The first I’ve seen by the legendary King Hu – his followup to Dragon Inn. I kinda love him, great compositions and movement, and killer distortion when he pans with the super-wide lens, which I know is a defect but in the fisheye 2019 post-Favourite world it comes across as a feature. Apparently the first Chinese film to be awarded at Cannes (in main competition with Pastoral, Kasper Hauser and Chronicle of the Years of Fire).
We follow Gu (Chun Shih of Dragon Inn), who is a well-meaning but unambitious scholar and painter, with a tendency towards being clumsy and ineffectual. He’s the patsy witness to all the nearby political intrigue, falling for the hot girl next door, Yang (Feng Hsu of Legend of the Mountain, later a producer on Chen Kaige films), who is in hiding after her dad was tortured to death, then in the second half he inexplicably becomes a master of strategy and helps Yang and her loyal generals ward off the corrupt government attackers. Some invincible monks get involved, there are a bunch of good faceoffs, Gu wears too much makeup.
This has a decent reputation, and is based on an acclaimed novel, so maybe I was just in a mood – I found it weak, clunky, unconvincing in every way. Fun in theory to watch a tormented Vincent Price (same year as Masque of the Red Death) as the sole survivor in a world overrun by zombies, searching for other uninfected humans by day, trying to ignore the monsters yelling his name outside the house all night. I’m gonna blame Addams Family director Salkow and his mysterious Italian codirector for the clunkiness.
Price narrates, and shows us his lost family in flashback, eventually locates “survivor” Ruth, who turns out to be a zombie spy sent to flush him out. This is four years before Living Dead, so I shouldn’t call them zombies, but they’re ex-humans who only need to dispose of Price in order to form a completely ex-human society. This was remade with Charlton Heston (The Omega Man), then Will Smith (I Am Legend) – maybe fourth time’s the charm.
Oh dear, it’s almost Christmas and I’m still catching up with SHOCKtober movies…
This was the second Italian horror of SHOCKtober, and usually it’s wisest to stick with one Italian horror, but I was psyched about Suspiria Remake. There is screaming in the first two seconds of the movie, a good sign. Finally watching Kill Baby Kill after years of hearing about Kill Baby Kill, so the title card was a surprise:
It is slightly Dracula-ish for a second, a doctor being dropped off outside town by a coachman who refuses to drive any further. Dr. Eswai (Giacomo Rossi Stuart, star of War Between The Planets the same year) has a cravat and nice hair, is joined by local student Monica, who of course will end up being involved in the supernatural conspiracy. It seems a long-dead little girl appears to people, then they die mysteriously soon after, a precursor to The Ring.
There’s a beardy inspector, a bald burgomeister, and a wild-haired mystic girl, and you can’t always tell whose side anyone is on, but really they’re all just suspicious and terrified because of the baby murders, which are somehow caused by the dead child’s mother, a reclusive baroness. After the burgomeister dies, his girlfriend the mystic goes on a suicidal revenge quest, takes out the baroness, and our innocent heroes are free to get outta this burg.
Ruth the Sorceress (Fabienne Dali of Le Doulos) was cool, and I liked all the colored lights shining on the sets. Apparently the lighting and camerawork are the reason for this appearing on so many best-horrors lists, but prosaic me was paying too much attention to the silly plot. Bava directed some 15 movies in the 1960’s, including The Mask of Satan and Black Sabbath and I’ve got Five Dolls for an August Moon around here somewhere.
Maybe the grungiest, most lo-fi, handheld Oshima movie I’ve seen, with some apparently documentary segments. Also maybe more sexual violence than usual. Some nice closeups on hands, like in other thief movies. Whole movie looks dubbed, with some cool troubadour songs (not as funky as the ones in Izo).
Longhaired anarchist book thief Hilltop Birdman (Tadanori Yokoo, a minor role in Mishima) is nabbed by employee Umeko (Rie Yokoyama of Wakamatsu’s Ecstacy of the Angels), to the delightful indifference of her boss, who tries to give the thief more free books. But it’s the late 1960’s and if anyone’s gonna embrace the revolution in the air, it’s Oshima. The movie goes off on tangents about sex and psychology, turns from black-and-white to color, plays with poetry and literature and theater, and makes cool images and tries to freak out the normies. “I do feel something like rage toward nothing in particular.”
It’s all crying out for some explanatory blu-ray features – for instance, it’s been a minute since I watched Death By Hanging, so I didn’t realize that movie’s primary male cast appears in a roundtable discussion as themselves – but I tend to love Oshima films even when I’m confused by them.
Another film with a dense, confused audience-surrogate character: pilot Rex (Leon Greene, a Holmes in The Seven Percent Solution), who meets his old buddy Christopher Lee (same year as Dracula Has Risen From The Grave), then goes searching for their missing friend Simon. They find that he has joined a posh group of satanists (Britain was too polite for all this – the satanists reel in horror when their leader kills a goat), and try to rescue him through frequent use of crosses. Rex falls for satanist Tanith (Nike Arrighi: Day for Night, The Perfume of the Lady in Black) so they attempt to rescue her too, pursued by the Victor Garber-looking cult leader Mocata (Charles Gray, another Holmes in The Seven Percent Solution). Satanic possession and kidnapping follow, then evil is defeated in a very Christian ending.
Lee uses the interrotron on Simon:
Giant spider terrifies little girl:
Memorial screening for Jerry Lewis. I’d never seen this, didn’t realize it’s semi-plotless, casting a mute Jerry as one of many bellboys at a luxury hotel and throwing him into situations. Apparently hastily written and shot in the Miami hotel where he was performing at the time. And it shows… half the jokes are lazy or awful, though it’s short and overall pleasant enough.
Also featuring Jerry as himself, Milton Berle as himself, both of them as lookalike bellboys, and Lewis’s future cowriter Bill Richmond as a fake Stan Laurel. It’s a strange movie. I feel bad having so little to say about it, but maybe you had to have suffered through the studio comedies of the 1940’s and 1950’s to appreciate its innovations.
Catching up… I watched this three weeks ago, and the only note I took says:
Unfun intellectual/political word games
Obviously it’s a complicated (if unfun) movie, so a one-line review will not do. This is where my lack of biographical knowledge on Godard (and lack of interest in 1960’s politics) holds me back, because this feels like an escalation of ideas about consumerism and radicalism and societal ills from 2 or 3 Things and Weekend… but it also feels like a parody, its characters deluded comic-book Mao radicals. This doesn’t seem right, since the ideals of our main characters seem similar to Godard’s own, in his later, more boring works.
Feels like we spend forever in the primary-color apartment with young commies Jean-Pierre Leaud, Juliet Berto (her first year in film) and Anne Wiazemsky (star of Au Hasard Balthazar the year before). But there’s also an assassination attempt, a guy exiled from the group, suicide, some fun self-reflexivity, and an endless train conversation with a philosophy professor. Literature references abound, apparently, and name-dropping of Katy’s favorite theorists.
Played Venice the year Belle de Jour won, tying China is Near for a jury prize.
Anna Karina (between Vivre Sa Vie and Alphaville) tells her classmate Sami Frey (Thérèse Desqueyroux, a couple William Klein movies) that her employer keeps cash in the house. She starts dating Sami’s friend Claude Brasseur (the younger Brasseur in Eyes Without a Face), who hears about the money, and the three plan (barely) a heist. Thanks to Arthur’s big mouth, some armed criminal relative finds out and intercepts them, then Anna and Sami escape following a deadly shootout. But the movie’s not about what it’s about, it’s about how it’s about it.
Another rewatch from 2003, a pre-blog year when I watched a ton of movies that I now barely remember. My belly is a table.
“Why don’t you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?”
Brilliant visual display of espionage, duplicity, politics and memory (real and false), with at least five perfect performances, but the one who towers above them all is Angela Lansbury as a power-hungry politician’s-wife.
A group of Americans is captured with help from their traitor translator Henry Silva, then Laurence Harvey (Darling, Room at the Top) is brainwashed by the Enemy and sent back to the States, but his fellow soldier Frank Sinatra starts to remember their capture and realize something is amiss. Meanwhile Sinatra falls for Vivian Leigh, Harvey kills his girlfriend (Leslie Parrish of Li’l Abner), and Harvey is being controlled by his evil mother to put his weak-willed stepfather in power, but he turns on them at the last minute.
Sinatra and his girl:
Harvey and his mother:
A movie featuring a wannabe-president supported by a foreign power who puts ketchup on his steaks. I originally planned to double-feature this with A Face in the Crowd, but maybe The Dead Zone would be more appropriate. Frankenheimer made this the same year as Birdman of Alcatraz, a couple years before the similarly paranoid Seconds.