The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Sherlock Jr. (Keaton) – A
2. Moonstruck (Jewison) – B+
3. Citizen Kane (Welles) – A+
4. Our Hospitality (Keaton) – A+
5. Contempt (Godard) – A+
6. The Awful Truth (McCarey) – A+
7. The 400 Blows (Truffaut) – A
8. Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov) – A+
9. Kimi (Soderbergh) – B+
10. Desperately Seeking Susan (Seidelman) – B


RELATIVE World Premiere at Gasparilla

My new film RELATIVE will have its World Premiere at the 15th annual Gasparilla International Film Festival in Tampa, Florida on Saturday, March 12 at 7:30pm (EST). Joining me on the red carpet will be many members of the cast and crew. The screening will be held at the AMC Westshore and tickets are on sale NOW. The venue holds approximately 100 people and the screening is expected to sell out so if you would like to attend please get your tix in advance here.

Also, this Sunday, 2/27 at 1:30pm (CST), Rebecca Martin, film critic and publisher of Cinema Femme Magazine, will host a live video round-table Q&A with five of the actresses from RELATIVE (Wendy Robie, Clare Cooney, Emily Lape, Melissa DuPrey and Elizabeth Stam) plus cinematographer Olivia Aquilina. You can watch that 30-minute conversation on YouTube here.


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene) – A+
2. Groundhog Day (Ramis) – A+
3. American Movie (Smith) – B+
4. Songwriter (Rudolph) – B
5. The Tarnished Angels (Sirk) – A+
6. Volver (Amodovar) – A-
7. The Rescue (Chin/Vasarhelyi) – B-
8. Introduction (Hong) – B+
9. Starman (Carpenter) – A
10. Miami Vice (Mann) – A-


Hong Sang-soo’s INTRODUCTION / Kim Ki-young’s THE HOUSEMAID

I have reviews of two Korean films in this week’s epic Cinefile Chicago list: Kim Ki-young’s classic THE HOUSEMAID (1960), which screens once at Doc Films and Hong Sang-soo’s INTRODUCTION (2021), which runs for a week at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

Hong Sang-soo’s INTRODUCTION (South Korea)

Gene Siskel Film Center – See Venue website for showtimes

South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo has been so prolific for so long, obsessively revisiting the same narrative and stylistic tropes, that it is often difficult even for viewers who are well-versed in his work to understand some of the gradual, almost imperceptible ways his unique brand of cinema has evolved over time. Anyone with a cursory familiarity with Hong’s movies knows to expect bifurcated structures, long takes, and cringe humor arising from soju-fueled conversations between men and women (many of them artists). But when exactly did he abandon the nudity and sex scenes that were so prominent in his early films? And when did he begin the dramatic use of zooms so prevalent in his more recent work? I’ve seen 21 of his 26 movies, many more than once, and I cannot tell you. INTRODUCTION, Hong’s 25th feature, marks a noticeably new chapter in the director’s filmography: much like his hero Eric Rohmer, who pared down his crew to just three people when making THE GREEN RAY (1986) (Hong’s personal favorite), the Korean director is also choosing to work with a skeleton crew now. INTRODUCTION is the first film in which he serves as his own cinematographer, a feat that he has since repeated on IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE, his second feature of 2021, as well as the forthcoming THE NOVELIST’S FILM. The result is a visual style that seems almost self-consciously primitive—with images that swim in and out of focus, interior scenes that appear to be unlit entirely and windows that are completely blown out. (The visual crudeness is less noticeable in INTRODUCTION, which is shot in forgiving black-and-white, than it is in the smeary digital color of IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE.) This minimalist/handmade aesthetic is perfectly captured by the movie’s U.S. theatrical-release poster, which consists of a simple pencil sketch. Hong’s approach to narrative and characterization, however, remains as complex as ever: this short comedy-drama follows an aimless young man, Young-ho (Shin Seok-ho), who has appointments with three loved ones in three discreet vignettes. In the first, he visits his doctor-father (Kim Young-ho) at work but remains in the waiting room while Dad is preoccupied tending to a patient who happens to be a famous actor (Ki Joo-Bong). In the second, Young-ho travels to Berlin to visit his fashion-student girlfriend (Park Mi-so) on a mere whim. In the third, he meets his mother (Cho Yun-hee) and her friend, the same actor from the opening scene, at a restaurant for lunch. Not much happens, but impish humor arises from what critic Chuck Bowen refers to as the film’s “structural perversity”—the sense that Young-ho, the ostensible protagonist, is continually forgotten about, sidelined or marginalized by the other characters. Hong also includes a daring leap forward in time and a realistic dream sequence, devices that can only be understood in retrospect, and prove delightful examples of the filmmaker’s poker-faced narrative gamesmanship. (2021, 66 min, DCP Digital) [Michael Glover Smith]

*

Kim Ki-Young’s THE HOUSEMAID (South Korea)

Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Friday, 7pm

THE HOUSEMAID, Kim Ki-young’s mind-blowing cult classic from 1960, offers a unique hybrid of domestic horror, social commentary, black comedy, and lurid melodrama that’s as pungent today as when it was first released. Made during South Korea’s original cinematic Golden Age, a brief window of time when the country was between military dictators, Kim’s provocative and singularly nutty film tells the twisted tale of a piano teacher and aspiring bourgeois, Kim Dong-shik (Kim Jin-kyu), whose brief affair with the mentally unbalanced young maid (Lee Eun-shim) he’s hired to help his overworked wife (Ju Jeung-nyeo) threatens to tear the family apart. Kim’s lively mise-en-scène exploits its chief location of the family’s two-story home to maximum effect, with each character seemingly trapped in his or her own box-like room, the distance between which is continually emphasized by many fluid tracking shots and one very dangerous staircase. The way the story touches on both the characters’ aspirations to an ideal middle-class life (symbolized by the upstairs “piano room”) and fears about the disintegration of the family unit makes the subject matter universal and timeless, but fans of contemporary South Korean cinema should recognize the articulation of working-class rage against the “one percent” as being hugely influential on Bong Joon-ho’s PARASITE in particular. And this is to say nothing of a twist ending that will knock you into next week. THE HOUSEMAID was loosely remade twice by Kim Ki-young himself, as WOMAN OF FIRE (1971) and WOMAN OF FIRE ’82 (1982), and more recently by Im Sang-soo (as THE HOUSEMAID in 2010), but the O.G. version remains unsurpassed. The gorgeous high-contrast black-and-white cinematography still looks immaculate, thanks to an extensive digital restoration by Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project, which was based on the original camera negative (except for two reels of lower quality that had to be sourced from an exhibition print). Screening as part of Doc’s Friday night series: Classics of South Korean Cinema. (1960, 111 min, DCP Digital) [Michael Glover Smith]


Bruno Dumont’s FRANCE

Bruno Dumont’s FRANCE (France)

I reviewed Bruno Dumont’s FRANCE for Cine-file Chicago. Chicagoans can see it at the Gene Siskel Film Center for the next week. And they should:

Gene Siskel Film Center — See Venue website for showtimes

With FRANCE, Bruno Dumont remains wildly unpredictable, lurching from satire to melodrama and back again and tossing off all sorts of psychological and sociological provocations along the way. A friend of mine cheekily described this crazy movie as “the Bresson version of BROADCAST NEWS,” but I think it may be more instructive to see it as a politically explicit, Gallic variation on Lucrecia Martel’s THE HEADLESS WOMAN (2008). Dumont signals his allegorical intentions with the title, which refers not only to his native country but also to the protagonist (Léa Seydoux in her finest performance to date), a celebrated TV news personality who’s clearly meant to embody what Dumont sees as the virtues and flaws of his nation’s character. As a journalist, France is smart and talented, but some of the dubious ways she constructs segments for the nightly news signal a certain lack of self-awareness (as typified by a bravura sequence where she “directs” members of a third-world Muslim militia for an interview segment she’s shooting in the desert). The plot of FRANCE concerns the eponymous character as she undergoes a crisis of conscience after accidentally striking the Middle Eastern delivery driver Baptiste (Jawad Zemmar) with her car. Through France’s interactions with the working-class Baptiste and his immigrant parents (all of whom seem awed by her celebrity), as well as a subsequent extramarital affair that carries disastrous consequences, France becomes more in touch with her own feelings and begins a halting journey towards redemption, which marks her as a kind-of secular saint. (Another productive way to read FRANCE is as the third part of a martyrdom trilogy following Dumont’s musical diptych about Joan of Arc.) Dumont’s real masterstroke was casting Seydoux, an actress who was catapulted to fame by her lead performance in the controversial BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR and went on to appear in a couple of James Bond films and Wes Anderson’s THE FRENCH DISPATCH (where she also seems to have been cast to evoke the very idea of French womanhood). Here, the-real-life-glamorous-movie-star Seydoux is playing a glamorous television star, one whose authentic identity has become subsumed by her need to be constantly “on” for the cameras. Dumont has spoken in interviews of his interest in showing, in the latter stages of FRANCE, the “awakening” of a character who until then has “practically been a robot” and how the heart inside of her is ultimately moved. Through the ever-deepening emotional intelligence of Seydoux’s layered performance, the director and actress have achieved this feat in perfect symbiosis. (2021, 133 minutes, DCP Digital) [Michael Glover Smith]


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Brain Damage (Henenlotter) – B+
2. Honkytonk Man (Eastwood) – A-
3. Bronco Billy (Eastwood) – A
4. Bombay Beach (Har’el) – B
5. The Beatles: Get Back (Jackson) – A
6. Tih Minh (Feuillade) – A+
7. Titane (Ducournau) – B
8. The Souvenir Part II (Hogg) – A-
9. France (Dumont) – A-
10. Licorice Pizza (Anderson) – B


My Favorite Films of 2021

As with every year, it was a great year for cinema if one knew where to look. After serving as a “screener” for one film festival (Chicago Underground) and a juror at another (Lake County), I probably watched more feature films in 2021 than I have in the past few years — although, because I spent most of the year working on a new feature myself, I spent less time writing about them. Below is a list of my top ten favorites and ten runners-up that I’ll be submitting to Cine-file Chicago, along with links to my original reviews where applicable.

10. Faya Dayi (Jessica Beshir, Ethiopia/USA)

9. In Front of Your Face (Hong Sang-soo, S. Korea)

8. The Souvenir Part II (Joanna Hogg, UK)

7. Benedetta (Paul Verhoeven, France)

6. Cry Macho (Clint Eastwood, USA)

My esteem for this late-period Clint Eastwood masterpiece has only grown since my first viewing. After some bumpy narrative exposition and the introduction of some red-herring genre trappings, it settles into a sublime, near-plotless meditation on the importance of slowing down and enjoying life: you know, just hanging out with other people, petting animals, taking a nap, dancing, making food. That sort of thing. To paraphrase something Roberto Rossellini once said about Chaplin’s A KING IN NEW YORK, it’s the film of a free man. You can hear me discuss it with Bennett Glace on the Split Tooth Media Podcast here. You can read my original review for Cine-file here.

5. Annette (Leos Carax, France)

4. The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion, New Zealand)

3. Shadow Kingdom (Alma Har’el, USA)

A lot of film people aren’t even aware of the Alma Har’el/Bob Dylan masterpiece SHADOW KINGDOM. Or, if they are aware of it, they don’t realize that it’s actually a movie. It was advertised as a “livestream event” in advance of its premiere on Veeps.com, which led many people to assume that it would be a concert (whether live or pre-recorded). What we got instead was a gorgeously photographed black-and-white art film, shot over seven days on multiple sets on a soundstage in Santa Monica, in which Dylan and a group of masked musicians mime along to a sublime set of new recordings of old Dylan songs. In my brief Letterboxd review, I called it “a visual album, not unlike Beyonce’s LEMONDADE as directed by Straub/Huillet” but if you want a deep dive into what makes it a truly exceptional film, you should listen to Laura Tenschert’s amazing analysis here. It was only available to stream for a week via Veeps (presumably before disappearing into the ether forever), but I might be able to show it to you if you want to come over to my place…

2. Drive My Car (Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Japan)

1. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Japan)

It isn’t often that I feel this way about a movie but when I saw the first of the two masterpieces that Ryusuke Hamaguchi released this year, I felt like I should have made it myself. Reviewed for Cine-file here.

Runners Up (in Alphabetical Order) :

The Card Counter (Schrader, USA)

Feast (Leyendekker, Netherlands)

Malignant (Wan, USA)

Memoria (Weerasethakul, Colombia)

Our Father (Smith, USA)

Procession (Greene, USA)

Shiva Baby (Seligman, Canada/USA)

This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection (Mosese, Lesotho)

Topology of Sirens (Davies, USA) – Reviewed for Cine-file here.

Zeros and Ones (Ferrara, Italy/USA)


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Benedetta (Verhoeven) – A-
2. Good Time (Safdie/Safdie) – A-
3. Pimps Up, Ho’s Down (Owens) – C+
4. Good Time (Safdie/Safdie) – A-
5. Good Time (Safdie/Safdie) – A-
6. Zeros and Ones (Ferrara) – B+
7. Procession (Greene) – A-
8. This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection (Mosese, Lesotho) – B+
9. Chungking Express (Wong) – A
10. Chungking Express (Wong) – A


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Breathless (Godard) – A
2. Days of Heaven (Malick) – A
3. Overwhelm the Sky (Kremer) – B+
4. Topology of Sirens (Davies) – A-
5. Days of Heaven (Malick) – A
6. Don’t Look Back (Pennebaker) – A+
7. Halloween (Carpenter) – A-
8. The Howling (Dante) – B
9. Breathless (Godard) – A
10. Rear Window (Hitchcock) – A+


Jonathan Davies’ TOPOLOGY OF SIRENS

I wrote a capsule review of Jonathan Davies’ TOPOLOGY OF SIRENS for http://www.cinefile.info ahead of its U.S. Premiere tomorrow night at the Chicago Underground Film Festival. I will be conducting a post-screening Q&A with Davies at the Logan Theater.

Jonathan Davies’ TOPOLOGY OF SIRENS
Logan Theater – Saturday, 6:45pm; also available to rent virtually
here
TOPOLOGY OF SIRENS is a tantalizing mystery film in the vein of early Jacques Rivette that imagines contemporary Los Angeles as a kind of giant game-board. Much like how PARIS BELONGS TO US features the search for a missing tape of “revolutionary guitar music” as a narrative jumping-off point, so too does Jonathan Davies’ first movie use the discovery of mysterious micro-casette tapes inside of an antique hurdy gurdy as a catalyst for an existential detective story. I love the way TOPOLOGY OF SIRENS imbues physical objects—and the physical media that is rapidly disappearing from the world in the 21st century in particular—with a totemic significance that makes it feel incredibly modern. A lot of critics are going to liken this to the work of other filmmakers (a couple of mesmerizing scenes on a baseball field recall the ending of Antonioni’s BLOW-UP in particular) but the best point of comparison I can make is with Thomas Pynchon’s 2013 novel Bleeding Edge, which has a similarly haunting quality in how it “makes strange” the recent past by treating it as if it were ancient history. Featuring elegant cinematography that thankfully eschews the gritty, handheld aesthetic so prevalent in modern independent American cinema, and a minimalist drone score that blurs the line between music and atmospheric sound effects, this is an astonishingly confident debut feature. Director Jonathan Davies in person. (2021, 106 min, DCP Digital) [Michael Glover Smith]


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