Monday, January 21, 2008


13. Yasuzo Masumura's Black Test Car (1962) is an indictment of capitalist backstabbing among industrial spies, and if it's less outrageous a film than Masumura's earlier Giants and Toys, it's certainly as scathing a criticism. The montage of the burning wreckage of the test car of the title is a neat summary of the movie as a whole.

14. Johnnie To's Exiled (2006) is more or less a remake of the director's The Mission, but where The Mission turned its back on the gonzo filmmaking of the Hong Kong new wave, this film embraces it fully. A quartet of gangland assassins duel over their intended victim, only to abandon their hit over dinner when the victim's new wife and child intercede. Unfortunately, the boss who hired them is none too happy about it. The opening movement of the film seems like To's ode to the opening of Once Upon a Time in the West, while there are two apocalyptic gunfights later in the film that see the director interpreting the gunfights of John Woo or Ringo Lam in his own idiom. To loves to stage his mayhem in master shots where the combatants are close in on each other. A marvel of bullets and bodies in motion.

15. Big Trouble in Little China (1986, directed by John Carpenter) is one of those mid-eighties films where Hollywood tried (and failed) to catch the zeitgeist of the Hong Kong action films. My SO put this in the machine and immediately noted: "When I first saw this, I didn't know what 'wire fu' was." Kurt Russell is a picture of an incompetent hero, whose only real heroic act is to put an end to the big bad guy. It's been a while since I've watched this all the way through. This is the first time I realized that the "Masters of Death" were swiped from the second Lone Wolf and Cub film. This film was made at about the time that Carpenter's muse was beginning to leave him.

16. Cloverfield (2008, directed by Matt Reeves) doesn't have an original thought in its head, but damned if it doesn't work in spite of all of that. This film takes the classic mistake of Kaiju movies--emphasis on the human cast--and turns it into a razor sharp narrative gimmick. It's hard to believe that it's taken nearly ten years for someone to find the perfect use for The Blair Witch Project's technique of putting the camera in the hands of its characters. We still don't care all that much about the film's shallow, yuppie characters--which is good, otherwise their various deaths might overwhelm the movie--but seeing things from their ground-level point of view has a startling immediacy that I've never seen in this genre before, and that immediacy returns the giant monster movie resolutely into the realm of the horror movie. The film's best set-piece (involving a perilously leaning skyscraper) doesn't even depend on the monster. That all said, Cloverfield's most generous gift to the viewer is Michael Giacchino's faux Akira Ifukube "Overture" over the end credits.

17. Much as I like Hitchcock's original version of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), I understand implicitly why Hitch decided to remake it. He grasped that this original version ends at the wrong point. Instead of the vivid climax at the Royal Albert Hall, the bare outlines of which are present here, it ends with a big gunfight. It's kind of an anti-climax. Still, Peter Lorre is a superb bad guy even if Leslie Banks is a stiff as the lead.

18. I've sometimes expounded my theory about what I call "The Catherine Deneuve Problem." Essentially: if you have Catherine Deneuve in your movie, you have a problem because the actress is so inhumanly lovely that she can potentially ride roughshod over whatever your movie is about. There are, it seems to me, two solutions to this problem. The first is to submit to it and turn your picture into an adoration. This is how Jacques Demy approached it, for instance. The other solution is to defile her. This is the solution that Polanski used in Repulsion, but Luis Bunuel beat him to it in Belle de Jour, and repeated the experiment in Tristana in 1970. There was something about Deneuve that brought out the director's sadomasochism, and in this movie, he constructs a rigorous examinations of sexual power games, in which Deneuve's character submits to the older Don Lupe (Fernando Rey), only to turn the tables on him once she loses her leg to a tumor. This film is Bunuel at his most brutal, and the imagery is particularly grotesque.

Current tally: 18 movies, 9 horror movies.

No comments: