Katy hated this, and sure it’s not one of the better or even more memorable movies we’ve watched this summer, but when I heard that Johnnie To made a movie starring Andy Lau as a monk/stripper/strongman in a rubber muscle suit, I knew I had to watch it right away, and I regret nothing. Guess I’m on my own for Johnnie To’s comedy Love on a Diet starring Andy Lau in a fat suit…

This movie starts out crazy enough, with bodybuilder Lau making a nude getaway while a more serious crime is being committed, running into a cop and seeing a vision of her future. They team up and fight crime… but then Andy retreats to a mountain for years, battles his past self, and captures a reclusive killer… and we sense that they either filmed a three-hour epic then cut it to ninety minutes, or everyone was making it up as they went along. The staging of even simple scenes is better than it needs to be, the movie’s never boring, it features some villains straight out of the comics, and it follows through on its promise to kill Andy’s romantic interest (the cop, Cecilia Cheung of The Promise and Zu Warriors), so I admire it despite the parts that never really work (the editing, the muscle suit).

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.

The first movie we saw at this year’s great True/False Fest was a pleasant enough way to begin, the fest’s first film from Bhutan, but it sounds like Lovers of the Night was the better monk film. Two siblings play soccer around the family monastery, where their monk father wants older brother Gyembo to attend monk training camp and follow in his footsteps, carrying on the forever-old family tradition. Gyembo is ambivalent about it, and about everything, feints vaguely in the direction of rebellion but will probably end up becoming a monk – we don’t know for sure, since he stops speaking entirely in the second half of the movie.

Gyembo and Tashi, crushing your head:

We first mistook his short-haired younger sister Tashi for a boy. She refuses the color pink, wants to swap clothes with her brother, talks with him about picking up girls, and even the parents say she has the soul of a boy, but when she doesn’t make the team at soccer camp, her future is left even more open-ended than her brother’s.

Dad is a goofball monk, doing traditional dances and blessing people (for money) with colorful phalluses. He tells Gyembo that he wants him to be happy, and his future is his own decision, and he doesn’t have to become a monk, but if he doesn’t, the tradition held by their family for untold generations will come to a crashing end and they’ll lose the monastery and all will be lost, but no pressure, make your own decisions. His repetitive lectures even become a joke within the movie as one scene shows Gyembo falling asleep while his dad rambles on, but the joke doesn’t make his nagging any easier to take. The mountainous scenery and colorful festivities are lovely.


Durango (2016, Matt Sukkar)

We liked the opening short even more than the feature, and they fit very well together. Two Colorado siblings: the younger a long-haired boy we first mistook for a girl (and a great skateboarder) and his older brother restless, threatening to leave town and move to Seattle, their mom crazy and father dead. More spoken venting and fighting and confessions and hopes/dreams than in The Next Guardian, which is content to watch quietly as everyone wrestles silently with their fates. The provocation by Aja Romano was about Harry Potter fandom and the author letting everyone down, which is a nonissue I’d already read too much about.

En levande själ (A Living Soul, 2014, Henry Moore Selder)

A living brain, with ear and eyeball, awakens in a fishtank and eventually succeeds in psychically communicating with its nurse Emma. Happy birthday to me – thanks, Trevor!

Based on a novel by a physician. Ypsilon and Emma and nearly everyone else in Sweden acted in the TV series The Bridge, and the briefly-appearing inkblot psychiatrist (the “ink” was on an ipad, nice touch) was in Fanny & Alexander.


Sarah Winchester, opéra fantôme (2016, Bertrand Bonello)

“Dance but don’t move. Do the solo in your head.”

Symphony and dance, spooky old drawings and accusing ghosts, and the story of Sarah, inheritor of the Winchester rifle fortune, who became a crazy recluse after losing her family. I liked this even more than Nocturama. Similarities include doom music, seclusion in abandoned buildings, mannequins, guilt.


The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer (1984, Quay Bros.)

A child visits Master Svankmajer, who removes the fluff and toys from the child’s head and teaches him stop-motion filmmaking. This makes a lot more sense than it did when I watched in the 1990’s, now that I know who Jan Svankmajer is. The cluster of mobile pins still reminds me of Edward Gorey (“Death and Distraction, said the Pins and Needles”)


Stille Nacht I, Dramolet (1988, Quay Bros.)

Extremely short and amazing, dollman watches as his spoon-world grows moldy with magnetized metal filings.


Stille Nacht II, Are We Still Married? (1992, Quay Bros.)

A motion-blur paddleball confounds a toe-stretching girl’s pet bunny


Stille Nacht III, Tales from Vienna Woods (1994, Quay Bros.)

Somebody died in 1892? Spinning smoke bullet, disembodied hand, hovering desk and extra-long spoon. I liked the His Name Is Alive song in the previous film – this one sounds like a buzzing TV from the next room.


Stille Nacht IV, Can’t Go Wrong Without You (1994, Quay Bros.)

The heroes of part two return, the tiptoe girl now quietly bleeding as the rabbit uses his antigravity powers to protect his eggs from a keyhole-peeping Death.


An Eastern Westerner (1920, Hal Roach)

At a hotel we saw this Harold Lloyd short on TCM, and since I watched it, I am duty-bound to put it on the blog somewhere, even though I was entirely focused on being aggravated about the picture being squished and don’t remember anything that happened in the movie itself. I guess it’s the one with the famous still of all the guns pointing at Harold’s head?


Three Monks (1982 Jingda Xu)

Short, flatheaded Red Monk, tall skinny Blue Monk, and fat Yellow Monk arrive separately at a mountaintop shrine and spend their days guzzling water and trying to make the other monk(s) bring up more water from the lake. Eventually they’re all angry, and are stealing water from the shrine’s flowerpot, when a mouse almost burns the place down and they have to cooperate to bring up plenty of water in a hurry. The catchy tunes and musical-instrument sound effects were the best part.


Feeling Good (2010, Pierre Etaix)

A 1965 outtake scene from As Long As You’ve Got Your Health. Etaix goes camping with a campfire and electric coffee pot. Confusion and bad coffee ensues. Then he’s in a military tent camp and I get lost as to what’s happening, because between bird songs and people whistling and blowing whistles, my birds got quite agitated.


Pas a Deux (1988 Renault & Van Dijk)

A couple is dancing, looks maybe like rotoscoped with colored pencil, then he transforms into Popeye the Sailor complete with voice clip, then they each transform (pretty seamlessly) into different famous characters. Cool effect, but feels like they’re just screwing around. Katy called it a precursor to Logorama.

Made by a couple of Dutch animators. Gerrit’s final film was based on a Burroughs story and featured the voice of Rutger Hauer. Monique has a whole bunch of films on vimeo


The Northleach Horror (2016, David Cairns)

Apocalyptic story of a mad scientist doing Frankenstein experiments in an underground bunker, the movie casually killing off characters (and resurrecting them) for laughs. I meant to watch this again and note character names, but my link has gone dead. Fun while it lasted. From the creator of the also-great Cry For Bobo.


Seances: The Disputed Honours (May 31, 2016)

Some familiar footage from The Forbidden Room, with changes. When Jacques Nolot is hired as a gardener, does he usually steal a magnifying glass? Whole new sequence with a man retrieving a key while two women (Camille and her sister?) cower in the night, only to be sucked into a vortex. Color and tinting changes mid-shot. All new intertitles! “O to quench the thirst of my wheat with the blood of slain mail coachmen.”

I wanted to watch When The Broken Toilets Cry but didn’t figure out the website in time. Can’t tell what to make of interruptions like the one below. It looked like typical streaming glitching at first until I realized the shots emerging through the glitch aren’t part of the scene I’m in.

And since I have nowhere else to mention these, I also watched and enjoyed a pile of Netflix’s comedy specials from this year… Joe Mande… Amy Schumer’s The Leather Special (all the fat jokes and poop stories get old, but I admit I laughed at ’em)… Sarah Silverman (more poop stories)… Louis CK “2017” (this has now replaced my memory of his Omaha show – I should’ve taken notes after each)… Dave Chappelle’s Spin and Texas specials (some bits set off my political-correctness alarm, but they’re perfectly constructed/paced hours)… Norm MacDonald’s Hitler’s Dog… three we burned for the drive to Atlanta: Trevor Noah (who we also saw in person a few weeks ago), Hari Kondabolu “Mainstream American Comic”, and the great Hasan Minhaj… and probably a couple I’m forgetting.

Servant Dave Franco (like a less intense James) escapes from Lord Nick Offerman after getting caught with his Lady, and runs into drunken priest John C. Reilly, who offers Dave a job at his dysfunctional convent, where Dave pretends to be mute and becomes an object of desire by the nuns – slightly flipping the power structure of the Pasolini version in The Decameron.

Lead nuns: Aubrey Plaza is a vicious witch (with co-witch buddy Jemima Kirke), Alison Brie (Diane on BoJack Horseman) has rich (or formerly rich) parents and was just waiting out her time until she could be married off. Kate Micucci (Garfunkel and Oates) is a kissup narc (and secretly Jewish). And drunken priest John C. Reilly is sleeping with head nun Molly Shannon. Eventually, all of this gets out of control and Bishop Fred Armisen has to come sort it out.

The Italian landscapes and castles are cool, but overall little fancy filmmaking here. I was kept constantly amused by the anachronistic, foul-mouthed dialogue and blasphemous behavior in the period setting. Jeff Baena cowrote I Heart Huckabees then disappeared for a decade, recently came back with Life After Beth and Joshy, which share a bunch of cast members with this one.

Cannes Month isn’t over until I say it is. Michaël Dudok de Wit’s The Red Turtle premiered two weeks ago to absolute raves (an A+ from indiewire) so I’m checking out his shorts.

The Monk and the Fish (1994)

A monk goes out of his damn mind trying to catch a fish. Great motion and poses, and this movie does one of my favorite things, having the main character always move to music. I believe it ends with the monk reaching a spiritual oneness with the fish. Won the César, nominated for the oscar.


Tom Sweep (1992)

Found in low quality on streaming sites – a proto-Monk/Fish short, with beleaguered bin-man Tom’s garbage-collecting movements set to music.


Father and Daughter (2000)

A terribly beautiful story about a girl whose father sets off in a rowboat and doesn’t return. Won the Oscar and the Bafta and the BAA and the Annecy and the Zagreb and deserved them all, although I certainly didn’t think so on oscar night when I was rooting for Don Hertzfeldt’s Rejected.


The Aroma of Tea (2006)

A dot moves rhythmically through painted patterns, again set to music. Aha, it was painted with tea.

A good rebellion story with some serious kung fu at the end, but most of the movie consists of training montages. Student Liu Yu-de escapes after his rebel-taught school is destroyed and family is killed by the occupying Tartars. None of the rebels were decent fighters, so wounded Yu-de flees to the Shaolin temple, rumored to have the best kung fu in town, gets sanctuary there, is renamed San Ta and starts training from the very bottom, working his way to total mastery in just a few years. The Shaolin monks’ official stance is that they ignore the politics of the outside world, but it’s San Ta’s drive to defeat the Tartars that fuels his rapid advancement. With no support or defined plan, he goes out and immediately challenges and slays the Tartar leadership, is then allowed to open his “36th chamber” to train civilians in martial arts.

Doomed Chia Yung Liu:

I find the kung fu sound effects to be distracting – a given weapon always uses the same effect at the same volume regardless of what it’s hitting. The audio in general was strangely echoey, as if a fake surround effect had been added to dialogue. And though this is supposed to be a mighty classic of the genre, I wasn’t too thrilled by the action either – maybe 1970’s kung fu films aren’t for me, because I prefer the floaty fantasy of House of Flying Daggers, the dreamy camera-play of Ashes of Time, and the inventive, flailing fights of Jackie Chan.

This movie was a huge influence on the Wu-Tang Clan, as seen below in a shot of San Ta’s head between two massive joints:

Chia-Liang Liu was a star director for Shaw Brothers studio, also made The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter and Drunken Master II, and worked on Tsui Hark’s Seven Swords. His brother Chia-Hui Liu stars as San Ta. Chia-Hui was later in Kill Bill and Man With The Iron Fists – of course, I’d be amazed if nobody from this film had been in Man With The Iron Fists. San Ta’s early inspiration, a rebel leader killed in a trap by the Tartars, is their other brother Chia Yung Liu (Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires). Lieh Lo, “the first kung fu superstar” played evil mustache general Tien Ta, defeated in the picturesque final fight by San Ta wielding the triple-staff he created. Before this, San Ta rounds up a few “hot-blooded youths” to help invade the Tartars: rebel leader Hung Hsi-kuan, suspicious and combative Lu Ah-cai (Norman Chu of Zu Warriors and We’re Going To Eat You), and social outcast Miller Six (Yue Wong, title star of Dirty Ho). One woman appears (Szu-Chia Chen of Rendezvous With Death and The Magic Blade) for about a minute. Two sequels would follow from the same director and star.

A Walker sequel, now costarring Denis Lavant of Holy Motors! Fourteen shots, and four are exceptionally long, beginning with a dim opening close-up of Lavant’s face.

Red Monk climbs stone stairs, walks through immaculately composed frames, with a couple cuts back to Lavant’s immobile head in different poses.

In the longest shot of the movie, Monk slowly (do I need to say “slowly”?) descends a staircase. Most people dodge him, but one girl stops and tries to figure him out.

Finally the big moment, as the Monk walks past a crowded corner followed by Lavant, focusing hard and copying each step (though Lavant leans more, and uses his arms for balance).

Beautiful finale in a square with a mirrored ceiling, the monk arriving belatedly from the side and not able to compete visually with the man blowing giant soap bubbles in the center.

Lee Kang-sheng and Tsai Ming Liang have other recent shorts listed on IMDB, including Walking On Water and Sleepwalk, so I’m guessing there are more Walker movies out there. Bring ’em on.

French monks in Algeria, led by Lambert Wilson (Not on the Lips) but also featuring the great Michael Lonsdale and Philippe Laudenbach (Mon Oncle d’Amerique) with his big comedy eyes, hear that a civil war is brewing, have to decide whether to stay or leave. They provide a primary source of medical care for the locals and don’t want to abandon them, but it seems their lives may be in danger, despite a cautious truce with the Muslim militants. Faith is tested, fates are decided, and monks are kidnapped and murdered. Kind of a depressing movie, actually.

Ouch from D. Nowell-Smith in Film Quarterly: “Beauvois has managed to make a film about postcolonial Algeria in which it is French expatriates who are the victims; the 100,000-plus casualties of the civil war are, for the film’s purposes, incidental to the monks’ own suffering.” He also compares to White Material, a film from the same year about French nationals living in an ex-colony during civil war. “Of Gods and Men becomes a surprisingly feel-good film, at least for its audience of citizens of a European power whose invidious colonial past is thus suppressed under a cosy, but ultimately false, humanitarian warmth.”