It’s early September and so MMC! has made “Back to School” something of a theme for its recent screenings. Standing atop the pack is Todd Solondz’s indie-darling, Welcome to the Dollhouse. To be honest, this was a first time screening as Solondz’s awkward, ugly, feel-bad, morally-difficult vibe is a hard one to want to seek out and this story of a socially-humiliated junior high school student seemed potentially a bridge too far. Thankfully, I was completely wrong. Solondz and his lead actor, Heather Matarazzo, create something that is as hilarious as it is horrific. Channeling a bit of John Waters’ tacky-take on suburban living, Welcome to the Dollhouse manages to evoke genuine emotion and insight out of the dialed-up cruelty of teenager life. The film has made an appearance on the Criterion Channel. Perhaps it should get the MMC! treatment …
Shout-outs to the over-determined set-designs of Flatliners and The Ballad of Narayama, the problematic but still entertaining work John Hughes, the meme-generating climactic conflict of School in the Crosshairs, and hilarious train-rides of Our Hospitality!
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Under the Bridges.
Puttering up and down the Havel River, bargemen Hendrik and Willi (Carl Raddatz and Gustav Knuth) dream of meeting a decent woman, getting married, and living a “solid life.” While traveling to Berlin, they meet forlorn Anna (Hannelore Schroth) on Potsdam’s Glienicker Bridge and mistake her for a potential suicide. The pair provide her with refuge on their barge as it heads for Berlin and each takes a fancy to the young woman, but she is too guarded to reciprocate and their friendship strains under the tension of their humble romantic rivalry. Stylishly representing working class lives in a poetic realist style, Helmut Käutner’s Under the Bridges is a heart-winning drama that imagined German life and love free from the traumas of World War II and stands as an underappreciated masterpiece of German cinema.
New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
Among these last ten films I’ve watched, high marks go to our re-watch of the white-knuckling Uncut Gems, Yamashita’s entry into the increasingly reliable Red Peony Gambler series, the “gangster trying to go straight” drama Ryuji, and the giallo turned police procedural turned maniac with a gun thriller Man on the Roof. The most fascinating of the bunch was Deaf Crocodile‘s release of Sampo, a fairy tale extravaganza based on Finland’s national epic, the Kalevala. While not quite at the level of his tall-tale adventure Ilya Muromets, Aleksandr Ptushko’s Sampo is loaded with brilliantly realized effects and kaleidoscopic visuals, and full of malevolent witches, brave warriors, and a rainbow-coloured magical mill producing salt, grain, and gold. Combine Sampo and Ilya Muromets and you certainly have what The Northman should and could have been.
Red Peony Gambler: Biographies of a Gambling Room (Kōsaku Yamashita, 1969)
While we’re on the subject of Deaf Crocodile and the fine work this small label is doing, we should take a moment to mention its current Kickstarter campaign to restore and release Sal Watts’ Solomon King. The project is born from the discovery of the film’s soundtrack, a killer soul-funk album that will be remastered and provided to all backers in the event the project reaches $25,000. The movie is described by the good people at Deaf Crocodile as follows:
In the vein of SHAFT, the film stars Watts as an African American version of James Bond/Matt Helm, seeking revenge for the murder of a former girlfriend. Produced on a shoestring budget and shot on location in many of the businesses Watts owned, the film is a priceless document of early Seventies Black culture, music and fashion in Oakland – and a powerful metaphor for Black empowerment, with Solomon turning the tables on every duplicitous establishment character he encounters.
If you’re able, why not back some good folks supporting fine cinema and maybe get yourself an exclusive slipcover edition of Solomon King or even an out of print slipcover edition of Ilya Muromets?
In addition to recalling my missed opportunity and retroactive desire to have pursued a career in film restoration and archiving after film school, I am now obsessed with attending the 2023 Nitrate Film Festival and being dazzled by the shimmering wonder of nitrate’s threatening beauty!
There are certainly titles to enjoy amongst these last ten films that I’ve watched. High marks go to the weird anime cuteness of Space Family Carlvinson, the lengthy “invisible man rides a motorcycle” sequence of The Invisible Man Appears, and the dynamic battles of Legendary Weapons of China. Both Youssef Chahine’s Destiny and Alexander Korda’s Rembrandtstand as strong examples of quality cinema, but no film may have been more memorable than Shohei Imamura’s Warm Water Under a Red Bridge and its manic gushing dream girl. Imamura’s usual perversion and transgression finds expression here as an unexpectedly twee romantic comedy and it’s oddly charming. Look for it at the end of the year on MMC!’s list of favourite discoveries!
Nightmare Alley (Guillermo del Toro, 2021)
The Invisible Man Appears (Shigehiro Fukushima, 1949)
Warm Water Under a Red Bridge (Shohei Imamura, 2001)
The Sadness (Robert Jabbaz, 2021)
Finally, a big shout out to the return of the MUBI podcast. With this second season called “Only in Theatres,” MUBI turns its attention to theatrical experiences that have changed cinema. Episode one focused on Henri Langlois and the Cinémathèque Française, while episode two explores El Topo, New York City’s Elgin Theatre, and the birth of “Midnite Madness.” Just like its “Lost in Translation” inaugural season, these episodes are smart, fun, and informative, and they should not be missed!
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Maya and the Three.
An epic animated event told over nine chapters, Jorge R. Gutierrez’s Maya and the Three is the story of a brave and rebellious warrior princess whose fifteenth birthday ceremony is interrupted by the gods of the underworld who claim her life is forfeit to the God of War, Lord Mictlan. While coming to terms with her family’s secret past, Princess Maya embarks on a quest to recruit three legendary fighters, fulfill an ancient prophecy, and save their four kingdoms from the gods’ vengeance. With its Mesoamerican inspired fantasy world, its frame-breaking action spectacles, and its impeccable collection of performances by Zoe Saldaña, Alfred Molina, Allen Moldonado, Stephanie Beatriz, Gabriel Iglesias, Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal, Rosie Perez, and Rita Moreno, Maya and the Three takes its inspiration from cinema’s great works of fantasy to produce a dazzling tribute to Gutierrez’s Mexican homeland.
4K digital transfer, approved by creator-director Jorge R. Gutierrez, with Dolby Atmos soundtrack on the 4K UHD and Blu-ray editions
In the 4K UHD edition: One 4K UHD disc of the film presented in Dolby Vision HDR and two Blu-rays with the film and special features
Audio commentary featuring Gutierrez and creative consultant Sandra Equihua
Spanish language alternate soundtrack with newly translated English subtitles
Extended interviews with the Gutierrez, Equihua, Zoe Saldaña, Diego Luna, Gabriel Iglesias, Stephanie Beatriz, Allen Moldonado
Picture-in-picture storyboards and production artwork for the entire film