Ten recent reviews

Night Nurse (dir. William Wellman, 1931) -
Almost forgot I had watched this relatively inconsequential one filmed during Prohibition (though booze flows freely throughout and a bootlegger is here portrayed in a positive light - gangster with a heart of gold, kinda). But the main focus is on Barbara Stanwyck as a tough-minded nurse assigned to care for an upper crust couple's kids. She starts to suspect something's wrong with them, and not by accident. She and her bootlegger pal plus a kindly doctor crack the case and put the baddies away. That's about it. The writing is OK, though not particularly memorable, and it's interesting that when the gangster has his freinds make a couple *really* bad guys "disappear" it's more or less laughed off on-screen. It's fun to watch, well-acted (note especially Clark Gable as a complete scumbag, along with Stanwyck's tough broad), all good enough while it's going by, but not much is there to stick it in the mind.

A Girl Cut in Two (dir. Claude Chabrol, 2007) -
My first exposure to Chabrol, and I understand that I maybe should've started elsewhere. I liked this quite a bit, though going in I was told "He hates the bourgeois" and that more or less sums up what I got from the film. Both of the wealthy male characters in the film abuse and take advantage (emotionally) of the pretty and somewhat naive girl who is, as the title suggests, cut in two in her emotions that vascillate between the male leads who harbor some largely unexplained hatred for each other. As my first exposure, there will no doubt be more - I'm intrigued - but I somehow suspect that this is not his finest hour, even though I did enjoy it. Le Boucher is sitting as-yet-unwatched on a pile of DVDs at home, so it'll happen soon.

Baise Moi (dir. Virginie Despentes/Coralie, 2000) -
I'm not sure what to make of this unpleasant little cult item. If this graphic sex and violence were presented to audiences by a male director - even with its female anti-heroes - I'm sure it would be savaged critically. And though this mostly enjoys poor ratings around most places I've looked, there are those who see it as some sort of feminist work because the women own their sexuality in the film and go after what they want - both sexually and otherwise. I guess if I felt in watching it that there were any sort of critique of sexism going on rather than just "what's good for the goose is good for the gander" tit-for-tat exploitation, I might be able to buy into some of that. As it is, I feel like I'm watching two female sociopaths posturing for the camera (and the script to some degree acknowledges this, having them at one point discuss finding some more clever one-liners to shout as they dispatch victims - but this ain't Godard, for sure). There's sexual penetration (presented both as pleasant and unpleasant) there's graphic violence (presented as always unpleasant and also presented less convincingly, since you can't, you know, shoot people on film and get away with it usually), and there's very little else. The leads are unlikable, though I guess convincing enough. They're a couple dumb thugs, basically, and when they decide that they just don't give a fuck anymore and are going on a spree, there's very little reason to watch. Feminism here - if you can call it that - is presented as revenge, as getting even, not with as any kind of ideals that the characters follow. You get in their way and they'll fuck you up - whether you're male or female. They're predatory toward some of the men they sleep with (or don't sleep with)(and then kill), they'll go after anyone with enough money to get them to their next stop. I guess I just would've gotten something more out of it than just an unpleasant feeling if these characters weren't such moral zeroes. Luckily the film's only a little over an hour long.

Cabin in the Sky (dir. Vincente Minnelli, 1943) -
Unlike the previous film this was an utter delight, beginning to end. It's Minnelli's directorial debut if I recall correctly and I have to say that this is the finest thing I've ever seen his name on. Music - great; performances - great; story and script - great. I'm interested to hear how it is perceived by African-American critics, because it's unique in being a relatively early film to have an all-black cast but I could see how some would find some of the portrayals stereotypical - if they were convinced that every single person who appears on screen is meant to represent the totaily of the black experience. It's like this - the music is great, the film is witty, the performances are spectacular, with the two leads taking top honors, and both main angel and devil turning in memorable roles and Louis Armstrong in a fantastic small role. A great film, all around.

Urgh! A Music War (dir. Derek Burbidge, 1981) -
Fun. Nobody but the stupid Police are given more than one song, and the print I saw did not have the Pere Ubu performance in it for some reason (and that is one of the main reasons I went to see it). Also missing was Magazine and maybe one or two more performances. But still - lots of great stuff remained, with Gang of Four one of the best, Au Pairs quite fine, and Gary Numan perhaps my favorite of the bunch. Inpsired me to pick up Pleasure Principle, which has been on a back burner for years for me to actually acquire. Anyway, it's certainly a fun snapshot of what was going on in 1981 in the underground/new wave scene, but it didn't make me like Oingo Boingo or The Police or Klaus Nomi any more than before, nor did it make me think X or The Cramps or Devo or Joan Jett or any of the above-mentioned bands were more/less godlike that I already imagined them. They all hit it just right, and lots of bands that we now know weren't going anywhere made the best of their moment in the sun. It's a lot of fun to see and there's a lot of good music. And even the not-as-good music sounds fine in this context, at only one song per band.

Equinox Flower (dir. Yasujiro Ozu, 1958) -
One of the interesting things about Ozu is that while his films are considered traditional, and presumably conservative along with that, he's got one of the most interesting ouevres that focuses on gender relations of any major director out there. And this one, his first color film, is, for me, possibly the most radical departure from tradition that I've yet seen. Over the course of the film, the protagonist - a traditional father figure - slowly (and somewhat reluctantly) relinquishes all vestiges of patriarchal authority. Step by step his assumption of authority over the female characters in the film - his wife, his daughter - is dismantled, and though he resists briefly, he ultimately gives up to it. I love the way it's portrayed in the film and Shin Saburi is incredibly effective at putting this across in his face, with a slightly confused look saying "what just happened there?" as he cedes a decision to his wife, as he comes around to realize that his daughter should indeed be allowed to choose her own mate. Great stuff. My only complaint is that in his desire to use color effectively I feel like his brilliance in composing the frame suffers slightly. There are fewer shots here where I'm blown away by the sheer beauty of the frame, replaced somewhat by shots where I'm impressed with how the primary color palatte is distributed around the frame. But the story makes up for any of these shortcomings.

Street of Crocodiles (dir. Brothers Quay, 1986) -
Obscure little short meant, I suppose, as tribute to Jan Svankmejer in its unsettling and nightmarish feeling. Also supposedly a tribute to Bruno Schulz, about whom I know nothing that I haven't read in brief on IMDB reviews of this film. Plot is essentially irrelevant, given over to a series of creepy images of dolls with no eyes, inanimate objects animated and a marionette cut loose from his strings wandering around, watching, and trying to make some sense of things as we, the audience, do the same. There's no doubting the craft here and at 20 minutes, it's the perfect length for its slippery imagery to ease in and out of your mind and move on to the next set of nightmarish vision. It's not really as horrific as all that though, really more an incredibly well-made vision of gloom and despair - it's no wonder that musicians like Tool and Nine Inch Nails who trade in "dark" imagery wanted this type of thing for their videos. Without really coming out and grabbing me to make me intrigued by what's going on on-screen, this does hold me in a weird way. Imagery is arresting, there seems to be some sort of purpose to the proceedings, and if it feels like someone else's private nightmare and not mine (or anything more universal) so much, I guess that it gets marks for still keeping me in there. I wish it spoke to me more fully because I like what they're doing, more or less. Looks great.

The Hawks and the Sparrows (dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1966) -
Pasolini working in religious parable, and if I'm not as intrigued as his earlier efforts at bringing Neo-Realism into a newer era (Neo-Neo-Realism?) or his later adaptations of classical literature, it's probably that he's working details of religious dogma that as someone raised atheist I know nothing about. In that it's not unlike Bunuel's The Milky Way - an obscure film, often funny, that nonetheless is debating the finer points of something that's of little interest to me, whether he's taking an essentially blasphemous point of view or not. It's weird, it's interesting, and ultimately much of goes into territory that loses me. That said, there's still Pasolini's underlying interest in the working class and it colors a lot of how the film plays out. Additionally, some of the religious humor is broad enough that a heathen like myself even gets what he's going on about. It's not as scathingly assaultive as the best film he's made, but it does draw me in regardless. Almost makes me want to read the Bible and understand what some of the more obscure passages are about. But not quite.

The Offence (dir. Sidney Lumet, 1972) -
Lumet's specialty seems to be characters in desperate straits. I'm thinking Dog Day Afternoon, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, even Twelve Angry Men - all of them have people on the edge. And in two of them, plus this film, they're trying to do whatever they can to save themselves, even though they're so fucked up you kind of know right off the bat that it's not gonna work out. Here, Sean Connery plays a cop investigating a series of rapes of children in his town. Once a suspect is brought in, he gets him alone in the interrogation room and ends up beating him to death. This happens before the credits are over and we back up to see how we got to this point. We are then given a detailed accounting of the interrogation and the aftermath, in which a superior interviews Connery to find out what happened. It's a pretty grim little film - not because of the child-rape subject matter, but because Connery's character is so out there that you suspect he's probably a good cop but a terrible person, and everything we're shown in the course of the film - which is only enough to suggest that his psychological problems run pretty fucking deep - corroborates this idea. Unlike Dog Day (and very much like Before the Devil) though, I had a tough time sympathizing with anybody here, a hard time wondering why I should worry if Connery's cathartic confrontation with his dark mirror image resulted in anything that helped him in the long run. It's well made, and Connery really brings this asshole to life, but the film is a tough pill to swallow.

An Autumn Afternoon (dir. Yasujiro Ozu, 1962) -
Very possibly the most beautiful Ozu film I've seen, and that's saying something given the quality of his other films. The narrative here, with its familiar themes of children of marrying age and their parents worrying about their choices feels almost like it's on the cusp of a breakthrough to new territory for Ozu. In none of his other films that I've seen where marriage is an issue has the parental figure - the great Chishu Ryu - seemed less concerned about whether or not his daughter got married off and to whom. It's not clear whether the daughter actually wants to leave the home and marry or only if it's after the prompting of his friends when Ryu's character begins pushing her toward it that she makes the decision to do so, but it's certainly easy going for both parties, compared to much of Ozu's other work. Other of Ozu's common subthemes proliferate - Ryu's son and his wife are having financial troubles, borrowing money from dad and not sure if it should be spent solely on things to keep up with the joneses or if he should buy a set of golf clubs to make himself look good for his boss. Golf and baseball recur in the film, another signifier of Western (more specifically, American) encroachment on traditional Japan. But the thing that strikes me again is that there is so little friction between the father and daughter about marriage that it almost seemed like Ozu may have been on the brink of finding two generations who understood each other well, who respected the choices the other made. It's common to say that Ozu's sympathies of his late films are with the younger generation, but this one seems to me to be with the older generation, or at least with Ryu's more open-minded father figure. It's the next logical step after the father's resignation in Equinox Flower.

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