I watched this a couple weeks after Office, not knowing they were Johnnie To’s companion pieces on the 2008 financial crisis. This one presents the corrupt business world more harshly – no lavish sets and musical numbers, just greed, theft, disappointment, ruin and murder.

Connie meets Teresa:

An intertwining-destinies movie following a few character threads. Inspector Cheung (Breaking News star Richie Ren) is on the sidelines of the other stories while his girlfriend Connie is buying an apartment. Teresa is a banker who sells high-risk investments to confused old ladies, ends up with a pile of undeposited money when her loanshark client Yuen is murdered in the parking deck. And Panther (Ching Wan Lau, the Mad Detective) works for broke gangsters, runs around collecting money to bail out a buddy until he finds stock trader Lung who has an idea for fast cash. The real estate thing held little drama, the banking part hinged on some mild deceit (the old lady heard the phrase “high risk” a hundred times so you can’t entirely blame the banker) and coincidence, but Panther was fun – I’d watch a sequel that just followed him around some more.

“I’m the (k)night rider. The toe cutter, he knows who I am!”

I was immediately impressed with the character names, but also confused by the movie. Max is a cop, and yes his police station looks awfully run down, but it’s not some Tom Petty wasteland future – it’s all pretty much how I assume Australia looked in 1979. So maybe the apocalypse happens before part two, and that’s when Max becomes Mad. He gets pretty close to Mad in this one – give an awesomely dangerous guy a “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” montage showing how much he loves his precious family, and guess what’s gonna happen to that family – but I wouldn’t call his murder-revenge spree against the biker gang that killed his family and his partner and broke his arm a permanent madness.

“Any longer out on that road and I’m one of them – a terminal crazy”

Other Weirdness: the big cartoon music during tense scenes. And Max locks a dude to a bomb, suggests he sever a limb to get free – an influence on SAW? Pretty straightforward, sharp-looking movie. And hey, the baddies only run down Max’s wife and kid – nobody gets tortured or raped, making this one of the more palatable 1970’s revenge movies.

We all know Mel Gibson went on to star in The Beaver and Machete Kills, but who was everyone else? Max’s wife Jessie was in early Nicole Kidman film Nightmaster. Max’s even-madder partner Goose does a lotta TV, was recently in The Great Gatsby. Max’s boss “Fifi” was once in movies called Stone and Stoner in the same year. Lead baddie Toecutter played lead baddie Immortan Joe in Mad Max 4. Shot by David Eggby (not Dave Eggers) who later shot a couple of Riddick movies.

The most awesome/unevenly ambitious Spike Lee movie since She Hate Me. I knew in advance that Teyonah Parris (Coco in Dear White People) has a plan to deny her man (Nick Cannon) sex until he stops fighting with a rival gang led by Wesley Snipes, but didn’t know she gathers a legion of women who commandeer an army base. The social issues within a heightened, unrealistic comedic production (rhyming dialogue, dance scenes, narrator Sam Jackson) make for a great combo.

Cowriter Kevin Willmott was here last week but I didn’t go see him since my parents were in town.

A pretty bad mid-80’s cop movie with average acting and horrible comedy. But oh man, when the action scenes start, there is nothing better. Cars barrel down a hill right through a shanty town, Chan uses cars as weapons and shields, and it ends with a jump/fall so great they show it three times. Plot-wise, Chan has to protect Brigitte Lin from gangsters before she testifies. He does a poor job gaining her trust (having a disguised fellow cop pretend to attack so Chan can save her) then does a poor job explaining her presence to his indignant girlfriend Maggie Cheung.

Fake-attack:

Movie puts forth the Clint Eastwoody idea that gangsters can’t be convicted in the courts because the system is corrupt, so it’s best to kill them straight away. But oh man, the action scenes. Non-action highlights include an endless court scene with all dialogue in Cantonese except the oft-repeated English phrase “I object,” and a dogshit moonwalk.

That’s Maggie on the left:

Won best picture/choreography at the HK Film Awards (vs. fellow nominee Mr. Vampire, heh), got at least five sequels. Maggie was still three years away from As Tears Go By, Brigitte starred in Peking Opera Blues the following year, and baddie Yuen Chor directed over 40 films in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Bob Hoskins (between Brazil and Roger Rabbit) is a cheap gangster who gets a job driving for expensive call girl Cathy Tyson (The Serpent and the Rainbow) after release from prison. He acts shitty and ignorant, hates his job, but finally warms up to Cathy, helps her search for her old friend, the two of them going on a sort-of Taxi Driver underworld revenge spree, getting in trouble with head gangster Michael Caine.

Hagrid plays Bob’s rat-faced friend. I didn’t recognize Detective Lester Freamon, so young and with few lines or close-ups, until his death. Hoskins won best actor at Cannes, Baftas, Golden Globes and a bunch of film critic groups, but lost the oscar to Paul Newman. DP Roger Pratt worked with Terry Gilliam through 12 Monkeys.

Bob watches Lester Freamon on TV:

Bob’s idea of a disguise:

I thought everyone in Outrage had been killed except for one cop and new boss Kato, but here’s Takeshi still alive and I had to try to keep track of the various crime families again. This did turn out better than the original, but I’m still hoping Election and Drug War destroy ’em both.

People: Tomokazu Miura of M/Other is in charge of some clan, and young hotshot Ryo Kase of I Just Didn’t Do It and Like Someone In Love is his #2 man.

Takeshi and Kimura:

Takeshi teams up with scarfaced ex-rival Kimura with his two dumb-as-hell employees to wage war on these guys. Baddies are brought low by other baddies. Another clan is somehow involved. The Japanese Dr. Guggenheim (Akira Nakao, a regular in 1990’s Godzilla movies) is the first to die. Then lots more die. There is a brief appearance by a woman.

The Japanese Dr. Guggenheim:

We get two partner cops to identify with. Sourface Shigeta (Yutaka Matsushige of Last Life in the Universe) is the outsider who needs everything explained to him, and his sneaky balding corrupt partner (Fumiyo Kohinata of Dark Water) wants to start some shit and get the action going. Beat Takeshi shoots the balding guy at the end, after everyone else is already dead.

L-R: balding cop, sourface cop

A good variety of music, and the score has hints of Dead Man. Scenes end with fade-outs as if to provide space for TV ads. My main concern was listening to the language and noting that half of all sentences end with a sound like arrOH, or errOR. Fumi thinks it’s some kinda gangster embellishment.

We open on five mumbly hoodie youths mugging a white woman – and the youths turn out to be the protagonists. So I was on the movie’s side from the start, but it only gets better. After an alien from a freshly-landed meteorite claws Moses, the mini-gang-leader, he kills it and takes it to Nick Frost’s weed room. But a hundred more meteors land, carrying far more dangerous creatures – pitch-black hairy wolf-bears with glowing teeth, looking for the slain female. So the kids mount a defense against rampaging aliens using knives, swords and fireworks, joined by the still-irritable white woman (Jodie Whittaker, title character in Venus) and opposed by cops and a mad drug dealer.

Despite all the bloody death, the movie is mostly an action/comedy – the rare successful one. It builds to one of the sweetest minutes of film I’ve seen all year, Moses carrying the group’s full arsenal racing towards a gas-filled apartment, leaping over the blind beasts under a shower of slow-motion sparks.

Luke Treadaway (one of the twins from Brothers of the Head) plays a stoner nature-channel enthusiast who helps figure out the aliens’ motivation. Writer/director Cornish goes way back with Edgar Wright and just cowrote Spielberg’s Tintin movie, so this is his big year.

While watching The Story of Film, I’ve been marking down the names of movies Mark Cousins discusses which I haven’t seen. And since I love lists, I thought I’d pick one title per Story episode and watch it, more or less chronologically. I call it The Story of Film Festival.

For years I’d been meaning to watch Birth of a Nation, then after reading Rosenbaum’s article about the AFI 100 list, I’ve been meaning to watch Intolerance instead. I’ve enjoyed some of Griffith’s shorts (A Corner in Wheat, The House with Closed Shutters) but never tackled any of his features, which seems a major oversight considering how important they were in film history (or in “the story of film”). While watching Intolerance, I dutifully noted Griffith’s pioneering editing style. I marvelled at the few extreme close-ups and dolly shots, a couple apparent crane shots, and heaping tons of cross-cutting, both between and within the four different time periods. But besides the academic interest, I found the movie boring and heavy-handed. It could’ve used a couple rewrites – the four stories of intolerance told simultaneously don’t work well together, and two of them (Paris and Judea) don’t work at all. Maybe this is because of deleted scenes, but I certainly don’t wish for the movie to be longer. Hopefully I’ll end up enjoying his shorter, more personal stories like Broken Blossoms and True Heart Susie more than this one, but now I’m in no hurry to watch those.

“Out of the cradle endlessly rocking.”

Lillian Gish (star of Broken Blossoms) rocks this cradle meaningfully beneath a sunbeam whenever Griffith lacked a good transition scene between time periods.

In the “present” of the 1910’s, wealthy Mary Jenkins, “unmarried sister of the autocratic industrial overlord” is ignored at a party and so “realizes the bitter fact that she is no longer a part of the younger world.” So she joins a stuffy ladies’ reform club dedicated to the “uplift of humanity” (read: censorship, prohibition, and making things generally boring).

Meanwhile, the father of The Dear One (ugh) works at the Jenkins factory. The mill orders a wage cut (to conserve funds for Mary’s reform group), a strike ensues, lots of cannon fire (reportedly modeled after a bloody strike at a Rockefeller factory). The Boy’s father dies (excuse me, “the Loom of Fate weaves death” for him). The surviving protagonists move to the city, where The Boy and “The Friendless One” get tangled up with gangsters (“musketeers”) and Dear One’s dad dies (sorry, “inability to meet new conditions brings untimely death” to him). Boy and Dear are to be married, but his boss doesn’t like quitters, plants stolen goods on the Boy which “intolerate him away for a term” in prison, because the titles love to use that word even when it doesn’t fit. While he’s in prison, his Dear wife has a baby, which is taken away by the Intolerant reformists and raised by careless nurses.

Friendless Miriam Cooper, actually married to Raoul Walsh:

In ancient Jerusalem, there’s some stuff about hypocrites among the pharisees, funniest part of the movie. Jesus turns water to wine, proving that he is on the side of fun, not like the stuffy ol’ reform club of the present-day scenes. Then this whole segment is forgotten.

A hypocritic pharisee, probably not played by Erich von Stroheim:

In 1570’s France, the catholic king’s mother hates the Hugenots (protestants), and despite some royal wedding that’s supposed to bring peace, she schemes to destroy them. Meanwhile, down in the peasantry, Brown Eyes is dating Prosper Latour (the great Eugene Pallette of The Lady Eve – weird to see him young and silent).

The King with mum Josephine Crowell, who’d play queens in The Man Who Laughs and The Merry Widow:

Protestant leader Admiral Coligny: Joseph Henabery, a prolific director who also played Lincoln in Birth of a Nation

At the Great Gate of Babylon in 539 B.C. (an intertitle brags about the movie’s life-size replica walls), the Rhapsode (Elmer Clifton, prolific director of westerns in the 40’s, also made the marijuana scare flick Assassin of Youth) is a warrior poet, agent of the High Priest of Bel, who falls for a Mountain Girl (Constance Talmadge, with the most modern look in the movie, despite wearing a hat that looks like a spinach salad with olives). Their leader is great and Tolerant, but the high priest is annoyed that some people worship a rival goddess, so he schemes to assist the Persians when they attack Babylon by having the impenetrable gates opened for them.

Mountain Girl joins in the battle:

So all the stories (not counting Judea) are about poor, pretty girls having their lives ruined because of greedy decisions made by rich, powerful people. The movie is incredibly obvious, so I got bored and spent much of the second half imagining the bloody murder of everyone involved. And then that’s pretty much what happened.

But first – two doves pull a chariot carrying a rose:

In the present: “When women cease to attract men they often turn to Reform as a second choice” – cue montage of the ugly women of the reform movement. But the reformists’ actions have simply moved the drinking and partying underground, where it’s more dangerous for being unregulated. The Boy returns home, the Musketeer gets involved in their lives again, then the jealous Friendless One kills him. Boy is blamed and sentenced to hang, but T.F.O. confesses at the last minute, so a car carrying her races to beat the governor’s train and stop the execution in time.

Robert “Boy” Harron (star of Griffith’s True Heart Susie, who killed himself in 1920) with Dear Mae Marsh (appeared in small roles in John Ford movies through the mid-60’s):

Babylon is attacked by Persian “Cyrus, world-conqueror” with his sword “forged in the flames of intolerance,” assisted by the jealous high priest. Hilarious moment in the fight when a warrior knocks another’s head clean off – then it happens again, in case you missed it.

In France: The Massacre of St. Bartholemew: a morning army assault on the unsuspecting protestants.

Unsuspecting Prosper (Eugene Pallette!) and Brown Eyes (Margery Wilson, later author of The Pocket Book of Etiquette and The Complete Book of Charm):

After hours and hours of long setup, the movie picks up the pace, cross-cutting between two battles and the final hours before the Boy’s hanging.

Brown Eyes is speared to death while Prosper runs through the city to reach her, then when he curses out the soldiers for killing his beloved, they blow him away with rifles.

Brown Eyes meets spear head:

Every character we’ve met in Babylon is killed, the Mountain Girl shot full of arrows.

But the Boy is spared and reunited with his Dear One, though their missing baby is never mentioned. IMDB says all sorts of alternate versions and deleted scenes exist, one of which shows the baby coming home with them. The site also says that after filming, Babylon was declared a fire hazard, and that Jesus Christ was deported for having sex with 14-year-olds. I need to watch Buster Keaton’s parody (only an hour long) The Three Ages again sometime.

Crazy ending:

People supposedly involved in this movie who appeared in minor roles whom I failed to spot: Tod Browning, Frank Borzage, Douglas Fairbanks and W.S. Van Dyke. Behind the scenes: Erich von Stroheim, Victor Fleming, Billy Bitzer, Jack Conway, Allan Dwan, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes co-author Anita Loos and Howard Hawks head writer Charles Lederer.

Stylish and well shot Miike gangster film from the same year as Dead or Alive Final and Sabu. Jump cuts galore, and a badass tone that outdoes Outrage. Based on a Fukusaku film from the 70’s – Miike’s first remake? He’s done a couple more lately, with 13 Assassins and Harakiri.

Ishimatsu (Goro Kishitani, lately in Like a Dragon and Crows Zero) is already a violent sociopath when he enters yakuza life, recruited from his dishwashing job after saving the boss man Sawada (Shingo Yamashiro of the original Graveyard of Honor) from an assassination attempt. Fond of murder and rape, he fits right in, but his new bosses don’t realize just how much of a loose cannon he’ll be.

Ishi in his element:

He’s locked up early on after an assignment to kill a guy who stirred up trouble in a gambling parlor, and in prison makes friends with scar-faced Imamura. Also at some point he gets rape victim Harumi Inoue (star of Freeze Me) to marry him. After a misunderstanding when Ishi wants his money right fucking now and thinks the godfather (who is at the dentist) is avoiding him, he whups everyone’s ass, and cracks the skull of middle man Yuwada (Renji Ishibashi, below, always receiving dentist-related injuries in movies, played the mob boss who got shoddy oral surgery from Kitano in Outrage).

This is bad for sure, and it’s possible that Ishi could run some damage control or do some kind of penance, but he wants his fucking money, busts into the boss’s house and shoots Sawada, who was reaching for the cash to pay Ishi. Oops, another misunderstanding, and now Ishi stays on the run, sheltered by his friend Imamura.

I think this is Imamura, but a second scar-faced character was placed in the movie to confuse me:

A detective (Rikiya Yasuoka of Tampopo) gets involved. Goons beat up Ishi’s wife and he wails on their faces with a metal pipe. Another misunderstanding and Ishi stabs his friend. Yakuzas panic, fingers are cut off, tear gas is fired, and finally he lets himself be captured, later knocking out a guard in prison then climbing a tower and jumping to his death, unleashing a typically Miike-overkill rainstorm of blood.

B. Sachs:

What makes it different from most of its forebears is that Takashi Miike works to avoid any intimations of a narrative arc. Instead of setting up a pattern of hubris and comeuppance, Miike organizes the film as an accumulation of detail, with a special preoccupation with how things work: the way yakuza from different families forge alliances, how a prisoner can give himself salmonella to get into the infirmary, how the body reacts to heroin. For all the instructive, caught-in-the-moment observation, though, it is a frighteningly amoral film, less an object lesson in criminal psychopathology than an attempt to meet that psychopath on his level.

Ishi makes his “escape” from prison: