A corny white insurance agent, family man, workout nut, kinda racist, happily obnoxious to women and everyone else, wakes up Black one day. He freaks out, and his wife calls him a white supremacist while he focuses the blame on his sun lamp and tries to figure out how to whiten his skin again. I watched this on MLK Day, which I suppose might make me a bad person, but it’s good – a goofy but not stupid comedy (usually you get neither or both).

Lead actor Godfrey Cambridge had an excellent year, also starring in Cotton Comes to Harlem. When he goes out in public he’s hassled by cops (“He stole something – we don’t know what it is yet”). Finally his wife and boss and neighbors reject him, but he comes to terms with himself, starting his own business and plotting to lead the next Black revolution.

Ma Yongzhen is a tough dude working shitty jobs with his useless friend Cheng Kang-Yeh. Ma is introduced beating up a landlord, so he’s got our sympathy, though he seems to beat up pretty much everyone he comes across… this is fine, since it’s established that everyone in town’s a crook. Ma has annoyingly high standards, is poor and homeless and will accept nothing from anyone – though as principled as he seems, his dream is to ride in his own carriage with a fancy cigarette holder. He wanders into a brutal gang fight and takes on 20 guys armed with knives and hatchets, which gains him the attention of the local bosses, beginning his brief, violent career in organized crime. He’s finally ambushed in a teahouse by Boss Yang (Nan Chiang) and takes a hatchet to the torso, but doesn’t go down before killing everyone in the room. Good action scenes – I could watch about 300 more of these movies, and fortunately that’s how many they made.

Ma and his idol David Chiang (Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires):

Scar-faced Boss Fan (Yi Feng of Fist of Fury the same year) and his yes-man:

I skipped a couple Garrels since Le Revelateur, decided to watch some 1972 films on their 50-ish anniversaries. Garrel + Nico = an unexpected rock musical. Liturgical voice and organ songs, incredible long takes in different forbidding environments.

Nico cries in the desert with Vest Guy (Daniel Pommereulle of La Collectionneuse), both of them wearing flowy sleeves – this section features a 720-degree slow pan over a Nico song – then she follows and berates him down a white road.

Another Nico song, a good one, kid leads a horse away from a flame circle, Vest Guy gives Nico a small goat, and so on… then Pierre ClĂ©menti arrives nude. He journeys far and long, barefoot across a volcano, to bring gifts to a baby (played by his son) on an iceberg. Nico, practically the only person who speaks (in English and German), calls the nude archer “king.” There’s some kinda final confrontation near a rocky cave involving a sword. It’s all a very different kind of mythology than The Spine of Night, but felt right to be watching these two in the same week.

Game of Death (1978, Robert Clouse)

Time for the post-Bruce-Lee movies in the Bruce Lee box set. Bruce had filmed about ten minutes of fights for this one, then he inconveniently died. The American studio knew Bruce was profitable, and that’s all they knew, so they cobbled together a new movie, blatantly using stand-ins and cutting reaction shots from other movies. Once they simply pasted a still photo of Bruce’s face over another guy. It’s full of callbacks to the previous movies (thanks to a films-with-the-film subplot), but anyone who enjoyed those is gonna be sad about this one. Even doc footage from Bruce’s actual funeral is used, when lead character “Billy Lo” is supposed to be faking his own death. And this is all in service of a third-rate crime thriller. 1 star for the music, 1 for Sammo Hung, zero for the rest.

After filming a scene, Billy is calmly threatened by a white suited gangster who wants protection money. He works for an evil bald guy who’s somehow involved in both a record pressing plant (which threatens Billy’s girlfriend’s music career) and a championship fight in Macao (their star fighter is Carl: Robert Wall from Enter the Dragon, who died last week). The gangster protection money plot had already been used in Way of the Dragon (and the Chang Cheh movie I just watched), but so what, it’s a plot, and movies need those.

Billy’s in hiding, letting the gangsters think he’s dead, which gives all the non-Bruce actors an excuse to wear heavy disguises. Carl cheats and beats Sammo Hung in the ring, but Sammo puts on a good showcase, then Billy slaughters Carl in the lockers. The girlfriend (Colleen Camp) inevitably gets kidnapped, and a stuntman wearing Bruce’s yellow tracksuit and a dark helmet fights some motorcycle dudes in a warehouse. Finally, the one true Bruce fights some dudes (including the absurdly tall Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and it’s glorious for a few minutes. He never even touches the old bald gangster (Dean Jagger, the sheriff of Forty Guns), who falls off a roof while running away, the credits rolling before he even hit the ground.

Movie magic via still photo:


Game of Death II (1981, Ng See-yuen)

The only sense that this is a sequel is it’s playing the stand-in game with old Bruce footage (the film stock still doesn’t match). Bruce is hilariously dubbed by some cowboy-ass American. He chills with an ass-kicking abbot then gets an incriminating film from some girl. At a friend’s funeral, he’s shot and falls to his death while chasing a helicopter that was stealing his friend’s casket(!), and now Bruce’s sad brother Bobby takes over as the lead, like Bruce took over from James Tien in The Big Boss – but not exactly like that, since Tong Lung is playing both brothers here. Now with an hour to go, the movie doesn’t have to pretend to star Bruce Lee anymore, and can cut loose. The dubbing is atrocious, but the Chinese/Koreans in charge of this movie have got more respect for Bruce’s legacy and more filmmaking and fighting talent than the doofus Americans in part one.

Lewis trying to be intense despite the cute monkey:

Bobby gets intel from a white monk that the evil Lewis and his scarfaced brother, masters of the Palace of Death, are responsible, so he heads on down. Lewis can’t be that evil – he keeps pet peacocks and monkeys. The Whatever Brothers (I didn’t catch their names) challenge Bobby, and he proves his mettle, then a sudden blonde girl gets suddenly naked, tries to kill him, then a guy in a lion suit joins in! Movie is already kinda nutty, and that’s before Bobby descends to the subterranean MST3K sci-fi lair with spacesuited harpoon-armed flunkies and electrified floors. Lewis is found dead, the scarface guy is suspected so Bobby beats his ass, but Bruce’s “dead” friend, who was stealing his own coffin to avoid discovery, is behind the whole thing. Friend/enemy Chin Ku is Jeong-lee Hwang of Drunken Master, the abbot was in Temple of Doom and Sammo’s Enter the Fat Dragon.


Bruce Lee: The Man and the Legend (1973, Shih Wu)

Polishing off the Criterion box set with a return to the shameless, shoddy quality of Game of Death 1, this time in documentary form. Opens with ten minutes of news film from Bruce’s funeral, which doesn’t sound like such a long time but really felt like it, making me realize I am not cut out to watch Loznitsa’s State Funeral. Then a chronological run through his life and career, with lots of slow zooms into photographs, and a narrator who sounds like he’s from some MST3K short, like How to Go on a Date. Why is the dialogue in the movie Bruce was in as a child covered up with horn music? Why does the English narrator sometimes talk over people speaking English, telling us the same story at a slightly different pace? When Bruce defeats Bob Baker in Fist of Fury, “Baker studied for seven years under Bruce, but he is still no match for his teacher,” the narrator confusing an actor’s skill with a scripted scenario. It closes with then-unreleased Game of Death footage – in fact, Enter The Dragon wasn’t even out yet – in Hong Kong, this quickie doc beat it into theaters by a week. Shih Wu was an assistant director on A Better Tomorrow III, which I’ll probably end up watching eventually.

The country’s got West Side Story Remake fever, but we’ve stayed home, trying to avoid catching any other kinds of fever – and after pulling the plug on The Terror, I need a new exercise-bike show to watch, so I gave this a try, in two parts. What better way to encourage movement than to watch a propulsive road movie?

Dennis Weaver (TV’s McCloud) is chased and terrorized by a big-ass truck. His thoughts via voiceover try to apply reason to the situation, but there’s no reason to be found – the truck is dangerously toying with him. It tries to push him into a train, drives right through a phone booth where he’s calling the cops (and some roadside snake aquariums), tailgates him at dangerous speeds. Will this emasculated modern man outdrive and outsmart the giant machine? Yes! Not without difficulty – the movie is partly a PSA for proper automotive maintenance, per the advice of your mechanic, so I feel pretty good that I changed both my air filters the day before viewing.

Written by Twilight Zone vet Richard Matheson, and I thought of the Zone a few times, when the world seems to be stacked against Weaver, diner locals and schoolbus children all making fun of him, and only he senses the danger, or is maybe imagining it, and directed to hell and back by young Spielberg.

The Bresson movie with the most fashion and music and humor, even an action scene. Bresson cuts absolutely loose – it’s practically a musical by his standards. I loved it very much.

On night one, dreamer Jacques convinces Marthe not to jump off a bridge. Day 2, Jacques paints, records a primitive podcast on a tape deck, then entertains an unexpected visitor who spouts art philosophy. Marthe Backstory: she fell for her mom’s boarder shortly before he went to America, promising to meet up in a year – a year and three days ago. No major progress day three (he records some pigeons in the park). Night four she gives into Jacques love for her, says they will live together, then drops him in an instant when the old boarder walks by.

Shot by Pierre “The Man” Lhomme (Army of Shadows), played Berlin along with The Decameron. Isabelle Weingarten was in The Mother and the Whore after this, and The State of Things/The Territory, and married two major filmmakers. Why does everyone on my letterboxd hate this? At least I got Rizov and Rosenbaum on my side (J.Ro was an extra!). Adaptation of Dostoevsky’s White Nights, and now I’m contemplating watching the Visconti and the Vecchiali for a White Nights Trilogy.

In which Varda proves she can find good cinema anywhere, by wandering down the street into all the small shops and turning her neighbors into movie stars. There’s too much of the magician, but his magic show serves to bring together the people we’ve been seeing in separate shops into one space. Since I can’t take screenshots off the Criterion channel, I’ve stolen a still from their website.

Voiceover on opening titles tells us it’s a city film and has no story, good to get that out of the way. Italian folklore involves praising the ducks for helping the army? (google says it was geese). As expected, everyone is crazy for the pope. Memories of filmgoing with obstructed-view seats. The rainy highway sequence is a highlight. I know my standards have been lowered by a recent Argento, but sometimes the dubbing is almost good, like somebody gave a shit. Cheerfully profane once it gets to the theater for a variety show. Ancient artworks are discovered beneath the city, then minutes later the air exposure destroys them. Significant time spent with prostitutes, of course. Corny holy fashion show, and an outstanding Anna Magnani cameo. Bikers ride through the city at night, and okay so it’s not a narrative movie, but it really lacks an ending.

Thought I’d pair this with the Coen version, not realizing the latter wouldn’t come out till early next year. A terrific looking movie, reportedly in part due to newly-designed anamorphic lenses – almost technically impeccable, a few dubbing issues. I like the idea of turning parts of the monologues into voiceover, although it means the actors have to silently react to their overheard thoughts, which is harder to pull off than speaking the lines. It gets gruesome between Macduff’s slaughtered kids, the king’s guards being dismembered, and a man taking a crossbow bolt to the forehead – also some clumsy clanking armor battles (these are all compliments). The only time I felt the 1970’s was in the “dagger I see before me” scene.

Polanski’s first film after his wife was murdered – he’d been prepping What? but thought it’d appear crass(er), and Hugh Hefner(!) was looking to add respectability by getting into the Shakespeare business and losing a bunch of money. Opens with the witches on a beach… the second prophecy scene is zany, and culminates in a good mirror scene.

In the chronology of filmed Macbeths, Werner Schroeter’s obscure hourlong TV version came out the same year, a TV miniseries the year before, but there hadn’t been a major film since Throne of Blood. The next would probably be in ’79, the TV movie with Ian McKellen and Judi Dench. Never heard of a single person in the cast, besides MacB (Frenzy star Jon Finch). Lady M Francesca Annis would star in back-to-back sci-fi epics Krull and Dune. Macduff would become a Gilliam regular, and Banquo was in Dennis Potter’s Cream in My Coffee.

Macduff would like some revenge please: