Without a doubt, Aleksandr Ptushko’s Ilya Muromets is the most fun MMC! has had with a screening this year and so it stands at the top of these last 10 films I’ve watched and on MMC!’s list of favourite first time watches for 2022. MMC! was already a fan of the Deaf Crocodile boutique label given its restoration and release of past MMC! candidate The Unknown Man of Shandigor, but this Russian fantasy might even outdo that title. Ilya Muromets, Russia’s answer to Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill, is a medieval villager roused by a magic elixir to fight for good and resist the pagan hordes of Tugars set to overrun Kiev. Triple-headed dragons, magic tablecloths, wind demons, human mounds, and various feats of improbable strength stand out as Ilya distinguishes himself as a hero above all others. Ptushko’s camera tricks and practical effects are stunningly convincing despite their obvious primitiveness, and Deaf Crocodile’s Blu-ray makes this a visual feast all the more. It was, in a sense, everything The Northman could have been and more.
These last 10 films also mark the bittersweet end of my journey with Tora-san. Fifty films watched and none left to see, all that is left is to revisit this wonderful franchise, one that may be my favourite thing ever committed to celluloid. For those keeping count, MMC!’s next massive undertaking are the original runs of The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, as well as their Japanese kaiju counterpart Ultra Q and its 2013 reboot Neo Ultra Q.
Of these last 10 films I’ve watched, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Happy Hour stands out as obviously the best of these screenings. With its lengthy runtime (317 minutes), its thoughtful conversations between its four female thirty-somethings, and the impassively flat intonations of its delivered dialogue, Hamaguchi evokes a literary experience cinematically and creates something immersively captivating – a melodramatic inkblot into which the viewer can pour their emotions into. Truth be told, despite how fascinating Happy Hour proved to be, I cannot ignore Jackass Forever. I never really watched the original MTV program, finding it too sophomoric for my tastes. The TV show seemed to only confirm that youth was wasted on the young, yet I now find myself getting more invested in the Jackass crew as they age. Their pain seems more real, more genuine, and the entire enterprise seems to enjoyably push back on the notion that wisdom is wasted on the old. There’s certainly an aspect of Peter Pan about the whole thing, with Johnny Knoxville (now a silver fox) and his Lost Boys fending off father time by riding a shopping cart straight into him at high speeds. Forever stands far from the genius of Jackass 3D (which was easily the best use of 3D’s mainstream resurgence, standing as a kind of post-millennial cinema of attractions), but it was still a ridiculous 96 minutes that I often found invaluable. Love that “Cup Test.”
What We Do in the Shadows (Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement, 2014)
In the Name of the Italian People (Dino Risi, 1971)
Truth be told, these last 10 films screened longer ago than is usual as I’m currently working my way through Mariano Llinás’ La Flor (2018), an epic undertaking at nearly fourteen hours and made up of six episodes starring the same four actresses, with the first four episodes stopping short their natural endings, the fifth remaking a famous French film of the 1930s, and the sixth depicting only a conclusion. Midway through at the time this post is written, La Flor seems to be an intriguing experiment in narrative that seems to luxuriate in its own vagueness, whether by its plotting, its dialogue, or even its planes of focus. Sprinkled between La Flor has been screenings of Good Mythical Morning, a YouTube comedy show featuring Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal playing games, having fun, and participating in taste tests (our favourite). I was already familiar with GMM but I’ve now got my wife addicted to the program in anticipation of Rhett and Link’s forthcoming Food Network show, Inside Eats with Rhett & Link.
These last 10 films I’ve watched include my first exposure to Rinty, the silver screen’s most prolific star of the 1920s. Truth be told, Clash of the Wolves was solid silent cinema fun, being loaded with canine heroism and daring. The film also brought home the lesson that if a dog wearing boots and a beard can hoodwink your townsfolk but not their horses, you may want to consider the quality of your community. Very high marks go to Everything Everywhere All at Once, which somehow lived up to its hype. If The Matrix being written by Jorge Luis Borges and adapted to the screen by Stephen Chow with occasional nods to Wong Kar-wai sounds like an appealing idea to you, then this is the multiversal experience for you. Certainly an early leader for best film of 2022.
In between these last 10 films, MMC! polished off James Gunn’s highly enjoyable first season of Peacemaker and plowed through Old Enough! on Netflix, a show about preschool-age Japanese kids sent out into their neighbourhoods by their parents to complete various errands on their own. Adorable and at times wildly suspenseful, Old Enough! is as addictive a program as we’ve seen in quite a while (and the little girl sent to fetch her mom’s photo album from their van at a repair shop may be the cutest thing we’ve everseen).
These last 10 films I’ve watched mark a transition from the Friday the 13th franchise to the Red Peony Gambler series. Jason certainly did his best to make sure I wouldn’t miss his hockey-masked brutality as the 2009 reboot was a repellent experience full of utterly loathsome and perpetually/stupidly horny characters. I’ve never wondered where Jason hangs out when he’s not stalking teenagers, what he does in his spare time, or if he enjoys recreational gardening, and I now know why. This torture-porn take on Mr. Voorhees was not for MMC!. In contrast, Red Peony Gambler was something of a delight with its enjoyably heavy gangster melodrama, a fascinating score, some expressive and near experimental moments, the haunted air of Ken Takakura, and the movie star aura of Sumiko Fuji. This is a classical style of yakuza film with honourable criminals acting as noble heroes and it felt rather admirable in its idealizations.
There’s plenty of other really good stuff in here as well. Chris Petit’s Radio On, a British road movie comparable to the work of Wim Wenders, was a beautifully shot, roughly hewn, and wonderfully soundtracked film with a stand-out long take that opened the movie to the sound of David Bowie’s “Helden,” The Murder of Fred Hampton was an absolutely essential document of the Black Power Movement that wears its populist spirit in its inelegant construction, and Ward Kimball’s Man in Space and Man and the Moon were excellent infotainment with some lovely animation in the mid-century modernist style and a great start to the Walt Disney Treasures: Tomorrowland set. I would caution that if you’ve seen Jason Hehir’s The Last Dance, you can probably skip the dated-looking and decidedly slight Jordan Rides the Bus.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the top screening amongst these last 10 films I’ve watched is Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car (2021). The film might alternatively be titled Chekhov’s Saab. Grief, guilt, and survival take centre stage in Drive My Car with preparations of a multilingual stage production of Uncle Vanya serving as a fitting backdrop. A left-hand drive car suggests a life out of sync and a discovered blind spot in the main character’s vision nods at self-imposed illusions becoming dispelled. This is a slow burn and a long drive full of muted performances and contemplative visuals. Needless to say, it is well worth the time.
I really wished that I liked New York Ninja more but the truth is that I’m decidedly more fascinated by its idea and its backstory than the ultimate result. Using footage discovered and restored by Vinegar Syndrome, the label constructed this would-be masterwork of good-bad having no audio, storyboards, or script and it’s rather amazing when viewed through that lens, although the finished product failed to capture my imagination in the same way as a comparable film like Miami Connection (Richard Park and Y.K. Kim, 1987). I’ve yet to dig into the bounty of special features, including the making-of documentary which I’m told is excellent. I expect I might adore that doc even if I didn’t love the film.
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!)