I reviewed Julien Temple’s CROCK OF GOLD: A FEW ROUNDS WITH SHANE MACGOWAN for Cine-file Chicago.
Julien Temple’s’ CROCK OF GOLD: A FEW ROUNDS WITH SHANE MACGOWAN (UK/Documentary) Available to rent through the Gene Siskel Film Center here
As the subtitle of Julien Temple’s portrait of Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan suggests, this basically consists of a series of informal hangout sessions with the unique Irish genius and witty raconteur who stands as one of the great singer/songwriters of the post-punk era. In a series of conversations—with former Sinn Féin leader and admirer Gerry Adams, wife and journalist Victoria Clarke, friend Johnny Depp (who also serves as producer and, unfortunately, appears to speak with a slight Irish brogue during his brief screen time) and others—MacGowan tells the story of his raucous life and times. Like a lot of modern documentaries, this feels more like an audiobook than a movie: MacGowan’s words and songs are superficially illustrated by an overly busy, and overly literal, image track consisting of archival footage, animation, an ironic interpolation of educational film excerpts, etc. But in spite of Temple’s futile attempts at imposing a “cinematic” veneer, this is essential viewing anyway. The chance to hear the larger-than-life MacGowan talk about his groundbreaking fusion of punk rock and traditional Irish folk music makes it unmissable for longtime Pogues fans and a good introduction to his work for the uninitiated. Also, this is one new quarantine movie that will undoubtedly work better when viewed from your couch, where you can freely imbibe along with the interview subjects. (2020, 124 min) [Michael Glover Smith]
Who said there was no upside to the pandemic? I read more books in 2020 than I have in any calendar year in decades, due at least in part to “quarantine life.” I will have read more than 30 by the time the year is over – although the only book I read this year that was actually published in 2020 is Carl Hiaasen’s amusing comedic-mystery novel Squeeze Me (a book so current it contains jokes about COVID-19 and Donald Trump “Zoom bombing” a virtual meeting). I am posting a list of everything I read below and affixing letter grades to each. The books are listed alphabetically by author’s last name:
Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen) – A+ Go Tell It On the Mountain (James Baldwin) – A+ The Poisoner’s Handbook (Deborah Blum) – B+ Performed Literature: Words and Music by Bob Dylan (Betsy Bowden) – A- In Cold Blood (Truman Capote) – A South and West (Joan Didion) – A- Chronicles Volume 1 (Bob Dylan) (re-read) – A+ My Dark Places (James Ellroy) – B+ Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall (Chris Fujiwara) – A- Wild at Heart (Barry Gifford) – A Killers of the Flower Moon (David Grann) – B+ King-Sized Murder (William Herber) – C+ Squeeze Me (Carl Hiaasen) – B- The Midnight Assassin (Skip Hollandsworth) – A- The Quarter (Naguib Mahfouz) – B+ The Executioner’s Song (Norman Mailer) – B I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (Michelle McNamara) – B- In Praise of Walking (Shane O’Mara) – B John Ford Interviews (ed. Gerald Peary) – B+ Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet (Seth Rogovoy) – B Cinematic Encounters 2: Portraits and Polemics (Jonathan Rosenbaum) – A- All Passion Spent (Vita Sackville-West) – B+ Lady Killers (Tori Telfer) – A- Why Bob Dylan Matters (Richard Thomas) – A Bare Bones and Letters to Lovers (Alyssa Thordarson) – B+ Dylan Goes Electric (Elijah Wald) – A- Bob Dylan in America (Sean Wilentz) – B The Code of the Woosters (P.G. Wodehouse) – A Joy in the Morning (P.G. Wodehouse) – A The Mating Season (P. G. Wodehouse) – A Leave it to Psmith (P.G. Wodehouse) – A-
Lovers of spatially-coherent action movies rejoice! Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich, the director/actress team best known for the RESIDENT EVIL franchise, are back with a new fantasy film adaptation of a video game. Personally, I haven’t played a video game since I was a kid in the 1980s – and am therefore unqualified to discuss MONSTER HUNTER in relation to its “faithfulness” to Capcom’s popular series of games – but I do know cinema and I can say that, as a piece of filmmaking, Anderson’s latest succeeds spectacularly. The premise is simple: While reconnoitering in the desert, U.S. Army Captain Natalie Artemis (Jovovich) accidentally crosses over into a parallel world populated by giant monsters with whom she must do battle while trying to make her way back home. The script, written by Anderson, is probably the leanest he’s ever worked with and the result is one of his best films. This movie is pretty much nothing but Milla Jovovich fighting big, badass CGI monsters, which variously look like overgrown insects, dragons and mutated dinosaurs. In many ways, this feels like a silent film — one particularly terrifying scene in which Artemis is trapped by spider-like creatures in a cave is as elemental as Fritz Lang’s DIE NIBELUNGEN. What little there is in the way of plot has to do with Artemis’s relationship to a man known as “The Hunter” (Thai actor/martial artist Tony Jaa), a native of this treacherous world who speaks no English but on whom she must learn to rely as a helper and guide. The chemistry between Jovovich and Jaa gives the movie its heart but, along the way, Ron Perelman and a giant sword-wielding cat also pop up and add to the fun. It’s too bad that most critics won’t take MONSTER HUNTER seriously based on its pedigree when it deserves to be discussed alongside MAD MAX: FURY ROAD and THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, spectacle films with which it earns legitimate points of comparison.
MONSTER HUNTER opens in theaters this Friday, December 18.Visit the film’sofficial websitefor info on tickets and showtimes.
1. The Last Man on Earth* (Salkow/Ragona) – B 2. One Night in Miami* (King) – C+ 3. Ride Lonesome* (Boetticher) – A 4. Seven Men From Now (Boetticher) – A- 5. Possessor* (B. Cronenberg) – B- 6. The Abominable Dr. Phibes* (Fuest) – B 7. The Fly* (Neumann) – B 8. Footlight Parade* (Bacon) – B+ 9. The Silent Partner* (Duke) – A- 10. House on Haunted Hill* (Malone) – D-
1. Hell’s Highway* (Brown) – B+ 2. Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte* (Aldrich) – B 3. Junior Bonner* (Peckinpah) – A- 4. Collective* (Nanau) – B+ 5. The Eiger Sanction* (Eastwood) – B 6. Nightmare Alley* (Goulding) – B+ 7. House of Hummingbird (Kim) – A- 8. Dick Johnson is Dead* (Johnson) – A- 9. So I Married an Ax Murderer* (Schlamme) – D 10. The Assistant* (Green) – B-
1. Starship Troopers (Verhoeven) – A- 2. Psycho II (Franklin) – B- 3. Night of the Demon (Tourneur) – A+ 4. Night of the Demon (Tourneur) – A+ 5. City Hall* (Wiseman) – A- 6. They Live (Carpenter) – B 7. The Fog (Carpenter) – A- 8. Witchfinder General (Reeves) – A 9. Ham on Rye (Taormina, USA) – B+ 10. Martin Eden+ (Marcello, Italy) – B
Reviewed forCinefile Chicago. Opens for a virtual run at Facets Multimedia today.
Tyler Taormina’s HAM ON RYE (US)
Available to rent through Facets Cinémathèque here
HAM ON RYE, a suburban coming-of-age comedy-drama with a large ensemble cast, boldly stands out from the crowded landscape of recent American indies for its genuine narrative weirdness and singular aesthetic ambition. What seemingly begins as an end-of-high-school nostalgia trip, in the vein of AMERICAN GRAFFITI and DAZED IN CONFUSED, soon gives way to something far darker and more subversive: The movie’s first half features deft cross-cutting between short, clever scenes in which dozens of teenage characters are getting dressed and prepping for a big, prom-like event, an annual rite-of-passage where kids in late adolescence are expected to congregate at a popular local delicatessen in the unnamed town where the film is set, and ultimately pair off into couples for a celebratory dance. But, as in the early work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, HAM ON RYE proves to be something of a narrative shapeshifter—the warmth and humor of the early daylight scenes are soon displaced by a second half imbued with a potent, Hopper-esque sense of nocturnal melancholy. Most of the characters from the first half disappear at the dusky half-way mark—some quite literally into thin air—only to be replaced by a new cast of more disaffected-seeming young adults. One character, Haley (Haley Bodell), who pointedly flees from the deli before the dance begins, bridges the film’s two halves but it is unclear how much time elapses in between; the second half could either be taking place the same night as the first half or a couple of years later, an ambiguity that lends the movie much of its haunting and dreamlike power. What does it all mean? I think that Taormina, a first-time feature filmmaker but hardcore cinephile who is also a talented musician, intends for the narrative to function as a kind of complex metaphor for the notion of “growing up” in general and, more specifically, the way some people leave their hometowns in an attempt to fulfill ambitious destinies while others choose to sadly remain behind. But see it and decide for yourself: independent American cinema of this uncommonly poetic caliber deserves to be seen and discussed far and wide. (2019, 85 min) [Michael Glover Smith]
I have two capsule reviews atCinefile Chicagothis week. I’m posting both reviews below. Enjoy!
Tsai Ming-liang’s DAYS (Taiwan) Available for rent through October 25 here* DAYS, Taiwanese master Tsai Ming-liang’s latest ode to urban loneliness, begins with a middle-aged man, Kang (Lee Kang-sheng), simply sitting in a room and staring out the window on a rainy afternoon. Tsai’s patient camera eye observes the man’s expressionless face for a full five minutes before cutting. It’s an astonishing scene in which nothing seems to happen while also suggesting, on an interior level, that perhaps a lot is happening, thus setting the tone for the two hour audio-visual experience that follows. As viewers, we are invited to not only observe Kang as the shot’s subject but also allow our eyes to wander around the beautifully composed frame, noticing the details of what is reflected in the window out of which Kang stares (since the shot is framed from outside) as well as listen to the sound of the gently falling rain. From there, an almost entirely wordless narrative proceeds, in fits and starts, as the daily life of this man, who is suffering from and being treated for an unspecified illness, is juxtaposed with that of a younger man, a Laotian immigrant masseur named Non (Anong Houngheuangsya). Eventually, the lives of both protagonists come together in an erotic hotel-room encounter before breaking apart again, presumably for good. The way these two minimalist character arcs briefly intersect reveals a surprisingly elegant and classical structure lurking beneath the movie’s avant-garde surface and also serves to function as a potent metaphor for nothing less than life itself: We may be born alone and we may die alone but, if we’re lucky, we can make meaningful connections with other people along the way. DAYS is a formally extreme film, even for Tsai, and probably not the best place to start for those unfamiliar with the director’s previous work. But I emerged from it feeling as refreshed and energized as I would if I had visited a spa. (2020, 127 min) [Michael Glover Smith] — *Only available in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Missouri.
Hong Sang-soo’s THE WOMAN WHO RAN (South Korea) Available for rent through October 25 here* The films of prolific South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo have become steadily more oriented around their female protagonists since he began working with Kim Min-hee in 2015’s RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN. This mighty director/actress combo has reached a kind of apotheosis in their seventh and latest collaboration, THE WOMAN WHO RAN, a charming dramedy about three days in the life of a woman, Gam-hee (Kim), who spends time apart from her spouse for the first time after five years of marriage. When her husband goes on a trip, Gam-hee uses the occasion to visit three of her female friends—one of whom is single, one of whom is married, and one of whom is recently divorced—and Hong subtly implies that Gam-hee’s extended dialogue with each causes her to take stock of her own marriage and life. Gam-hee also comes into contact with three annoying men—a nosy neighbor, a stalker, and a mansplainer—while visiting each friend, situations that allow Hong to create clever internal rhymes across his triptych narrative structure. Hong’s inimitable cinematographical style has long favored long takes punctuated by sudden zooms and pans, but rarely have the devices felt as purposeful as they do here. Notice how his camera zooms, with the precision of a microscope, into a close-up of a woman’s face immediately after she issues an apology to Gam-hee during the film’s final act, and how the tears in this woman’s eyes would not have been visible without the zoom. This is masterful stuff. (2020, 77 min) [Michael Glover Smith] — *Only available in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Missouri.