Semi-sequel to Yojimbo, which I don’t remember being this comical. Sure it’s all life-or-death situations, but Sanjuro gets swept accidentally into this group of young dudes trying to expose corruption, and he keeps pointing out their grave errors, calling them idiots and saving their asses just in time. Mifune hangs back playing cool for an hour before he finally gets to go haywire on some dudes, killing about twenty.

Tatsuya Nakadai (lead guy in Harakiri the same year) is the Sanjuro-equivalent of the opposition, the mutineers’ muscle who has a final blood-spraying showdown with our guy. His traitorous boss is Masao Shimizu, who appeared in every major Japanese film for decades but always twelfth-billed. Too many of the young samurai to keep track of, and their kidnapped righteous boss barely appears in the movie, but his wife (Takako Irie, a WWII-era Kurosawa star) and daughter (Reiko Dan, who slept her way to success in When a Woman Ascends the Stairs) get good roles.

Part 1: The Golden Sea

I watched this in college on bootleg VHS for an ill-fated report on Lang’s cinema, and remembered pretty much nothing. A story in two parts, initially set in America with rival adventurers Kay Hoog and Lio Sha. These are meant to be American names? Kay is rich as hell, going after Peruvian gold despite Lio’s gang The Spiders warning him away. Even this early, Lang was into surveillance tech – Lio has an electric mirror showing a view of the next room: a webcam 100 years ahead of its time.

Kay in foreground, Lio being molested at the tables, Georgia flag in Mexican cantina:

Our teams travel to Mexico, hop a balloon over Chile, Kay parachutes out and immediately rescues the Princess of the Sun from a snake. Lio is safely captured, is to be sacrificed, while the Princess swoons for Hoog in her secret waterfall cavern. I love that the drama is less that a girl is gonna get sacrificed and her nemesis is launching a reluctant rescue mission, it’s that the Princess performing the sacrifice doesn’t wanna but her dad says she has to. A chaotic rescue, they find and steal the gold on their way out, then the spiders start killing each other in a frenzy over the gold, and also light the “holy candle” which is a bomb fuse, flooding the cave. The movie opened with a message in a bottle, and nearly ends with Hoog and rescued/kidnapped Princess adrift in a basket. It actually ends back at the Hoog Mansion when he runs out for an errand, returns to find his princess dead with a toy spider on her.

Princess Dagover in over her head:

The servants get into the wine:


Part 2: The Diamond Ship

Lio seeks a stone for a Chinese client. The opening robbery is filmed at an angle that just doesn’t work, not high enough, very un-Lang. Kay aims to stop the Spiders, still miffed that they killed his princess. With a single edit, Kay jumps off a plane onto a rooftop, hmmm. He hangs out in an opium den to scout for clues, spots Lio and takes her hostage, but they drop him through a trap door into a flooding pit from which he improbably manages to escape. I would’ve been happy watching Kay Hoog continue to escape from implausible scenarios, but the movie feels compelled to set up a big score for us, team Spider swimming in their full black bodysuits (with shoes and masks) to a diamond-laden boat. Somehow this leads to a final fight in a poison cave in the Falkland islands, a four-fingered villain and another kidnapped daughter, but it’s hard to pay attention whenever Kay isn’t falling through trap doors. Ultimately the plastic spiders and the Kay Hoog t-shirts weren’t selling, so the series was cancelled before they made a third episode.

Nemeses:

Kay was Carl de Vogt, who worked long enough to appear in a 1960’s Mabuse. His arch-nemesis Lio Sha’s real name was the just-as-unlikely Ressel Orla. A Jew in Berlin, she escaped the holocaust by dying of illness in the early 1930’s. Lil Dagover (of Lang’s Harakiri the same year) played the Princess of the Sun, and part two’s Diamond King (with the kidnapped daughter) was Rudolf Lettinger (in Cabinet of Dr. Caligari the same year).

Conference Call:

Caligari Man with Kidnapped Daughter:

Ben Model’s music seems fine, but after five minutes I realized I could be playing Zorn’s Nostradamus: The Death of Satan instead, so I did… then The Ninth Circle… so, the Simulacrum crew of Hollenberg / Medeski / Grohowski, and adding Marsella in the second half of The Golden Lake. For part two I played Harriet Tubman’s The Terror End of Beauty. If you keep falling asleep, resuming the movie where you left off the next night but starting the album over, Harriet Tubman is like the miracle of the oil lasting eight nights. But ultimately the movie is too long, so I moved on to their previous LP Araminta feat. Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet.

Dave Kehr says it best, as usual:

Fascinating … though it no longer plays particularly well. Already at this primitive stage in his development Lang was conjuring vast international conspiracies and drawing his hapless heroes into intractable webs of fate. The form is here, the meaning would come later. The visuals too are stamped with Lang’s personality; no one carved up screen space with his precision and expressiveness.

Diem filmed young Di and her Hmong family for three years, but ends up focusing on one incident near the end of that period. Di goes off with a boy named Vang during the new year celebration, therefore he’s said to have “kidnapped” her and she is his bride – even though Di said before and after that it’s not what she intended. Diem gets involved with her subjects, speaks from behind the camera, has conversations, gets into rice paddy mudfights. I chuckled when she told Di that she’s done the wrong thing, since one of the highest compliments reviewers pay a film is that it’s not judgemental of its characters. The payoff of the director’s involvement in the story onscreen comes in the festival’s most harrowing moment. Vang’s family gets tired of negotiating and of Di’s refusals, and simply pick the girl up and carry her away kicking, as she looks back to the camera screaming for Diem to save her, instantly turning this from “portrait of a girl in a particular culture” or “child bride issues doc” into an emergency study in ethics. The misty mountains were very lovely, too. Living Hour opened again but picked up the tempo, and we calmed down after the movie at Cafe Poland with some pierogis and bigos (wow).

Back in theaters for this one. I love going into Wes movies with absurdly high expectations, because he always meets them. I’ll read the hater critics some other time – maybe they were looking for something more than an endless parade of favorite actors and impeccable production design, but I wasn’t. Much of the movie is in 4:3 black and white, and either my screening was over-matted or the titles appear at the extreme top and bottom of frame.

Bookending segments in the newspaper office, with editor Bill Murray alive in the first piece and dead in the second. Bicycle tour through the town of Ennui by Owen Wilson. Story 1 is relayed by Tilda Swinton, involving art dealer Adrien Brody patronizing imprisoned painter Benicio del Toro whose guard/model is Léa Seydoux (they get some actual French people in here sometime). I was least involved in the middle piece, about faux-May’68 student revolutionary Timothée Chalamet’s affair with reporter Frances McDormand. Then Jeffrey Wright is reporting on celebrated police chef Steve “Mike Yanagita” Park, who helps foil a plot by Edward Norton to kidnap chief Mathieu Amalric’s son.

Michael Sicinski (Patreon) also liked the Benicio story best:

By contrast, Anderson’s snotty riff on May ’68, “Revisions to a Manifesto,” succumbs to the director’s worst comedic instincts, essentially declaring that political desire is nothing more than sublimated horniness … The final segment, “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner,” sort of splits the difference, although it is elevated considerably by a fine performance from Jeffrey Wright, channeling James Baldwin as a melancholy ex-pat uncomfortable with his journalistic distance. The story itself is mostly just a riff on The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s portrait of courtly civility as a bulwark against anarchy. But it’s Wright’s representation of honest inquiry, and humanistic curiosity, that makes it far less silly than it should be.

Watched again a month later, with Katy this time.

Another movie about criminals doing One Last Job before they retire on their earnings, but this time it’s young, disorganized burglars trying to leave Detroit. Rocky is Jane Levy, star of Evil Dead Remake, casing a house with her partners, tough Daniel Zovatto (It Follows) and meek Dylan Minnette (Let Me In). Unfortunately, the house is occupied by dangerous blind army vet Stephen Lang (VFW) who keeps a kidnapped impregnated girl in his basement, a killer dog in his yard, and a few million bucks in his safe.

Fortunately there’s not much dialogue – the two guys sparring over the girl was unconvincing, and I think there were three appearances of “Let’s Do This.” Better is the camera, which finchers around, between walls and under furniture. It’s a good looking movie, especially considering it’s mostly set within a decrepit house. The girl escapes with the money and sees a news story saying the old man lived, which explains the existence of Don’t Breathe 2.

mini-Cujo at the end:

I tried to discover Johnnie To’s early frontiers with A Hero Never Dies, but succeeded with this one – it’s a Tsui Hark-style HK movie, with the horrible comedy and dialogue and crazy action crystallizing into weird perfection.

Opens with a couple agreeing to buy a neglected, secluded house, the deal interrupted by the supercop husband leaping out a window to catch a thief stealing the realtor’s car. He is Damian Lau (just off the Royal Tramp movies), and doesn’t realize his wife Anita Mui (star of Rouge) is the masked superhero known as Wonder Woman, who’s investigating a wave of babynappings, orchestrated by an Evil Master with growling henchman Anthony Wong.

Meanwhile, friendly bounty hunter Maggie Cheung gets a killer introduction jumping her motorcycle over a cop barricade. And Invisible Woman Michelle Yeoh is… wait, she’s working for the bad guys helping steal the babies, and a baby is killed during the first big fight… this trio isn’t so heroic. But Michelle is sad about her inventor boyfriend dying, and she realizes she’s Anita’s long-lost sister, then they all team up to take down the master.

As a train explodes through a building, a dynamite-tossing Motor Maggie leads the fight vs. flying-guillotine-armed Anthony Wong on a landmine-rigged street. There’s too much awesome, looney tunes shit happening to keep close track of plot details, but Anthony must have survived since he returns in the sequel.

The Visible Woman:

Anthony, before his face gets messed up by the Trio:

Zeman’s followup to Invention for Destruction is another absolute wonder. Actors filmed b/w and composited somehow with variously tinted objects and backgrounds. Still don’t know how this was done – saving the making-of doc for after I watch the dinosaur feature.

The story opens with astronaut Tony landing on the moon and discovering the Baron (Munchhausen), who calls him a moonman and takes over the narrative (I don’t think Tony speaks in the first half). Baron returns them to Earth, but a fantasy version, the jet planes in the opening scene replaced by flying monsters.

They rescue a kidnapped princess from a sultan, she falls for Tony, and the Baron spends the rest of the movie trying to convince her that he’s more impressive that boring old Tony (true). Along the way they jump their horses off a cliff, create a tobacco smokescreen to confound the sultan’s fleet, get swallowed by a whale and scooped up by a giant bird, ride a cannonball, escape from prison and return to the moon via rocket-propelled castle tower, all in about half the runtime of the Gilliam version.

I finally watched the movie where airport shame-sniffer Tina, who attracts lightning and can detect SD cards full of child pornography, meets Vore, a tailless sex-inverted creature like herself, and kicks out her useless boyfriend Roland to invite Vore to stay over. I cracked the film wide open, writing in my notes: “she works the border, he is her boarder.”

I thought this would be more Four Weddings and a Funeral, but all the lives/deaths in the title belong to Marcello Mastroianni, who lives at least three different lives in this almost-anthology movie.

Birds and snake:

Firstly, Marcello had walked out on his wife, rented an apartment down the street, and fallen asleep for 20 years, hypnotized by tiny Parisian fairies. When he escapes, he talks his wife’s current guy (Féodor Atkine of a couple Rohmers) into listening to his story, then coming to the apartment and taking his place (less “talks” and more “kidnaps and murders” at that point) while Marcello returns to wife Marisa Peredes (an Almodóvar regular).

Marisa:

Atkine, swimming in chicks

Then Marcello is a bachelor professor with an invalid mum until he gets the sudden urge to leave home and becomes a very successful street beggar and befriends CEO/prostitute Alla Galiena (The Tulse Luper Suitcases), living a double life with her dangerous husband.

Galiena and perverse husband:

Polyamorous couple Martin (Ruiz fave Melvil Poupaud) and Cecile (Marcello’s daughter Chiara Mastroianni) have a mysterious benefactor in Marcello, who leaves them a mansion then performs as their mute butler, and this turns out to be a scheme to steal their newborn and deliver it to Wife #1 Marisa Peredes. Marcello is introduced as a fourth character, a businessman whose young wife is cheating on him, but we’ve already seen characters from the other stories interacting, and now it turns out there’s only one Marcello, and he starts rapidly flipping between personas, then all Marcellos share one death after a fateful meeting at the cafe between the women from each chapter.

A Poupaud and two Mastroiannis:

Marcello is excellent in this, and would die a couple months after it came out. It played a stacked Cannes with Crash, Fargo and Breaking the Waves.