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
What’s scarier than the exploitation of capitalist culture, our societal collapse into a dystopian nightmare, and our inexorable march into cosmic obliteration? Answer: Nothing. And so MMC! celebrates this All Hallow’s Eve with a trio of animated mind-melters from Canadian animator Nick Cross. First up is The Pig Farmer (2010) – “a simple tale of a wayward soul, awash in an ocean of tragedy and regret.” Well, that and various pork-related gags. Don’t be fooled by the fairy tale-vibe and cutesy look; this short ain’t for the kids!
Next up is Perihelion (2013), “a sort of animated tone poem” inspired by German Expressionist and Surrealist painters of the early 20th Century like Otto Dix, Richard Oelze, Ingrid Griebel-Zietlow, Rudolf Schlichter, and Max Ernst, as well as Francisco Goya. The short operates as something of a Möbius strip tracking a cycle of human downfalls. The effect is amazing in execution and awful in vision. You’re welcome!
Lastly, we wrap up this dispiriting tribute to Nick Cross with The Clockwork Elves (2020). Cross’s summary of the short is questionable: “The Clockwork Elves could be a pyschotropic exploration of spirituality and death – or it could be a tale of a little goofball hopped up on goofballs. Either way — it’s a cartoon.” Made single-handedly over seven years, the short takes the animator’s critiques of late capitalism deeper into the psychedelic nightmare than ever before, creating a vision quest montage that is amazingly spectacular, shockingly vibrant, and exceptionally apocalyptic. This is the squished and squashed, cutesy-pie version of Pearl Jam’s “Do the Evolution” video and it’s just as bracing.
If all of this is a bit too nightmarishly heavy for you, then MMC! recommends revisiting Over the Garden Wall (2014), a modern Halloween classic that perfectly celebrates American colonial folklore, historical commercial art, and East Coast animation. Cross worked as the series’ art director and it should be required viewing for any Halloween fanatic.
Naoko Tanaka (Mei Nagano) is a 26 year-old office lady – a secretarial and clerical worker in a large Japanese company. Her job at Mitsufuji is reliable, the atmosphere is laid-back, and she has some friendly colleagues, but the fires of war burn brightly beneath the veneer of the office’s calm banality. Cliques of office ladies fight for departmental supremacy like sneering gangsters and posturing delinquents. These warring clans battle daily until a new employee arrives, Ran Hojo (Alice Hirose), armed with the strength and charisma of a manga hero to become the company’s top office lady and unite its competing factions. An unlikely friendship between Naoko and Ran is found, but what will happen to them and their company when powerful OL gangs from other companies arrive to test their honor and resolve? Can Ran, Naoko, and the office ladies of Mitsufuji survive the onslaught?
Director Kazuaki Seki’s debut feature is a hilarious, uproarious, action-packed send-up of workplace pettiness and office territorialism, pitting mild-mannered, pink-collar workers in vicious duels over coffee breaks and alongside photocopiers, all under the oblivious noses of their male superiors. Comedian Bakarhythm’s screenplay riffs on the conventions of Japanese comics with a witty meta-commentary and a furiously paced series of fights. Setting superhero grandeur in an unremarkable context, Office Royale is a hysterically energetic satire and a grandiloquent action spectacle.
Special Edition Contents:
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
Original DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio
Optional newly translated English subtitles on both films
Introduction by historian and critic Kim Newman
Yankees, Yakuza, and Making Copies, interview with director Kazuaki Seki
Heroic OL Diary, interview with screenwriter Bakarhythm
We all love Christopher Nolan, right? With his high concept structures, embedded narratives, elliptical storytelling, and problematized causalities and memory projects, what’s not to love? If your answer is massive budgets and less than mind-blowing executions, then the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival has you covered with a pair of highly inventive, totally mind-bending, and decidedly handcrafted gems!
You would be hard pressed to find anything at Fantasia 2021 as simple and clever as Junta Yamaguchi’s Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes. Cafe owner Kato (Kazunori Tosa) returns to his upstairs apartment one evening and finds himself unexpectedly visited on his computer screen by himself two minutes into the future and speaking from a computer screen in the coffee shop. As Kato tries to make sense this micro-time loop, employees and friends arrive and begin playing with the phenomena, managing to modestly extend the loop by placing the screens in front of each other and creating repeating images of the screen each two minutes farther away than the last. Options for fun and profit remain limited in their DIY time tunnel but shenanigans naturally ensue through the interventions of a potential love interest, a couple of gangsters, and pair of mysterious men.
Set in a future world where dreams are taxed by the federal government, co-writer/co-director Kentucker Audley plays James Preble, a dream auditor sent to the remote home of Arabella Isadora (Penny Fuller) to assess the elderly eccentric’s vast collection of VHS-recorded dreams. In her dreams, James meets her younger self (Grace Glowicki), traverses a vast dreamscape, and uncovers the sinister truth behind dreams and his love of Cap’n Kelly fried chicken. Time between dreams and reality pass differently and James’ existence is tested as he searches for his dream-Arabella while also negotiating the intrusion of her family in real life.
Strolling Through Dream/Time
Both Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes and Strawberry Mansion explore the stretch and squash of time on causality and reality in deceptively lo-fi terms. Junta Yamaguchi’s film was born from an acting workshop of the popular theatre group Europe Kikaku and was shot on an iPhone, recalling recent Japanese puzzle box films like One Cut of the Dead and Special Actors. Audley and Birney’s film was shot digitally, then transferred to 16mm to give it a home movie haziness, and its thrift store costumes and craft store props give it a Gondry-esque playfulness that is archly twee but still sufficiently foreboding. Buttressed by their own limitations, these films are dreamier, loopier, and more intriguing than any of Christopher Nolan’s massive science fiction epics. And to demonstrate that brevity is the soul of wit, it should be noted that you can watch Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes and Strawberry Mansion in less time than it takes to see Inception, Interstellar, or Tenet.
Both Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes and Strawberry Mansion are on-demand titles at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival waiting to be watched whenever it is convenient to you, but be warned — less than a week of Fantasia remains and Festival deadlines are far less forgiving that the temporal rules of either of these films.