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.

I got Naked Island flashbacks, people transporting water to different islands. Rahmat is a tear collector, witnessing dramas on each island he visits. He gains a stowaway named Nassim who tries to steal from him, they meet a blind man scavenging dead birds, a woman is sent screaming into the burning sea… death at every stop of the boat. Besides the tear bottle there’s a bag where people discard their sorrows, and a series of jars where they whisper their secrets. A rogue painter is tortured and forced to declare that the sea is blue, then sent away with the tear collector so his nonconformist views won’t spread. Another girl is sent away for being too beautiful.

I watched an old DVD of a then-recent film, for some reason transferred from a used print. I had to rewind when I saw lightning during a conversation about how it never rains – just a jagged film scratch. In the end, Rahmat bathes the feet of a government man who only asks “if everyone’s well.”

Michael Sicinski in Cinema Scope:

In a bold move that is quite the opposite of what we see from too many concerned filmmakers on the left, Rasoulof joined his increased anger and frustration not with greater literalism or artlessness, but with a shift into the allegorical, mythic register. While the bitterness and protest underlying The White Meadows are crystal clear, the film explores the state of Ahmadinejad’s Iran through a series of absurdist horror vignettes, staged against an unforgiving Lake Orumieh, and witnessed by a man condemned to merely observe and chronicle, but helpless to intervene … Rasoulof weaves this tale of interlocking allegories through visual as well as dramaturgical means. This is a strikingly beautiful film, simultaneously lush and austere, characterized by expansive, elemental landscapes and seascapes. Within these broad fields, human forms are enveloped, knocked hither and thither, struggling to maintain balance and dignity.

What Did Jack Do? (2017, David Lynch)

Jack is a monkey with a human mouth composited onto his face, so he can be interrogated by detective David Lynch. “They say real love is a banana.” Willow’s review is the one to read: “This is a joke, but Lynch is also being completely sincere.”


The Capsule (2012, Athina Rachel Tsangari)

Women slither in from all over, have other women inside them via unrealistic compositing effects… there is slow-mo, nudity, colored tongues, and “Horse With No Name” a cappella. Wait, there’s more: goats on leashes, egg-absorbing bellybuttons, painted mustaches, a confession line, heads that turn all the way around.

Reminds of the Lucrecia Martel fashion short and other high-gloss ads made by deeply weird directors. Then towards the end, talk of clones and life-cycles and vampires summons Never Let Me Go and the Lucile Hadzihalilovic films. I liked it more than Chevalier!


Goldman v Silverman (2020, Safdies)

Adam Sandler is a gold-painted human statue with a kazoo, then Benny Safdie arrives as a silver-painted human statue with a kazoo, insults Goldman then sets up across the street until Goldman comes at him with a can of spraypaint. The ending is played for pathos, Silverman sad and alone with messed up clothes, but, man he started it. Really the point of this movie is that the Safdies filmed Adam Sandler in Times Square and nobody realized it.


The Fall (2019, Jonathan Glazer)

Another short with masks. This time everyone’s wearing ’em, and a mob shakes a dude down from a tree then drops him down an extremely deep hole. At some point he catches himself and starts to painstakingly climb back up. Pretty much pure nightmare fuel, no other reason for this to exist than to deeply upset everyone who watches.

Opens in flashback with our laughing boy’s rebel father being executed by the king, with the weirdly powerful court jester Barkilphedro (literary-horror regular Brandon Hurst) in attendance. The kid’s face was carved by the “Comprachico” clan headed by Dr. Hardquanonne (George Siegmann of the 1921 Three Musketeers, dead of anemia before this movie’s release). As they’re sailing away, banned from England for various crimes and/or xenophobia, the boy runs off, rescues a blind infant from the arms of her frozen mother, and stumbles into door of Ursus The Philosopher (Cesare Gravina, would appear in The Wedding March the same year and retire a few months later).

Years later, he is Laughing Man Conrad Veidt (practically a silent horror superstar, having starred in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Hands of Orlac), on sideshow tours with the beautiful blind Dea (Phantom of the Opera star Mary Philbin) and their father-figure Ursus (this must’ve proven more lucrative than philosophy). But when they run into Hardquanonne, he uses the laughing man’s existence to blackmail a duchess who lives on the land that Conrad rightfully owns. I would’ve thought if you’re a rebel who is personally murdered by the king, your property is forfeited, but I guess not!

The plot gets silly here – Conrad gets an invitation from hot young party girl Duchess Josiana (Olga Baclanova, wicked star of Freaks), hopes she’ll be in love with him, because that would prove he’s worthy to marry his true love Dea, but as Josiana gets him alone, she receives a note from the queen saying she must marry the Laughing Man in order to keep her land and title, and Josiana reacts by laughing hysterically then hugging her monkey. Conrad is arrested, then instated in the House of Lords the next day – meanwhile his circus family is banished. I can’t tell if the royals are toying with Conrad or if they’re just dense, because everyone throws a fit that he won’t stop smiling, so he flees the castle and makes it to the boat to join Dea and Ursus.

Based on a Victor Hugo novel, remade by Sergio Corbucci in the 1960’s, and again this decade with Depardieu as Ursus. Leni was apparently a talent, followed this with The Last Warning then died of an infected tooth. Conrad, who spoke no english at the time of filming, is terrific. Watched in the dying days of SHOCKtober in honor of this year’s Golden Lion winner at Venice.

Sitting up front at the fake-imax, the movie was as large as I could make it, and for such an interstellar voyage movie, I sure noticed lots of close-ups. It must be a total pain to light and film faces inside space suits, but Gray and the DP from Interstellar find some lovely and mysterious new angles. Wonderful to travel all the way to Neptune and find… the Nicolas Brothers. Malickian crosscutting between past and future with voiceover… and didn’t Malick already cast Brad Pitt in a cosmic movie with hard feelings between father/son?

Ultimately, the movie was a metaphor for my watching the movie. Brad Pitt (me) leaves behind his sweetie Liv Tyler (Katy) because he is dedicated to his mission (killing his father / watching the movie), voyages to the edge of space (or Atlantic Station) on an endless (2 hour) journey all alone (cuz my friends don’t answer emails anymore), enduring hardships on the way (Atlanta traffic!), only to discover that God doesn’t exist, aliens are a myth, and we’re all we have, and returns to Liv Tyler waiting for him at home (again, Katy).

Brian Tallerico on Roger Ebert:

Earthly disasters possibly caused by a creator who has been absent as the world has lost hope — the religious allegory embedded in Ad Astra is crystal clear if you look for it, but never highlighted in a way that takes away from the film’s urgency. Science fiction is often about search for meaning, but this one literally tells the story of man’s quest to find He who created him and get some answers, including why He left us behind.

Pitt gets clued in by family friend Donald Sutherland, flies commercial to the moon (which is like an airport mall, complete with Subway and Hudson News), escapes rover pirates, flies with a new rocket crew to Mars, stops once to answer a distress call and lose their captain along the way. Pitt takes over from the panicky man left in charge for a safe landing, goes to a secret recording studio to send laser voicemails to his dead father, then is told by Ruth Negga that his hero dad actually killed his entire crew, including her parents. She sneaks him back on board the rocket, where he defensively kills the crew and carries on alone to Neptune, to either reconcile with his dad or blow him up with nukes. The former proves impossible, since dad can’t be reasoned with, loving nothing except his absent alien friends, so Brad rides a nuclear blast back home. Some of this sounds silly in retrospect, and some didn’t even work for me in the moment, especially that emergency stop that killed the rocket captain – I guess it’s a medical research ship overrun by a mutant space monkey. I’ve heard whispers of studio tampering but I’m not enough of a Gray purist to assume that he’s got a masterpiece version of this movie stuffed in a closet.

Bao (Domee Shi)
We’d already seen this before Incredibles 2, but our audience must’ve missed that, and found it hilarious.

Late Afternoon (Louise Bagnall)
The obvious artistic achievement in the bunch, smoothly following patterns and colors into memory holes, a fanciful visualization of an Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother’s thoughts while her daughter is tidying up. Louise is from Ireland, worked on Song of the Sea.

Animal Behaviour (Alison Snowden & David Fine)
I don’t recall Bob & Margaret having writing this obvious, but I do recall this sort of thing being done to death in other animated shorts, including some by Snowden & Fine’s former employer Aardman. Group therapy session with different types of animals ends when a rampaging ape can’t control his anger issues.

Weekends (Trevor Jimenez)
Good editing and visual details, but it’s also the third movie in a half hour to feature dream logic while telling a story about strained relationships between parents and kids. Boy lives with his mom who is pulling her life together, spends weekends in dad’s super cool apartment. I saw the director’s noirish Key Lime Pie a decade ago.

One Small Step (Andrew Chesworth & Bobby Pontillas)
And here’s the fourth, minus the dream logic. I think someone on the academy nominating board had just lost a parent and was feeling very emotional about this subject. Katy said this one was a by-the-numbers Pixar-style story – girl is raised by her shoe repairman dad, is failing to achieve her dream of becoming an astronaut, but gives it another go after dad dies.

Wishing Box (Wenli Zhang & Nan Li)
The jokey, cartoony one – pirate recovers a seemingly empty box that contains whatever his pet monkey wants it to. The monkey finally figures out that his master wants gold coins, and pulls out enough to sink their ship, yuk yuk.

Tweet Tweet (Zhanna Bekmambetova)
Extremely Metaphorical, person walking the Tightrope of Life, growing up, falling in love, losing her husband to the war, and still trudging ever forward, attended constantly by a cutie little bird.

On one hand, we’ve got the wacky misadventures of a failing museum administrator (Claes Bang), but the movie wanders about, exploring different sides of its themes of altruism, trust and honesty. Essentially, Claes fails the test of the Square completely and repeatedly, while the severe compositions give us Michael Haneke flashbacks and the light vocal music tells us not to take Claes’s plight too seriously.

Also, Elisabeth Moss makes a phone call while a monkey paints its face red, and guest artist Dominic West (among others) gets roughed up by an overcommitted performance artist. Matt Lynch: “This works more than it doesn’t mostly because it’s very funny and feels spontaneous even though it’s almost absurdly schematic and can’t stop bluntly explaining itself.”

Part of a Late Horror Masters’ Lesser Works double-feature. Opens with a disclaimer about the treatment of the movie’s monkeys, but they never appeared to be in any convincing danger, except maybe in the final scene. No mention of the treatment of the movie’s parakeets. Monkey tricks are the primary reason to watch this movie, except for George Romero and/or Stanley Tucci completists.

Allan’s car accident:

Allan and monkey giving the same steely expression:

Moody Allan (Jason Beghe of One Missed Call Remake) is badly crippled, so his monkey-researcher friend Geoffrey (John Pankow of Talk Radio) donates a brain-eating monkey to service-animal trainer Melanie (Kate McNeil of The House on Sorority Row) to get Allan a furry helper buddy. Brain-eating monkey in a George Romero movie – what could go wrong?

Mad scientist Geoffrey:

Geoffrey’s boss Stephen Root:

Moody Allan is a bad influence on the monkey, who starts to murder everyone who she perceives as a threat – first setting fire to Allan’s ex (Lincoln NE’s Janine Turner of Northern Exposure) who has run off with his doctor (Stanley Tucci), then electrocuting Allan’s annoying mom (Joyce Van Patten of Bone), killing Geoffrey via drug injection, and most horribly, murdering the parakeet of Allan’s hateful catetaker (Christine Forrest, Romero’s wife). After she threatens Melanie in a rage, Allan manages to dispatch the monkey using only his neck and mouth. We also get a monkey-surgery dream sequence and blurry monkey-POV shots. Mostly dullsville compared to the space vampires. My birds reacted to the monkey chatter, but not to the parakeet.

Alloy Orchestra returned, with a double-feature this time! First up was this highly ridiculous adventure story, full of corny nonsense, but also featuring some fabulous stop-motion dinosaurs and a cool monkey.

A beardy madman (Wallace Beery of wrestling picture fame) insists to a roomful of people, Lost City of Z-style, that his previous expedition had discovered a plateau where dinosaurs still live, but everyone on his team is now missing so he needs a new team. Sportsman Lewis Stone (Stars In My Crown, Queen Christina) would like to come find new creatures to shoot, and his buddy, romantic doof reporter Lloyd Hughes (title star of Rip Roaring Riley), gets himself invited to impress a disinterested rich girl. Professor Arthur Hoyt (the director’s older brother, mayor of The Great McGinty) comes too, and so does Beery’s dead ex-teammate’s daughter Bessie Love (her final film was The Hunger). Everyone proves to be pretty capable (especially the monkey) at getting into trouble and getting back out of it, and the doof falls for Bessie. More impressive than the “oh shit we’re dead, might as well die together” romance is that the dinosaurs, which would seem to have limited area to live and breed, are constantly killing each other and falling into tar pits. The humans manage to bring a live brontosaurus home to London, where it escapes and nearly goes full King Kong, finally destroying a bridge and either swimming away or drowning, it was hard to tell which.

The evening highlight was A Page of Madness, which had a more experimental score and blew everybody’s minds.