The Eagle Shooting Heroes (Jeff Lau, HK 1993) B
Insane martial arts comedy, made during some over the shooting breaks of Ashes of Time
(wkw serves as an exec prod, mostly the same cast - MAGGIE!), using the same source material. That´s pretty much all on similarities, though: Lau cranks up the speed, and during the more inspired sequences this results in some form of stupefyingly freewehling madness. Any attempts at plot and character description are futile, let it suffice to say that hardly any other movie features so many scenes involving musical torture via swallowed centipedes.
Lifeline (Johnnie To, HK 1997) B-
in HK, i.e. infinietly better. First half a soap opera bordering on ridiculous Hawks, as the firemen´s private lives are spelled out; the last half-hour or so, a protracted showdown in which the firemen (lead by the resourceful Lau Ching-Wan) try to escape a burning building with tons of suicidal saving stunts included reaches some form of abstract beauty with light/darkness patterns almost unequalled. Probably would have been better without a storyline.
Opera (Dario Argento, Italy 1987) A-
If Argento´s features had no dialogue, they´d be perfect: This one may be his last truly great film (it´s certainly his better effort at the Phanton of the Opera
motif): When she´s not trying to figure out things (the hard part), the opera singer heroine is being tortured by the masked villain who prefers to have her watch him helplessly as he kills off her dear ones by using an ingenious set of needles transfixed under her eyes so they can´t be closed. Various set pieces reach a level of perfection that makes the wobbly plot all the more pointless (including a tacked-on, but genuinely weird ending). A film about the helpless gaze, which means: really a horror film.
The House on Haunted Hill (William Castle, USA 1957) B
Probably the best of Castle´s cheapo scare efforts, infinitely helped by Vincent Price in a delicious lead and a singular Elisha Cook jr. constantly losing it over endearing cheesy special effects. Reminds you of how bad the remake really is.
La religieuse aka The Nun (Jacques Rivette, France 1966) B
Based on Diderot´s 18th-century-novel, inexplicably causing a scandal way back when: Anna Karina is being forced into a convent as her family lacks the means to support her. She suffers all sorts of humiliations from the strict regime while battling for her freedom, then transferred to another convent where things are more progressive (and she´s immediately stalked by the lesbian mother superior). In the end she breaks free, realizes the oppression won´t stop and matter-of-factly kills herself. This is not really a spoiler, as the story´s arc is pretty much clear from the beginning and Rivette employs an extremely theatrical approach (the opening scene: Karina trying to escape the oath, has the feel of a filmed stage) that places the focus on the mise en scène rather than the proceedings. The result is distant, if empathic and a masterpiece of geometrical filmmaking, in that respect probably on par with the cited model, Mizoguchi. It´s a a staggering arrangement of clear lines and movements, transforming the objects and people into rectangular blocks who start to interact in disquieting patterns that suggest a greater order whose beauty can´t be quite grasped. Which mirrors its theme: the seach for an unknown freedom.
Jean Renoir, le patron. Part 2: Direction of Actors (Rivette, France 1966) A-
From a three-part installment for the best series on filmmaking ever, Cineastes de notre temps
. Renoir and the magnificent Michel Simon chattering for 90 mins over wine and coffee about their films, lives and the connections. An amazing, moving document about a certain humanist idea of filmmaking, chock-full with hilarious anecdotes and unabashedly rigorous demands on aesthetics. "It´s true because it´s a lie. It´s the complete denial of an external form", remarks Renoir about his Boudo
(pretty much right after Simon has explained that humans "come right out of the ass"). Seeing this explains why that is no contradiction.
Pilgrim (Harley Cokeliss, USA 1999) B-
Dumb, but fun. What Memento
would have been, had it not bothered us with pretentious arthouse shit but head headed for direct-to-video instead. Biggest asset: It would have starred Ray Liotta.