5 thoughts on “Movies 2024

  1. Criterion Channel currently streams several Seijun Suzuki films, but about six of them will be leaving at the end of January, so I wanted to see those before that. Here are a few I recently watched:

    8 Hours of Terror (1957)
    35/100

    The premise is really good–one that would be a good remake candidate. Roughly it’s like Spike Lee’s Get on the Bus, plus Wages of Fear/Sorcerer. A train breaks down, but the train company offers a bus for those eager to make it to their destination. The passengers are diverse group, representing different socio-economic backgrounds and occupations, including a police officer taking in a man guilty of killing his wife. Most of the route hugs a mountain, making the trip not without some risk. Making matters worse is that there are two bank robbers on the loose.

    Ultimately, I think the film isn’t very good, because of poor or dated acting, preventing me from really getting into the movie. The thrills suspense are pretty dull as well, and I would guess most modern moviegoers would agree.

    Man With a Shotgun (1961)

    Clearly influenced by Spaghetti Westerns, especially by the Man With No Name films, although here Suzuki’s sets the film in a lush mountain setting, with the protagonist being a hunter-hiker.

    The film involves a corrupt man in a small mountain town. The Man With a Shotgun comes to the town, proving his mettle, but leaving his purpose a mystery.

    A B-movie that pales in comparison to the original.

    Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards (1963)
    46/100

    I’m not sure if this is the actual Japanese title, but this may be the best thing about the movie. A private detective goes undercover attempting to infiltrate a yakuza group, All the other details are not that interesting to me. Like the other films, the action is pretty dull. Jo Shishido is a somewhat appealing leading man, in spite of his chipmunk cheeks.

    Zigeunerweisen (1980)
    75/100

    Like David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive or Inland Empire this film is impossible to grasp on one viewing. But like those two films I found this strangely compelling, although a little less so at times. I think the reason for the latter is Japanese-ness of the film, especially the way it seems tied to Japanese folktales and traditional Japanese theater. The latter is especially foreign to me, so I suspect this made the film not only harder to grasp, but harder to not get bored at times.

    The film, the first in the Suzuk’s Taisho trilogy, follows two academic colleagues–both very different in dress and temperament. One is the stereotypical, straitlaced professor, while the other is a wild vagabond type, looking and acting like Toshiro Mifune character in Seven Samurai. We follow their relationship with a geisha and then their respective wives, as well as the dying sister of one of wives. But the plot is minimal and the narrative is very loose. Still, there is something hypnotic and compelling about the movie.

  2. I saw the second and third films of the Suzuki’s Taisho trilogy–Kagero-za and Yumeji, respectively.

    Kagero-za (1981)
    90/100 (maybe higher)

    After watching this, I felt this was a candidate for an all-time great film–and I say this without fully understanding the movie. (However, with more analysis and understanding my estimation could decline.)

    Let me explain why I feel that way. Many artists who adopt a more post-modern approach–I’m thinking specifically of artists who draw from and attempt to synthesize many different material, including from different cultures or styles–often produce clunky art. The different influences seem slapped together and inorganic. The concept behind the art may be exciting, but the actual results lack refinement.

    There are some exceptions–for example, Bill Frisell, who may be the most successful post-modern artists (although I wonder if others would put him under that label)–and that’s because his music distills the various influences into a seamless and organic whole.

    Kagero-za may not be have fully distilled all of its influences, but I found the results exciting and satisfying, not to mention ambitious. Here, I want to mention some of the components Suzuki seems to be trying to amalgamate: Japanese folk tales, traditional Japanese theater, French New Wave cinema and European art filmmakers like Antonioni, and perhaps more that I’m unaware of.

    The results are dream-like, reminding me of some of David Lynch’s films. (Yumeji, which didn’t affect me as much, made me think of Peter Greenaway.)

    All these three films in the trilogy demand repeat viewings.

  3. I’ve been enjoying Dustin Guy Defa’s films (including shorts), currently streaming on the Criterion Channel. I’m not exactly sure the reason for this. The films either lack a narrative or lack a really strong one. Instead, the films present interesting situations with good acting…although “interesting” may be too strong. The situations, themselves, are not always appealing, but the characters and the acting make these moments humorous, compelling, or even poignant.

    It seems obvious that acting and characters (maybe in that order) is Defa’s wheelhouse–similar to Mike Leigh or John Cassavetes.

    Person to Person (2017)
    75/100

    Person to Person (2014) (short film)
    77/100

    I mentioned I had difficulty explaining the reason I enjoyed these films. However, there was a reason I recently started watching some of his films, starting with the feature length film, Person to Person. “A record store owner tracks down a prized album”–that description got me hooked instantly. I think I’ll watch any film featuring a book or record store owner or a film set in a book store or record store, especially independently owned ones.

    But this lead me to watch the short film Person to Person (starring Bene Coppersmith, Deragh Campbell), which inspired the feature-length film. In the short, Benny is the local record store owner (who later appears in the 2017 film). He has a party and the next day he finds an attractive woman sleeping on the floor of his apartment. Right off the bat I liked Benny. He’s really nice to her, bringing her coffee and breakfast. But he soon discovers that she refuses to leave his apartment. In a way, it’s a variation of Melville’s short story, Bartleby the Scrivener. (I liked that story, and I know Mitchell hated it, but I think he has a chance of liking this.)

    In the feature length film, Benny appears again, only this time he’s goes to meet a guy selling a rare jazz album. He also has a good friend who is in trouble for posting nude pictures of his girlfriend. The film is essentially a collection of three or four short stories, with the film flip-flopping between them. In addition to Benny’s episode, there’s a story with about a reporter’s first day on the job, working for a smaller publication, being accompanied by one of the editors (Michael Sera). This story ties in with a guy (Phillip Baker Hall) who repairs watches. Finally, there’s a story about two high school girls cutting out from school and hanging out. (I don’t think these two characters have any connection to the other characters in the film.)

  4. Flowers of Shanghai (1998)
    Dir. Hou Hsiao-hsien
    Starring: Tony Leung, Michiko Hada, etc.
    90/100

    Barry Lyndon and The Leopard are two films are noteworthy for their cinematography (mostly BL), costumes, and sets, at least for me. Indeed, I would say I appreciate those films primarily for those elements. Now, Flowers of Shanghai joins the list. Indeed, at some point I wondered if wanting to outdo Kubrick and Visconti was the impetus behind this film. Having said that, I found the film satisfying and successful beyond those elements. That is, the film satisfied me overall, more than the other two films.

    In Barry Lyndon, Kubrick seems to want to recreate the look of European painters like Rembrandt, Vermeer, or other in that ballpark. Flowers also feels the feel of “moving” paintings, but it’s use of a slice-of-life, character portraits, versus a more traditional narrative in Barry and The Leopard (at least from what I recall), works better, and it’s one of the main reasons this worked worked better for me than the others. (The film also didn’t have actors like Ryan O’Neal to weaken the film; and Tony Leung had the opposite effect.)

    One comment about the lighting. The look of the film reminded me of a Tamara de Lempica painting–the bright metallic colors with dark edges. In the film’s lighting makes the silk costumes and colors glimmer and glow like metal, and the restored version brings out the sumptuous details of all of this. It’s just gorgeous. (The filmmakers made silk costumes and actually built houses where the action took place. Interestingly, I can’t remember an exterior shot, and almost every shot take place in either a drawing room/dining space that look very similar.)

  5. Raging Bull (1980)
    Dir. Martin Scorsese
    78/100

    I can’t remember if this is my second or third time, but here are some quick thoughts:

    • We all know about anti-war films. This, to me, is an anti-macho film. Anti-war films are effective because they give more realistic portrayals of war, which entails lots of disturbing, graphic violence. I think the same is true for this film, although modern viewers may not find the violence so graphic. However, I would be surprised if they don’t find the violence disturbing. Certain aspect of the film may not have the same impact–e.g., the snazzy editing–but De Niro’s menacing presence, often stemming from his paranoia and jealousy, still had a lot of umph.
    • Like Taxi Driver, I thought the film ended–or should have ended–earlier, specifically when La Motta is in solitary confinement pounding the wall. On the other hand, that may not have been fair to La Motta. What we perhaps humanizes La Motta more and portrays him as someone making the best of his life, given whatever limitations he may have.
    • The film sequences seem more fake this time around, and that hurt the film a little. I did like the use of music in this, however.
    • I like Joe Pesci in this, as I did the first time I saw this. The performance should have landed him more roles a lot sooner in my opinion.

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