Bit of an odd mix this Moving pictures post, although it’s a good geographical spread. Not so much of chronological spread, however, with one from the 1960s, one from the 1980s, and the rest less than a decade old (well, nearly). Half of the movies are by directors I’ve seen other films by – Edwards, Park and De Sica (two, four and six respectively). One of the films below was excellent, one was better than expected, and the rest were meh.
The Beast in Space, Alfonso Brescia (1980, Italy). I really liked Footprints on the Moon (see here), an Italian giallo released by Shameless, and I enjoyed The Tenth Victim (see here), also a Shameless release, but that doesn’t mean every film they’ve published is worth seeing. I’ve seen a number of spaghetti sci-fi films over the years – the most celebrated is probably StarCrash (see here) – and I’ll probably watch many more. But it’s a stretch to describe any of them as good, and The Beast in Space, which adds very mild softcore porn to the mix, is a case in point. It opens in a bar, and everything screams bad science fiction – the decor, the costumes, the dialogue… A studly man defends a woman from the approaches of a group of space merchants. Later, he offers her a position in his crew on the best spaceship in the galaxy, or something. It’s all about a planet at the edge of the galaxy which is the source of a valuable ore, but which few people have returned from. So the studly man’s spaceship flies there, and they discover the world’s secret – its inhabitants are immortal thanks to the unique ore… And there’s some giant satyr-like creature which chases the woman through a forest. Or something. The Beast in Space is pretty tame, and though the bad science fiction feels mostly like its in service to the titillating parts of the movie, the end result is something that doesn’t convince as either.
Priceless, Pierre Salvadori (2006, France). Audrey Tatou plays a young woman who lives as a kept woman. She targets rich old men, and enjoys a rich lifestyle as a result. One day, she mistakes a waiter for a rich playboy. He plays along, spending all his savings in the process, but is quickly dropped when Tatou realises her mistake. But then he is picked up by a wealthy older woman and becomes her toy boy, and so starts to follow the same lifestyle as Tatou. So, of course, they keep on bumping into each other and, of course, fall for each other. They try to outdo each other, seeing who can scam the most out of their patrons. And they manage a relationship under the noses of their sugar daddy/mummy. In an earlier decade, this might have played as a light fun comedy in which a pair of ne’er-do-wells take advantage of the rich. But these days it feels like a complete mis-step. We’re not the rich’s problem, they are ours. They take our money and hoard it. We know trickle-down theory doesn’t work. In fact, we know any economic theory which concentrates wealth decreases quality of life for everyone else. So there’s nothing amusing about rich people being shown as unwitting dupes. Oh my, someone cons a Rolex out of them. Boo hoo. When the truth of the matter is: a government should tax the shit out of them. You want fairness? Then redistribute wealth. The American Dream is a pernicious lie, and serves only those already in positions of wealth and power. So it’s a little disappointing to see European cinema opting into the same mendacious narrative.
The Handmaiden, Park Chan-wook (2016, South Korea). You know those films which are structured in several parts – not acts – in which each part tells the story from a different character’s point of view and so offers a different persepctive on the story to the viewer. This is one of those. In the first part, a young woman is put in place as the maid of a rich man’s daughter, so she can gaslight the daughter into marrying the con man who arranged for her hiring. Once married, he plans to consign his wife to an asylum and live off her fortune with the maid. But he pulls a switch at the end, and the maid is committed while the daughter goes off with the con man. Except… in the second part, the story is told from the daughter’s point of view, outlining quite how horrible her father – a collector of rare Japanese porn – is, and the things he makes her do. And, well, the daughter discovers the con man’s game and decides to turn the tables on him… And there’s yet another take on the story in the third part… and any real discussion of the plot would involve lots of spoilers so maybe not… The movie looks gorgeous, and its structure, with its voiceovers and overt exposition, works extremely well. I don’t think it’ll make my top five for the year, but it’ll certainly get an honourable mention.
Ghost in the Shell, Rupert Sanders (2017, USA). There was a lot of fuss when this film was announced because it’s an anime property and yet its main roles in this, its Hollywood live-action adaptation, were being played by white actors. Certainly they could have found an Asian actress to play Scarlett Johansen’s role, they’ve done it in other films. And you have to wonder how much influence stars have on box office, especially for known genre properties like Ghost in the Shell, a popular anime series. True, Beat Takeshi plays Johansen’s boss – but unless you know Japanese cinema, and that means you’ve likely seen the original Ghost in the Shell anime, that probably means little. The original was very much influenced by Blade Runner, and this US remake pushes that even further. The CGI is actually very pretty throughout. Unfortunately, the plot is dull. Johansen plays a woman given a cyborg body after a horrific accident. She is a member of an anti-terrorist squad which is chasing a mysterious villain who is threatening Hanka, a powerful robotics company. There’s a sideplot about Johansen remembering little of her past, and discovering that what she does remember has been falsified, but it’s given little weight against the main shoot-em-up plot. I can see why this film didn’t do very well, despite looking flash – in an OTT-CGI sort of way – in parts.
Monsters, Gareth Edwards (2010, UK). Edwards is, of course, the director of Rogue One, a gig he landed after this film and Godzilla. Which is a pretty meteoric rise. Star Wars is, after all, a massive property, and jealously guarded by Disney. They don’t just let anyone near it – and they’ve quickly fired anyone who treated it in a way Disney felt it should not be treated. Which makes Monsters surprising on two fronts – that the director of Monsters would be chosen to direct Rogue One, and that he would stay in the job as director of Rogue One. Monsters is set in Central America, and depicts a US couple’s efforts to to return home through an “infected zone” – northern Mexico – that has been devastated by an alien invasion. Initially, the aliens are never actually seen, only the damage they’ve wrought. But toward the end, once the couple reach the US, the aliens do make an appearance – and the CGI is a bit dodgy. Unfortunately, the film seems to depict the Central Americans as chiefly either corrupt or violent. A businessman charges them $5000 for a ferry ticket to the US coast. The male half of the couple – he’s actually an employee of the woman’s father – is then robbed by a woman he picks up in a bar… forcing the couple to take a more dangerous route. The treatment of the aliens is cleverly done – final scene notwithstanding – and the wrecks and ruins the couple witness on their journey north are convincingly staged (I assume they’re pretty much entirely CGI). The giant wall forming the US border – I expect Trump has that part of the film on a loop so he can masturbate over it – is especially effective. Better than I’d expected, even if the male lead is annoyingly useless.
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, Vittorio De Sica (1963, Italy). De Sica is, like Visconti, one of those directors whose films I have watched sort of accidentally. The films of his I have mostly watched have been Italian Neorealist, which is not a film genre I’m especially fond of (but there are a number of them on the 1001 Movies you Must See Before You Die list). I’m pretty sure Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow doesn’t qualify as Italian Neorealist. It’s actually a sort of anthology film, although all three of its stories were directed by De Sica, and all three star Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. The first is set just after WWII. Loren and Mastroianni are poor. He’s out of work, she makes a living selling contraband ciagrettes. But she’s caught and fined. They can’t pay the fine, so the police come to arrest her. But they can’t because they’re not allowed to arrest pregant women. Loren manages to maintain her freedom by getting serially pregnant… for seven or eight years. Eventually, she decides enough is enough, and agrees to go to prison. But Mastroianni persuades a lawyer to petition for a pardon, which she receives. I wouldn’t have thought carrying, giving birth and caring for seven kids was preferable to a prison sentence. In the second story, Loren is an industrialist’s trophy wife, who gives her lover, Mastroianni, a ride from the airport in her husband’s expensive Rolls-Royce convertible. They bicker. En route, she is forced to swerve to avoid a child on the road, and crashes the Rolls. The damage to the car pisses her off more than the fact she nearly killed someone. Mastroianni is not impressed. She flags down a sportscar, and goes off with tis driver, leaving Mastroianni with the crashed Rolls Royce. In the final story, Loren is a high-class prostitute. Her neighbour’s grandson visits, and falls in love with Loren. Unfortunately, he’s all set to head off to the senminary, and his grandparents are horrified by his decision to pack it in to woo Loren. So Loren, with their help of one of her clients, Mastroianni, a playboy, try to convince the erstwhile priest not to give up his calling. Of the three stories, the first was the most memorable, and the second by far the most dull. Meh.
1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 885