A brief note: despite my recent notes on journalistic film criticism, I’m not employing that format in my own film reviews here on Revland–this isn’t a suitable forum for that approach. I’ll continue writing my personal reviews however I feel like it from film to film.

A brief note to myself: I still need to review…

The Bride With White Hair

the one I’ve forgotten that I rented because Avalon was checked out . . .

Tremors 3: Back to Perfection

Quatermass and the Pit

Blood: The Last Vampire

Conspirators of Pleasure

Czech animator/filmmaker Jan Svankmajer is a master of eccentricities. This film, almost entirely without dialogue, charts the paths of six characters with strange personal fetishes. Most of the film consists of these people traveling around, gathering the materials they need for their fetish, and laying the groundwork for their personal epiphanies. One guy is buying scrub brushes, the fingertips of latex gloves, and nails. A woman tears off small hunks of bread and rolls them into little balls. A man builds a papier-mâché mask of a rooster from torn-up strips of porn magazines. And on and on. You spend the first two-thirds of the film baffled as to what they’re up to, and then everything comes together in humorous ways.

Despite the subject matter, this is a pretty humorous film. It’s a lot like that child’s boardgame Mousetrap, where you build the enormously complicated and ridiculous machine, then turn it loose. The movie is a long set up for several jokes that pay off in unexpected ways.

Although the film is live-action, it incorporates some elements of the stop-motion animation Svankmajer was originally known for in his short films. His features have been predominantly live-action, beginning with Alice and then Faust, this film, and his most recent, Little Otik. Like the Brothers Quay in Institute Benjamenta, he chose to work with real people when he made the jump to features. Unlike them, he rejected the self-consciously arty and went for more accessible, but even more bizarre, forms of entertainment.

Iron Monkey

A far better HK kung fu flick than I expected. Stunning action throughout, with a solid if uninspired story. Amazing, amazing stunt work and plenty of it. It’s also interesting to see because it’s sort of the Chinese version of Young Indiana Jones. The story features a young character named Wong Fei Hong, who is a wildly popular and long-lived character over there. The HK film industry has produced dozens of Wong Fei Hong films over the course of decades. We don’t really have a similar phenomenon here, unless you think of “Wong Fei Hong films” the way you think of “cowboy films.” Not that he’s a cowboy, but the character himself is sort of a genre that is up for grabs by anyone.

Wong Fei Hong is a fictional character, a shaolin monk, herbalist, and do-gooder who roams late 19th-century China with a western-style umbrella as his weapon. Jet Li played him in the Once Upon A Time In China movies, and Jackie Chan played him in Drunken Master 2.

In this film, Wong is a young boy traveling with his father–who is a shaolin monk, herbalist, and do-gooder in mid 19th-century China with a western-style umbrella as his weapon. The pair hook up with a masked hero, a Robin Hood sort who is fighting an oppressive governor. Mayhem ensues.

The film must be slightly odd for those who aren’t familiar with Wong Fei Hong. The story would be a perfectly serviceable one without the odd doctor and his butt-kicking young son, so the fact that these characters join the main story and pretty much take it over is a little weird. So is the close-up at the end of the film, where young Wong beams at the audience in one of those “We all know who I grow up to be!” moments that will be lost on much of the U.S. theater-going public. Once you understand who Wong is and that this is in large part a tale of his youth–his origin story, if you will–the film probably seems a lot more sensible. In any event, it’s a rollicking good time.

The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick

German filmmaker Wim Wenders kicked ass and took names in the 1970s and 80s with films like Alice in the Cities, Kings of the Road, and his last great film, Wings of Desire. He spent the 1990s turning out directionless, self-indulgent crap, creatively bloating into Elvis-like proportions. One hopes he may yet return to a state of grace.

My understanding is that Goalie was his first feature film. Released in 1971, it’s what people call an existential film. That’s another way of saying that the main character takes actions that are devoid of motivation or even context, and in some vague way we are meant to be left pondering. Wenders even suggests a meaning of sorts in the closing dialogue, but it’s the cinematic equivalent of watching clouds: stare at it long enough and you’ll see most anything.

This is not to say the film is bad. In brief, a soccer goalie gets suspended after zoning out during a penalty kick. He wanders around Vienna doing nothing in particular. Along the way he strangles a woman, but this action is presented with no more emphasis or purpose than anything else in the film; if I were a more dogmatic critic I might even leave out the reference to murder out of respect for the way in which it is presented within the film, being of no more importance than anything else in the story. But the fact of its nonchalance is nonetheless significant.

The result is something that is very much like a film, the way that the recent South Korean movie Nowhere to Hide was. This is to say that it is an idea of a film, a dream, the sort of film that students talk about perhaps making some day. “He’d just wander around, adrift, and he’d watch a movie and he’d kill someone and it would all be in equilibrium, you know.” Yes, we know, and this film is the result.

There was a time when Wim Wenders meant something in the world. Watching Goalie now, I feel that this film is a film about him, about Wenders, a young man walking off the field into the wild night of cinema, poised to do anything. Watching the film made me feel sad for this filmmaker, and for the decaying half-life of his talent.