a cave, a winter forest, a summer meadow, a grove of cherry blossoms, how a particular prop is placed, the preciseness of having us focus on someone's hand or foot... I really could go on. Everything in frame are his brushstrokes, the entire film his painting. Not too much color, not too little. Not lingering too long on someone's face, and allowing a character to stand up (while talking) to suddenly not see his face. The fluidity and rigidity of the character's movements. Knowing, caring and understanding the Way of Tea. It sounds like a ton (well cause it is) but you could very well miss it all if you just took this film at face value and strictly paid attention to the two plots that carry on throughout the film. In fact, much of what we see is so subtle you'd have to know what you're looking for but that doesn't, in the very least, not allow one to feel the meditative and reflective states one can draw from Rikyu or Go-hime, or seeing the ever-present geometry in every frame. To even not notice the innate beauty of Japan's geography and culture, would be very shortsighted to anyone who watches these films.

Again, as I mentioned in my review of Rikyu, the plots may not be all that interesting unless you are captivated by feudal Japanese Tea lords or the Japanese culture at large (which I have learned does fascinate me). HT does create something new here (at least as far as my knowledge in film goes) with giving us a preservation of a meditative journey that reflects upon death and the people we choose to spend our time with; all the while subtly infusing his late-refined visual style upon us. If Rikyu is about the reflective state of tea ceremonies and always pursuing the perfect harmonious moment, than Go-hime is about the loneliness (and bitterness) that can override us and bewilder us from ever achieving these moments. We all wish to never be alone (as we see troubles Lord Oribe in the film) but it is a an ever-present station of reality, always looming while we try to live our lives. Usu the gardener and Princess Goh herself additionally drive this point home with their "romantic" subplot, as does the elder thief Junsai who briefly mentors the gardener. Always lurking in the back of many of the character's minds is the fear of exile for even being remotely kind to the Christianity that is spreading throughout Japan (some tea lords greatly opposed this, they believed in Buddha as far as I know). As we learned in the previous film, the character Rikyu, gets ordered to exile and eventually death for disobeying orders/sentiments of a different kind. The point being that Go-hime shows us how unsettling and disruptive general toxicity (or more subtly, disagreement) can be, and how it ultimately generates this ominous loneliness many characters fear (exile, death, etc). I'm not sure if I totally understand the "romantic" subplots minutia but I feel that this relationship presents loneliness in a more brave and non-obvious way.

I suspect the only other reason one watches either of these films is because of Teshigahara, which is the best reason above all others. Perhaps I've sipped the kool-aid a bit too much after being forever changed by Woman in the Dunes, but I really think his final two features are as strong, if not stronger, than his 60s work (with exception to the masterpiece). One of my all-time favorite shots comes from this film now, where Junsai yells at Usu telling him he needs to leave. The shot shows us Junsai yelling in frustration as we can see the fire lit behind him, all the equipment along the cave walls, and the natural light coming from the outside as he yells.

I'm holding off on a rating for now but I don't doubt for a second this gets something juicy from me.


Outstanding Feature About Reflection
"Nothing" doesn't take, "Death" takes.

With the exception of not having access to his 70's work (Sama Soruja & Warera no Shuyaku, plus his two episodes of Zatoichi Monogatari), and not knowing what they're like, this film is a complete 180 from Teshigahara's earlier high-energy 60's works. This is far from a bad thing, in fact, this is one of the greatest examples of seeing a director's evolution from point A to point B.

Rikyu, is a film regarding politics in 16th/17th century Japan focusing on the Grandmasters of Tea, and the politics that stem from their respective circles. One in particular, Rikyu, has shaken his circle by the way he left nearly 30 years earlier. His follower (or protege) Hontaku, passes on the stories he remembers to the Lords that are still alive and remember Rikyu. It is all deeply reflective.

And the meditative nature is what captivated me from the beginning--Possibly Teshigahara making this so on purpose, or it is by coincidence a rather amazing side effect of this particular story he wanted to tell. There is a reverence you get from watching this that almost shakes your soul; being amazed at how these people took their belief in the perfect harmonious moment so seriously (and felt so obliged to commit seppoku when necessary). Just the ultra-peaceful and reclusive shots of nature are worth the price of admission IMO, and I swear, a film like this would otherwise bore me if I wasn't such a fan of Teshigahara himself or fascinated by Japanese culture. So if you are not into either of those things you will likely find this a snooze-fest.

Ultimately, this is a very well-made (and well researched?) historical drama that takes us on a meditative and simultaneously cathartic journey. We don't get any sight of HT's more stylized technique (that you may have enjoyed from the 60's pieces) except for the very beginning and in the last 20 minutes or so, but even there, it is an evolved style; more patient, subdued, refined.

Tanin no kao

Amazing Horror Film on The Loss of Identity
The face is the door to the soul.

This film is riddled with deep instances of philosophy that question the boundaries of how humans think and feel. A man disfigured from an awful accident begins to talk with his psychiatrist and comes up with the idea to create a new face (as he cannot come to terms with how he is treated with his destroyed face). This new face will supposedly give him new life; a new way to reintegrate into society or... is that really his main intention? Once they come up with a successful donor and transplant, the doctor eventually warns him that if left on for too long the face will take over his old personality. Leading us to the all-time question: Which is worse? To suffer the physical pain of a burned face, or, to suffer the emotional turmoil of low self-worth? Overall, an incredible horror film that takes identity loss head-on.

Some amazing scenes of note: the doctor's lab seemingly engulfed in something that resembles a head of hair, the intro to the film the main character watches, body parts getting thrown into a vat of water, a theatrically lit drinking scene at the bar, the face transformation, and finally, the walk on the street into the crowd of faceless people. Teshigahara stands out once again as a master of his craft.

I could see this one improving on a rewatch as there is so much philosophy dealt with here, one can be easily set back reading all the subtitles and paying attention to the plot because you're still thinking about the questions or ideas the characters are spewing forth.


No Plot, But An Amazing Piece of Art
Morning dreams come through... Evening dreams never come through.

I'm definitely witnessing one of my favorite directors of all-time unfold before me eyes. This short, Ako (also called White Morning), is the only fictional short Hiroshi Teshigahara made in his career (all his other shorts are documentaries), and what he paints us is a beautiful dream of a day in the life of a 16 year-old girl and her friends who work at a bakery and go out on the town.

Plot-wise you don't get anything out of this piece, and that's ok. This is more like one of those films you treat like a piece of art where you throw it up on the wall and let it evoke emotions out from you.

Teshigahara gives us some beautiful black and white camera work plus some incredibly artsy sequences of filtering images on top of other images. The use of sound is the true highlight of this piece for me though, that in ways evokes the spirit of David Lynch before Lynch was even a household name.

Suna no onna

A Legendary Masterpiece That Transcends The Screen Straight to The Senses
I don't get it. Doesn't all this seem pointless to you? Are you shoveling sand to live or living to shovel sand?

When was the last time you could physically feel a film? Possibly even taste or smell it? How could such a thing be possible?

Beautiful, poetic, simple, textured, erotic, creative...

It has been a long time since I've been so impressed by a director on his first film I've seen that I think it's been just about 10 years. Hiroshi Teshigahara's films are a new adventure for me and this has got me excited beyond belief to see more from him (I hear this is the pinnacle of his work but hopefully something remains I will thoroughly enjoy).

Every aspect of this film is perfect. The acting, the camerawork, the editing, the lighting, the music... that eerie high-pitched music to the more sporadic wooden percussive sounds, unsettling and beautiful yet aids the already remarkable camera work and direction. Throw in two incredible lead performances by Eiji Okada and Kyoko Kishida and you have yourself a skillfully made and thoughtful piece. There is some suspension of disbelief in this, but I think it is justified and doesn't make the film less good in any way.

The film takes you on a trip into a sand village where Teshigahara wastes not a shot to make sure we feel, hear, taste, see, and smell the sand--Plus everything from the writhing desert insects to the soft-tender skin of a beautiful woman. The metaphors are truly boundless in this setting for what it represents to our lead character, an entomologist, who misses his bus and needs to stay the night in the local village.

It's a beautiful and simultaneously nightmarish story that focuses on how we as people can adapt to a new situation and become "stuck" in the mundanity of our routines. What better a metaphor than a surrounding desert and the idea of living in a shack constantly being trapped in with sand, to nail home this message. Plus, the entomologist, also struggles with his loss of identity as he constantly compares his new life to how a dog lives and how he knows someone will care enough from his old life to rescue him from his new one (major denial of ID loss & reality).

To end, I just can't get over how HT utilized texture so much through film, while maintaining a poetry like Tarkovsky. And how everything just comes together blending in a loss of identity with the nightmarish hue of the atmosphere plus the lingering erotica (Kishida is some wonderful eye candy)-just perfect. Saying a lot about how we adapt but also get used to all aspects of an adjusted lifestyle, the good and the bad.

Moetsukita chizu

A Strong HT Entry That Should Be Remembered With His Other Work
A detective is hired by a woman to find her missing husband, but gets gradually more frustrated as the investigation lingers due to the amount of dead-end leads and untrustworthy sources. How many packs of partial lies and untold details must one man go through in order to do his job? Moreover, how much digging into another man's life must one go before he too realizes he is lost? Hiroshi Teshigahara once again gives us a monumental film epitomizing the loss of identity.

In his masterpiece, Woman of the Dunes, the main character there is trapped and lost upon the physical metaphor of sand and desert, while here, Shintaro Katsu's detective is being suffocated and overwhelmed by the monolithic shapes and reflections of the urban jungle. Nearly every other camera shot has an oppressive geometric shape or view of a character through an object capable of refracting/reflecting.

As the film goes on, we see how little anyone really seems to care about this missing man which leads the detective to wallow in existential dread. At one point, he even calls the man he's looking for a low-level nobody but presses on because he has a job to do. The prevailing thought that lingers is individuals can lose their identities in a world busy with people, but can also lose them by being too destructive to themselves (as we see in the waning minutes). By the end we are left with no answers and a detective who has nearly replaced the missing man himself--throwing away his own ego, wandering aimlessly among the streets without a job. Crushed and defeated, he talks to a dog (a metaphor for his ego/identity) wittingly asking, "I never asked you for your name."

Overall, this film is not as masterful as some of HT's previous work (which is definitely the consensus), but a film that is certainly a strong contender for being remembered as it has been lost by the wayside and is not mentioned nearly as frequently as the others. The film may also be overlong for some folks and annoying to those who seek answers or large payoff, as none of that is front and center, but the Teshigahara technique and vision is present throughout and should not be missed.


Weird, Flawed, But Intriguing
Now this is weirddddd. Sheriff Harry S. Truman from Twin Peaks gets himself a job at a toy factory in a town called Lillith and tells his wife they are packing up and going. The wife (played by Pamela Franklin) is reluctant to go. Then starts the shenanigans... we soon learn Orson Welles is an occult leader in the town made up of witches and he is looking to raise his son from the dead.

I'm not a huge fan of the late 60s early 70s aesthetic but there is something sort of oddly appealing about the occult films like this and Rosemary's Baby that came out during this time. The first two thirds are relatively slow with some good atmosphere, and not-so-great acting (unless you like the extra cheese) but turns pretty damn great in the final 30 minutes.

Director Bert I. Gordon (who is still with us God bless his soul) gives us some nice subtle shots throughout (like the birdcage shot, and a few of the editing sequences). Looks like I'll need to check out the rest of his filmography and take a dive into the cheese fest.

Wild Things

People aren't always what they appear to be. Don't forget that.

Before feasting my eyes upon 1998's Wild Things, I suspected it would be an extra raunchy film with little to no plot and terrible acting. Instead, I was more than pleasantly surprised at what the film is, which is a rather incredibly made neo-noir that fully embraces the time period it came out in with modernized adjustments made to the classic film-noir tropes. The film knows what it is and sticks with it; pushing the envelope of that knowledge until it nearly bursts. Yes, the film features a bunch of trashy people doing trashy things, but it does so intelligently. It's a beautiful excuse to see 20-somethings Denise Richards and Neve Campbell slather champagne over their naked bodies. The motives of the characters are not so clear as day within context and we are shown just enough by the director to second guess ourselves every step of the way.

From the opening shots of the Florida Everglades to the city skyline, the tone is set perfectly. There is one shot that gives us a crocodile/alligator just appearing above the water... using its camouflage to its maximum ability, analogous to the many red herrings we will see, also providing a great sense of foreboding; the predator and its prey (where the first half of the film takes us clearly and then pushes that theme further in the second half). But get this... the Florida Everglades are famous for many reasons. One of those reasons is it is the only place on Earth where alligators and crocodiles coexist. Two top-tier reptilian predators competing in the same environment... which is the perfect anecdote to this hot and steamy thriller we are about to see.

The film gets full ratings for its established style; the credit font, the super sleek score, its great imagery, and the actors that don't necessarily over due it or flat out appear like they're giving up. I'm not a huge fan of any of the four leads (Bacon, Dillon, Richards, or Campbell) because I haven't seen them enough in other films or because they have never truly amazed me. But here, they all do really fantastic jobs. Richards especially, takes her blessed voluptuous image and uses it to a grander scale of cunning. Campbell does a great job showing us a weak and helpless troubled child, while Dillon and Bacon play Mr. Cool and Hot-Headed Cop to a tee. My personal favorite of everyone is the always wonderful Bill Murray as the lowly attorney who defends Matt Dillon from his accusers. He is perfectly funny in the right moments.

Not to bore on, but the film does make quite a huge statement against the current #metoo/believe all women movement and twists it up in a way where no one is really the true "winner" except for the most cunning of them all. Wild Things has a lot going for it and brings the neo-noir genre alive with its modernized femme fatales, sexy dudes, and super twisty plot (how I appreciate Kevin Bacon not leaving the nudity to the women). I wish I had witnessed this film sooner in my life, or experienced more neo-noirs that are done this excellently (shout out to director John McNaughton). I even enjoy the expositions we are given through the rolling credits which I believe doesn't take away from the film, but instead shows the confidence of it's story by showing us more.

True to its title Wild Things is wild and also something I was not expecting. The second film from the 90s I've seen within a week I judged by its cover and got completely wrong (the other is She's All That, not amazing but pleasantly enjoyable). Wild Things shoots to the top of my list for best films of the 90s.

She's All That

Super Flawed but Charming Nonetheless
Sometimes when you open up to people, you let the bad in with the good.

I'm not trying to fool anyone here by attempting to make an unironic argument for why this film is any semblance of amazing because it isn't. This isn't the sexy, sleek kale shake. Nor is it Nonna Marie's elegant and decadent chocolate soufflé. This is the goddamned beautiful, golden twinkie staring straight at you from the pantry shelf at 3:00 AM or that week-old triple-chunk box brownie left sitting in the pan on your kitchen counter; you know you probably shouldn't have it but you do. And it is even more delicious than your hunger was telling you. It's still real rough around the edges, it definitely isn't of respected homemade quality and it may have some hairs in it. But while it may be all those things it's something that lures you back with some sort of infinite charm. Excuse my really long (and probably unnecessary food analogy) but it perfectly encapsulates how I feel about 1999's She's All That.

I just spent 95 min watching something I would have never given the light of day and yet here I am writing a positive review.

Generally, the acting is subpar but dont let the ass-awful title fool you. Freddie Prince Jr has some chops and Kevin Pollack literally steals every scene he's in (it may potentially be the best work he's ever done and I'm not throwing shade). The gorgeous Rachel Leigh Cook is unbelievable to be cast as the school nerd (she's too pretty even with glasses) and her acting isn't polished by any means, but she seems to adapt gravitas depending on who she shares a scene with. There are two scenes of note: "Am I a fucking bet?!" And Pollack's fatherly "Do it for you" scene that show this film has its worth. The film tries too hard with some college subplots and fails miserably but it's easily overlooked. Overall, I couldn't believe the number of faces my wife and I recognized as we made fun of the styles and trends, laughed a little and fell prey to the setting of the late 90s.

She's All That really doesn't hold much to 1999's other coming of age hit 10 Things I Hate About You (that also has a major bet as its plot device) as the acting, directing and writing are all better in spades, but once again, there's that silly iresistable charm I keep referring to.

Can any respectable dude not crush on RLC after watching this? Or laugh their ass off at Matthew Lillard's actually amazing self-degrading comedic turn? Or Freddie Prinze Jr doing an arthouse segment with a hackysack? Or maybe it's a naked FPJ tossing a volleyball as his only cover to the girl he loves? How about hearing "whatev" or "wigged out" used in serious conversation?

I suppose I can't convince everyone about it's charm but goddamn if you wont ever catch me sneaking a Twinkie at 3:00 AM.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Undersold Masterpiece of Disney
Who is the monster and who is the man?

Easily Disney's most ambitious film since Bambi and its darkest film since perhaps Pinocchio, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is potentially the undersold masterpiece of the renaissance films Disney churned out in the late 80s, 90s and early 00s. As a child I seemed to always remember the gargoyles and the Festival of Fools and not much else, which leaves me to say how everyone who saw this as a young lad or lass should most definitely watch again as an adult. Alan Menken's music, while not as catchy or pop-py as usual, is first-rate. The Bells of Note Dame and Hellfire are surely the highlights in the song reel (how I could listen to Tony Jay say just about anything).

Which leads to the perfect segue of what puts this picture a notch above the rest... its villain. The dark themes covered would not be nearly as vital to the plot (or nearly as memorable) if not for the superbly vile and despicable Frollo; caretaker of Quasimodo and deceiver of the people, he wrangles with his deepest and darkest desires (the sins of temptation, greed and lust) when the beguiling Esmeralda makes a fool of him at the very festival it is named after.

The film has many moments of absolutely stunning and breathtaking visuals capturing the beauty of Notre Dame herself; the whole building symbolizing God, peace and forgiveness. It is only because of people like Frollo that abuse the power of the church who give it a bad name (a foil to him being the archdeacon who intervenes humbly at certain points throughout the film). It's been a while since I've had chills sent down my spine from an animated feature, but this one did it when Quasi swooped down in the finale, saving Esmeralda and claiming "Sanctuary!" to the people of Paris.

I would be amiss if not to mention how Notre Dame burned down last year and that there is so much fire in this film. Very bizarre really, but seeing the beautiful architecture in this feature makes something like Notre Dame much more haunting and otherworldly. Shall we always remember what she stood for and symbolized.

This gets a major upgrade from 3.5 stars initially to 5.

King of New York

One of the most grittiest and beautiful portrayals of NYC
"You think ambushing me in some nightclub's gonna stop what makes people take drugs? This country spends $100 billion a year on getting high, and it's not because of me. All that time I was wasting in jail, it just got worse. I'm not your problem. I'm just a businessman."

Abel Ferrera's, King of New York, is a tightly made, expressionistic gangster film of the late 80s culminating in one of the most grittiest and simultaneously beautiful portrayals of NYC's streets. Has 42nd Street ever acted better?

Christopher Walken is absolutely lights out; a no-holds-barred tour de force as the stoic yet flamboyant kingpin, Frank White. Larry Fishbourne, too, gives us one of the most memorable trigger-happy henchmen I have ever seen. The ensemble lays everything down here and it shows.

The duality of good and evil is not truly answered here and it is portrayed through the hyper-vigilante cops that get mentally derailed by a bureaucratic system and the experienced gangsters under Frank White (using the drug cartels to fund a hospital for the less fortunate in the South Bronx). David Caruso's hot-headed cop Gilley gets this right when he says as much to his buddies at the bar. Both sides find themselves speaking truths that put the faulty system into question, and show us no true villain or hero (Frank White mainly being portrayed as an anti-hero).

So far this is unlike any of the other Ferrera films I have seen, and according to most reviews it is. King of New York is his tightest and most straight forward film, and even though Ferrera himself claimed he was frustrated making it the reward is more than bountiful.

I Am Mother

The Importance of Motherhood
Where the eff has Hillary Swank been?

Other than using an actress I thought wasn't acting anymore I Am Mother is an incredible sci-fi film that visits the age-old questions concerning the capabilities of artificial intelligence vs the human capacity. Some heavy doses of ethical philosophy get thrown our way that end up being integral to the major plot points in the film. The film gives us just enough hints to help us figure out where it's going until some twists change the usual course of action, especially the magnificent ending, for which the meaning of the title completely changes. This whole film revels in the glory that is motherhood.

The trifecta of acting between Rose Byrne, Clara Rugaard and Hillary Swank is something jot to be missed.

So far this is up there with Upstream Color and Upgrade as best sci-fis of the 2010s. It's the second best film of 2019 behind The Lighthouse (from what I've seen).

Game Night

Great Directed and Well-Written Comedy
How come I am just seeing Game Night for the first time now?!? I suppose it could have been worse and I could have missed out on this gem for years to come but thank goodness it didn't come down to that.

Jason Bateman doesn't have very much range as an actor. He's basically Jason Bateman in everything he does, but he can be genuinely funny and he does carry this certain "IT" factor that I think has allowed him to succeed in his career. He is perfectly cast as the not-so-successful younger brother to the suave Alex Chandler's older brother. Rachel McAdams, who is almost always a sweetheart and is always attractive, shows off some great comedic chops here too.

But what really puts this film over the top are the behind the scenes folks in directing and writing that make this your way above average comedy with a dose of suspense. John Francis Daley (Freaks and Geeks) and Jonathan Goldstein (Horrible Bosses) make for an excellent directing pair taking Mark Perez's wonderful script and giving it some awesome visual aids to make the cityscape look like pieces on a board game.

Shout out to the rest of the ensemble, particularly Jesse Plemons, who out does himself again as the very odd neighbor to Bateman and MacAdams characters.

Isn't It Romantic

Tons of Fun
I had way more fun and enjoyment than I could have ever expected with this one... a Rebel Wilson led comedy feature? Can she hold her own? Really?

What makes this film work is that it knows what it wants to be. I see many others are saying the opposite and I disagree. Sure there were more rom com tropes that they could have made fun of, but the fact this is like a modernized version of 1993's Groundhog's Day or 1991's Delirious with tons of charm and a very charismatic ensemble (that looked like they were having too much fun) really helps against its flaws.

The usually smarmy Adam Devine gets into his best film role yet as the main love interest to Wilson's down-on-her-luck character. I guess their over-the-top romance in the Pitch Perfect series got them to be besties and they decided to do it again.

Best scene is when they go to karaoke. This is a super enjoyable flick.

The Bellboy

Peak Jerry Lewis
Decided to return to an old-favorite. This is peak Jerry Lewis. The only solo films of his (I've seen) that may be better are The Nutty Professor or Cinderfella (Haven't seen those since I was a kid though so will need to rewatch and review). Milton Berle's cameo, the auditorium seating sketch, the dieting lady... are all really well done sketches. I think it partially helps Lewis does 't say anything as the bellboy either.

"Would you quit it with the brushing!"

The Patsy

Amazing Cast, but Falls Short
The Patsy boasts a fantastic cast but falls incredibly short. Lewis is rather cringeworthy in a handful of sequences here with the exception of about three skits (the ice in the beginning, the chair/seat sketch somewhere in the middle) and the finale). It's also worth mentioning Lewis was fantastic at breaking the 4th wall and using scene set-up and prop set-up rather masterfully. He just doesn't keep it consistent enough in this. It would also help if he didn't babble nonsense so much. Worth watching if your a fan of Lewis. Definitely doesn't crack his best work though.

Limonádový Joe aneb Konská opera

Maximum Insanity & Masterful Direction
Where and how do I even start?

This was a film I was recommended around 7 years ago and I recently found the time to watch it due to the Covid-19 lockdown. How I regret not having seen it sooner!

Lemonade Joe is a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant satire brought to us in the form of a western musical. Yes, you heard me right... a satiric western musical. Ever find yourself moping around the house because you can't quench your thirst for this genre? Well, my friend, search no longer.

This film is by all accounts maximum insanity but it still never gets away from itself. Even within the realm of complete wackiness do we have well-written, memorable characters and songs that shine in front of the very technical and masterful direction of Oldrich Lipsky. The most fascinating choice among everything is probably the use of color filters to suggest mood changes throughout. Everything still looks beautiful though, and the decision adds wonderful atmosphere.

From the first moments of a raucous saloon fight to the bustling town shot at the end, have I never seen such pure cartoonish slapstick pulled off so smoothly (and by no means am I downplaying the slapstick of Chaplin/Keaton and the general vaudeville era, it's just REALLY well done here). It's also really too much for me to cover examples without spoiling the set-ups which are all worth it on their own.

Now go get yourself some Kolalola Lemonade, sit back, and bask in the gloriousness that is Lemonade Joe.

The Plague Dogs

Gut-Wrenching and Visceral
This is an absolute gut-wrenching and visceral animation directed, edited and produced by Martin Rosen. It is certainly a rarity to discover such a feature that covers the subjects it does (abuse, power, friendship, mental illness in an odd way) that looks as if it should be for children. This is most certainly not. As a 27 year-old man I felt my insides turn time and time again.

The story follows a mixed labrador retriever (Rowf) and a fox terrier (Snitter) endure a sudden escape from a covert, country-side government science building that experiments on animals. The overall voicework is impeccable with the main talents of John Hurt, Christopher Benjamin and James Bolsam.

The facial expresions aren't the prettiest but they are amazing for being completely hand-drawn. The rural landscapes are the true spectacle here (there's a ton of it) and there is a brilliant directorial choice done with voiceover conversation by characters not onscreen to help move the story along (also brilliant in how it tells the story, saving efforts of having to draw more expression than necessary).

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