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Moving pictures 2017, #62

Let it not be said I don’t watch a variety of films, as this post should demonstrate. Okay, half are from the US, but from the 1930s and 1990s and the current decade… and the last is a spoof a 1970s exploitation film…

Animal Crackers, Victor Heerman (1930, USA). There were two films on one Blu-ray disc I was sent from this collection, and I wasn’t especially impressed by the first, The Cocoanuts (see here). But I had at least heard of Animal Crackers; if someone had asked me to name a Marx Brothers films, it’s one of four titles I could have given. And, after all that, I liked it even less than The Cocoanuts. It’s based on a musical play of the same title, which also starred the Marx Brothers. Groucho plays a renowned explorer who has been invited as guest of honour to a weekend party at the house of a wealthy socialite. An art collector, also invited, plans to unveil a painting he has recently acquired by a famous French rococo painter as a treat for the guests. Cue Groucho insulting host and guests, a running joke in which two groups of people try to steal the painting and replace it with a copy, leading to total confusion over which is the original, and a mildy amusing gag in which Chico asks Harpo for a “flash” (he means a torch, but the gag wouldn’t have worked if he’d said flashlight) and Harpo pulls out a succession of incorrect items – a fish, a flush, a flute… Given their stature, I’ve been surprised at how unimpressed I’ve been by the Marx Brothers films I’ve seen so far. I’ll keep them on my rental list, and hope they improve.

Raising Cain, Brian De Palma (1992, USA). I don’t get De Palma. I get that he makes thriller films, and quite effective ones… but they’re so, well, rubbish. I mean, they’re not in the least bit plausible or convincing, although they’re presented with an absolutely straight face, impressively straight faces by the cast in fact. In Raising Cain, John Lithgow plays twins, one of whom is a child psychologist who needs volunteers for his pioneer child psychologist father’s experiments in Norway… and so ends up kidnapping a kid from a playground, with the help of his twin, who is, well, evil. Except they’re not twins. There’s only one of them, and he has multiple personalities. Lithgow also plays the father, who turns up halfway through the movie. And he’s like some sort of Mengel figure, but in child psychology. And it turns out he deliberately gave his son multiple personality disorder because reasons. It was all very silly, even if it started out quite well – which is something De Palma’s films do, I seem to recall. I don’t remember why I put this one on my rental list, but at least I won’t have to watch it again. Meh.

Crisis, Ingmar Bergman (1946, Sweden). According to my records, I’ve now seen 34 films by Bergman, which makes him my second most-watched director after Hitchcock. (The figures look like this for the top ten: 1. Hitchcock (44), 2. Bergman (34), 3. Herzog (33), 4. Sokurov (28), 5. Jennings (27), 6. Godard (25), 7. Lang (23), 8. Preminger (22), 9. Ozon (21) and 10. Hawks (19).) Crisis is actually the first film Bergman directed. He also wrote the screenplay. And it’s very, well, Bergman-esque. A young woman in a small village finds herself torn between her foster mother, a piano teacher, and her real mother, the glamorous owner of a beauty salon in the city… Not to mention exploring her own power over the young men of the village. The bulk of the film seems to be about generational conflicts, with the young people of the village, egged on by Jack, a dodgy friend of the young woman’s real mother. At a recital, where all the elders of the village are gathered, Jack kicks off an impromptu jazz party in the next room, and incenses all the village worthies. Bergman spreads his conflict widely – across generations, city versus village, men versus women… For all that it was his first film, Crisis feels like a solid piece of Bergman work. But then Bergman wasn’t new to drama, having been involved with film-making since 1941. Even so, that demonstrates a notable talent, which he more than demonstrated over the next fifty years. Ingmar Bergman is not just a giant in Swedish film, but globally. It’s a shame he’s considered a bit fringe by most Anglophone cinema-goers.

Taipei Story, Edward Yang (1985, Taiwan). This is the last of the films on the Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project No. 2, which includes DVD and Blu-ray (sadly, region A) copies of six movies, from the Philippines, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Turkey and Taiwan. Having now seen several – well, three – of Yang’s films, and having thought all three of them excellent, I think I have a handle on his film-making. His films are about people trying to make sense of their lives in Taiwan. In Yi Yi (see here), it’s initiated by the preparations for a marriage. In Taipei Story, it’s a young woman and her relationship with her boyfriend, an ex-baseball player, whose finances are precarious. Hou Hsiao-hsien, whose films I love, plays the male lead, the female lead is a Taiwanese pop star who ended up marrying Yang. There is something about Yang’s films that appeals greatly – and not just to me, judging by the plaudits he has received. They seem almost documentary-like in their starkness, a likeness only heightened by their use of real locations, rather than sets, and handicams. In fact, on reflection, one of the appeals of Chinese and Taiwanese cinemas, especially sixth generation Chinese cinema, is its lack of soundstage footage and the fact much of it is location shooting. Hitchcock was a master of soundstage shooting, and I do love it in my 1950s melodramas, but Taiwanese and Chinese cinemas’ seeming insistence on less artificial staging is very much in its favour. I don’t know enough about the cinema tradition in the two countries to know if this was an artistic choice, or a result of the constraints on film-making in the country, government or otherwise – but The Goddess, made in 1934, was plainly made on a set, although that was a world away historically and politically; on the other hand, Jia Zhangke’s first three films were made illegally as he did not have government permission… None of which is entirely relevant. Anyway, Taipei Story is indeed excellent, and I plan to watch more of Yang’s films.

The Love Witch, Anna Biller (2016, USA). I want to make a film, I know, I’ll make a pitch-perfect spoof of a 1970s exploitation B-movie… I’m not sure it’s a thought process I’d have followed, had I the talent, skills and resources to make a feature film – although I can think of many bad films I’d like to remake (sf ones, of course). But I can also think of a number of sf novels I’d sooner adapt, rather than remake or reboot an earlier film… And I think my first choice for such a novel would be AE van Vogt’s The House That Stood Still, a hackity mess of California noir and pulp sf, and for which I have a completely unjustifiable love… And okay, I guess I see why Biller made The Love Witch. And it’s so beautifully done you’d swear you were watching a 1970s movie – except, that is, for the feminist lecture in the middle. Which is well deserved, I might add. Because it’s all very well aping the forms of 1970s exploitations cinema, but aping the sensibilities requires a tone-deafness to present day society that is, well, strictly Hollywood. Biller, happily, is not Hollywood. This may be a note-perfect spoof of a 1970s film but it’s also a 2017 film and that’s undeniable. I watched The Love Witch expecting a guilty pleausure and ended up becoming a fan of Biller.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Tony Richardson (1962, UK). I picked this up from a charity shop for £1.99, which isn’t bad for a dual-format BFI release. I’d certainly heard of the film before, and while Tony Richardson was not a name I knew particularly well – see Joseph Andrews here – my knowledge of the film was enough to lead to high expectations… which it failed to meet. Tom Courtenay plays a youth – although he looks his age, twenty-five, rather than the youth he’s supposed to be – who is sent to a borstal, Ruxton Towers. The borstal’s governor spots that Courtenay is a good runner, and so encourages him. The film ends with the borstal boys running against the pupils from a nearby public school (for non-British readers, that’s a private school). Their best runner is James Fox. Courtenay beats him, but refuses to cross the finish line. Throughout the film, Courtenay’s life is told in flashbacks. He lived in Nottingham – so it’s very much Saturday Night, Sunday Morning territory (also adapted from an Alan Sillitoe novel) – and was arrested for stealing a cashbox from a bread van. I’d expected more of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, which is often held up as a classic of 1960s UK cinema, especially its kitchen-sink realism side. But it all felt a bit put-on, like a cross between a BBC play for today and a Northern soap opera. Meh.

1001 Movies you Must See Before You Die count: 885

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Moving pictures 2017, #61

I’m still not sure what to make of Ken Russell and his oeuvre – as a film-maker that is; his sf novel, Mike & Gaby’s Space Gospel, was fucking dreadful. Valentino was, at least, a very Russell film, but in good Russell ways rather than bad Russell ways. Welles, I am becoming something of a fan of (and there’s a construction us writers just love), and Puenzo too is proving a name to watch. Guzmán, on the other hand, just makes brilliant documentaries.

Valentino, Ken Russell (1977, USA). The title is the plot – it’s the life of Rudolph Valentino, silent movie star, played by Rudolf Nureyev. But it’s also a Ken Russell film. So it opens with Velentino’s funeral, and the invasion of the funeral parlour by the hordes of fans waiting outside. There’s a artificiality to the staging which spoils it a little, but when the mourners manage to barricade themselves in the parlour, and each tells their story about Valentino, it starts to make sense. Valentino started out as a dancer at a dance-hall, then toured the country in a dance act, before catching the eye of an actress out carousing with Fatty Arbuckle, and so being introduced to Hollywood. Valentino’s sexuality is addressed in the film – by all accounts, he was straight, but his dandiness (is that a word?) led people to suppose he was gay – in as much as Russell has others characterise Valentino as gay despite presenting ample evidence he wasn’t. Those who loomed large in Valentino’s life loom large in the film, especially his original Hollywood patron, over-played by Leslie Caron, and both the staging and acting give much of the film a sort of fevered intensity that makes the subject seem, well, pure fiction. Having read the Wikipedia article on Rudolph Valentino, he seems to have had a more interesting life and career than is laid out in Russell’s film, but I suspect Russell had other concerns. Of the films Valentino actually made, I’ve only seen The Eagle… and I couldn’t really see what all the fuss was about. As for Valentino the movie… I’d put it in Russell’s top ten, but then he only made twenty-one feature films…

Macbeth, Orson Welles (1948, USA). After my comments on Welles’s Othello (see here), I feel a little embarrassed because his Macbeth is pretty much a rehearsal for Othello. This is how Welles did Shakespeare and, it seems, Othello, rather than being a unique perspective on the play, is actually just a follow on from Macbeth. It has the same stark black and white cinematography, the same brutal scenery, the same use of intense close-ups… but it doesn’t do it quite as well as Othello, for all that Macbeth is, arguably, the more powerful play. Unfortunately, Macbeth does suffer from a cast putting on bad Scottish accents, and that’s a major distraction. (Welles blacking up as Othello is offensive, but not distracting per se.) I’ve never been a fan of “the Scottish play”, and I much prefer Shakespeare’s ludicrous comedies (and the occasional romance). But Macbeth has a presence in popular culture that Shakespeare’s other plays cannot match, and I can understand why Welles might have staged it. (But, let’s face it, Falstaff – Chimes at Midnight, a film whose narrative is a combination of Falstaff’s appearances in Shakespeare’s plays is a much more interesting idea. It’s also a great film (see here).) Welles’s Macbeth, crap accents aside, is a pretty good staging of the play. Although, to be honest, I’ve only seen it twice before – the BBC adaptation, and a school trip to the Crucible back in the late 1970s, about which the only things I remember are: everyone in the cast wore Edwardian uniforms. the sets consisted of giant grey sheets of metal with holes in them, it starred Cally (Jan Chappell) from Blake’s 7, and our headmaster fell asleep during the play and snored loudly.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Mamoru Hosoda (2006, Japan). Since I couldn’t find a copy of the original movie adaptation of the novel, I put the anime remake on my rental list and, in the way that sometimes you’re convinced rental firms like Cinema Paradiso take the piss, they sent it out the week after I’d watched the sequel (see here). And, after all, that it seems the anime film takes a few liberties with the source novel and isn’t much of a prequel to Time Traveller: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, despite their shared origin. For a start, the leaping through time bit here seems mostly accidental and unconscious. It starts when a teenage girl loses control of her bicycle and and is pitched in front of a train at a level crossing. Once she learns how to do it consciously, she uses it for small trivial things. It’s all down to a small device she found at school, and which prioves to be a time-travelling device from the future… which she is abusing. I really like Time Traveller: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, it was a fun poke at 1970s youth culture in Japan, but The Girl Who Leapt Through Time seemed more like bland anime fodder for the international market. The animation was high quality, but nothing stood out. And the story is hardly memorable. From the cover alone, comparisons with Studio Ghibli’s output are inevitable, but if you’ve seen all the Ghibli films you’d be better off checking out Makoto Shinkai than The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.

The Pearl Button, Patricio Guzmán (2015, Chile). If you’ve not seen a Guzmán documentary, then you really should. And The Pearl Button is as good a place as any to start. In the UK, we know Chile chiefly because Maggie Thatcher was chummy with its dictator, Pinochet, and we knew Pinochet was a Bad Sort. But then, that’s the sort of fingers-in-ears la-la-la we’re so very good at in the so-called Western world. Pinochet was a monster and his regime was appalling. And yet he was not unique in the history of Chile. Guzmán riffs on water, its ubiquity, its presence in the universe, its uses on Earth, to tell a story about Pinochet’s regime, what happened to supporters of Salvador Allende, and Chile’s shameful history when it comes to the indigenous peoples of Patagonia. The Disappeared, the politicial prisoners who were tortured to death and their bodies dropped in the ocean from helicopters… these are horrible but not entirely unexpected given Pinochet’s regime. But the way the Chilean government of the nineteenth century treated the peoples of Patagonia… They “Christianised” them and gave them disease-ridden clothing… and if that didn’t kill them, they put a bounty on their heads: so much for a man’s genitals, a woman’s breast, a child’s scalp… Of the four peoples mentioned in the film, only one survives, and that only in a handful of old people in a reservation. And yet the photographs of all four from the eighteenth century, before they were killed off, show vibrant and fascinating peoples, with abilities, in navigation especially, that merited study. The Pearl Button is a fascinating meditation on Chile and its history and a horrific condemnation of certain aspects of the country’s past. There are, I suppose, two types of documentary: those which make you a fan of the human race, with good reason; and those which make you wish for an asteroid strike, with good reason. The Pearl Button definitely falls in the latter category, but it is nonentheless required viewing.

The Fish Child, Lucía Puenzo (2009, Argentina). I first came across Puenzo several years ago when I watched XXY, but it wasn’t until I watched Wakolda (see here) and thought it very good that I decided to explore her oeuvre… And now I’ve seen The Fish Child, which means I’ve seen all of her feature films, and which I didn’t enjoy as much as the other two. A young woman from a well-off family in Argentina is having a love affair with the young woman who has worked as a maid for the family since her early teens. The two plan to run away to the maid’s home in Paraguay. So they steal some jewellery, but the maid is caught and imprisoned. The other woman goes to Paraguay, and meets the maid’s father, a television star, and learns of the legend of the Fish Child in the lake near their home. The climax of the film is a prison-break, but there’s plenty going on in and around that. The narrative jumps backwards and forwards in time – using that old trick of signalling different time periods through hairstyles – and it takes a bit of getting used to. It felt a bit cnbfused in places, which undermined its thrillerish plot. But Puenzo is definitely a director worth watching, and I hope she has something new out soon.

The Idealist, Christina Rosendahl (2015, Denmark). My mother lent me this one; she found it in a charity shop – and she’s keen on anything Danish as we have family there. The Idealist is dramatisation of a true story, about a journalist who investigated the high incidences of cancer among men who had worked at the Thule USAF base during the 1960s… and ended up uncovering an abuse of government power by the then prime minister. In the late 1950s, the Danes had voted to refuse nuclear weapons on their territory, and HC Hansen’s government had been voted into power on that platform. In 1968, a USAF B-52 carrying four hydrogen bombs crashed. The US and Denmark instituted a clean-up operation, and it is cancer among the Danish men involved in this that journalist Poul Brink investigates. The Danish government refuses to acknowledge the crash site was contaminated enough to cause the cancer, despite evidence to the contrary. But while looking into the events of 1968, including clues that one of the bombs did not break apart on impact but fell through the ice and still lies on the ocean floor, Brink learns that Hansen secretly allowed the US to store nuclear weapons on Danish territory in Greenland. When the Danish government threatens him with jail if he reports what he has learned, he goes ahead and reports it – and spends several months in prison. It’s an interesting story, but when you consider what journalism was like then – the film is set in the 1980s – compared to what it is now… Newspapers stopped being fit for purpose several years ago – and the term “investigative journalism” is now starting to sound like an oxymoron. Worth seeing.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 885


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Moving pictures 2017, #60

My film viewing seems to have been bouncing all over the place of late. A 1950s melodrama (but… Rock Hudson!), a Marx Brothers comedy, a classic Japanese film, a British historical farce…

One Desire, Jerry Hopper (1955, USA). I find it hard to resist 1950s melodramas, especially ones starring Rock Hudson, even if they’re not, well, set in the 1950s. Like this one, which is based on a novel by Conrad Richter and is set at the turn of the twentieth century. Anne Baxter plays the madam and co-owner of a brothel/casino in the mid-West. Hudson is Baxter’s lover and dealer at the casino, but he’s ambitious and keen to head to Colorado and the silver mines. When he gets fired, he persuades Baxter to accompany him. At their destination, Hudson bumps into the local senator’s daughter, Julie Adams, charms her and ends up being appointed manager of the local bank. Baxter meanwhile takes in a young Natalie Wood after she’s orphaned when her miner father dies in a cave-in. Adams has her sights set on Hudson, and uses a PI to dig up Baxter’s past and show she is an unfit guardian for Wood and Hudson’s young brother. Baxter, humiliated in court, goes back to her old job in the casino. Hudson marries Adams, but doesn’t love her. Years later, Wood runs away and finds Baxter. Baxter returns and opens a saloon opposite Adams’s house. Adams accidentally sets her own house on fire and perishes. Hudson marries Baxter. Happy ending. Sort of. A pretty typical Technicolor period drama. I enjoyed it… but then I like 1950s Technicolor dramas.

La gloire de mon père, Yves Robert (1990, France). My mother lent me this – it’s a two-film set, with Le château de mère – and it was not a film known to me. It apparently was very successful in France, and I can sort of see why. It’s very… nice. It reminded me of the sort of the dreadful nostalgic crap the British industry churns out these days (alongside mockney gangster movies and horrendous rom coms, the latter mostly written by Richard Curtis). The first clue is the voice-over – the main character is a kid, and the voice-over is his adult self, commenting on the events of his childhood. Like anyone can actually remember their childhood in that level of detail. In this case, the boy’s father is a socialist atheist teacher in the south of France during the first decade of the twentieth century. The boy’s aunt marries a local businessman who is the complete opposite of the father. One summer, the two families stay in the country, in the area in which they are originally from. And, during a hunt, the father shoots and kills two rock patrridges and celebrates his success – the “glory” of the title. The irony of this is that the father had previously taken the piss out of someone who had been photographed with a fish he had caught, and now he glories in a photo of himself with his two rock partridges. Other than that… I’m not entirely sure what point the film is trying to make. It’s based on a 1957 auto-biographical novel by Marcel Pagnol, and though I’ve not read the book, and am unlikely to ever do so, I very much doubt it’s as saccharine as this film. The DVD came packaged with a sequel, Le château de mère, and I’ll probably watch it. I hope it has more bite than this one.

The Cocoanuts, Robert Florey & Joseph Santley (1929, USA). I’ve never seen enough Marx Brothers’ films to determine whether or not I ought to be a fan, in fact I’m not entirely sure I’ve seen any of their most famous films (you know, the ones with titles Queen stole for their albums), although I’m familiar with the characters and many of Groucho’s best-known quotes. Since there was a new collection of their’ films just released by Arrow – The 4 Marx Brothers at Paramount 1929 – 1933 – I added its contents to my rental list. This was the first to arrive – and, coincidentally, the earliest film in the collection. The film is set in a Florida hotel run by the brothers – there’s no plot as such. There are several muscial routines, like out of a Busby Berkley film, but the rest of it is just the the Marx Brothers running aruond and playing their characters. Groucho is, surprisingly, not all that witty. Harpo is just as creepy as usual. Chico is probably the funniest character, for all that his put-on accent is considered offensive these days. Zeppo is in there somewhere, but for the life of me I can’t remember him. I guess that’s why he dropped out. I’d expected more of The Cocoanuts – it wasn’t especially funny or witty. And while the production numbers were a big part of it, I like Busby Berkley films so I’ve seen better (and more eye-boggling). The Marx Brothers films are worth seeing as historical Hollywood documents, but don’t expect too much of them.

Joseph Andrews, Tony Richardson (1977, UK). Some films just seem to appear on my rental list and I’ve no idea why. If it’s a Japanese or South Korean film, then David Tallerman probably added them using the app on my phone when we were down the pub (but he won’t be able to do that anymore, as Cinema Paradiso doesn’t have an app). Sometimes, I vaguely recall seeing a trailer and so must have added the film myself. But there are some which, for the life of me, I cann’t recall why I put it on my rental list. Like Joseph Andrews. A British historical farce, based on a 1742 Henry Fielding novel, starring Colin Firth, Ann-Margret, Michael Hordern, Beryl Reid, John Gielgud, Peggy Ashcroft, Jim Dale, Wendy Craig, Ronald Pickup, Penelope Wilton, Kenneth Cranham, Timothy West… and lots more familiar Brit thesp faces. Firth plays the title character, a young man who draws the attention of libertine aristocrat Ann-Margret. Then he’s waylaid on the road, or something, and ends up at an inn, where he’s nearly arrested. The plot, such as it is, has Firth bouncing from one comical encounter to another, before eventually rejoining his love back in his home village. I can think of little to recommend this film – nothing about it stands out. I spent most of it playing “spot the luvvie”, which is a bit like watching the Carry On film without the jokes. Meh.

The Lady of Musashino, Kenji Mizoguchi (1951, Japan). I bought the Japanese Masters box set – deleted for several years, so hard to find – because it included an Ozu film that was no longer available. The other “master” is Kenji Mizoguchi, and the set includes two of his most celebrated films: The Life of Oharu (see here) and The Lady of Musashino. The latter film is set shortly after WWII. The title character lives in a village just outside Tokyo – the films opens with them witnessing the bombing of Tokyo from Musashino. Her husband is a drunkard who abuses her. Her cousin’s husband keeps on propositioning her, and a younger cousin who comes to live with them fancies her. The film navigates these complicated relationships – which is something Mizoguchi does really well – before finding a solution that suits all but the title character – which is something Mizoguchi also does a lot. When it comes to Japanese cinema from the first half of the twentieth century, I prefer Ozu’s ensemble pieces to Mizoguchi’s character studies (some of which are historical), and I really should watch more Kurosawa (which I’ve recently remedied by adding a bunch of his films to my rental list)… Anyway, the title character of The Lady of Musashino must find a way out of the complicated personal relationships that have accreted around her, and yet also protect Musashino. I like that Mizoguchi puts a woman front and centre, even in a society in which gender roles are extremely constrained, as he also does in The Life of Oharu – and I like that he does it so well she is the best-drawn charatcer in the film. The transfer, it must be said, is not great, but it’s not as much of a hurdle as it is with The Life of Oharu, several important scenes of which take place at night. I’ve seen several Mizoguchi films over the years – the first was apparently Ugetsu Monogatari back in 2012 – more by accident than design, I think, but I have a box set of four of his films, given to me by David Tallerman, which I’m now quite looking forward to watching…

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 885


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Moving pictures 2017, #59

Six films, six countries. One director I’m a fan of, five directors new to me. So it goes.

Every Picture Tells a Story, James Scott (1967 – 1984, UK). So I decided to split my rental list and include documentaries, and this was the first one I was sent. Last year, I’d rented a collection of Humphrey Jennings’s documentaries, and loved them so much I bought all three DVDs of his films. James Scott was a documentary film-maker new to me, a Brit, whose career stretched through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. His father was famous Ulster painter William Scott, and it is a dramatisation of the William Scott’s life which gives this collection its title. It’s not a documentary but a docudrama, starring Phyllis Logan (remember Lovejoy?) as Scott’s mother and Alex Norton (remember Taggart… um, after Taggart himself was no longer in it?) as his father. The remaining films on the two discs are documentaries about artists – David Hockney making etchings, Claes Oldenburg visiting the UK for a retrospective of his work at the Tate Gallery, on RB Kitaj, on Richard Hamilton, and a documentary for the Arts Council. It’s fascinating stuff, and more than justifies my decision to include documentaries in my rental viewing. (Interestingly, Scott’s one feature film for Hollywood was butchered before release by Weinstein and flopped badly.)

Assassin’s Creed, Justin Kurzel (2016, USA). A colleague at work wondered if I’d be able to follow the plot of this film given I’ve never played the games from which it was adapted. Nope, no trouble at all, seemed very straightforward. I was, however, surprised to find a science fiction tentpole blockbuster with half of its dialogue not in English (in Spanish, in this case). Michael Fassbender plays a convict on Death Row, who wakes up after his execution in a scientific institute in Madrid (although it looks more like some sort of Brutalist fortress). He is told he’ll be a subject in an experiment that will use his “genetic memory” so he can witness the life of a fifteenth-century ancestor. This is because the institute is owned by the Knights Templar, who are a powerful and power-hungry international organisation, and they’re after the Apple of Eden, which will eliminate human free will and so put them in total control, and which was last seen in the fifteenth century by… Fassbender’s ancestor. Who was actually a member of a secret order dedicated to combating the Knights Templar, the Assassins. Um, yes. It’s all risible nonsense, and makes even less sense when you watch a pair of knackered Assassins kill several hundred Knights Templar in an extended fight/parkour chase scene through mediaeval Madrid. I mean, if the Assassins were that effective, how could they lose? But it turns out they were just biding their time, because they don’t know where the Apple is either. But they mean to make sure the Templars don’t get it. The Templars are Nazis in all but name, given a thin veneer of multinational corporatism, which would make for telling political commentary… if only the film wasn’t so dumb. The Assassins are your typical Hollywood genre good guys – ie, just as violent and brutal as the bad guys, but righteous. Which could also make for telling political commentary… if only the world-building wasn’t so stupid. One for fans of the game.

Oedipus Rex, Pier Paolo Pasolino (1967, Italy). I’ve written before there are two types of Pasolini film – let’s call them the character film and the landscape film – and this definitely falls squarely into the latter category. It was filmed in North Africa, like Pasolini’s Arabian Nights and Medea (sort of), although its story takes place in Ancient Greece. It pretty much follows the Ancient Greek story. An oracle tells a king he will be killed by his son, so his wife arranges for the baby to be taken away and killed. But a passerby rescues the baby boy and raises it as his own son. Once grown, the man, Oedipus, goes wandering. He encounters a merchant – he thinks – on the road, gets into a fight with him and his soldiers, and kills them. Later, he stumbles across a man (played by Pasolini’s partner, Ninetto Davoli) who is from a town terrorised by a monster. Oedipus kills the monster and is offered the throne of the town, as the king had vanished some years before while on pilgrimage. He accepts and marries the queen. He then learns that the merchant he’d killed earlier had been the king of the town. And further learns that he was adopted and that his father was… the king he had murdered… which makes his wife his mother. Just like the prophecy. Imagine that. Like Pasolini’s other “landscape” films – I’m not convinced the categorisation works, but let’s go with it – makes ample use of its Moroccan locations, features many non-actors in supporting roles, and lokos absolutely fabulous. There’s none of the earthy, or scatological, humour of this “character” films, but everything looks so good, and so idiosyncratic, that the seriousness – which, to be fair, often teeters on the edge of humour – seems fitting. Excellent stuff.

Time Traveller: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Masaaki Tanigushi (2010, Japan). Annoyingly, this is the sequel to a live action adaptation of a 1965/1966 serialised novel, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, which was released in 1983, and later remade in 1997, and then remade as anime in 2006… And I’d seen none of those versions of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, so I was coming to this belated sequel cold. Japanese films, especially ones based on well-known domestic properties, obviously don’t make concessions to international audiences. So it took me a while to figure out what was going on in Time Traveller. But the back-story didn’t really matter all that much. Young woman tries to track down the first love of her mother, comatose after an accident, and so travels back in time to the year of their relationship, 1972. but she gets it wrong and ends up in 1974. Where she ends up falling in with a geek amateur film director, while she triesd to track down her mother’s lover, even though she’s two years too late. It all felt like an affectionate spoof of the period, in much the same way Back to the Future did for 1950s small-town USA. But unlike that film, it ends up in a completely different place and concludes with a bitter-sweet ending. I liked it. I liked it enough to want to see the first film… which was when I discovered it had been released twenty-seven years earlier… so I ended up sticking the anime version on my rental list. But I’d still like to see the 1983 movie. And the 1997 movie as well. Happily, Time Traveller: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time does stand pretty well on its own, and is worth watching.

Take Care of My Cat, Jeong Jae-eun (2001, South Korea). I had thought I’d stumbled across this one on my own, but no, apparently David Tallerman added it to my rental list during one of our afternoons in Shalesmoor. I thought I might have added it myself because the title reminded me of No One Knows About Persian Cats, an excellent Iranian film. But no. Take Care of My Cat follows five young women after they graduate from high school. One joins a brokerage firm as a junior clerk, another works for free at her parents’ sauna, two twins sell handmade jewellery on the street, and one holds a succession of low-paying jobs because she wants to be an artist. And, er, that’s about it. There’s no plot, no three-act structure, no actual story… just character growth. Things happen – two of the women fall out, and a third tries to keep the group together; the artist’s grandparents, with whom she lives, are killed when the roof of their house collapses; the brokerage clerk’s ego takes a battering at work when she’s told she won’t go far without a degree… It’s an ensemble piece and it rises or falls according to the characterisation of its central cast, and their presentation by the actors. Happily, both are done well. The central dufference of opinion feels entirely in keeping with the characters of the two young women involved as they are written and played. It’s not the most thrilling film ever made and, despite its ending, it could perhaps have benefited from a little more plot. But it’s good stuff and worth seeing.

Japayuki, Joey Romero (1993, Philippines). The cover art, or what passes for  it on Amazon Prime, managed to disguise what proved to be a 24-year-old bog-standard true-crime thriller made in the Philippines about overseas Filipino workers. The term “japayuki” is used by Filipinos to describe the young women who work overseas in Japan, in a variety of jobs but mostly entertainment (ie, dancers in bars, and so on). The film opens with Maricris Soison’s body being returned to the Philippines. She apparently died of hepatits B. But an autopsy reveals she had actually been tortured and beaten to death. A campaigner is determined to discover the truth of her murder. Maricris worked as a dancer in a Tokyo nightclub and, the campaigner is told, had a drug problem. She digs deeper and discovers this a lie – the dancers were kept locked up in their accommodation, were not allowed to keep their passports, and were expected to give sexual favuors to nightclub patrons. Maricris rebelled and tried to escape. The campaign fails to get the Philippines government to declare Maricris’s death a murder, nor bring her employer to justice. The overseas workers bring too much money into the Philippines’ economy to risk jeopardising the country’s relations with Japan. Japayuki played like the sort of “based on a true story” drama that went straight to video back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, although the ones we saw were pretty much entirely American. Very little Filipino cinema makes it into the Anglophone world – it’s only now, for example, that one or two of Lino Brocka’s movies have become available on DVD in the US and UK, and he made over 60  feature films. He was also nominated twice for the Palme d’or. Joey Romero, however, is no Brocka.

1001 Movies You Must See Beforeyou Die count: 885


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The endurance of the human bladder

As Alfred Hitchcock famously said, “the length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder”, but some of the films below stretch that endurance somewhat – happily, not as much Béla Tarr’s Sátántangó… which is 432 minutes long! Of course, these are DVDs and Blu-rays, so there’s always the pause button, a boon to the bladder….

I’ve started to become a bit of an Orson Welles fan, even though I’ve had a DVD of Citizen Kane for a couple of decades… but it’s his other stuff I’m now finding more interesting. Macbeth was cheap on eBay and and Touch of Evil was a charity shop find. La note bleue, on the other hand, is the latest Mondo Vision release of an Andrzej Żuławski film, and I ordered it from their website.

I liked Pakeezah so much (see here), I wanted my own copy. It wasn’t expensive (I see it has now gone up in price). And the rental copy of Mughal-e-Azam I watched (see here) was the original black and white, but I wanted to see it in its colourised version. Which I now have done. And my eyes are still burning. Ran was a charity shop find. I’m not a big Kurosawa fan, so maybe I need to watch some of his films again.

I’ve been trying to complete my Bergman collection – hence, Crisis and Prison. I’m still nine short, although seven of them don’t appear to have ever been released on sell-through… The Beast in Space (see here) was a whim purchase – I’d enjoyed a couple of other Shameless releases, so I chucked this one onto an order.

I pre-ordered the new Metropolis 90th anniversary edition from Eureka’s own website. It arrived recently. The  Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner was a charity shop find. A Brighter Summer Day I bought because it’s on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list and wasn’t available for rental. I seem to have picked up a few Edward Yang films now. And Oedipus Rex, well, 2017 has been the Year of Pasolini for me…


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Moving pictures 2017, #58

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


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Reading diary, #56

After a run of male authors in my last Reading diary, it’s a run of female writers… including one novel I had never planned to read. These days, “Hugo Award winner” is more likely to make me put a book down than actually pick it up. Um, looking back over the history of the award, I can’t say I’ve ever really used it as a guide to my genre reading and have always felt it has picked far more duds than actual classics.

The Milkman, Michael Martineck (2014, USA). Michael is a friend of many years, around two decades in fact, although we only met for the first time in person at the Worldcon in Helsinki this August. And it’s just as well I know Michael as The Milkman posits a horrible corporatised world and does so with a completely straight face. But I know Michael does not believe the politics the book presents… because they really are quite nasty. The story is told from several viewpoints. A young woman is murdered outside a bar, but there are no clues to the crime. The corporate police officer tasked with solving the crime – assuming it can be done economically – finds himself hitting a brick wall. A film-maker is paid to make a documentary about the Milkman, a mysterious figure who analyses milk from corporate dairy farms and posts his results on an anonymous website. And then there’s the Milkman himself, who’s a low-level bureaucrat who, with his network of co-conspirators, tests milk as a hobby. The Milkman does a good job of presenting a world in which everything is owned by one of three corporations, and manages to use it effectively in a mystery/thriller plot. Personally, I’d have liked more commentary on the world – I mean, it’s a horrible place to be, and presenting arguments from the characters that it’s preferable to the “old world” made the novel sound approving. It’s a political novel, and when it comes to political novels the author needs to wear their politics on their sleeve. You can’t let the reader draw their own conclusions, because they might well draw the wrong ones. There’s enough right-wing sf out there – the entire genre is essentially right-wing – and commentary against it is sorely needed in science fiction. Much as I enjoyed The Milkman, it felt too ambivalent toward its world – despite the final scenes set among those who had opted out – and I’d liked it to have been a little more overt in its politics.

Lust, Elfriede Jelinek (1989, Austria). I’m a big fan of Michael Haneke’s films, and after seeing his The Piano Teacher, and learning that it was an adaptation of a novel by a Nobel laureate, I bought the book and read it and thought it very good. And then recently I thought it about time I read more Jelinek, so I picked up a copy of Lust, as it was quite short. It was perhaps not the wisest book to read on my daily commute, given the title. But never mind. The story is a brutal depiction of a marriage in wich the wife is treated as chattel by her husband. And when she eventually breaks free and finds herself a lover, he proves just as bad. What I had not remembered from The Piano Teacher, and perhaps that was down to the translator, but Lust was one long string of wordgames and puns and plays on words. It was relentless. Given its subject, it should come as no surprise the wordplay mostly focuses on sex, and especially on the male sex organ. I have no idea how this worked in German, or in the Austrian dialect in which Jelinek writes, but in English it felt to me like a dilution of the novel’s central point. The wife is entirely subject to the husband, she exists to satisfy his sexual desires, just as much as she is there to look after him and their spoilt son. Some of the expressions used, “shot his bolt”, for example, feel too… childish, schoolboyish, and while I get that the breadth and variety are what’s important, it does seem to detract from the brutality. This is an ugly book, about an ugly subject, so perhaps the wordplay is intended to add to that ugliness and it works much better in German. But this is definitely a book that provokes a reaction, and I’ll be reading more Jelinek.

Valerian & Laureline 19: At the Edge of the Great Void (2004, France). Cinebook are churning these out at a much faster rate after the Besson film, which is all to the good. At the Edge of the Great Void kicks off a new story-arc, which I think is the last for the duo. Valerian and Laureline are posing as itinerant traders on the edge of the Great Void because they feel the key to restoring Earth lies within it. But their plans are scuppered when Valerian is arrested. Fortunately, Laureline has made some friends, and with their help, she arranges an escape for Valerian, and the two of them join the crew of a ship heading into the Great Void. The story is mostly set-up – it introduces a new alien race, the Limboz, and drops hints about a plot by the Triumvirate, villains from an earlier story, and some sentient stones, the Woloch, who are clearly intended to provide the plot for the next few episodes. I’ve yet to see to Besson’s film, although I expect to be disappointed. The Valerian and Laureline series is massively inventive – there’s a good argument, although likely wrong, that it influenced Star Wars – and there’s a very dry wit in the interaction between the two main characters. But the stories are also very cut-down, so much so it often feels like bits of the plot have been left on the cutting-room floor. It’s like the opposite of decompression. Which, er, would be compression. I suspect it’s an artefact of the series’ original magazine appearances and limited page-count.

The Fifth Season, NK Jemisin (2015, USA). I had no plans to read this, for all that it won a raft of awards, and was shortlisted for many more (including, according to the back cover, the James Tiptree Jr Award, which, er, doesn’t have a shortlist – it has an honour list, and I should know as I’ve been on it). Anyway, there was no real buzz around The Fifth Season, as there had been for God’s War and Ancillary Justice, probably because The Fifth Season was Jemisin’s sixth novel – and, on top of that, it was fantasy, which is of zero interest to me. But some people said it was actually science fiction, not fantasy, and I heard some good things about it and, I admit it, the clincher was the fact it was going for £2 from a near-monopolitistic online retailer… So I bought it. And… It certainly smells like science fiction rather than fantasy; and if its sessapinae and orogeny is hand-wavy bullshit, it’s no more so than FTL, or indeed most of sf’s common tropes. It’s not worth summarising the plot, as much of it is linked to the world-building. The Fifth Season is set late in Earth’s history, when the planet is unstable, and “fifth seasons”, periods of intense seismic and/or volcanic activity, often bringing on nuclear winters, occur every few centuries. A new one has just kicked off as the book opens. There are three narratives, each following a female character – an orogene (ie, a person who can, among other things, control siesmic events) who has been in hiding for many years; a young girl with ability who is sold to an imperial order of trained orogenes; and a “four-ring” orogene of that order who is tasked with accompanying a “ten-ring” orogene to clear a town’s harbour of coral. The first narrative is written in the second person; the other two are more traditional. Initially, I thought the novel better than average – the prose was doing the job, but the world-building was interesting, if a little overdone (but we’ve all been there, nothing brings in the nerds like an excess of world-building detail). It was brutal in places – ho hum, it’s all that genre fiction does these days. So… enjoying it, but, on balance, unlikely to bother with the rest of the trilogy. And then I realised the book was using time-stacked narratives. Those three main characters were the same woman during different periods of her life. And things started to slot together like a piece of IKEA furniture. Now it was a much more interesting novel. Now, I might actually read the sequels. Did it deserve to win the Hugo? Given the shortlist… probably. I’ve read the Leckie, but the trilogy pretty much nose-dived after the first book. The other three shortlisted works do not appeal at all. If it hadn’t been for the £2 price point, I’d probably never have bothered reading The Fifth Season. Maybe if I’d stumbled across a copy in a charity shop, I might have given it a go. But I am glad I read it.

The Best of Leigh Brackett, Leigh Brackett (1986, USA). I’m no stranger to Brackett’s fiction, having been a fan for a number of years – ever since reading the collection, Sea-Kings of Mars, in the Fantasy Masterworks series, in fact. The stories in that collection are not fantasy, of course. But Sea-Kings of Mars was not the only book in the Fantasy Masterworks series that was actually science fiction. There are ten stories in The Best of Leigh Brackett, and they’re all, well, typical Brackett. Some I had read before. They’re set on planets and moons of the Solar System which share names with the planets and moons we know but otherwise bear no resemblance – Mars is a desert world, inhabited by ancient dying races; Venus is a jungle world, also, er, inhabited by dying ancient races; the moons of Jupiter are inhabited; as is Mercury… In fact, Brackett pretty much turned every planet and moon on the Solar System into the sort of exotic location used in a Humphrey Bogart movie. It’s always the same – a dying race, a dead culture, a degraded society, and a jaded hero from Earth – pretty much always the US – who overcomes local taboos and superstitions to win the prize. It’s pure Hollywood, so it’s no surprise Brackett worked extensively in movies, her best-known scripts being Rio Bravo (my favourite western) and The Empire Strikes Back. Leigh Brackett and CL Moore were female pioneers in sf – not the only ones, by any means, and it could be argued Gertrude Barrows Bennett was more of a pioneer – but Moore and Brackette were big names in the genre fiction back in the 1940s, and while their style of science fiction is no longer popular, there’s no doubt they were very good at what they did. Perhaps too good, in some respects – some of stories in The Best of Leigh Brackett are dismayingly misogynist. It’s nothing unusual when you compare it to, say, EE ‘Doc’ Smith (it continues to amuse me that ‘Doc’ is always presented in quotes), but I’d expected better of Bracket – and she has indeed done better in other stories. Despite the title, The Best of Leigh Brackett does not contain any of her more celebrated stories, except perhaps ‘The Jewel of Bas’ – but since those stories appear in plenty of other Brackett collections, that’s to its advantage. I’d also dispute the stories here were her best – I thought the aforementioned Sea-Kings of Mars a better selection. Nonetheless, Brackett is always worth reading.

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die count: 131