Monday, November 30, 2020

Dialogic Cinephilia - November 30, 2020

Constantine, Perry. "Shoplifters (万引き家族)." Japan on Film (March 4, 2019) ["A Japanese couple stuck with part-time jobs and hence inadequate incomes avail themselves of the fruits of shoplifting to make ends meet. They are not alone in this behaviour. The younger and the older of the household are in on the act. The unusual routine is about to change from carefree and matter-of-fact to something more dramatic, however, as the couple open their doors to a beleaguered young girl. The reasons for the family’s habit and their motivations come under the microscope."]

---. "Yojimbo (用心棒)." Japan on Film #1 (February 15, 2019) ["A nameless ronin, or samurai with no master, enters a small village in feudal Japan where two rival gangsters are struggling for control of the local gambling trade. Taking the name Sanjuro Kuwabatake, the ronin convinces both sides to hire him as a bodyguard, then artfully sets in motion a full-scale gang war between the two in order to rid the town of both criminals."]

Langan, John and Brooke Warra. "Quarantine Readings." The Outer Dark #77 (July 2020) ["The seventh installment of The Outer Dark Quarantine Reading series features John Langan (0:40:31) and Brooke Warra. Brooke discusses her recent Shirley Jackson Award (Best Novelette) for Luminous Body (Dim Shores), and John Langan, who is a SJA Board Member, goes behind the scenes on producing an online awards ceremony to air during a pandemic. Brooke reads her ‘only original monster’ story ‘The Scritch’ (0:13:27), first published in Mantid and included in The Outer Dark Symposium 2020 Program Chapbook. John reads an excerpt from ‘Sweetums’ (0:50:00), which opens Children of the Fang, his fourth collection coming in August from Word Horde, and which originally appeared in A Season in Carcosa, edited by Joseph S. Pulver. They also talk about their own experiences with lockdown living, their writing and publishing news, and their quarantine reading recommendations. The episode concludes with Gordon B White critiquing Children of the Fang by John Langan in an all-new Reviews from The Weird (1:08:33)."]

Loewen, James. "Teaching What Really Happened: How to Avoid the Tyranny of Textbooks and Get Students Excited About Doing History (Teachers College Press, 2018)." New Books in History (January 3, 2019) ["In an atmosphere filled with social media and fake news, history is more important than ever. But, what do you really know about history? In the second edition of his book, Teaching What Really Happened: How to Avoid the Tyranny of Textbooks and Get Students Excited About Doing History (Teachers College Press, 2018). Dr. James W. Loewen interrogates what we think we know about our past. Loewen, a sociologist and professor at the University of Vermont, shows readers that history must be reconsidered in order to avoid previously accepted misconceptions. As Loewen demonstrates throughout this valuable text, teachers must look beyond the textbook to discover what really happened and to teach their students how to "do" history. Teaching What Really Happened is an eye-opening book that reinvigorates history and empowers its readers."]

Meyer, Isaac. "Never Look Away." The History of Japan #236 (April 21, 2018) ["This week, we discuss the career of Japan’s most legendary director, Kurosawa Akira. From humble, middle class beginnings, our story will take us through some of his most notable films, and include detours into the lives of Mifune Toshiro, George Lucas, and even Francis Ford Coppola!"]

Patel, Raj. "As Hunger Soars Across Nation, U.S. Trade & Foreign Policy Is Also Causing Hunger Across the Globe." Democracy Now (November 24, 2020)  ["As the U.S. enters the holiday season, millions of people across the country are struggling to find enough to eat, with the hunger relief group Feeding America warning that some 54 million U.S. residents currently face food insecurity amid a massive public health and economic crisis. Food insecurity in the U.S. has intensified after the expiration of federal assistance programs in the CARES Act, and the United Nations World Food Programme predicts acute hunger could affect 270 million people worldwide by the end of 2020 — an 82% increase since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. We speak with author and filmmaker Raj Patel, host of the food politics podcast “The Secret Ingredient,” who says hunger was already at alarming levels in the U.S. before the pandemic, and it’s only gotten worse. “The long story here is the continuing war on the American working class,” Patel says."]

Sloan, Luke and Will Savage. "The Informer." Michael and Us (October 26, 2020) ["After he named names for Joseph McCarthy, Elia Kazan made a movie about an informer. We watched ON THE WATERFRONT (1954), one of the great American films by the most famous American rat, and discuss its personal meaning for Kazan, and the historical context behind its powerful depiction of working-class New York. PLUS: a free-flowing discussion of celebrity and politics."]

Monday, November 23, 2020

Dialogic Cinephilia - November 23, 2020

Aloi, Peg. "Watching The Witch with Two Actual Witches." A24 Films (October 27, 2020)

Effress, Inna, Matthew M. Bartlett, and Jon Padgett. "Quarantine Readings." The Outer Dark #78 (July 2020) ["The eighth installment of The Outer Dark Quarantine Reading series features Inna Effress, a Weird fiction rising star, and some Weird double trouble with Matthew M. Bartlett and Jon Padgett (0:35:50), collaborating on their first duet. Inna reads ‘The Devil and the Divine’ (0:13:04), which will appear in the first issue of the much anticipated Weird Horror magazine from Undertow Publications, coming in October. Matt and Jon read the beginning of the epistolary title story of The Latham-Fielding Liaison (0:46:05), part of The Secret Gateways hardcover boxset coming from Nightscape Press and funded by a Kickstarter campaign. As alway, the writers also share their own experiences with lockdown living, their creative news including a story by Inna in Noir Nation, a novel by Matt coming from Broken Eye Books in 2021, and Jon’s update on his editorial/publishing ventures Vastarien: A Literary Journal and Grimscribe Press. Plus everyone’s quarantine reading recommendations."]

Freeberg, Ernst. "A Traitor to His Species: Henry Bergh and the Birth of the Animal Rights Movement (Basic Books, 2020)." New Books in Biography (October 13, 2020) ["In Gilded Age America, people and animals lived cheek-by-jowl in environments that were dirty and dangerous to man and animal alike. The industrial city brought suffering, but it also inspired a compassion for animals that fueled a controversial anti-cruelty movement. From the center of these debates, Henry Bergh launched a shocking campaign to grant rights to animals. Ernest Freeberg's book A Traitor to His Species: Henry Bergh and the Birth of the Animal Rights Movement (Basic Books, 2020) is revelatory social history, awash with colorful characters. Cheered on by thousands of men and women who joined his cause, Bergh fought with robber barons, Five Points gangs, and legendary impresario P.T. Barnum, as they pushed for new laws to protect trolley horses, livestock, stray dogs, and other animals. Raucous and entertaining, A Traitor to His Species tells the story of a remarkable man who gave voice to the voiceless and shaped our modern relationship with animals. Ernest Freeberg is a distinguished professor of humanities and head of the history department at the University of Tennessee. He has authored three award-winning books, including The Age of Edison. He lives in Knoxville, Tennessee."]

Gidney, Craig Laurance. "Dreaming a Weird That Shimmers." The Outer Dark #74 (June 2020) ["In this podcast Anya welcomes back Craig Laurance Gidney to discuss his novels A Spectral Hue (Word Horde, 2019) and Hairsbreadth (Eyedolon/Broken Eye Books, 2020; support their Patreon to read this serialized novel). The conversation begins with Craig’s experience living in Washington, D.C., in a time of pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests. Craig then reads the opening of A Spectral Hue (0:11;11) and delves deep into the creative process behind this groundbreaking Weird novel. Discussion includes the book’s roots in his fascination with Outsider Art, the transformative beauty of The Weird and creating art out of trauma, why traditional cosmic horror from the white cis male gaze doesn’t scare him, the muse as intrusion, his passion for writing and art that is ‘a beautiful mess’ and ‘dream logic’, a non-Western perspective on the trope of ‘possession’, threading memory and ‘tasting’ words, writing process as ‘mosaic’, leaning into The Weird as character, a new story featuring Emily Bronte, color and Tanith Lee, Leonora Carrington, and Mervyn Peake, as well as why it’s not necessary to have closure in endings. The dialogue then shifts to Hairsbreadth in which Rapunzel meets Black Girl Magic including incorporating African-American folklore such as the boo-hag, affinity with Victor LaValle’s The Changeling, finding a Weird community, and a recent abundance of Weird fiction journals including soon-to-be-launched queer flash fiction journal Baffling which Craig is co-editing. The interview closes with news and his recommended authors including Black Girl Unlimited by Echo Brown, Patricia McKillip’s Riddlemaster series, and Head to Toe by Joe Orton."]

Heath, Roderick. "Hour of the Wolf (1968)." Film Freedonia (October 15, 2020) ["As a filmmaker, Ingmar Bergman synthesised two vital artistic modes, the psychological realism of Scandinavian theatre, and the essential faith of Modernism, that understanding of the world depended on perception and therefore art had to find ways to replicate modes of perception, groping towards a rational understanding of the irrational impulse. And yet Bergman’s fascination, even obsession with pathological behaviour and with the dark and tangled roots of the modern psyche and civilisation repeatedly drew him towards the fantastical, the hallucinatory, and the oneiric, conveyed through cinema that often reached back to the supple blend of naturalism and expressionistic stylisation achieved in early masters of Scandinavian cinema like Carl Dreyer, Benjamin Christensen, and Victor Sjöström. So, much as it might once have infuriated some of his high-minded worshippers in his heyday to say so, Bergman’s films very often grazed the outskirts of Horror cinema, and sometimes went the full distance. The anxious, unstable, beleaguered tenor of Bergman’s mature work often employed imagery sourced from the same wellsprings as Horror’s lexicon of preoccupations and metaphors."]

Hewitt, Chris, Mike Muncer and Jacob Stolworthy. "Slasher Pt. 5: Halloween (1978)." The Evolution of Horror (October 13, 2017)

Mason, Lilliana. "Anger and Identity in an Age of Polarization." On the Media (October 30, 2020) ["Anger and tribalism appear to be at an all time high, creating political and societal rifts that can seem unbridgeable. Indeed, it’s hard to believe that only 70 years ago, the country was deemed by political scientists not to be polarized enough, leading to confusion and disengagement on the part of the electorate. Since then, party lines have been crystallized, and the parties, polarized. Most people know exactly which party they belong to — leaving us with two camps that seek to destroy one another. Lilliana Mason is professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland and author of Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity. She and Bob discuss how anger and tribal identity have gotten us to the current political moment, and how we might move past it."]

Rowley, Rick and Lawrence Wright. "Kingdom of Silence: 2 Years After Khashoggi Murder, New Film Explores Deadly U.S.-Saudi Alliance." Democracy Now (October 1, 2020) ["Two years ago, in a story that shocked the world, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul for marriage documents and was never seen again. It was later revealed that Khashoggi — a Saudi insider turned critic and Washington Post columnist — was murdered and dismembered by a team of Saudi agents at the direct order of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. We speak with a friend of Khashoggi and with the director of a new documentary, “Kingdom of Silence,” that tracks not only Khashoggi’s brutal murder and the rise of MBS, but also the decades-long alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia. “What drew me into this story is Jamal was one of our own,” says director Rick Rowley. “When one of our colleagues is killed, it falls on all of us as journalists to try to do what we can to rescue their story from the forces that would impose silence on it.”"]

Subisatti, Andrea and Alexandra West. "Man Eater: Ravenous (1999)." Faculty of Horror #70 (February 25, 2019) ["Andrea and Alex head West to explore the notions of Manifest Destiny and the Frontier Myth in Antonia Bird’s Ravenous. Combining historical context through a modern gaze, Ravenous proves you are who you eat."]

Taylor, Astra, et al. "David Graeber, 1961–2020." The New York Review of Books  (September 5, 2020) ["David Graeber, the anthropologist and activist, died aged fifty-nine on September 2, 2020. The New York Review, to which he began contributing last year, is collecting tributes from his friends and colleagues."]

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Dialogic Cinephilia - November 19, 2020

Brown, Jericho. "Marlon Riggs, Ancestor." The Current (October 26, 2020)

Citton, Yves. "Mediarchy (Polity Press, 2019)." New Books in Communications (September 28, 2020) ["We think that we live in democracies: in fact, we live in mediarchies. Our political regimes are based less on nations or citizens than on audiences shaped by the media. We assume that our social and political destinies are shaped by the will of the people without realizing that ‘the people’ are always produced, both as individuals and as aggregates, by the media: we are all embedded in mediated publics, ‘intra-structured’ by the apparatuses of communication that govern our interactions. In his new book Mediarchy (Polity Press, 2019), Yves Citton maps out the new regime of experience, media and power that he designates by the term “mediarchy.” To understand mediarchy, we need to look both at the effects that the media have on us and also at the new forms of being and experience that they induce in us. We can never entirely escape from the effects of the mediarchies that operate through us but by becoming more aware of their conditioning, we can develop the new forms of political analysis and practice which are essential if we are to rise to the unprecedented challenges of our time. This comprehensive and far-reaching book will be essential reading for students and scholars in media and communications, politics and sociology, and it will be of great interest to anyone concerned about the multiple and complex ways that the media – from newspapers and TV to social media and the internet – shape our social, political and personal lives today."]

Graeber, David and Astra Taylor. "Democracy May Not Exist, But We Will Miss It When It's Gone." At the Bookshop (December 16, 2019) ["In her latest book, Astra Taylor – ‘a rare public intellectual, utterly committed to asking humanity’s most profound questions yet entirely devoid of pretensions’ (Naomi Klein) – argues that democracy is not just in crisis, but that real democracy, inclusive and egalitarian, has never existed. Democracy May Not Exist but We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone (Verso) aims to re-examine what we mean by democracy, what we want from it, and understand why it is so hard to realize."]

Coded Bias Official Trailer from Shalini Kantayya on Vimeo.

Hunt, Aaron. "'Male Science Fiction Movies are About Men Having a Romance with Their A.I. Women': Shalini Kantayya on Coded Bias." Filmmaker (November 16, 2020)

Ivins, Laura. "Luminescent Poison: Bringing the Radium Girls to Life." A Place for Film (November 16, 2020) 

Lin, Ed. "This Side of Parasite: New Korean Cinema 1998–2009." The Current (November 2, 2020)

West, Stephen. "Robert Nozick - The Minimal State."  Philosophize This! #138 (January 21, 2020) ["Robert Nozick and the book of his we're going to be talking about today is titled Anarchy, State and Utopia. Now, just to give the following conversation a little preliminary structure...that title, Anarchy, State and Utopia is referencing the three major sections that the book is divided into. The first section would be Anarchy...where Nozick spends a considerable portion of time being understanding of the Anarchist's aversion to government, but ultimately making a case that they go too far. The middle portion of the book, State, has Nozick laying out the TYPE of state that HE thinks is best...and in the Utopia section is where he describes WHY his version of a state is the best...Utopia is a sort of tongue in cheek musing by Nozick..he by NO MEANS thinks his system is an actual Utopia...but he thinks it's FAR BETTER than other systems that have been tried and he argues for why he thinks that is.See, Nozick is not a fan of there being a BIG state, with a lot of responsibilities...he's not a fan of there being no what is he a fan of? How big should the government be and what exactly should it do? Nozick is a fan of what he would call "the minimal state". The best way to start understanding what he means by this is probably to contrast him with both the work of Rawls and the Anarchists of his time..."]

ENG 281 Fall 2020 (Rest of the semester: 1985 - 1999)

(under construction) 


Brazil (UK: Terry Gilliam, 1985) [Criterion: "In the dystopian masterpiece Brazil, Jonathan Pryce plays a daydreaming everyman who finds himself caught in the soul-crushing gears of a nightmarish bureaucracy. This cautionary tale by Terry Gilliam, one of the great films of the 1980s, has come to be esteemed alongside antitotalitarian works by the likes of George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. And in terms of set design, cinematography, music, and effects, Brazil is a nonstop dazzler." MB: Gilliam is a founding member of Monty Python and the visionary force behind their wild visual/animated effects. He brings his zany visual sensibility to one of the great films designed to get us to think about the dystopian nature of  unchecked bureaucratic absurdities, rigid elite stratification and a culture formed around propaganda.]

Ran (Japan: Akira Kurosawa, 1985) [Criterion: "With Ran, legendary director Akira Kurosawa reimagines Shakespeare's King Lear as a singular historical epic set in sixteenth-century Japan. Majestic in scope, the film is Kurosawa's late-life masterpiece, a profound examination of the folly of war and the crumbling of one family under the weight of betrayal, greed, and the insatiable thirst for power." MB: One of the all-time great directors adapts one of the best plays by one of the all-time great playwrights. Stunning visuals, incredible mobilization of large action scenes, impressive reworking of the play's themes into Japan's historical cultural setting.)


Blue Velvet (USA: David Lynch, 1986) [Criterion: "Home from college, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) makes an unsettling discovery: a severed human ear, lying in a field. In the mystery that follows, by turns terrifying and darkly funny, writer-director David Lynch burrows deep beneath the picturesque surfaces of small-town life. Driven to investigate, Jeffrey finds himself drawing closer to his fellow amateur sleuth, Sandy Williams (Laura Dern), as well as their person of interest, lounge singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini)—and facing the fury of Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), a psychopath who will stop at nothing to keep Dorothy in his grasp. With intense performances and hauntingly powerful scenes and images, Blue Velvet is an unforgettable vision of innocence lost, and one of the most influential American films of the past few decades." MB: A brilliant and disturbing look at the dark-side of small town America. Fueled by committed performances from the cast, infused with Lynch's surreal-dreamlike sensibilities and jammed packed with psycho-sexual themes. The coming-of-age, youthful attraction, small town bully/criminal, and junior-detective mystery story is irrevocably changed after this film. I had friends that watched this film so many times when it came out on video, they could quote entire scenes from memory.]  

Platoon (USA: Oliver Stone, 1986) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Informed by director Oliver Stone's personal experiences in Vietnam, Platoon forgoes easy sermonizing in favor of a harrowing, ground-level view of war, bolstered by no-holds-barred performances from Charlie Sheen and Willem Dafoe. Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) leaves his university studies to enlist in combat duty in Vietnam in 1967. Once he's on the ground in the middle of battle, his idealism fades. Infighting in his unit between Staff Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger), who believes nearby villagers are harboring Viet Cong soldiers, and Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe), who has a more sympathetic view of the locals, ends up pitting the soldiers against each other as well as against the enemy." MB:  A very engaging look at a young idealist's engagement and struggle with two charismatic, forceful (potential) mentor-guides while navigating the dangers of a war zone.  Good acting by all involved and an excellent soundtrack.]


Full Metal Jacket (USA: Stanley Kubrick, 1987) Rotten Tomatoes: "Intense, tightly constructed, and darkly comic at times ... Stanley Kubrick's take on the Vietnam War follows smart-aleck Private Davis (Matthew Modine), quickly christened "Joker" by his foul-mouthed drill sergeant (R. Lee Ermey), and pudgy Private Lawrence (Vincent D'Onofrio), nicknamed "Gomer Pyle," as they endure the rigors of basic training. Though Pyle takes a frightening detour, Joker graduates to the Marine Corps and is sent to Vietnam as a journalist, covering -- and eventually participating in -- the bloody Battle of Hué." MB: Stanley Kubrick, one of the all time great directors, takes a second look at the in/sanity of war (the first time was the excellent 1957 antiwar Paths of Glory ). It is a bicameral film, showing the unrelenting indoctrination of young draftees in the first part (R. Lee Ermey is so memorable he becomes the blueprint for future cinematic drill instructors) and the second part follows, from the first part, the military journalist Joker (Matthew Modine) as he goes deeper into the actual conflict between the Americans and Vietnamese. Kubrick has a savage, incisive eye for the absurdities of war and its effect on the participants (willing or not). The absurd inconsistencies of the American invasion and occupation of Vietnam is memorably represented by Joker's "Born to Kill" helmet and Peace symbol button.] 

Matewan (USA: John Sayles, 1987) [Criterion: "Written and directed by John Sayles, this wrenching historical drama recounts the true story of a West Virginia coal town where the local miners’ struggle to form a union rose to the pitch of all-out war in 1920. When Matewan’s miners go on strike, organizer Joe Kenehan (Chris Cooper, in his film debut) arrives to help them, uniting workers white and black, Appalachia-born and immigrant, while urging patience in the face of the coal company’s violent provocations. With a crackerjack ensemble cast—including James Earl Jones, David Strathairn, Mary McDonnell, and Will Oldham—and Oscar-nominated cinematography by Haskell Wexler, Matewan taps into a rich vein of Americana with painstaking attention to local texture, issuing an impassioned cry for justice that still resounds today." MB: A masterpiece: Sayle's powerful narrative about a workers struggle in the Appalachian region, for its portrayal of the way powerful business interests can work to divide workers along race (and the power of overcoming that ploy), for it portrayal of the ways in which people organize to resist powerful interests, and for its naturalistic depiction that made me feel like I had experienced that place & time. Great cast and acting!]

Raising Arizona (USA: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, 1987) [Rotten Tomatoes: "A terrifically original, eccentric screwball comedy, Raising Arizona may not be the Coens' most disciplined movie, but it's one of their most purely entertaining. An ex-con and an ex-cop meet, marry and long for a child of their own. When it is discovered that Hi is unable to have children they decide to snatch a baby. They try to keep their crime a secret, while friends, co-workers and a bounty hunter look to use the child for their own purposes." MB: One of my favorite comedies. A film that is able to contain and focus Nicholas Cage's over-the-top acting style is admirable enough, but Holly Hunter as Ed is simply amazing. The supporting cast, as is usual in a Coen's Brothers film, is excellent.]

Wings of Desire (West Germany: Wim Wenders, 1987) [Criterion: "Wings of Desire is one of cinema’s loveliest city symphonies. Bruno Ganz is Damiel, an angel perched atop buildings high over Berlin who can hear the thoughts—fears, hopes, dreams—of all the people living below. But when he falls in love with a beautiful trapeze artist, he is willing to give up his immortality and come back to earth to be with her. Made not long before the fall of the Berlin wall, this stunning tapestry of sounds and images, shot in black and white and color by the legendary Henri Alekan, is movie poetry. And it forever made the name Wim Wenders synonymous with film art." MB: I remember in grad school coming across this film in a video store right after I had watched his film Until the End of the World (1991), and like that film Wings of Desire transfixed me with its narrative, its meditative otherworldly story of angels watching over the lives of the citizens of Berlin, and its transcendent moments in which reality becomes just as unearthly as the world of angels. Also, a powerful love story in which one is confronted with how far would you go to be with the one you love?] 


Chocolat (France/Senegal: Claire Denis, 1988) [Rotten Tomatoes: "An affluent white woman named France (Mireille Perrier) returns to her childhood home in Cameroon after many years of living in France. While there, she reflects upon her youth. When she was growing up in the former French colony in the 1950s, her life was one of privilege, escape and ignorance. She bonded with an African servant named Protée (Isaach De Bankolé), even though she was unaware of the larger racial and social tensions stirring all around her." MB: This film would be great to watch while reading Isabel Wilkerson's new and important book Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents (2020). A subtle examination of these theories as played out in this place and time period. For a film about such a serious subject, it is dreamily beautiful in its portrayal of the place and peoples.  Claire Denis is one of my favorite filmmakers because of her sharp focus on "bodies in space" or, if you will, as a practitioner of embodied cinema.] 


Do the Right Thing (USA: Spike Lee, 1989) [Criterion: "Set on one block of Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy Do or Die neighborhood, at the height of summer, this 1989 masterpiece by Spike Lee confirmed him as a writer and filmmaker of peerless vision and passionate social engagement. Over the course of a single day, the easygoing interactions of a cast of unforgettable characters—Da Mayor, Mother Sister, Mister Señor Love Daddy, Tina, Sweet Dick Willie, Buggin Out, Radio Raheem, Sal, Pino, Vito, and Lee’s Mookie among them—give way to heated confrontations as tensions rise along racial fault lines, ultimately exploding into violence. Punctuated by the anthemic refrain of Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” Do the Right Thing is a landmark in American cinema, as politically and emotionally charged and as relevant now as when it first hit the big screen." MB: The Criterion description is perfect, this is one of the best films - story and technique - of the 20th Century.]


Goodfellas (USA: Martin Scorsese, 1990) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Hard-hitting and stylish, GoodFellas is a gangster classic -- and arguably the high point of Martin Scorsese's career. A young man grows up in the mob and works very hard to advance himself through the ranks. He enjoys his life of money and luxury, but is oblivious to the horror that he causes. A drug addiction and a few mistakes ultimately unravel his climb to the top. Based on the book "Wiseguy" by Nicholas Pileggi. MB: A masterpiece of the genre and filmmaking in general. The three main actors - Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci - embody the characters convincingly and the supporting cast is also top notch. Magnificent bravura long takes and a superb soundtrack. Where Coppola's The Godfather looked at gangsters through the ruling class Corleones, this film's perspective is through the street level gangsters whose lifestyles and lives are much more precarious (we could think of The Sopranos (1999 - 2007) as middle management).

Miller's Crossing (USA: Ethan Coen and Joel Cohen, 1990) [Rotten Tomatoes: "When the Italian Mafia threatens to kill a crooked bookie (John Turturro), Irish mob boss Leo O'Bannon (Albert Finney) refuses to allow it, chiefly because he's dating the bookie's sister, crafty gun moll Verna Bernbaum (Marcia Gay Harden). Leo's right-hand man, Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne), is also seeing Verna on the sly, and when he's found out is obliged to switch sides, going to work for the Italian mob amidst a dramatically escalating gang war over liquor distribution." MB: This is easily one of my favorite Coen Brothers films and Tom Reagan's machiavellian machinations are a wonder to behold. The dialogue is jaw-dropping and the style is breathtaking! Once again, an extremely talented ensemble cast cinches the excellence of this film. Tagline: "No one is who they seem to be"]


Boyz n the Hood (USA: John Singleton, 1991) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Well-acted and thematically rich, Boyz N the Hood observes Black America with far more depth and compassion than many of the like-minded films its success inspired. Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is sent to live with his father, Furious Styles (Larry Fishburne), in tough South Central Los Angeles. Although his hard-nosed father instills proper values and respect in him, and his devout girlfriend Brandi (Nia Long) teaches him about faith, Tre's friends Doughboy (Ice Cube) and Ricky (Morris Chestnut) don't have the same kind of support and are drawn into the neighborhood's booming drug and gang culture, with increasingly tragic results." Elvis Mitchell: "Boyz N the Hood implicitly indicts the Reaganite policies that turned South Central Los Angeles into a benighted zone worse off than Eastern Europe. Singleton chose the most straightforward story possible, told in an almost elegiac fashion. In this L.A. that he once called home, the despair is underscored by the continual pounding of chopper blades, reminding us that South Central is a virtual armed camp under perpetual patrol by the police. Teenaged Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), Singleton’s hero, wants nothing more than any other teenager—to hang with his homeys, clock the honeys and dream about a future. But unlike most other kids in the Land of Opportunity, his is a world where dreams are always brutally compromised. (1992)" MB: This film exploded on the cinematic landscape and became a much wider cultural phenomenon as the uprising in L.A. at the acquittal of police in a gang style beating of motorist Rodney King. Singleton set the bar high with his seminal film.] 

My Own Private Idaho (USA: Gus van Sant, 1991) [Criterion: "River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves star in this haunting tale from Gus Van Sant about two young street hustlers: Mike Waters, a sensitive narcoleptic who dreams of the mother who abandoned him, and Scott Favor, the wayward son of the mayor of Portland and the object of Mike’s desire. Navigating a volatile world of junkies, thieves, and johns, Mike takes Scott on a quest along the grungy streets and open highways of the Pacific Northwest, in search of an elusive place called home. Visually dazzling and thematically groundbreaking, My Own Private Idaho is a deeply moving look at unrequited love and life on society’s margins." MB: Inspired by both Shakespeare's play King Henry IV and Orson Welles 1967 film Chimes at Midnight, Gus van Sant's film became a touchstone for 90s queer cinema (name checked in John Cameron Mitchell's 2006 film  Shortbus) and got greater exposure for the time because of the two lead actors.]

The Silence of the Lambs (USA: Jonathan Demme, 1991) [Criterion: "In this chilling adaptation of the best-selling novel by Thomas Harris, the astonishingly versatile director Jonathan Demme crafted a taut psychological thriller about an American obsession: serial murder. As Clarice Starling, an FBI trainee who enlists the help of the infamous Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter to gain insight into the mind of another killer, Jodie Foster subverts classic gender dynamics and gives one of the most memorable performances of her career. As her foil, Anthony Hopkins is the archetypal antihero—cultured, quick-witted, and savagely murderous—delivering a harrowing portrait of humanity gone terribly wrong. A gripping police procedural and a disquieting immersion into a twisted psyche, The Silence of the Lambs swept the Academy Awards® (best picture, director, screenplay, actress, actor) and remains a cultural touchstone." MB: This excellent film with Jodie Foster's great, strong female protagonist, is hijacked by Anthony Hopkin's embodiment of the super-intelligent serial killer that treats others as disposal (or in this case, consumable). Set off a series of sequels focused on Hannibal and a recent successful Netflix TV series Hannibal. This film came out at the beginning of the 90s burgeoning cultural obsession with serial killers, unleashing a glut of novels, true-crime books & TV, and cinematic depictions, that have not abated to this day.]   


Candyman (USA: Bernard Rose, 1992) [Shout! Factory: "This gut-wrenching thriller follows a graduate student whose research summons the spirit of the dead! When Helen Lyle hears about Candyman, a slave spirit with a hook hand who is said to haunt a notorious housing project, she thinks she has a new twist for her thesis. Braving the gang-ridden territory to visit the site, Helen arrogantly assumes Candyman can't really exist ... until he appears, igniting a string of terrifying, grisly slayings. But the police don't believe in monsters, and charge Helen with the crimes. And the only one who can set her free is Candyman." MB: Brilliantly set in the style of the notorious Chicago Cabrini Green housing projects the film already achieves a spookiness well before we enter the actual plot. Then when you factor in the subtext of America's terrifying racist history into the Candyman's origin, we know that Lyle's research is bound to unearth some terrifying realities. Adapted from horror writer Clive Barker's short story "The Forbidden" from his legendary six volume Books of Blood (1984-1985). There is a completed remake that was held back from release because of the pandemic and now due for release in 2021 - it looks great! The recent documentary Horror Noire (2019) situates this film as a important landmark for black horror fans.]

Orlando (UK/Russia/Italy/France/Netherlands: Sally Potter, 1992) [Amazon DVD description: "Tilda Swinton, Billy Zane and Quentin Crisp star in this "hip, sexy and wickedly funny" film based on the gender-bending novel by Virginia Woolf. Swinton stars as Orlando, an English nobleman who defies the law of nature with surprising results. Immortal and highly imaginative, he undergoes a series of extraordinary transformations which humorously and hauntingly illustrate the eternal war between the sexes. Visually stunning and beautifully acted, ORLANDO is an intoxicating blend of romance, adventure and illusion." MB: As stated above, this is based on Virginia Woolf's 1928 novel: "Considered a feminist classic, the book has been written about extensively by scholars of women's writing and gender and transgender studies." In philosophy there is a debate of being vs becoming, this is a masterpiece of the representation of becoming.]

Unforgiven (USA: Clint Eastwood, 1992) [Rotten Tomatoes: "As both director and star, Clint Eastwood strips away decades of Hollywood varnish applied to the Wild West, and emerges with a series of harshly eloquent statements about the nature of violence. When prostitute Delilah Fitzgerald (Anna Thomson) is disfigured by a pair of cowboys in Big Whiskey, Wyoming, her fellow brothel workers post a reward for their murder, much to the displeasure of sheriff Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman), who doesn't allow vigilantism in his town. Two groups of gunfighters, one led by aging former bandit William Munny (Clint Eastwood), the other by the florid English Bob (Richard Harris), come to collect the reward, clashing with each other and the sheriff." MB: In an incredibly long career, working both as an actor and later a director/producer, this film can lay a claim as his best work. It is also a landmark in the Western genre.] 


Dazed and Confused (USA: Richard Linklater, 1993) [Criterion: "America, 1976. The last day of school. Bongs blaze, bell-bottoms ring, and rock and roll rocks. Among the best teen films ever made, Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused eavesdrops on a group of seniors-to-be and incoming freshmen. A launching pad for a number of future stars, Linklater’s first studio effort also features endlessly quotable dialogue and a blasting, stadium-ready soundtrack. Sidestepping nostalgia, Dazed and Confused is less about “the best years of our lives” than the boredom, angst, and excitement of teenagers waiting . . . for something to happen." MB: In the time period that this film is set I would have been on the precipice of starting Junior High School (7th grade) and this film completely nails the culture, the aesthetics/style & the attitudes of the era (even though Linklater was in Huntsville, TX and I was in San Diego, CA). It should be no surprise that I adore this film as a snapshot of my youth! I think I'm going to have to take a trip down memory lane and watch it again tonight. If you write a response to this, let me know if there is a film that serves as a generational marker for you.] 

The Piano (Australia/New Zealand: Jane Campion, 1993) [The first lines of this powerful film: Ada: The voice you hear is not my speaking voice - -but my mind's voice. I have not spoken since I was six years old. No one knows why - -not even me. My father says it is a dark talent, and the day I take it into my head to stop breathing will be my last. Today he married me to a man I have not yet met. Soon my daughter and I shall join him in his own country. My husband writes that my muteness does not bother him - and hark this! He says, "God loves dumb creatures, so why not I?" '... Rotten Tomatoes: "The Piano is a truth-seeking romance played in the key of erotic passion. After a long voyage from Scotland, pianist Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter) and her young daughter, Flora (Anna Paquin), are left with all their belongings, including a piano, on a New Zealand beach. Ada, who has been mute since childhood, has been sold into marriage to a local man named Alisdair Stewart (Sam Neill). Making little attempt to warm up to Alisdair, Ada soon becomes intrigued by his Maori-friendly acquaintance, George Baines (Harvey Keitel), leading to tense, life-altering conflicts." MB: This film is centered around the stunning performance of Holly Hunter as Ada, who although mute, communicates so much. The other actors are also very effective, most notably a 11 year old Anna Paquin, for which she won a Best-Supporting Actress award. You may know Paquin in a later role as Sookie Stackhouse in HBO's True Blood (2008 - 2014). The relationship of people and the environment, the colonizer and the colonized, and the dynamics of interpersonal relationships are also strong themes in this beautifully shot film! To top it off, at least for me, this is a touchstone feminist film.]


Pulp Fiction (USA: John Travolta, 1994) [Rotten Tomatoes: "One of the most influential films of the 1990s, Pulp Fiction is a delirious post-modern mix of neo-noir thrills, pitch-black humor, and pop-culture touchstones. Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) are hitmen with a penchant for philosophical discussions. In this ultra-hip, multi-strand crime movie, their storyline is interwoven with those of their boss, gangster Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) ; his actress wife, Mia (Uma Thurman) ; struggling boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) ; master fixer Winston Wolfe (Harvey Keitel) and a nervous pair of armed robbers, "Pumpkin" (Tim Roth) and "Honey Bunny" (Amanda Plummer)." MB: Innovative narrative structure, complex dialogue/delivery, well-drawn characters, a scintillating soundtrack and seriously strange set-pieces. Despite all of that it is amazingly accessible and engaging, as long as you are comfortable with the darker aspects of the plot. Renewed John Travolta's career, made a star/celebrity of Samuel Jackson, and features an extremely talented ensemble cast. Hugely influential as a ceaseless spawn of films sought to imitate this film throughout the 90s onward. I remember seeing this in a sold out theater in Central Illinois as an undergraduate and running into one of my favorite English professors outside afterward. He looked at me with a troubled expression and asked me "Are there people like the characters in the film?" I don't think he was satisfied with my answer that they may be fictional, but there are ... Vincent Vega: "You see, this is a moral test of one's self." Check out the trailer, you will know immediately if you want to see it.]

Queen Margot (Canada: Patrice Chéreau, 1994)  [Rotten Tomatoes: "Margot (Isabelle Adjani) is one of several in line to inherit the crown in France, where Roman Catholics and Protestants are jockeying for power. Margot's mother, Catherine de Medici (Virna Lisi), is intent on seeing her son take the throne once the reign of King Charles IX (Jean-Hugues Anglade) ends. After being married to a man she doesn't love and starting a tryst with one she does, Margot contends with her mother's at-all-costs plan to control the political fate of the volatile country." MB: This was my favorite film that we watched in my French Film Studies course as a MA at Bowling Green State University. It is an incredibly rich and vivid portrayal of the tumultuous society of 16th Century France. For me, the exciting narrative, the rich mise-en-scene, and the great acting, makes this a film I return to from time-to-time. The lead actress Isabelle Adjani was my third cinematic crush (after Maya Deren and Louise Brooks). The intertwining of intense political-court intrigue with seriously hot romance and quickly-shifting alliances makes this a feverish film - I feel a flush just thinking about it.] 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Dialogic Cinephilia - November 17, 2020

Bejan, Teresa. "On Free Speech, Tolerance and Civility." Mindscape #116 (September 28, 2020) ["How can, and should, we talk to each other, especially to people with whom we disagree? “Free speech” is rightfully entrenched as an important value in liberal democratic societies, but implementing it consistently and fairly is a tricky business. Political theorist Teresa Bejan comes to this question from a philosophical and historical perspective, managing to relate broad principles to modern hot-button issues. We talk about the importance of tolerating disreputable beliefs, the senses in which speech acts can be harmful, and how “civility” places demands on listeners as well as speakers."]

Haber, Jonathan. "Critical Thinking (MIT Press, 2020)." New Books in Education (September 15, 2020) ["In this episode, I speak with fellow New Books in Education host, Jonathan Haber, about his book, Critical Thinking (The MIT Press, 2020). This book explains the widely-discussed but often ill-defined concept of critical thinking, including its history and role in a democratic society. We discuss the important role critical thinking plays in making decisions and communicating our ideas to others as well as the most effective ways teachers can help their students become critical thinkers."]

Juan, Eric San. "The Films of Martin Scorsese: Gangsters, Greed, and Guilt (ROWMAN AND LITTLEFIELD 2020)." New Books in Film (October 20, 2020) ["Few mainstream filmmakers have as pronounced a disregard for the supposed rules of filmmaking as Martin Scorsese. His inventiveness displays a reaction against the “right” way to make a movie, frequently eschewing traditional cinematic language in favor of something flashy, unexpected and contrary to the way “proper” films are done. Yet despite this, he’s become one of the most influential directors of the last fifty years, a critical darling (though rarely a box office titan), and a fan favorite. In this book, Eric San Juan guides readers through the crooks, the mobsters, the loners, the moguls, and the nobodies of Scorsese's 26-movie filmography. The Films of Martin Scorsese: Gangsters, Greed, and Guilt (Rowman and Littlefield, 2020) examines the techniques that have made him one of the most innovative directors in history. The book further looks at the themes that are the engine driving all of this, including themes of self-sabotage, alienation, faith, and guilt. Eric San Juan has written a number of books, including one on Akira Kurosawa and co-authored two books on the films of Alfred Hitchcock."]

Peters, John Durham. "Promiscuous Knowledge: Information, Image, and Other Truth Games in History (University of Chicago Press, 2020)." New Books in Communications (November 5, 2020) ["Sergey Brin, a cofounder of Google, once compared the perfect search engine to “the mind of God.” As the modern face of promiscuous knowledge, however, Google’s divine omniscience traffics in news, maps, weather, and porn indifferently. Promiscuous Knowledge: Information, Image, and Other Truth Games in History (U Chicago Press, 2020), begun by the late Kenneth Cmiel and completed by his close friend John Durham Peters, provides a genealogy of the information age from its early origins up to the reign of Google. It examines how we think about fact, image, and knowledge, centering on the different ways that claims of truth are complicated when they pass to a larger public. To explore these ideas, Cmiel and Peters focus on three main periods—the late nineteenth century, 1925 to 1945, and 1975 to 2000, with constant reference to the present. Cmiel’s original text examines the growing gulf between politics and aesthetics in postmodern architecture, the distancing of images from everyday life in magical realist cinema, the waning support for national betterment through taxation, and the inability of a single presentational strategy to contain the social whole. Peters brings Cmiel’s study into the present moment, providing the backstory to current controversies about the slipperiness of facts in a digital age. A hybrid work from two innovative thinkers, Promiscuous Knowledge enlightens our understanding of the internet and the profuse visual culture of our time."]

Reinhard, Fabian. "Liminality in a Microcosm: “California Dreaming" in Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express (1994)." Senses of Cinema #95 (July 2020)

Rodrigues, Elias. "Another Country: A new volume explores the hidden history of Black Power." The Baffler #52 (July 2020) ["By focusing on the changes in New Afrikan lives, Onaci foregoes the well-laid path of histories of the Black Power movement focused on leaders like Huey Newton and Stokely Carmichael. As political scientist Cedric Robinson argued in The Terms of Order and as literary critic Erica Edwards did in Charisma and the Fictions of Black Leadership, African American politics tends to be understood in terms of charismatic male leaders, like Martin Luther King Jr. The result is that the many people who make up a movement tend to be forgotten. Black feminist historians like Robyn Spencer, Donna Murch, and Ashley D. Farmer have worked against this erasure by recovering the narratives of many people, and especially the many women, who constituted the movement. Following their lead, Onaci turns to the New Afrikans themselves, finding that the RNA’s roots lay in stories of slavery that they read about or heard from their elders. New Afrikan Marilyn Killingham, for instance, learned to resist racism and sexism from tales of violence that she heard from her great-grandmother, who was enslaved until the age of sixteen. The stories passed down across generations that Onaci brings to the surface demonstrate that the Black Power movement was shaped as much by charismatic leaders as it was by local efforts to make better lives that drew on the knowledge of the (orally preserved) long black tradition of resistance. Free the Land, ultimately, demonstrates that even when politics seems to be about something as traditional as acquiring land, it is also about the unseen labor of building a movement and about the transformation of the lives of its constituents."]

Trnka, Alexandra. "Domestic Gestures: Revisiting Jeanne Dielman in Social Isolation." Senses of Cinema #95 (July 2020) 

Villela, Fiona. "Film in the Age of COVID." Senses of Cinema #95 (July 2020) [On Ingmar Bergman's 1960 Virgin Spring and Ari Aster's 2019 Midsommar)

Friday, November 13, 2020

ENG 281 Fall 2020 (Week 9: 1982 - 1984)

 The World in 1982:

Film in 1982:

Blade Runner  (USA: Ridley Scott, 1982) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Misunderstood when it first hit theaters, the influence of Ridley Scott's mysterious, neo-noir Blade Runner has deepened with time. A visually remarkable, achingly human sci-fi masterpiece. Deckard (Harrison Ford) is forced by the police Boss (M. Emmet Walsh) to continue his old job as Replicant Hunter. His assignment: eliminate four escaped Replicants from the colonies who have returned to Earth. Before starting the job, Deckard goes to the Tyrell Corporation and he meets Rachel (Sean Young), a Replicant girl he falls in love with." MB: I am a huge SF nerd, but I have demands for the genre that are rarely met. This film exceeds my desire for intelligent SF that pushes us to think about the human condition in new and profound ways. The source novel Philip K. Dick's  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) is a masterpiece and a great example of how he uses his fiction to question how we perceive our realities (and how some try to control our varying perceptions). Ridley Scott pulls off the impossible and makes an imagistic narrative that equals the book's power without losing the story. The noirish visual aesthetic was so powerful, it influenced generations of future filmmakers and entered into the DNA of the SF genre.  The recent surprise sequel Blade Runner 2049 (2017) is also worth checking out and if you watch the first, you are welcome to watch the second and write a response. There are five versions of the 1982 film, I would recommend the Director Cut or Final Cut. I would classify this film as a great philosophical film on "what it means to be human."]

The Draughtsman's Contract (UK: Peter Greenaway, 1982) [BFI: "Peter Greenaway became a director of international status with this witty, stylised, erotic country house murder mystery. In an apparently idyllic 17th century Wiltshire, an ambitious draughtsman is commissioned by the wife of an aristocrat to produce twelve drawings of her husband's estate and negotiates terms to include sexual favours from his employer. But when a corpse is dragged from the moat, the draughtsman's drawings may reveal more than he realised. Extravagant costumes, a twisting plot, elegantly barbed dialogue and a mesmerising score by Michael Nyman make the film a treat for ear, eye and mind. Peter Greenaway, who worked closely with the BFI for the release of this DVD and who has written the sleeve notes, comments: "Should an artist draw what he sees or draw what he knows? Sight and knowledge are not at all the same thing. Seeing and believing. Just because you have eyes does not mean you can see." MB: Peter Greenaway brings his practice of and fascination with art to the forefront of this delicious period drama/mystery. Brilliant set pieces and witty dialogue.]

Fitzcarraldo (West Germany/Peru: Werner Herzog, 1982)  [Rotten Tomatoes: "With a production as audacious as the feat it's depicting, Fitzcarraldo comes by its awe-inspiring spectacle honestly, even when it declines to examine the darker implications of its hero's dream. Opera-loving European Brian Fitzgerald (Klaus Kinski) lives in a small Peruvian city. Better known as Fitzcarraldo, this foreigner is obsessed with building an opera house in his town and decides that to make his dream a reality he needs to make a killing in the rubber business. In order to become a successful rubber baron, Fitzcarraldo hatches an elaborate plan that calls for a particularly impressive feat -- bringing a massive boat over a mountain with the help of a band of natives." MB: Herzog is a person who tries to live his ambitions out fully and to make this film he decided to actually carry a full size ship over a jungle mountain. Legendary film for that feat alone. The making of the film was documented in the 1982 documentary Burden of Dreams .]

Forbidden Zone (USA: Richard Elfman, 1982) ["Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo tour the kinky realm of little King Fausto (Herve Villechaize) and his queen (Susan Tyrrell)." MB: Yes, that Oingo Boingo, this film is not high art, or even in good taste, but it is infused with crazy energy, wild creativity, and an insane narrative. It grew out of the experiemental theatrical troupe that led to the formation of the band. A true cult film! It was a huge hit when I screened it for the Cult Film Series at Al's Bar. Caveat: Definitely a product of its time and it uses some stereotypical imagery - it seems that these are inspired by the underground comics of the 1960s. Tagline: "Keep telling yourself, it is only a movie."]

The Thing (USA: John Carpenter, 1982) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Grimmer and more terrifying than the 1950s take, John Carpenter's The Thing is a tense sci-fi thriller rife with compelling tension and some remarkable make-up effects. In remote Antarctica, a group of American research scientists are disturbed at their base camp by a helicopter shooting at a sled dog. When they take in the dog, it brutally attacks both human beings and canines in the camp and they discover that the beast can assume the shape of its victims. A resourceful helicopter pilot (Kurt Russell) and the camp doctor (Richard Dysart) lead the camp crew in a desperate, gory battle against the vicious creature before it picks them all off, one by one." MB: One of the greatest body horror films of all time. When I saw this in my sold out local theater as a 17 year old with a dozen friends I was still terrified and at times the intensity made me feel like my face was melting ;) Groundbreaking special effects for the time that I think still hold up (although I may be too biased). Also one of the great existential films. Remade in the 21st Century, but I never checked it out because I would only be disappointed. Tagline: "Man is the warmest place to hide."]

Born in Flames (USA: Lizzie Borden, 1983) [Criterion: "The film that rocked the foundations of the 1980s underground, this postpunk provocation is a DIY fantasia of female rebellion set in America ten years after a social-democratic cultural revolution. When Adelaide Norris (Jean Satterfield), the black revolutionary founder of the Woman’s Army, is mysteriously killed, a diverse coalition of women—across all lines of race, class, and sexual orientation—emerges to blow the system apart. Filmed guerrilla style on the streets of pre-gentrification New York, BORN IN FLAMES is a Molotov cocktail of feminist futurism that’s both an essential document of its time and radically ahead of it." MB: Filmed as if it is a documentary cover the action and activities of the participants in the female rebellion. I found it fascinating, challenging and important. As recent events during the Trump administration have demonstrated, this is just as important now.]

The Outsiders (USA: Francis Ford Coppola, 1983) [Rotten Tomatoes: "A teen gang in rural Oklahoma, the Greasers are perpetually at odds with the Socials, a rival group. When Greasers Ponyboy (C. Thomas Howell) and Johnny (Ralph Macchio) get into a brawl that ends in the death of a Social member, the boys are forced to go into hiding. Soon Ponyboy and Johnny, along with the intense Dallas (Matt Dillon) and their other Greaser buddies, must contend with the consequences of their violent lives. While some Greasers try to achieve redemption, others meet tragic ends." MB: Based upon S.E. Hinton's beloved young adult novel of the same name written when she was junior in high school. I read the book twice as a youth and it informed the thinking of a few friends (the stratified groups of Socs and Greasers). We clearly knew which group we would belong to. An entertaining adaptation full of future film stars at the beginning of their careers.]

Scarface (USA: Brian De Palma, 1983) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Director Brian De Palma and star Al Pacino take it to the limit in this stylized, ultra-violent and eminently quotable gangster epic that walks a thin white line between moral drama and celebratory excess. After getting a green card in exchange for assassinating a Cuban government official, Tony Montana (Al Pacino) stakes a claim on the drug trade in Miami. Viciously murdering anyone who stands in his way, Tony eventually becomes the biggest drug lord in the state, controlling nearly all the cocaine that comes through Miami. But increased pressure from the police, wars with Colombian drug cartels and his own drug-fueled paranoia serve to fuel the flames of his eventual downfall." MB: One of the best 20th Century gangster films, written by Oliver Stone, the film seems to be a loud howl at the excesses of Reagan-era America's rapacious re-interpretation of the American Dream. Unfortunately a film like this that is so intense and over-the-top can instead inspire others to fetishize and aspire to be just like Tony Montana.]

Suburbia (USA: Penelope Spheeris, 1983) [Rotten Tomatoes: "An overwhelming sense of despair impels a teenager to leave his suburban home and join up with a group of punk rockers. Nathan Rabin: "It still shows enormous empathy and sensitivity in capturing the angst and alienation of American youth, making it seem both rooted in a specific time and place and strangely timeless." Geoff Andrew: "A justifiably angry film, fast and full of violent action, though there's plenty of humour too; and the lack of originality is amply compensated for by its manifest sincerity." MB: Directed by Penelope Spheeris who made the punk documentary Decline of the Western Civilization (1981) so we know she is working from a place of experiential knowledge about these disaffected & alienated punk street kids. Not all that far from what I was experiencing as an 18 year old.]

Videodrome (Canada: David Cronenberg, 1983) [Criterion: "When Max Renn goes looking for edgy new shows for his sleazy cable TV station, he stumbles across the pirate broadcast of a hyperviolent torture show called Videodrome. As he struggles to unearth the origins of the program, he embarks on a hallucinatory journey into a shadow world of right-wing conspiracies, sadomasochistic sex games, and bodily transformation. Starring James Woods and Deborah Harry in one of her first film roles, Videodrome is one of writer/director David Cronenberg’s most original and provocative works, fusing social commentary with shocking elements of sex and violence. With groundbreaking special effects makeup by Academy Award®-winner Rick Baker, Videodrome has come to be regarded as one of the most influential and mind-bending science fiction films of the 1980s." MB: Another provocative and disturbing body horror film that looks at how mediated technology (in this case video/tv, but we could easily think of social media now) can affect both our physical and psychic well-being, if not completely transform both. Truly radical in its implications, the provocative psycho-sexual aspects of this film are also pertinent to a contemporary society chained to their devices and increasingly reliant on technology for a large part of their social lives. To add to the affect on my 18 year old brain when I saw it in the theaters, the film featured Debbie Harry, who as the singer of Blondie, was a sex symbol for my generation.]

A Nightmare on Elm Street (USA: Wes Craven, 1984) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Wes Craven's intelligent premise, combined with the horrifying visual appearance of Freddy Krueger, still causes nightmares to this day. In Wes Craven's classic slasher film, several Midwestern teenagers fall prey to Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), a disfigured midnight mangler who preys on the teenagers in their dreams -- which, in turn, kills them in reality. After investigating the phenomenon, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) begins to suspect that a dark secret kept by her and her friends' parents may be the key to unraveling the mystery, but can Nancy and her boyfriend Glen (Johnny Depp) solve the puzzle before it's too late?" MB: I first saw this when I walked out of a terrible film and slipped blindly into a neighboring screening room and this was playing right at this moment - quite a dramatic introduction to the soon-to-be-iconic Freddy Krueger. This film spawned an industry of sequels and reboots.]

Blood Simple (USA: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 1984) [Criterion: "Joel and Ethan Coen’s career-long darkly comic road trip through misfit America began with this razor-sharp, hard-boiled neonoir set somewhere in Texas, where a sleazy bar owner releases a torrent of violence with one murderous thought. Actor M. Emmet Walsh looms over the proceedings as a slippery private eye with a yellow suit, a cowboy hat, and no moral compass, and Frances McDormand’s cunning debut performance set her on the road to stardom. The tight scripting and inventive style that have marked the Coens’ work for decades are all here in their first film, in which cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld abandons black-and-white chiaroscuro for neon signs and jukebox colors that combine with Carter Burwell’s haunting score to lurid and thrilling effect. Blending elements from pulp fiction and low-budget horror flicks, Blood Simple reinvented the film noir for a new generation, marking the arrival of a filmmaking ensemble that would transform the American independent cinema scene." MB: Perfect description, I agree completely! The Coen Brothers are master storytellers and they always have benefited from brilliant performances (as they do in this film).]

The Company of Wolves (UK: Neil Jordan, 1984) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Wolves and werewolves lurk throughout the dreams of young Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson), who imagines that she must journey through a dark forest to live with her grandmother (Angela Lansbury). When Rosaleen meets a rugged hunter in the woods, she discovers that she has an animal-like attraction to him, leading to a macabre turn of events. The lupine-centric film also features stories within the main tale, told by both Rosaleen and her grandma, all of which have a supernatural bent." MB: Neil Jordan's film is adapted from Angela Carter's subversive collection of short stories The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979) that reinterpret and re-conceive the common tropes of Western fantasy tales centering around feminine coming-of-age and sexuality. The structure of the film is made to replicate that of a loosely themed short story collection.]

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Japan: Hiyao Miyazaki, 1984) ["Far in the future, after an apocalyptic conflict has devastated much of the world's ecosystem, the few surviving humans live in scattered semi-hospitable environments within what has become a "toxic jungle." Young Nausicaä lives in the arid Valley of the Wind and can communicate with the massive insects that populate the dangerous jungle. Under the guidance of the pensive veteran warrior, Lord Yupa, Nausicaä works to bring peace back to the ravaged planet." MB: Early Miyazaki animated feature in which we can see his primary themes of environmentalism/animism, strong/courageous young female characters, fantastical elements in the struggle between nature & civilization (chaos & order), mythic creatures and meditations on causes/effects of peace & conflict.]

Repo Man (USA: Alex Cox, 1984) [Criterion: "A quintessential cult film of the 1980s, Alex Cox’s singular sci-fi comedy stars the always captivating Harry Dean Stanton as a weathered repo man in a desolate Los Angeles, and Emilio Estevez as the nihilistic middle-class punk he takes under his wing. The job becomes more than either of them bargained for when they get involved in repossessing a mysterious—and otherworldly—Chevy Malibu with a hefty reward attached to it. Featuring the ultimate early eighties L.A. punk soundtrack, this grungily hilarious odyssey is also a politically trenchant take on President Reagan’s domestic and foreign policies." MB: Alex Cox makes the ultimate punk film in this genre mash-up loaded with good music and quotable dialogue!]

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Dialogic Cinephilia - November 11, 2019

"‘A History of Violence’: David Cronenberg’s Superb Study of the Basic Impulses that Drive Humanity." Cinephilia and Beyond (ND)

Deibler, Emily. "The Sublime's Effects in Gothic Fiction." The Artifice (December 29, 2015)

Garrett, Laurie. "As U.S. Faces Out-of-Control Pandemic, Pfizer Raises Hope for Vaccine, But Many Questions Remain." Democracy Now (November 10, 2020) ["Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has announced that a Phase 3, late-stage study found their potential COVID-19 vaccine showed more than 90% effectiveness. The two-dose vaccine still faces several challenges, including how to store and transport it, since it must be refrigerated at subzero temperatures. Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist Laurie Garrett says the news is hopeful, but urges caution. “There’s been no scientific release. There’s no published data,” she says. “We don’t have anything to go with except what the lawyers at Pfizer massaged carefully into a single-page press release. So, we have to take that with a big caveat.”"]

Gellman, Barton. " Dark Mirror: Edward Snowden and the American Surveillance State." Longform (October 14, 2020) ["Barton Gellman is a staff writer for The Atlantic and was previously a Pulitzer-winning reporter at The Washington Post. His latest book is Dark Mirror: Edward Snowden and the American Surveillance State and his latest essay is 'The Election That Could Break America.'"]

Hudson, David. "Garrett Bradley's Time." The Current (October 8, 2020)

---. "Yulene Olaizola’s Tragic Jungle." The Current (October 6, 2020)

Shafizadeh, Nafis. "Reagan at the Movies: Make My Day: Movie Culture in the Age of Reagan, by J. Hoberman." Senses of Cinema #95 (July 2020)

Noisecat, Julian Brave. "How Indigenous Filmmakers Are Shaping the Future of Cinema." Aperture (October 6, 2020)

Thursday, November 5, 2020

ENG 281 Fall 2020 (Week 8: 1978 - 1981)

 The World in 1978:

Film in 1978:

Animal House (USA: John Landis, 1978) [Rotten Tomatoes: "The talents of director John Landis and Saturday Night Live's irrepressible John Belushi conspired to create a rambunctious, subversive college comedy that continues to resonate. The talents of director John Landis and Saturday Night Live's irrepressible John Belushi conspired to create a rambunctious, subversive college comedy that continues to resonate." MB: A legendary, raunchy college comedy that set the benchmark for this genre and as far as I know still rules it. The actors all truly inhabit their roles in a way that should be admired even if they are not reaching for the typical thespian heights of high drama. As a working class kid that was rarely talked to about possibly going to college, when I saw it in a theater at 13 it was probably the first time I thought that maybe I should go to college ;) The class warfare of the university administration protected elite frats on the outcasts of Delta House, who then respond with even more fury, certainly spoke to me. As during this year I would lose my religion, start developing an anti-authoritarian attitude, and was going through puberty, it no doubt played a role in my attitude. I have seen this many times!] 

Blue Collar (USA: Paul Schraeder, 1978) [Roger Ebert: "It is an angry, radical movie about the vise that traps workers between big industry and big labor. It's also an enormously entertaining movie." Rotten Tomatoes: "When Detroit autoworkers Zeke Brown (Richard Pryor), Jerry Bartowski (Harvey Keitel) and Smokey James (Yaphet Kotto) decide to rob their own union, they are initially disappointed by the relatively small haul. However, upon closer inspection, the three amateur thieves discover that they have made off with something potentially much more valuable than money: the union's ledger, filled with bogus figures and links to organized crime. Should they blackmail the union or go to the authorities?" MB: Great tagline: "The American Dream, if you are rich you can buy it, if you are anything else you have to fight for it."]

Days of Heaven (USA: Terence Malick, 1978) [Criterion: "One-of-a-kind filmmaker-philosopher Terrence Malick has created some of the most visually arresting films of the twentieth century, and his glorious period tragedy Days of Heaven, featuring Oscar-winning cinematography by Nestor Almendros, stands out among them. In 1910, a Chicago steelworker (Richard Gere) accidentally kills his supervisor, and he, his girlfriend (Brooke Adams), and his little sister (Linda Manz) flee to the Texas panhandle, where they find work harvesting wheat in the fields of a stoic farmer (Sam Shepard). A love triangle, a swarm of locusts, a hellish fire—Malick captures it all with dreamlike authenticity, creating a timeless American idyll that is also a gritty evocation of turn-of-the-century labor." MB: Brilliant use of the golden hour to create painterly landscape scenery and to portray the rhythms of collective labor.]

The Deer Hunter (USA: Michael Cimino, 1978) [Rotten Tomatoes: "In 1968, Michael (Robert De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken) and Steven (John Savage), lifelong friends from a working-class Pennsylvania steel town, prepare to ship out overseas following Steven's elaborate wedding and one final group hunting trip. In Vietnam, their dreams of military honor are quickly shattered by the inhumanities of war; even those who survive are haunted by the experience, as is Nick's hometown sweetheart, Linda (Meryl Streep)." Ed Travis: "The depiction of Vietnam, and then the subsequent aftermath in the third act of the film, is more potent and visceral because we feel the impact of the war on an entire community, not just on the three men we follow there." MB: Michael Cimino's film, along with Apocalypse Now (1979), singled a changing viewpoint about the American empire's war on Vietnam.]

Halloween (USA: John Carpenter, 1978) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Scary, suspenseful, and viscerally thrilling, Halloween set the standard for modern horror films. On a cold Halloween night in 1963, six year old Michael Myers brutally murdered his 17-year-old sister, Judith. He was sentenced and locked away for 15 years. But on October 30, 1978, while being transferred for a court date, a 21-year-old Michael Myers steals a car and escapes Smith's Grove. He returns to his quiet hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, where he looks for his next victims." MB: This film scared me senseless as a 13 yr old, and it still gets to me. For me the most horrific part is the beginning and the rest of the cruelties/horrors are ripples of that initial misogynistic violence. A low-budget, sleeper hit, it made back a phenomenal 100 times its original budget of $500,000. It initiated a hugely successful series and countless imitators with diminishing returns and then was rebooted in the 21st Century by horror/shock rocker and director Rob Zombie (I haven't seen them). The soundtrack is very effective, when I was a teenager if someone imitated the musical refrain while we were walking at night it would freak people out.]

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (USA: Philip Kaufman, 1978) [Criterion: "A classic of 1950s science fiction receives a terrifying update for the paranoid, disillusioned 1970s in one of the rare remakes to bring new dimension to the original. One by one, the residents of San Francisco are becoming dronelike shadows of their former selves. As the phenomenon spreads, two Department of Health workers, Matthew (Donald Sutherland) and Elizabeth (Brooke Adams), uncover the horrifying truth: mysterious pods are cloning humans and destroying the originals. The otherworldly invasion grows with each passing minute, hurling Matthew and Elizabeth into a desperate race to save not only their own lives but all of humanity." MB: Seriously creeped me out when I saw it in the theater and I preferred it to the original (which is good in its own right), probably because of its contemporaneity.]

Up in Smoke (USA: Lou Adler, 1978) [Rotten Tomatoes: "An unemployed pot-smoking slacker and amateur drummer, Anthony Stoner (Tommy Chong) ditches his strict parents and hits the road, eventually meeting kindred spirit Pedro de Pacas (Cheech Marin). While the drug-ingesting duo is soon arrested for possession of marijuana, Anthony and Pedro get released on a technicality, allowing them to continue their many misadventures and ultimately compete in a rock band contest, where they perform the raucous tune "Earache My Eye."" MB: This comedic duo were literally like rock stars and beloved by stoners everywhere (my parents had two albums and they were not stoners). They were at the height of their fame when this came out after four gold record comedy albums. One of the greatest "stoner comedies" and a riotous road trip film.  Stacy Keach as Narcotics Officer Sergeant Stedenko is perfection.  When I saw it in the theater on release, I immediately bought the album afterward and played it endlessly. Their song "Lost Due to Incompetence" should be the official song for 2020.]

Film in 1979:

Alien (USA: Ridley Scott, 1979) [Rotten Tomatoes: "A modern classic, Alien blends science fiction, horror and bleak poetry into a seamless whole. In deep space, the crew of the commercial starship Nostromo is awakened from their cryo-sleep capsules halfway through their journey home to investigate a distress call from an alien vessel. The terror begins when the crew encounters a nest of eggs inside the alien ship. An organism from inside an egg leaps out and attaches itself to one of the crew, causing him to fall into a coma." MB: "In space no one can hear you scream." A SF film on the surface, it is also one of the most powerful and terrifying body horror films (up there with John Carpenter's 1982 The Thing). I had read the adapted novel beforehand and still it made me jump at times. Visionary film production which incorporated the surreal/nightmarish biomechanical art of H.R. Giger  for the design of the creature. Also bold for its serious bad ass female action hero, very rare for its time. The second film Aliens (1986) is a rare excellent sequel!]

All That Jazz (USA: Bob Fosse, 1979) [Criterion: "The preternaturally gifted director and choreographer Bob Fosse turned the camera on his own life for this madly imaginative, self-excoriating musical masterpiece. Roy Scheider gives the performance of his career as Joe Gideon, whose exhausting work schedule—mounting a Broadway production by day and editing his latest movie by night—and routine of amphetamines, booze, and sex are putting his health at serious risk. Fosse burrows into Gideon’s (and his own) mind, rendering his interior world as phantasmagoric spectacle. Assembled with visionary editing that makes dance come alive on-screen as never before, and overflowing with sublime footwork by the likes of Ann Reinking, Leland Palmer, and Ben Vereen, All That Jazz pushes the musical genre to personal depths and virtuosic aesthetic heights." MB: "To be on the wire is life, the rest is waiting." When I saw this as a 14 year old I was confused and distanced, I just didn't have the life experience to understand this dazzingly important and intellectual film about the nature of creativity and our inevitable mortality. Filled with some of the most memorable dance scenes ever.]

Apocalypse Now (USA: Francis Ford Coppola, 1979) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Francis Ford Coppola's haunting, hallucinatory Vietnam War epic is cinema at its most audacious and visionary. In Vietnam in 1970, Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) takes a perilous and increasingly hallucinatory journey upriver to find and terminate Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a once-promising officer who has reportedly gone completely mad. In the company of a Navy patrol boat filled with street-smart kids, a surfing-obsessed Air Cavalry officer (Robert Duvall), and a crazed freelance photographer (Dennis Hopper), Willard travels further and further into the heart of darkness." MB: Coming off the massive financial and award success of the first two Godfather films Coppola sets out to make a passion project film and literally goes off into his own personal Heart of Darkness. This was one of the most powerful cinematic experiences I had as a teen. I was literally blown away and could not quit thinking about the film. I returned to see it a second time in the theater. Something I had never done before. I sought out a copy of Joseph Conrad's 1899 novella The Heart of Darkness which served as inspiration for the film narrative (Conrad's setting was the European brutal colonization in the The Congo River region of Africa). The film features one of the best opening scenes in cinematic history. It is a powerful critique of the insanity of war and imperialist ambitions.]

Life of Brian (UK: Terry Jones, 1979) [Criterion: "After slaying the Arthurian legend in their now classic Holy Grail, the Pythons set their sights on the Greatest Story Ever Told. Blind faith, virgin birth, crucifixion—nothing is sacred in this epic send-up of ancient times, which draws on the cornball biblical blockbusters of the 1950s to lampoon celebrity culture in any era. Criterion has gathered the guilty parties—including John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin—for two commentary tracks as provocative and hilarious as the film itself." MB: A brilliant satire of Christian mythos from the all-time best comedic troupe Monty Python (if you haven't seen their work - check them out on Youtube. Here is one of my favorites from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975).]

Quadrophenia (UK: Franc Roddam, 1979) [Criterion: "The Who’s classic rock opera Quadrophenia was the basis for this invigorating coming-of-age movie and depiction of the defiant, drug-fueled mod subculture of early 1960s London. Our antihero is Jimmy (Phil Daniels), a teenager dissatisfied with family, work, and love. He spends his time knocking around with his clothes-obsessed, pill-popping, scooter-driving fellow mods, a group whose antipathy for the motorcycle-riding rockers leads to a climactic riot in Brighton. Director Franc Roddam’s rough-edged film is a quintessential chronicle of youthful rebellion and turmoil, with Pete Townshend’s brilliant songs (including “I’ve Had Enough,” “5:15,” and “Love Reign O’er Me”) providing emotional support, and featuring Sting and Ray Winstone in early roles." MB: Easily one of the all-time best rock musicals and a powerful expression of youthful alienation waking up to the hypocrisies of the world (including rebellions based around culturally manufactured identities). The film and the soundtrack set off a mod revival. I remember large groups of neo-mods whipping around the roads along the beaches of San Diego during my teens.]

Stalker (Soviet Union: Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979) [Criterion: "Andrei Tarkovsky’s final Soviet feature is a metaphys­ical journey through an enigmatic postapocalyptic landscape, and a rarefied cinematic experience like no other. A hired guide—the Stalker—leads a writer and a professor into the heart of the Zone, the restricted site of a long-ago disaster, where the three men eventually zero in on the Room, a place rumored to fulfill one’s most deeply held desires. Adapting a science-fiction novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Tarkovsky created an immersive world with a wealth of material detail and a sense of organic atmosphere. A religious allegory, a reflection of contemporaneous political anxieties, a meditation on film itself—Stalker envelops the viewer by opening up a multitude of possible meanings." MB: I remember watching this film as a grad student with two movie-loving friends. We were baked, garrulous, and excited to see this SF masterpiece we had heard about. It was unlike the standard Hollywood SF blockbuster and our altered brains had a difficult time slipping in and out of the narrative. Its strange, alienated, slipstream narrative told through dramatic, powerful, loaded imagery by one of the great directors, stayed with me. I later sought out the Strugatsky Brothers novel on which it was based and watched the film again multiple times (as well as loaned it to others). It is like a great cinematic poem in which you have to quiet your left brain and focus on the powerful imagery that speaks to your right brain. Incredibly rewarding for those that are open to exploring the mysteries of the Zone and don't require a neat bow to tie things up for them.]

Caddyshack (USA: Harol Ramis, 1980) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Though unabashedly crude and juvenile, Caddyshack nevertheless scores with its classic slapstick, unforgettable characters, and endlessly quotable dialogue. Danny Noonan (Michael O'Keefe), a teen down on his luck, works as a caddy at the snob-infested Bushwood Country Club to raise money for his college education. In an attempt to gain votes for a college scholarship reserved for caddies, Noonan volunteers to caddy for a prominent and influential club member (Ted Knight). Meanwhile, Danny struggles to prepare for the high pressure Caddy Day golf tournament while absorbing New Age advice from wealthy golf guru Ty Webb (Chevy Chase)." MB: Low humor done effectively - a hard thing to do. Revived Rodney Dangerfield's career as a wise-cracking jester taking the wind out of the upper classes.]

The Elephant Man (USA: David Lynch, 1980) [Criterion: "With this poignant second feature, David Lynch brought his atmospheric visual and sonic palette to a notorious true story set in Victorian England. When the London surgeon Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) meets the freak-show performer John Merrick (John Hurt), who has severe skeletal and soft-tissue deformities, he assumes that he must be intellectually disabled as well. As the two men spend more time together, though, Merrick reveals the intelligence, gentle nature, and profound sense of dignity that lie beneath his shocking appearance, and he and Treves develop a friendship. Shot in gorgeous black and white and boasting a stellar supporting cast that includes Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, and Wendy Hiller, The Elephant Man was nominated for eight Academy Awards, cementing Lynch’s reputation as one of American cinema’s most visionary talents." MB: A powerful humanist film that examines the ordeal and experiences of a unique outsider.]

Heaven's Gate (USA: Michael Cimino, 1980) [Criterion: "A breathtaking depiction of the promise and perils of America’s western expansion, Heaven’s Gate, directed by Michael Cimino, is among Hollywood’s most ambitious and unorthodox epics. Kris Kristofferson brings his weathered sensuality to the role of a Harvard graduate who relocates to Wyoming as a federal marshal; there, he learns of a government-sanctioned plot by cattle barons to kill the area’s European settlers for their land. The resulting battle is based on the bloody real-life Johnson County War of 1892. Also starring Isabelle Huppert and Christopher Walken, Heaven’s Gate is a savage and ravishingly shot take on western movie lore." MB: Cimino's next film after the huge success and awards of The Deer Hunter (1978), is a stunningly beautiful film that seeks to deconstruct the American mythologizing of the Western expansion (invasion/conquest). Released at the beginning of the neo-conservative revolution of Ronald Reagan's presidency, it was career suicide for this talented director. Border keeping critics lined up to ensure that the incredibly expensive (for the time) film tanked in the theaters and ensured that studios never gave him the funding again to make films like these. If I was to guess, it was his focus on the reverberating effects of war/conquest/invasion on the community-at-large (in this one and the previous one).]

Kagemusha (Japan: Akira Kurosawa, 1980) [Criterion: "When a warlord dies, a peasant thief is called upon to impersonate him, and then finds himself haunted by the warlord’s spirit as well as his own ambitions. In his late color masterpiece Kagemusha, Akira Kurosawa returns to the samurai film and to a primary theme of his career—the play between illusion and reality. Sumptuously reconstructing the splendor of feudal Japan and the pageantry of war, Kurosawa creates a historical epic that is also a meditation on the nature of power." MB: A mythic film that demonstrates the legendary director's interest in painting in its many spectacular set pieces. Won the Palme d'or at Cannes.]

Pixote (Brazil: Héctor Babenco, 1980) [Criterion: "With a blend of harsh realism and aching humanity, Héctor Babenco’s international breakout Pixote offers an electrifying look at youth fighting to survive on the bottom rung of Brazilian society, and a stinging indictment of the country’s military dictatorship and police. In a heartbreaking performance, Fernando Ramos da Silva plays a young boy who escapes a nightmarish reformatory only to resort to a life of violent crime, even as he forms a makeshift family with some fellow outcasts."]

Raging Bull (USA: Martin Scorsese, 1980) [Bruce McCabe of the Boston Globe: "This is a masterpiece. It proves that a film can have violent undertones and overtones, but still illuminate and comment upon violence in a moving, poetic and profound way." Xstal on IMDB: "The power of the movie comes from De Niro under the direction of Martin Scorsese, providing a wholly convincing performance of the furious, bitter, bovine pugilist with serious psychological issues. It is one of the truly great performances of that decade, perhaps of all time, nailing the establishment of a character it's genuinely difficult to have any empathy or sympathy with. If you dig deeper, you will not be surprised to find a serial misogynist who married seven times and who beat all of his wives. If this is your type of hero you might like to reconsider how you got there. If De Nero, Scorsese and cinema are your heroes, not too many will disagree with that." MB: A truly brutal examination of a controversial figure in the sport of boxing. Robert DeNiro's portrayal of Jake LeMotta is one of the best immersive acting of all-time. The fight scenes are a tour-de-force representation of the violence of the sport.]

The Shining (UK/USA: Stanley Kubrick, 1980) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Though it deviates from Stephen King's novel, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is a chilling, often baroque journey into madness -- exemplified by an unforgettable turn from Jack Nicholson. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) becomes winter caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel in Colorado, hoping to cure his writer's block. He settles in along with his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and his son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), who is plagued by psychic premonitions. As Jack's writing goes nowhere and Danny's visions become more disturbing, Jack discovers the hotel's dark secrets and begins to unravel into a homicidal maniac hell-bent on terrorizing his family." MB: Stephen King, the author of the 1977 source novel, notoriously hates this adaptation. Mr. King clearly understands literary horror, but he definitely doesn't recognize good cinema or the territory of adapting a work. Kubrick takes King's novel and makes it his own in a truly brilliant and visionary way. In all of my archives for films this one has the most varied and extensive range of interpretations and responses. There is a 2012 documentary that examines the wide range of theories about the film and its obsessive fans. Last year Mike Flanagan's adaptation of King's sequel Doctor Sleep (2019) was also impressive (if you watch The Shining and watch Doctor Sleep - you can do a response to both).]

Blow Out (USA: Brian DePalma, 1981) [Criterion: "In the enthralling Blow Out, brilliantly crafted by Brian De Palma, John Travolta gives one of his greatest performances, as a movie sound-effects man who believes he has accidentally recorded a political assassination. He enlists the help of a possible eyewitness to the crime (Carrie’s Nancy Allen), who may be in danger herself, to uncover the truth. With its jolting stylistic flourishes, intricate plot, profoundly felt characterizations, and gritty evocation of early-1980s Philadelphia, Blow Out is an American paranoia thriller unlike any other, as well as a devilish reflection on moviemaking."]

The Evil Dead (USA: Sam Raimi, 1981) [Rotten Tomatoes: This classic low budget horror film combines just the right amount of gore and black humor, giving The Evil Dead an equal amount of thrills and laughs. This classic low budget horror film combines just the right amount of gore and black humor, giving The Evil Dead an equal amount of thrills and laughs." MB: A bold, low-budget debut by Raimi makes every cent count and brims with creativity. Launched Bruce Davidson into cult hero status as the chainsaw wielding, wise ass, Ash. The enduring popularity of this film, and its hero, is evident in the original trilogy, the 21st Century reboots, and the recent TV series (2015 - 2018) Ash vs The Evil Dead]

The Loveless (USA: Kathryn Bigelow, 1981) [IMDB: "Trouble ensues when a motorcycle gang stops in a small southern town while heading to the races at Daytona." MB: This is fun for many reasons: 1) If you are familiar with The Wild One (1953) and its bad boy(s) coming to town cinematic progeny. 2) If you can flow with style over substance (but still some substance). 3) It seems like Robert Mapplethorpe working through a feminine lense (or is that vice versa); or, wait maybe Mapplethorpe working in a strict heterosexual matriarchy making his one chance at mainstream cinema before chucking it and doing the art he wanted.  4) A young Willem Dafoe - perfect for this role... but when doesn't he own his role. 5) The dialogue, hokey at best, but it works so good with the overwrought style 6) The ending.]

Possession (France/West Germany: Andzej Zulawski, 1981) [MUBI: "A spiral staircase movie, a never-ending metaphysical game of cat-and-mouse, a moral aspiration to the Heavens, a “spotlight” on God, a scornful detective movie, a horror movie and frightful, high-octane baroque work—Possession is all of that at once." Tagline: "Beyond the realm of human desire there is a darkness ..." Second Sight Films: "Written and directed by Andrzej Zulawski, Possession is a deeply unsettling experience, aided by the horrific effects of the great Carlo Rambaldi (Deep Red, Close Encounters, Alien). The film, though banned on video, was nominated for a BAFTA and the Palme d'Or and Adgani's astonishing performance earned her Best Actress awards at the Cannes Film Festival and the French Cesars." Daniel Bird: “…Viktor Shklovsky wrote about how the job of the artist was to come up with a device that made the familiar seem strange. The ‘strangeness’ sets our brain a challenge, and the process of dealing with it is engaging – not just on an intellectual level, but an emotional one too… In Possession, Żuławski made a marital breakdown ‘strange’ by showing ‘the horror’ – this was not Scenes from a Marriage – it was something else.” MB: Have you experienced a long passionate, intense relationship with a lover and then watch horrified as the relationship  dissolves/immolates to the point where you can't even understand each other to the point of no-recognition? Then this completely unique and strange film might speak to you. Earlier in this list, I made mention of DeNiro's amazing and committed performance as Jake LeMotta in Raging Bull, I believe Isabelle Adjani goes even further, seeming to me, to often be on the edge of tipping into the abyss. Zulawski has been identified as a purveyor of hysterical excess in his films, with that in mind it might not be your cup-of-tea, but I find him endlessly fascinating. I never walk away from one of his films untouched or unmoved.]

Quest for Fire (Canada/France: Jean-Jacques Annaud, 1981)  [Rotten Tomatoes: "In the prehistoric world, a Cro-Magnon tribe depends on an ever-burning source of fire, which eventually extinguishes. Lacking the knowledge to start a new fire, the tribe sends three warriors (Everett McGill, Ron Perlman, Nameer El-Kadi) on a quest for more. With the tribe's future at stake, the warriors make their way across a treacherous landscape full of hostile tribes and monstrous beasts. On their journey, they encounter Ika (Rae Dawn Chong), a woman who has the knowledge they seek." MB: A surprisingly intelligent anthropological fantasy about life amongst competing Cro-Magnon tribes. The actors, communicate through gestures and grunts, and somehow that works. It is quite funny at times and also disturbing at others. It has the spectacle of classic epics, but it is also grounded in the immediacy of the quest of the three main characters. Very refreshing when compared to ridiculous films like 10,000 B.C. (2013).]

The Road Warrior (Mad Max II) (Australia: George Miller, 1981) [Rotten Tomatoes: "The Road Warrior is everything a bigger-budgeted Mad Max sequel with should be: bigger, faster, louder, but definitely not dumber. After avenging the death of his wife and young son at the hands of a vicious gang leader, Max (Mel Gibson) drives the post-apocalyptic highways of the Australian outback, fending off attacks from nomadic tribes that prey on outsiders. Falling into an encampment led by the relatively peaceful Pappagallo (Mike Preston), Max at first schemes to steal their oil, but soon becomes the group's reluctant defender against the hulking Humungus (Kjell Nilsson) and his ruthless marauders." MB: I had seen the first Mad Max (1979) as a B movie with some forgotten main feature at a drive-in theater. It was poorly distributed and so this second film is the one that made a huge impact in America. It is a stand alone film, the first film is not necessary. As a 16 year old moving into my fully fledged youthful rebellion stage I was entranced by both Max the alienated, loner (although he has the coolest companion dog!), wanderer-warrior and the savage, punkish, neo-tribal, motorized scavengers-villains. If you see this film I would also accept another response on the 21st Century reboot of the series Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) - easily one of my favorite films of the 21st Century. Interestingly, the director of these films, is also the creator of the two Babe (1995) films.]