Of these last ten movies I’ve watched, there is one clear masterpiece – Youssef Chahine’s The Land. My first introduction to Chahine was years ago through Typecast Picture’s DVD of Cairo Station (1958), a brilliant film set among the working classes around the Cairo train station. Sordid and sympathetic in its content, the film is hailed as a masterwork of neorealism, although I’ve always felt Cairo Station connects more strongly with French poetic realism. Having recently discovered that many of Chahine’s great works are buried in Netflix’s library (including Cairo Station), I started with the director’s most celebrated film and was completely enraptured. The Land portrays a village of peasants in the 1930s struggling against various layers of governmental authority to keep their land, irrigate their farms, and bring in their crops. Chahine’s characters are broadly drawn but they are cleverly arranged, making for some great social realist melodrama, and the film is beautifully shot with gorgeously arid settings and artful compositions. Screening the rest of Chahine’s library on Netflix has now become an MMC! priority!
The remainder of these screening were uniformly good, but I’d like to pay special attention to Killer Clans which was screened as part of the Spectacle Theater’s regular online Sunday “Mystery Meat” program. Each Sunday afternoon, Brooklyn’s Spectacle Theater hosts two themed mystery screenings: “Fist Church,” a Kung Fu Matinee, and “Blood Brunch,” a horror film from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, or ’90s. One of my favourite first-time watches so far this year is seeing Taylor Wong’s gleefully outlandish Buddha’s Palm (1982) compliments of a “Fist Church” screening. Thank you, Spectacle!
These last ten films I’ve watched include some great screenings. Marshland is a top notch police thriller ready-made for fans of True Detective and Criterion’s forthcoming release of Bong Joon Ho’s Memories of Murder (2003). Adrift in Tokyo is a breezy, quirky hang-out film between a gruff debt collector and the down-on-his-luck college drop-out that he pays to wander with him through Tokyo. Bandits of Orgosolo is a nearly decade-late neo-realist classic that is sure to please Criterion Channel viewers who have been entranced by Vittorio De Seta’s documentary shorts. (More on De Seta in a future post?)
How to Train Your Dragon (Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, 2010)
Bandits of Orgosolo (Vittorio De Seta, 1961)
Marshland (Alberto Rodríguez, 2014)
The Flying Luna Clipper (Ikko Ono, 1987)
Crystal Eyes (Ezequiel Endelman and Leandro Montejano, 2017)
Adrift in Tokyo (Satoshi Miki, 2007)
Animation also figures prominently in these last ten screenings, with the slice-of-life wonderfulness of My Neighbors the Yamadas, the fire-breathing spectacle of How to Train Your Dragon, and the 8-bit, proto-vaporwave weirdness of The Flying Luna Clipper. Between these screenings, MMC! also took in the underwhelming program of Pixar Popcorn shorts offered on Disney+ and the enjoyable Roland and Rattfink shorts collected in The Depatie/Freleng Collection released by Kino.
Finally, a shout-out to Gold Ninja Video, the Criterion Collection of Public Domain Bargain Bins! The Toronto-based label recent arrived on our radar and its was GNV’s release of And God Said to Cain that played at MMC! headquarters. Gold Ninja is an obvious passion project for label’s curator and one man band Justin Decloux, who provides liner notes, audio commentaries, featurette discussions, and other special features. GNV releases are fun, informative and affordable and with MMC! now in possession of a small stack of its releases, you shouldn’t be surprised to see more Gold Ninja titles appearing on its screening lists!
It’s January, so that means MMC! is playing catch-up with the best films that 2020 had to offer. Those screenings can be a bit of a slog, as inevitably that catch-up process can be a bit of a misery parade involving a lot of “important” films with “powerful” performances that quickly become dispiriting when strung together. For this reason, MMC! is particularly thankful to discover Jon Bois’s The History of the Seattle Mariners compliments of the CriterionCast website and Joshua Brunsting’s list of his top 25 films of 2020. Running nearly four-hours long and free to view on YouTube, Bois’ survey of the strangest team in professional sports is the anti-The Last Dance, using little archival footage, no direct interviews, and relying instead on amateur-sounding voice over and a collection of computer-generated charts and graphs that would have looked out-of-date 20 years ago. Still the document is weirdly compelling, managing to capture baseball’s obsessive compulsion for statistical analysis, its general boredom, and the strange absurdities that end up filling the void where active play should exist. Expect it to find a place on MMC!’s own list of the best films of 2020. Thanks again, Joshua!
Time (Garrett Bradley, 2020)
The History of the Seattle Mariners (Jon Bois, 2020)
Host (Rob Savage, 2020)
Mangrove (Steve McQueen, 2020)
Eureka (Shinji Aoyama, 2000)
Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion (Alexandre Astier and Louis Clichy, 2018)
Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa, 2019)
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (Jason Woliner, 2020)
Roaring Fire (Noribumi Suzuki, 1982)
Samurai Cop (Amir Shervan, 1991)
January is also the time of year that MMC! catches up with best music of last year and so the mothership has been roaming with RTJ4 by Run the Jewels, En Español by The Mavericks, Set My on Heart on Fire Immediately by Perfume Genius, and Lianne La Havas’ self-titled album on heavy rotation. I may keep track of my favourite non-cinematic discoveries of 2021 and share them at the end of 2021. If so, Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang’s Paper Girls (2015-2019) may make that list. Eighties nostalgia, time-travel, tweenage self-discovery, and generational conflict make for an easily likeable story, with Chiang’s clean art being beautifully supported by colorist Matt Wilson and color flatter Dee Cunniffe who provide the series with a distinctive aesthetic and palette. Paper Girls is supposedly being adapted into a series by Amazon and so MMC! recommends getting that background work done now (assuming you’re a latecomer like me)!
It’s December but MMC! isn’t yet in the holiday movie watching mode. Instead, MMC!’s last ten films deck the halls with Spaghetti Westerns (new and old), lovable tramps, monkey love, and some rough domestic interactions in Russia (including a 2020 favourite of John Waters). Lost in Translation and Let the Corpses Tan remain MMC! classics, while the top first-time watch certainly goes to Kirikou and the Sorceress which was a clever, adorable, and distinctively animated feature drawn from West African folk tales.
Shout-out to Andrew Perez who reached out to MMC! regarding Bastards y Diablos (A.D. Freese, 2015), a film Perez wrote, co-produced, and co-starred in. Perez played Klaus Kinski in Maverick Moore’s My Dinner with Werner (2019), one of MMC!’s favourite short films at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival. Bastards y Diablos concerns a pair of estranged brothers who tour Colombia to fulfill the wishes of their recently deceased father. For my tastes, I found the film’s flashbacks a bit too fragrance-commercial dreamy and the central brother dynamic a too … bro-y. That said, Bastards y Diablos absolutely sings as a love letter to Colombia. Early on, the film has a character proclaim its mission statement: to represent Colombia as something more than Pablo Escobar and drug cartels. Moving scene to scene, episode to episode, this travelogue shows the country as one filled with families and love and generosity, all against a vibrant backdrop of lush countryside, scenic beaches, and charismatic urban environments. This is a gorgeous film in service of a place in need of better appreciation and it glows, figuratively and at times literally, by its sumptuous visuals and clear affection. No one’s going anywhere right now. Watch Bastards y Diablos on Amazon Prime and let it play tour guide to a beautiful, tropical destination.
These last ten films I’ve watched are dominated by the news that a number of Hong Kong classics will soon be leaving Midnight Pulp. High marks to Royal Warriors which was loaded with amazing action sequences and showed that Michelle Yeoh can kick ass dressed in comfy sweaters or as a Rhythm Nation-Road Warrior. Julien Duvivier’s Panique once again confirmed that he is undervalued as a filmmaker, Tora-san’s Sunrise and Sunset was yet another high point in the series, Aleksy German’s Khrustalyov, My Car! seemed to merge the best of Andrei Tarkovsky and Terry Gilliam, and my revisiting of Howl’s Moving Castle only enhanced my view that the shadow of Spirited Away unfairly diminishes this gorgeous, unconventional work on anime.
Emir Kusturica’s Life is a Miracle was screened on MUBI, compliments of a recent sale on the platform’s subscription. Screened among these last ten features were a number of shorts available on MUBI, including Ben Rivers’ sloth epic, Now, At Last! (2018), and the films of Peter Tscherkassky. MMC!’s love for found footage is no secret and so Tscherkassky’s work has long been an MMC! blindspot requiring attention. Tscherkassky’s films evoke comparisons to Luis Buñuel, Man Ray, Maya Deren, Bill Morrison, and David Lynch, and his transformation of Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) into Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine (2005), a wild portrayal of Eli Wallach’s battle against cinematic rivals, filmic atmosphere, and the medium itself, was near revelatory.
There’s some very weird stuff among this very solid list of films – the killer-style of Deerskin, the physical trauma of Tokyo Fist, the civil servant aspirations/delusions of Infinite Football, the cheap-o monster-fighting of Santo and Blue Demon Against the Monsters. Probably least well known of these unusual movies is The Million Game, a re-imagining of The Most Dangerous Game as a German reality television program complete with fictional advertisements and variety show acts. It’s tacky, cravenly commercial, and a weirdly singular TV-movie experience.
ParaNorman (Sam Fell and Chris Butler, 2012)
The Whistlers (Corneliu Porumboiu, 2019)
Deerskin (Quentin Dupieux, 2019)
Santo and Blue Demon Against the Monsters (Gilberto Martínez Solares, 1970)
Although Letterboxd lists it on its site, I’ve omitted HBO’s Watchmen series from this list despite having finished it between Tora-san, the Intellectual and Infinite Football. I must admit to feeling conflicted about Watchmen and to being one of the few people who consider it an admirable failure. While the HBO series obviously has its heart in the right place and is impressive in its world-building, its ultimate reverence for super-heroics and its othered villainy seems out of place with the cynical caution of Alan Moore’s original books. One might push back that the world today needs a certain amount of optimism, although Moore’s recent comments to Deadline about the “blight” cast by superheroes on cinema specifically and the culture generally seem equally applicable to the hailed HBO series.
Lastly, the Nightstream online film festival continues, providing MMC! with an opportunity to revisit The Eyeslicer Halloween Special. The fest continues until tomorrow night with plenty of great films and events still to come including Sunday’s “Dinner with the Masters of Horror: A Tribute to Mick Harris,” an evening with Harris with friends Joe Dante, Ernest Dickerson, Axelle Carolyn, Mike Flanagan, Tom Holland, John Landis, William Malone, Tommy McLoughlin, and some additional surprises! American friends of MMC! should be sure to check out Nightstream and support some excellent causes.