#38. Pleasures of the Flesh (1965, Oshima): B-/C+
Taking the “pink film” and transforming it to his own needs, Nagisa Oshima’s first film at his company Sozosha after leaving Shochiku is a nihilistic look at pitiless self-destruction through giving oneself up to lust. But it’s more than that. The lust is always bought, one-sided, at times barely consensual. It’s an ugly kind of lust Oshima depicts. And it comes from an entirely unsympathetic protagonist, an average man who’s so distraught by his love marrying someone else that he just gives up on life altogether. This was a hard film to turn myself over to and what I mainly got out of it were some of its images from Oshima’s use of Cinemascope. A lot of the images, use of dissolves and sound will stay with me indefinitely.
#39. Citizen Ruth (1996, Payne): B-
A satire that looks at both sides of the abortion issue. It isn’t about the issue; it’s about how agenda drives people to cartoonishly manipulative lengths. Laura Dern is pretty insane here; it’s a committed performance of the first order. No apologies. The opposing camps are way more invested in the fate of her baby then she is. She’s barely listening except when it matters to her, a good indicator of her character is to notice what catches her ear. She breaks down a lot, but you can see it’s so routine, that it will never lead to a life change. She’s very stupid, very selfish, and unapologetically childish. Everyone understandably treats her like a child. Children are better behaved then her. Payne uses a lot of point-of-view shots to emphasize that everyone talks at her and not to her.
I love that Ruth doesn’t change. About twenty minutes in, I was wondering if she had an arc, and if she did, I didn’t see how they could convince me that this character would ever change. Thankfully, Payne and Taylor take the same route.
The plot hits a dead end an hour in though, only moving forward to raise the same stakes, and it loses a lot of steam. As the stakes rise, the jokes get broader and thus less interesting. So the final half didn’t measure up for me. Perfect final shot though.
#40. House of the Spirits (1993, August): D+
I’m not sure how one of the most impressive casts ever assembled just happens to be in one of the wholly miscast films I’ve ever seen. Ever. And it’s not just because they cast mostly Anglo actors for Latino roles.Glenn Close, Antonio Banderas and Vincent Gallo get it done. Everyone else (Meryl Streep, Jeremy Irons, Winona Ryder) is woefully lost. And the film falls into the pack of big screen adaptations that just can’t capture anything about the source material. Now, I haven’t read Isabel Allende’s novel but I know how revered it is and have read her Daughter of Fortune. I was so intrigued by the potential underneath what I saw onscreen. At least now I really want to read the book. But this is stodgy, inept, lifeless stuff. It has so much time to pass through and does it without ever building to anything. Things happen but we never feel them. The film is just sort of there.
#41. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956, Hitchcock): B+
Hitchcock’s 1934 version has Peter Lorre and the raw material of a quirky as-yet unformed master, but this is superior, a slick and surprisingly engaging thriller. I say surprisingly because I wasn’t really expecting to love this; I had an unjustified prejudice against it. Not for any real reason, except maybe the presence of Doris Day (whom I don’t dislike but…) and an assumption it would be too wholesome to carry any of Hitch’s necessary bite. OK, so it still doesn’t have bite. But Day is actually really fantastic here and though it may be stretched a bit thin and ends on a note of misfired humor, it has the advantage of Hitchcock’s reliable precision at every frame, every second. The taxidermist scene doesn’t really come off even if its placement makes sense in theory. I enjoyed the easiness and embedded discord between Stewart and Day’s marriage, the subtly omniscient character work and the pacing of the first half.
#42. Police Story 3: Super Cop (1992, Tong): B-
Takes quite a while to get going and Dimension’s release made for some intrusive song choices and of course rough dubbing. Despite a rushed and flimsy plot even for a martial arts flick, this boasts two things that make it more than worth watching. First, the playful buddy cop dynamic between Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh (then Khan). Seeing Yeoh work her fast-footed magic at the same level as the slapstick-tipped Chan is a lot of fun. Second; the last twenty minutes which features some stunt work that your eyes will have trouble believing even by Jackie Chan standards. We’re talking Chan hanging from a moving helicopter’s ladder crashing into things. Fights on moving trains. Michelle Yeoh hanging off the side of a truck and performing a motorcycle jump over a train! Even keeping in mind the caliber of stunt work martial-arts actors take on in the Hong Kong film industry doesn’t lessen the wow factor. I wish the bloopers lasted as long as the film. Bonus Maggie Cheung in a supporting role!