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!)
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, ….
These last ten films I’ve screened reflect a long-awaited return to the theatre experience with Dune and The French Dispatch, some family-friendly spookiness with Muppets Haunted Mansion, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein, and The Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters (a longstanding MMC! favourite), and some Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival prep with Masking Threshold (an intriguing and very distinctive experience) and All Sorts (an enjoyably surreal take on office life). Still, my favourite screenings were Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, a Brazilian classic discovered by way of the MUBI podcast, and Maya and the Three, an epic animated event compliments of Netflix. MMC! is an absolute sucker for Mexican content and for Mesoamerican (and South American) civilizations and mythologies, and so Maya and Three was the action-spectacle fantasy I’ve always wanted. Look for Maya high up on MMC!’s “Best of 2021” list!
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (Bruno Barreto, 1976)
Masking Threshold (Johannes Grenzfurthner, 2021)
All Sorts (J. Rick Castaneda, 2021)
The Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters (Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr., 1972)
Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (Charles Barton, 1948)
Halloween produced some seasonally appropriate short film watches amongst these longer screenings, including Trick or Treat (Jack Hannah, 1952), It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown (Bill Melendez, 1966), and The Scariest Story Ever: A Mickey Mouse Halloween Spooktacular (Dave Wasson, Alonso Ramirez Ramos, and Eddie Trigueros, 2017). Even better, MMC! also wrapped up the super-sized, 38 episode, professional wrestling anime, Tiger Mask W (Toshiaki Komura, 2016-2017). Playing as a sequel to the 1969 anime series, Tiger Mask W follows Naoto Date, a young wrestler who assumes the Tiger Mask moniker to pursue vengeance on Global Wrestling Monopoly and its top fighter, Yellow Devil, after they destroy the promotion he works for and cripples his boss and mentor. On a parallel path of revenge is the manager’s son, Takuma Fuji, who assumes the identity of Tiger the Dark and infiltrates GWM. Wrestling fans will appreciate the added curiosity of observing GWM pit itself against real-life Japanese wrestling promotion, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, and seeing animated versions of its stars take centre stage in the series’ drama. Love that fighting spirit!
October has arrived and horror screenings at MMC! have accordingly increased. High marks go to the wonderfully over-determined melodrama/gothic horror of The Curse of the Crying Woman, with gentleman’s threes going to the proto-Saw insanity/bizarro body horror of Evil Dead Trap and the waking folk horror dreaminess of Savage Hunt of King Stakh. Let’s throw Junji Iwai’s All About Lily Chou-Chou in the mix as well, as its feed-bad high school angst gives way to traumatic cruelty and spiritual desolation.
The Curse of the Crying Woman (Rafael Baledón, 1961)
All About Lily Chou-Chou (Junji Iwai, 2001)
The Blue Planet (Franco Piavoli, 1982)
Savage Hunt of King Stakh (Valeri Rubinchik, 1979)
War of the God Monsters (Kim Jeong-Yong, 1985)
Evil Dead Trap (Toshiharu Ikeda, 1988)
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (John Carl Buechler, 1988)
The History of the Atlanta Falcons (Jon Bois, 2021)
The Green Knight (David Lowery, 2021)
Of our remaining, non-horror screenings among these last ten films I’ve watched, Franco Piavoli’s The Blue Planet deserves special attention. A slow, contemplative survey of the seasons in the Italian countryside, Il paineta azzurro places flora, fauna, and humans on equal footing, living along the tides of melting ice and flowing water, of waving grasses and golden harvests, and of setting suns and full moons. This is a must watch for those who have discovered De Seta’s brilliant documentary shorts of the 1950s and ’60s and yearn for more.
My post-Fantasia movie hangover has ground my screening schedule to a near halt, but those that did get watched offered some great moments. I loved seeing Stevie Wonder shred a drum set in Summer of Soul, watching Tora-san tragically step around love in Tora-san Goes Religious?, being in awe of those stunning family portraits in The Fall of the House of Usher, and watching young Japanese men cry (a lot) in Koshein’s pressure cooker of high school baseball. Plus, MMC! does love its feel-bad Italian political thrillers and We Still Kill the Old Way definitely scratched that itch.
The Fall of the House of Usher (Roger Corman, 1960)
A final Fantasia shout-out to Ora, Ora Be Goin’ Alone, a lovely and quirky rumination on aging that (potentially) imagines dementia as the burden of a surfeit of memories. Its star, Yuko Tanaka, is gently magnetic as an elderly woman surrounded by companions real and imagined, wanted and not. MMC!’s rundown of its favourite short films at Fantasia will drop tomorrow and from there we start imagining hard media editions of Fantasia’s best and brightest. Let’s go!
MMC! is in full Fantasia International Film Festival-mode, powering through titles to the exclusion of all else! (Sorry, pending Criterion Collection title.) There’s plenty of good stuff here for any film fan. Like subterranean industrial dystopias, body horror monsters, and Tool videos? Check out Junk Head! Prefer decrepit production design, quasi-Biblical allusions, and the uncanny dread of early David Lynch? Spend some time with Hotel Poseidon! Enjoy alternate histories, mockumentaries, and Santo films? Watch Opération Luchador! Have an affinity for coming-of-age stories, samurai movies, and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time? See MMC!’s favourite of these last ten films I’ve watched: It’s a Summer Film!
Let’s also give shout out to Fantasia’s Small Guage Trauma 2021 short film block which screens later today and Thursday! Boasting ten stand-out genre shorts from around the world, Small Guage Trauma is worth seeking out for those who want some blood spilled quickly. MMC! was particularly impressed with Jorge Sistos Moreno’s highly atmospheric and wonderfully vengeful The Darkness (2020) and Michiel Blanchart’s supernatural comedy-turned horror film-turned cathartic romance, You’re Dead Helen (2021). Fantasia’s various short film programs are the unsung gems of the Festival, so do yourself a favour and seek out these great offerings. FIFF’s programs in the My First Fantasia section are aimed for young and old alike and are even free to screen! So what’s your excuse now?!?