#240. The Grandmaster (2013, Wong) (Chinese Cut) (Hong Kong/China)
Full of the simmering wooziness we expect from Wong Kar Wai’s imagery. The fight scenes glimmer and flow as the elements and body movement are highlighted. Kung-fu is shown as a delicate and elegant art form, akin to dance. And that’s what this film is about; the art form that is kung-fu, its ancestry and many subsets and schools of thought. How does art fade, die, rebirth, adapt and reconfigure itself as a reaction to history? This lends an incredibly mournful quality to The Grandmaster, so powerful in its cumulative effect that I became very emotional by its final minutes.
I understand that Zhang Ziyi as Gong Er is cut down quite a bit in the American cut, which is a shame because not only is she a co-lead but I actually felt like it was her story even more than Ip Man’s. She is the driving force of the film as far as I am concerned. The character and performance, as well as her tying most strongly into its themes, are what I connected to most on a content level. In short, I dearly loved this.
#241. Rewind This! (2013, Johnson) (USA)
Effectively sums up the advent and effect of the video industry mainly from the perspectives of film fanatics/devotees (also importantly branching out to many other people) while contemplating a future where physical media likely won’t exist. OK, so it does nothing to dispel the notion that videohounds/underground cinema buffs/cinephiles are largely made up of, to quote Film Forager, ‘pasty white dudes in their 30s’. Minor setback aside, this contains so many worthy pockets of information, from the then-credo that anyone-can-distribute to the need for video preservation to how things like “Everything is Terrible” (woo-hoo!) and Winnebago Man re-contextualizes the endless and otherwise lost oddities of video. It stands out to me because of all the side streets it goes down, all threads of the past and present that make up what video was and how it exists and doesn’t exist now. I especially appreciated its stance on the idea that everything has value and that is grasps the scope of how much will be lost in the coming years.
#242. Viola (2013, Piñeiro) (Argentina/USA)
Bohemian-esque youths of Argentina loop-de-loop around Shakespeare. Seems simple but reveals itself as deceptively sly. Feels like a series of introductory scenes that aren’t carried through anywhere, but Viola is about cyclical snapshots, not an A to B narrative. This is a give-and-take of pros and cons, coming out on the side of the positive. Piñeiro’s use of camera and sound are striking. His camera is elegant, alternating between baton-like tracker or hyper-focus. By adopting very refreshingly atypical rhythms, he gets at the crux of how this group of 20-somethings interact and connect in a brisk 65 minutes.
#243. The 10th Victim (1965, Petri) (Italy/France)
Goes from being a harmless kitschy time-passer to torturously hollow and unstimulating in the blink of an eye. The concept sounds like a can’t-lose but the film peaks five minutes in when Ursula Andress shoot someone with her boobs. It fails at larger conceptual ideas like assuming that a lust for violence is the only thing that causes war. Andress and especially Marcello Mastroianni sleepwalk through the whole thing and have zero onscreen chemistry. It comes back around for a solid final second (you read that right; a final second). My main takeaway is the theme music which sounds like a scatting Betty Boop and I love it so much.
#244. Leviathan (2013, Castaing-Taylor, Paravel) (France/UK/USA)
Pushes visceral filmmaking to a new possible extreme without ever actually gripping me. I guess this doesn’t make me one of the cool kids but so be it. We need more of this kind of one-with-the-elements work where the camera, and by extension we, are made privy to new sensations. But I don’t think this really works as a feature-length. Furthermore, I have no particular interest in feeling like I’m part of the commercial fishing industry no matter how it’s presented. There are sequences that are so surreal and transportive, like looking at the world through new eyes. And then there are sequences that bored me stiff. I support anything that forces us to rethink what cinema and particularly documentary filmmaking can be, but I don’t have an affinity for this particular venture when taken as a whole.
#245. Chimes at Midnight (1965, Welles) (France/Spain/Switzerland)
Shakespeare’s war plays are easily my least favorite from his vast array of work. It is also difficult for me to grasp his language by seeing it played out first rather than reading it. Reading it first, at my own pace, is what helps me understand the line-by-line comprehension of what is being said. And then there’s the fact that this is a mash-up of several plays. So for these two reasons I admittedly had a bit of a struggle with certain sections of Chimes at Midnight. But by the end, I had grown fond of the film.
Chimes at Midnight is a particular triumph for Welles. Never has character and persona meshed in such a way in his career. And he knew it too. This is his most personal work. And Falstaff is his kindred spirit. Each puts on a face, and Welles has the blustering presence of a god equally capable of vain benevolence and fury. A vulnerable man of self-made myth. Yes, a genius.
A lot of what I took away from Chimes at Midnight was related to how important this was for him. What it took to fulfill this project is even more fraught than his other creative struggles. Looking at the production history, he scraped and made the film piecemeal; he needed to make it. The friendship between Falstaff and Prince Hal was my real access point story-wise, which would make sense because it makes up the core of the film. Did I mention that this has the battle sequence to end (or influence rather) all battle sequences? A stunning hodgepodge of interception, senseless chaos, and muddy comedown.