Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Junta Juleil's Top 100: #75-71

75. HANA-BI (1997, Takeshi Kitano)

Takeshi Kitano– one of the great, unsung heroes of contemporary filmmaking. Comedian, actor, novelist, director, painter, poet, singer, tap dancer, game show host– you name it, and he's done it. Do yourself a favor and read about his occasionally bizarre, occasionally incredible life story, which encompasses strip club stand-up comedy, a burgeoning art career, hitting rock bottom, a suicide attempt, rebirth, and a new Kitano renaissance. It's difficult for me to pick a favorite Kitano– amongst the films he's directed, there's SONATINE, VIOLENT COP, ZATOICHI, KIKUJIRO, and BROTHER; amongst the film's he's appeared in there's BATTLE ROYALE, GOHATTO, MERRY CHRISTMAS MR. LAWRENCE, and JOHNNY MNEMON– er, forget I said that last one. Anyway, HANA-BI (FIREWORKS) is presently my favorite. Kitano took up painting in a big way after his suicide attempt, and he often credits it as a factor in his rehabilitation and recovery. As such, painting is a central motif to HANA-BI, and there's a grand stillness in this film; somehow Kitano makes the act of soaking in a painting a kinetic, cinematic act. But it's not all tranquil musings on our own impermanence, it's also cool, calm, collected nihilism punctuated with sporadic, impromptu thunderheads of violence which would make Joe Pesci blush. In short, it's essential cinema.

74. DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993, Richard Linklater)

While it might be heresy to rank this film higher than its inspiration, AMERICAN GRAFFITI, it's so much damned fun, I can't help it. Talk about a movie with a high rewatchability factor– I can watch this film anytime, anyplace. But probably the best time is late spring or early summer, so you can duplicate, even vicariously (especially vicariously!), that ecstatic feeling of 'SCHOOL'S OUT FOR MUTHAFUCKING SUMMER!' The feeling of an endless (well, it sorta felt like it at the time), boundless vacation as you're jamming spiral-bound notebooks into the trash and purging the piles of lead-scuffed busywork from your locker– it's the ultimate cleansing, a feng shui of the soul! Linklater unravels his tale with the ensemble-cast storytelling acumen of a Renoir or an Altman, portraying a rogues' gallery of middle and high school types with playful honesty and complete sincerity. Nicky "WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?!" Katt's raging asshole townie; Parker Posey's shrill, hazing harpy; Wiley Wiggins' newly-minted high schooler with a penchant for nose-touching; the trio of lovable proto-intellectuals (Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, & Marissa Ribisi); Matthew "it'd be a lot cooler if you did" McConaughey; a paint-bedaubed Ben Affleck (which is the proper state for an Affleck)...I could go on. Pass the Lone Star.

73. PHENOMENA (1985, Dario Argento)

There's not too much to say that I haven't said already, so I'll say it again:
"Jennifer Connelly plays a girl named Jennifer who can telepathically communicate with insects in this Dario Argento masterpiece. The atmosphere is exquisite- dreamlike, comforting, dangerous. Something about his use of the Swiss Alps, the rustling pine trees, the ominous mountain winds, and the over-the-top gore... it's a throwback to the original R-rated storybooks: brutal folklore like the Brothers Grimm. I love this movie. I love the fact that there is one line of narration in the entire film, spoken about twenty minutes in. I love that in that one line of narration, they mispronounce the name 'Richard Wagner.' I love that there is a chimp with a straight razor (in homage to Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"). Between this and SUSPIRIA, it is clear that Dario Argento loves maggots, retching, girls' boarding schools, brutal murders, and the volatile combination of all four. I love that he loves that. I love that there's not only ladybug POV, sleepwalking POV, murderer POV, and Great Sarcophagus POV, but there's also MAGGOT POV. I love that the supernatural is represented by fan-blown hair. I love that the ending somehow manages to be as abrupt AND more ridiculous than the screamfest at the end of TENEBRE. I love the inappropriate use of heavy metal, the baroque visuals, the viscerality, the Bee Gees & Richard Gere references, the charming and sympathetic Donald Pleasence (in spite of Argento dialogue), the evocative soundtrack, the bitchy teachers straight out of SUSPIRIA...in fact, there's nothin' NOT to love here. The only way it could be more ridiculously perfect would be if she made out with the chimp." Amen, Dario. Amen.

72. FLESH + BLOOD (1985, Paul Verhoeven)

Another sort of rehash here:
"I'll begin with two quotes by Paul Verhoeven which seem apropos to this film: "People love seeing violence and horrible things. The human being is bad and he can't stand more than five minutes of happiness. Put him in a dark theater and ask him to look at two hours of happiness and he'd walk out or fall asleep." and "Remember that Christianity is a religion grounded in one of the most violent acts of murder, the crucifixion. Otherwise, religion wouldn't have had any kind of impact."
A lot of people like to pin down Paul Verhoeven as 'the guy who did SHOWGIRLS,' and while he cannot erase the fact that he is indeed guilty of being the guy who did SHOWGIRLS, he's one of the most audacious filmmakers to emerge from post-WWII Europe. FLESH + BLOOD is Machiavellian power games, feculent whores, stillborn children, nun snipers, yellowed teeth, and dogs lapping up pools of diseased gore. This movie is absolutely BRUTAL. Every single character looks out for number one, and here, 'looking out for number one' means ripping an earring (and a chunk of flesh) from a woman as she's being raped or using 'God's word' when it's to your liking (Verhoeven has called organized religion a symptom of societal schizophrenia). Any time there's a moment for levity or genuine romance, it's immediately undercut by something like the rotting genitals or random carrion. It’s not exactly a historically accurate depiction of medieval warfare and the Black Death, and it doesn't quite take place in the 14th Century... sixty years ago it took place on the battlefields of Europe. Verhoeven was just a kid then, but he was there. As we speak, it's being waged by talking heads on TV, by hypocrites behind closed doors, and by vicious opportunists from here to the far corners of the world. Where an exploitation flick would insert a rape scene so the viewer could feel 'morally superior' as they enjoyed some T&A, Verhoeven stages sexual assault as a grotesque vortex of ever-shifting power dynamics between man, woman, and the collective. The performances are outstanding: Susan Tyrrell was born to do the Dark Ages- she enters the scene as a bawdy, pregnant, perpetually wasted whore whose life is a series of the highest, barbaric highs and the lowest, 'WHY ME?' lows; Brion James is pure animal, ruthless but bewildered; Ronald Lacey is the sinister Cardinal- malicious, but sincere (not that it matters when he's got his sword in your guts); Jack Thompson is the beleaguered hunter, embodying an almost Peckinpah-style morality (think Robert Ryan in THE WILD BUNCH); and Tom Burlinson is the man of science, but his singlemindedness gives way to a sanctimonious depravity. Rutger Hauer simmers and scowls- a calculating, towheaded, serpentine fiend, rapist, and murderer who might be the closest thing we've got to a 'hero.' Jennifer Jason Leigh- in possibly her finest performance- is a privileged, maid-beating blueblood who attends the condottiere's ‘school of hard knocks’ and emerges as perhaps the most complex and guileful of the bunch." It's nihilistic entertainment at its best, and my favorite Vehoeven (today, anyway).

71. MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939, Frank Capra)

A film which seems to grow in relevance with each passing year. Politicians love to reference this film in attempts to inflate their perceived "inner-patriotism" and vaunted "outsider" status, yet if there was indeed a real life Mr. Smith, soon after the events depicted in this film he'd probably be killed in a Cessna crash that'd be deemed "completely accidental." Oh, and by the way, it was written by a socialist who refused to name names to HUAC and got blacklisted for it (Sidney Buchman). Jimmy Stewart is absolutely brilliant as the callow, unsophisticated vacancy-filler with truthful eyes and hay behind his ears, and his journey perfectly illustrates how the powers that be have hijacked patriotism and hammered it into submission, recreating its twisted form in the new normals of jingoism, belligerence, graft, and corruption. Shouldn't we trust in humanism instead of the oligarchs' smear factory? Ah, well– I guess we're just doomed to repeat history, whether we can remember it or not.

Coming up next... silent film, Gary Busey, and what some have called "the most-hated film in the Criterion Collection besides ARMAGEDDON!"

Previously on the countdown:
Runners-up Part 1
Runners-up Part 2


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this update, the caption in the Flesh & Blood still helped me strap my lollerskates on for the day and I'm putting Phenomena on my list next. Since watching Midnight in Paris, I've been on a Woody Allen kick.


J.D. said...

Nice call on MR. SMITH. I've been on a Frank Capra kick as of late - just recently enjoyed STATE OF THE UNION and am startedly by how bleak many of his films are, even if they do end on a positive note. Man, MEET JOHN DOE is brutal and amazing that he was able to make 'em back in the day.

Ah, DAZED & CONFUSED - that could be so many people's school experience if they grew up in the late '70s, early '80s. Linklater just nails all the rituals and cliques and the people who inhabit them so well. Fantastic film and great cast.

Thanks to you, I picked up a copy of PHENOMENA and it blew my mind. Prolly my fave Argento after SUSPIRIA.

Sean Gill said...


I don't know if PHENOMENA will bring a premature end to your Allen kick, or bring you back to it with renewed vigor– ha! You'll have to let me know what you think.


Capra's definitely a director who I haven't explored as thoroughly as he deserves. I've slavishly gone through the catalogues of the likes of Hawks and Ford, so now I think Capra is next on the chopping block. Ashamed to say I haven't seen STATE OF THE UNION or MEET JOHN DOE, but after just a cursory look at their plots, I'm vaulting them to the top of my queue.

Glad you enjoyed PHENOMENA– it's so damned nutty it's transcendent!

Anonymous said...

JD, Have you seen Deep Red(Profondo Rosso)? Suspiria is awesome and I found it at once enchanting and menacing. Deep Red has much more of an air of silliness and I found myself laughing a lot. It'd be hard for me to pick between the two.


J.D. said...


It has been ages since I've seen DEEP RED. Didn't they release a spiffy new special edition of it a few months ago? Been meaning to pick that one up.

Sean Gill:

STATE OF THE UNION is great - maybe my fave Katharine Hepburn film and, of course, it is one of the ones she did with Spencer Tracy. And MEET JOHN DOE features Barbara Stanwyck in her prime. She's great in it.

Sean Gill said...


Have been on a bit of a Capra/Cooper kick this week– caught MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN and MEET JOHN DOE for the first time and was blown away by both of 'em. STATE OF THE UNION is next on the list. I'm almost shocked that these things were allowed to be made, in that they highlight the *gasp* "socialist" ideals of the Founding Fathers; attack nearly all kinds of mass media; and rise above the pettiness of politics, instead piling on dollop after dollop of pure, bright-eyed Humanism. He's certainly a master who deserves more consideration beyond his holy trifecta of IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, MR. SMITH, and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.