I’ve long feared the hazard of imagining a Criterion release of a given film only to have the Collection announce it mid-month as a forthcoming title, thereby leaving my research and writing wasted. Alas, that day has finally arrived with the Criterion Collection announcing Edmund Goulding’s Nightmare Alley as a May 2021 release, leaving my work over the past couple of weeks sunk. Nightmare Alley may be MMC!’s favourite film noir of all time and it’s a timely choice with Guillermo del Toro’s remake scheduled to arrive later this year. Criterion’s other announcements for May 2021 are equally superb – a stand-alone edition of Ahmed El Maanouni’s Trances, the iconic and star-studded Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the tantalizingly salacious Merrily We Go to Hell, and Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Flowers of Shanghai featuring an absolutely gorgeous cover treatment!
MMC!’s intended discussion of Nightmare Alley attended to the film’s fascinating production history, its horror noir adjacency, and to the distinctive manner by which the film explicitly dealt with film noir’s organizing force: fate. For the curious, I’ve provided below a glimpse of what an MMC! package of Nightmare Alley might have looked like (minus that partially drafted discussion of the film).
These last ten films I’ve watched include some great screenings. Marshland is a top notch police thriller ready-made for fans of True Detective and Criterion’s forthcoming release of Bong Joon Ho’s Memories of Murder (2003). Adrift in Tokyo is a breezy, quirky hang-out film between a gruff debt collector and the down-on-his-luck college drop-out that he pays to wander with him through Tokyo. Bandits of Orgosolo is a nearly decade-late neo-realist classic that is sure to please Criterion Channel viewers who have been entranced by Vittorio De Seta’s documentary shorts. (More on De Seta in a future post?)
How to Train Your Dragon (Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, 2010)
Bandits of Orgosolo (Vittorio De Seta, 1961)
Marshland (Alberto Rodríguez, 2014)
The Flying Luna Clipper (Ikko Ono, 1987)
Crystal Eyes (Ezequiel Endelman and Leandro Montejano, 2017)
Adrift in Tokyo (Satoshi Miki, 2007)
Animation also figures prominently in these last ten screenings, with the slice-of-life wonderfulness of My Neighbors the Yamadas, the fire-breathing spectacle of How to Train Your Dragon, and the 8-bit, proto-vaporwave weirdness of The Flying Luna Clipper. Between these screenings, MMC! also took in the underwhelming program of Pixar Popcorn shorts offered on Disney+ and the enjoyable Roland and Rattfink shorts collected in The Depatie/Freleng Collection released by Kino.
Finally, a shout-out to Gold Ninja Video, the Criterion Collection of Public Domain Bargain Bins! The Toronto-based label recent arrived on our radar and its was GNV’s release of And God Said to Cain that played at MMC! headquarters. Gold Ninja is an obvious passion project for label’s curator and one man band Justin Decloux, who provides liner notes, audio commentaries, featurette discussions, and other special features. GNV releases are fun, informative and affordable and with MMC! now in possession of a small stack of its releases, you shouldn’t be surprised to see more Gold Ninja titles appearing on its screening lists!
Usually MMC!’s list of its favourite films of the last year is posted notably later than January, normally coinciding with Film Comment’s deadline for submissions to its reader’s poll. Alas, we are now closing in on a year without this favourite publication and without anything having been done with its reader submissions for 2019. Nevertheless, cinema marches on even in this year unlike most others and 2020 still managed to offer many great films. Those looking for a more expansive collection of MMC! favourites can check out our Top 50 list on Letterboxd which is full of Fantasia International Film Festival screenings as well as titles from HBO, Netflix, Amazon Prime, the Criterion Channel, MUBI, Shudder, AppleTV, and Disney+.
Here are MMC!’s favourite films for 2020! (And for the record, I can’t say why Letterboxd has a listing for Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal but it does and so it’s on this list.)
“Thirty-six years later, we are all in David Byrne’s big, boxy suit and loving it. Crisply and cleverly directed by Spike Lee, American Utopia is triumphant, loaded with call backs and reflections to Jonathan Demme’s brilliant Stop Making Sense. Byrne’s decidedly American qualities continue to resonate profoundly – the diverse musical influences expressing an inherent tolerance and love for diversity, the weirdly optimistic perspective than never quite tips over into irony, the fascination with modern living and consumer culture, the periodic stridency of his artistic vision and liberal view expressed in marching beats and goal-oriented lyrics. Overall, an amazingly deserving bookend to the greatest concert film of all time (apologies to The Last Waltz).”
It’s Tuesday and MMC! is aiming its spotlight at La Casa (2019), Jorge Olguin’s latest which drops on VOD today! Tired of his recent forays in big film productions and having seen a five year project fall apart, Olguin’s latest is a lean 75-minute effort that he calls “a full-on, classic haunted house movie.” He served as his own writer, director, cinematographer, sound designer, composer, and editor on the project and his mere three-night shoot took Olguin a year to assemble in post-production. Olguin’s reward for his effort was a premiere of La Casa at the 2020 edition of the prestigious Sitges Film Festival.
La Casa is set in 1986, amid the brutal and repressive regime of Augusto Pinochet, and is based on accounts of the Casona Dubois, an infamous Santiago residence associated with various urban legends of unnatural mysticism and paranormal activity. Officer Arriagada (played by acclaimed Chilean actor Gabriel Cañas) is on duty one night patrolling the empty streets and enforcing the government-imposed curfew. Already troubled and distraught, Arriagada is sent to investigate complaints about noises emanating from a nearby home and he is drawn into the building by screams of a woman. Once inside, Arriagada in confronted with horrors connected to personal and national traumas that threaten him both physically and psychically. La Casa resembles contemporary found-footage horror cinema with its single-camera perspective, its concealed edits, and its progression in real-time, and Olguin’s technique is commendable, masking what is likely a limited budget and modest effects with a constrained point of view, evocative lighting, and an electronic score that would easily be overbearing were it not proceeding in such tight lockstep with the film’s visuals. The result is intensely impressionistic, making La Casa almost feel more like a walkthrough than a film, more like a ride than a story. It’s a highly affecting experience which is hardly subtle but thoroughly engrossing if you acquiesce to being pulled into its dark undertow. This trailer precisely expresses the experience of viewing La Casa and so, if you wish this minute and forty-second audio-visual experience could last another 73 minutes, Olguin’s film won’t disappoint.
When a bank heist goes awry, Rex Coen (Ben O’Toole) spends eight years in prison and is hounded by the media on his release. The unwanted attention forces Rex to flee his hometown of Boise, Idaho, in search of anonymity in Finland, but his arrival in Helsinki lands him in a new, fresh hell. Gassed during his taxi ride from the airport, Rex wakes up drugged, beaten, and bound in the basement of a twisted family hiding a dark secret. With only his personified conscience to help him, Rex is in a race against time to save himself and a beautiful young woman (Meg Fraser) from his terrifying captors and a fate worse than death.
An action-horror-comedy that merges Fight Club with Fargo, Alister Grierson’s Bloody Hell is a raucous midnight crowd pleaser ready for fans of Sam Raimi, John Wick, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Special Edition Contents:
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Uncompressed Stereo PCM
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Boi To Hel, new interviews with cast and crew
Rex in an Ass-Kicking Contest, an interview with director Alister Grierson and lead actor Ben O’Toole on the film’s special effects
It’s January, so that means MMC! is playing catch-up with the best films that 2020 had to offer. Those screenings can be a bit of a slog, as inevitably that catch-up process can be a bit of a misery parade involving a lot of “important” films with “powerful” performances that quickly become dispiriting when strung together. For this reason, MMC! is particularly thankful to discover Jon Bois’s The History of the Seattle Mariners compliments of the CriterionCast website and Joshua Brunsting’s list of his top 25 films of 2020. Running nearly four-hours long and free to view on YouTube, Bois’ survey of the strangest team in professional sports is the anti-The Last Dance, using little archival footage, no direct interviews, and relying instead on amateur-sounding voice over and a collection of computer-generated charts and graphs that would have looked out-of-date 20 years ago. Still the document is weirdly compelling, managing to capture baseball’s obsessive compulsion for statistical analysis, its general boredom, and the strange absurdities that end up filling the void where active play should exist. Expect it to find a place on MMC!’s own list of the best films of 2020. Thanks again, Joshua!
Time (Garrett Bradley, 2020)
The History of the Seattle Mariners (Jon Bois, 2020)
Host (Rob Savage, 2020)
Mangrove (Steve McQueen, 2020)
Eureka (Shinji Aoyama, 2000)
Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion (Alexandre Astier and Louis Clichy, 2018)
Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa, 2019)
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (Jason Woliner, 2020)
Roaring Fire (Noribumi Suzuki, 1982)
Samurai Cop (Amir Shervan, 1991)
January is also the time of year that MMC! catches up with best music of last year and so the mothership has been roaming with RTJ4 by Run the Jewels, En Español by The Mavericks, Set My on Heart on Fire Immediately by Perfume Genius, and Lianne La Havas’ self-titled album on heavy rotation. I may keep track of my favourite non-cinematic discoveries of 2021 and share them at the end of 2021. If so, Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang’s Paper Girls (2015-2019) may make that list. Eighties nostalgia, time-travel, tweenage self-discovery, and generational conflict make for an easily likeable story, with Chiang’s clean art being beautifully supported by colorist Matt Wilson and color flatter Dee Cunniffe who provide the series with a distinctive aesthetic and palette. Paper Girls is supposedly being adapted into a series by Amazon and so MMC! recommends getting that background work done now (assuming you’re a latecomer like me)!