Little Odessa
#100. Little Odessa (1994, Gray) (US)

Finally getting around to watching James Gray’s films as a mini side-project while trekking through 1992. Strong performances, or rather a ‘strong group of inherently engaging actors’, and an astonishing sense of place carries Gray’s debut. Quietly stimulating start gradually fizzles into worn-out yet oblique territory, the genre focus being just enough to falter what is otherwise ostensibly a character piece. But the depiction of Little Odessa itself, the snowy streets and the all-too-real abodes, is incredibly cogent. Gray is always very conscious of how the characters exist within this environment, favoring longer takes, often from a distance, closing in to utilize actorly punctuation. Moira Kelly plays the most useless ‘obligatory woman’ character I’ve seen in I don’t even know how long. The obliqueness of the story makes her next-level pointless. She’s barely there for cliche’s sake. She’s just sort of there. Decent enough film, certainly a notable debut if only because it makes me want to see what Gray does (or did rather) next.

Full Contact
#101. Full Contact (1992, Lam)
(Hong Kong)
“Masturbate in hell!!!!!” might just be the greatest movie line of all time. I think we can all agree on that.

Same year as Hard Boiled. But this is Ringo Lam; grittier, scaled down. Chow Yun-Fat, love the man though I do, is difficult to accept with a straight face as a biker punk. But of course we go with it because we love the man. Full Contact doesn’t fully kick into gear until Chow comes back for revenge after a botched deal. Anthony Wong is so damn good at playing the cowering-to-competent thief. Lots of early 90’s club action! Bullet time! There’s a glorious montage featuring Chow, a dog, workout training, swimming, and shooting bottles. There’s also a horribly shrill female character whose part consists of cackling and making sex noises. Homophobia comes through with the (admittedly fun) depiction of an effeminate gangster…who is also kind of a magician? Chow, with the rain tinkle-tinkling on his phallic knife, rides through the streets to reek havoc as if a ghostly entity.

Bad Lieutenant
#102. Bad Lieutenant (1992, Ferrara)

Harvey Keitel’s dying animal wails are the kind of sounds that stay with you. The lower depths of humanity are plumbed and then some, strung along by the traipsing sounds of unintelligible and unformed pleas. We rarely see the unnamed Lieutenant’s family. The power of the contrast between his family life and personal life is that there is no contrast. We’re past contrast, arriving at the absence of. Depravity and religion provide the Lieutenant’s indirectly motivated (much more powerful in its ‘just because’ presence) unstoppable descent into hell, the sensationalistic central crime of a nun’s rape bridging the two. More specifically, the nun’s subsequent forgiveness to the unknown perpetrators is the catalyst for a concurrent spiritual tailspin. He cannot comprehend the forgiveness of sin, and it builds to a protracted and somewhat deformed act of salvation akin to watching teeth pulled.

There are so many shots in Bad Lieutenant I love. Abel Ferrara and Ken Kelsch’s poised camerawork rests against the lack of humanity on display. The long takes let the images burn. How does the Lieutenant relate, and not relate, to those within the frame at all times? Someone somewhere suggested you need a connection to the religiosity of the material to connect to it. Well, I don’t have an ounce of that in me, but nevertheless found this a fascinating study of faith and spirituality within the morally bankrupt. A man who has lost touch with himself as human is confronted with the possibility of being judged by a higher being; blank slate, wiped clean, lifted up and out. He had made peace with hell. Salvation throws everything off. It’s not hard to see why Scorsese is nuts for this film. The drudgery and agonized Catholicism against urban decay. And with Harvey Keitel!

Speaking of Harvey Keitel, this has got to be the closest thing to an actual purging of the soul I’m ever likely to see…right? Isabelle Adjani in Possession comes to mind as a companion performance. I hereby proclaim 1992 the Year of Keitel! Naked, limp, feral, begging, provoking, whacking off, high, and making truly outrageous bets. There are no other characters (in the traditional sense) in Bad Lieutenant. They are enablers, examples, catalysts, set dressing. They aren’t taken into consideration beyond their visual necessities (even the nun, who serves as pure symbolic purpose). This is a one-man implosion. There’s baring the self, and there’s baring the self. This is like watching someone flayed open, and it’s all nasty bits and some excruciating levels of sadness existing free of audience empathy (pity though? yes).

It’s the Little Things:
– As horrifying as that drawn-out scene with the two young girls is, I could not look away from it; just 100% glued.
– My first Abel Ferrara film! I’ve had Ms. 45, The Addiction, King of New York, and The Funeral high high high on my watchlist for a long time. I have to get to these at some point.

#103. Naked Killer (1992, Fok)
(Hong Kong)
Closing out my Crime Films of 1992 Spree and crudely segueing into the LGBT Films of 1992 section of my watchlist is this Category III film (one of the tamer ones, as this reads like safe Cinemax soft porn) from Hong Kong. Male fantasy extravaganza with lipstick lesbian assassins and the characteristic on-a-whim non-plotting but without a sustainable sleazy pull. Many Hong Kong films, from what I can observe, emphasize manic energy over all, developing as they please and throwing out, nay, demolishing, the rulebook. It’s what makes the boom years of Hong Kong film a completely unique collective entity. ADHD Cinema. But while Naked Killer is delightfully weird, and boasts fabulously retro use of color in its art direction and costumes, the relentless narrative and formal anarchy in this knowingly trashy piece gets strained pretty quickly. And there’s the uncomfortably frivolous threat of rape everywhere. But Naked Killer is the perfect example of something I’d love to see again in a theater setting one day with other cult film lovers.

It’s the Little Things:
– Seriously though, those costumes, and that purple room.
– Overhead shot of Kitty and Sister Cindy on couch
– Guy mistaking a severed penis for a sausage
– Poor impotent Pinam

#104. Swoon (1992, Kalin)
Heavily influenced by the avant-garde strands of silent cinema (there’s a renegade spirit to the editing and an ever-present clarinet), and Carl Dreyer, master of the close-up visage against blankness. Brings together the separate entities of history (through stock footage) and the murderers Leopold and Loeb, at first wholly removed and then inextricable from each other. Swoon is about how history dictates those remembered within it, in that their crimes are only considered within the context of their homosexuality (mostly referred to as perversity’ during the trial). It’s a well-made and worthwhile point, but in a trying thesis kind of way. There’s also zero access point to any sort of potential psychological study. It doesn’t justify a full-length film or attempt to build one off its central idea, which is unfortunate because there’s real beauty to these images.

There’s a radiating glow to the stark and grainy black-and-white expressionism. The diary voice-over gives a stream-of-consciousness quality; close-up images rush to keep up with words, thoughts, and actions. But Swoon manages to manufacture swiftness while remaining entirely stolid.

Films of the New Queer Cinema have the territorial feel of the unbreached regardless of how, when, or if the content has been previously depicted. It’s something in the air that can’t be replicated or manufactured. I admire Swoon as a time capsule piece and for its formal daring, but sticking with it, even on a basic level, proved a surprising (and disappointing) struggle.


One thought on “Capsule Reviews: Films Seen in 2014 #100-104

  1. Caught your thoughts on Bad Lieutenant, really strong writing and observations here. Yes, Ferrara is a masterful spelunker of the troubled human soul and Keitel is his muse, much the way Di Nero is/was to Scorsese. I agree with you, I don’t think you need either a strong or fundamental sense of religiosity to appreciate what is happening here, though someone with a more secular background might not get the full and nuanced ritualism of Catholicism and how this informs every aspect of the debauchery. I haven’t reviewed this one yet but I have to soon.

    Something from my review of King of New York – “…Believable happenstance and orchestrated acts of attrition give Abel Ferrara’s King of New York its lasting grit, instilling in the viewer a sense of inky blackness for having lived among the detritus of these characters and by proximity come to understand the irrevocable felonies of madmen and the excusable misdemeanors of dreamers searching for happiness and fame in tomorrows that never come. ..”

    If you’re interested in checking it out (

    Thanks for the follow, looking forward to reading more of your work.

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