MMC! is now down to the last 10 films in the Tora-san franchise and finds itself within a strong, late section of the series which includes Tora-san Plays Daddy and Tora-san Goes North (which co-stars the iconic Toshiro Mifune as a rural veterinarian). With a couple of movie friends interested in exploring Andrei Tarkovsky for the first time, MMC! returned to Ivan’s Childhood, a beautifully composed war film of an uncharacteristically manageable length. Cult cinema stood tallest among these last ten films I’ve watched. The ninja-fighting, Turksploitation gem Death Warrior was glorious nonsense, while the Mexploitation double shot of Intrépidos Punks and Revenge of the Punks pitted evil bikers and Bronson-esque cops into sleazy, violent, insanely costumed conflicts.
As an aside, MMC! is currently in the midst of watching Warner Bros.’s “Censored Eleven,” a group of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons banned from syndication in 1968 for their racist stereotypes of primarily Africans and African Americans. The Censored Eleven had long been on MMC!’s radar and it was hoped that the talent and inventiveness of these creators (Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, Friz Freleng, Tex Avery, and Rudolf Ising) would provide a degree of creativity that would push back against any questionable portrayals. With only three shorts left, MMC! is sad to say that the vast majority of these shorts offer little in the way of gags or material not already presented in better cartoons and that the characterizations contained in these shorts are far worse than “questionable.” Thus far, only Bob Clampett’s Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs (1943) has distinguished itself, though its content remains often lamentable.
(And, for the curious, Chronicle of a Summer was screened as a bit of research for our next imagined Criterion title!)
“Such an exceptional film. Murnau is in full command of the silent form here, pushing it in cleverly imaginative ways – novel framings, sloped sets, superimpositions, collages, miniatures, unusual title cards, and always those silent film close-ups. And the film hops tones and genres with alacrity, swaying from tragedy to comedy and back again, dabbling in dance and slapstick and adventure along the way. An improbable culmination of the silent era that arguably shouldn’t work, yet is a masterpiece.”
Is everyone having a great holiday season? Let’s make sure!
Today is Boxing Day and what better way to observe it than with this hilarious reconsideration of Rocky Balboa’s triumphant Christmas Day victory over Ivan Drago, a boxing match for which the Italian Stallion gave up his championship in order to defeat the man who killed Apollo Creed. Who could have expected that this unsanctioned bout would become a landmark victory for democracy and a turning point in the Cold War. MMC!’s admiration for the ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series is no secret and this CollegeHumor parody is a pitch perfect pastiche of that sports program’s house style. All the high points are here – the James Brown performance, the robot, the whiffing swings, the lack of defence, and the inexplicable reversal of allegiances – and Max Kellerman’s appearance here is inspired, placing him right in his pugilistic wheelhouse. Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky IV (1985) got a new cut back in November as Rocky IV: Rocky x Drago that adjusted the aspect ratio, excised the exploding gloves intro, Paulie’s birthday, and the robot, recontextualized the events of Rocky III, diminished the role of Brigitte Nielsen and Hugo Boss, and made sundry other edits. I guess Rocky was right: Everyone (including Rocky IV itself) can change.
Christmas is nearly upon us and with that in mind, MMC! is sending out its best wishes with one of our favourite discoveries of 2021 – Gilles Carle’s The Merry World of Léopold Z (1965)! This classic of Québécois cinema was originally commissioned by the National Film Board of Canada to be a documentary on snow-clearing but was transformed into an innovative fiction film by its director. Guy L’Écuyer stars as the affable Léopold Z. Tremblay, a Montreal snowplow driver juggling the demands of work and home on Christmas Eve. Between clearing roads, Léopold runs various errands for himself, his wife Catherine (Monique Joly), and her visiting relation Josette (Suzanne Valéry), not to mention dealing with the complaints, demands, and asides of his boss and friend Théophile (Paul Hébert). With plenty of great documentary footage of ’60s Montreal in the winter, Merry World reflects the Direct Cinema spirit of the times, and Carle uses the holiday season to incorporate some insights on consumerism, sexual desire, religion, and the power structure of language in la belle province (something more notable in the French language version of the film). Carle filmed Merry World over 18 months due to an almost snowless season in Montreal, though you would be hard-pressed to notice from watching the film. Lively and good-natured, this cleverly edited, slice-of-life short feature is the perfect film for MMC! to offer its season’s greetings!
MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY HOLIDAYS! (Stay safe you crazy kids!)
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Shunji Iwai’s White Films – Love Letter, April Story and hana & alice.
Few filmmakers capture the wonder and angst of young adulthood like Japanese writer-director Shunji Iwai. With the hazy, sentimental lens of his regular cinematographer Noboru Shinoda, Iwai’s early feature films explore pivotal moments in teenage life through the mundane challenges of the everyday. Audiences quickly embraced Iwai’s treatment of grief and love with his smash debut Love Letter, about a woman rediscovering her late fiancé through letters exchanged with his former classmate. Linked by their cold introductions, Iwai and Shinoda’s subsequent films – 1998’s April Story, about a shy girl’s move to university, and 2004’s romantic con-job hana & alice – trace the changing times as much as the changing hearts of their characters, and collapse style and substance into lyrical poetry. These “White Films” express Shunji Iwai’s unique view on young love and loneliness and exemplify the dreamy landscapes he nostalgically maps in his films.
SPECIAL EDITION COLLECTORS’ SET FEATURES:
4K digital restorations, approved by filmmaker Shunji Iwai, with new 5.1 surround soundtrack mix presented in DTS-HD Master Audio
MMC! eased into holiday screenings with a thoroughly odd, Rankin/Bass-inspired, stop-motion animated feature from Sanrio, Nutcracker Fantasy. A two-headed rat queen, a spectral “Ragman” prowling the streets, an ungrateful princess woken from her slumber, live-action ballet sequences, and bounty of superimpositions and other camera tricks are only a taste of what Nutcracker Fantasy offers. Highest marks among these last ten films we’ve screened go to The Best Years of Our Lives, while the only failing grade falls on Jason X. We’re not mad, Uber Jason; we’re just disappointed.
Our next Criterion post is coming, and that’s a promise. MMC! will round out the year with our favourite discoveries of 2021, possibly a treat for Christmas, and maybe even a non-movie list if the mood strikes. Until then, there’s still time to watch A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, Black Christmas, Tokyo Godfathers, The Ref, Christmas Evil, Rocky IV, ….