Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Directed by Wim Wenders
104 mins.  Color.
Axiom Films DVD, Region 2

As I began to sit down and think about the second film in Wim Wenders' road trilogy, I found myself searching for themes and answers.  I'm a little lost in the images.  And, I guess, that's the point.

Full of characters that could be ghosts or fantasies, it is a wandering, dreamy journey.

The film begins with Wilhelm, (Rudiger Vogler), listening to records at his mother's house.  He peers out the window and is overcome with frustration.  He punches through the glass and and then looks down at his bleeding hand, seemingly to contemplate its meaning.

At one point, Wilhelm sits on a train and the seat across from him has drops of blood running down the seat.  A woman across the tracks stares at him through a window (he becomes obsessed with her and will meet up with her again) and when he looks back to the seat an old man with a bloody nose sits there.  He turns to Wilhelm and says "Do you want to know why my nose is bleeding?  It's because of remembering."

Watching this film is a bit like that.  Moments stand out, feel difficult to take in, and then seem to make sense in the whole.

As I look back on my description of it, it sounds tedious and aimless.  But, that is not at all the case.  This isn't some kind of surrealist pantomime of a film.  There are just... absurdities.  For instance, when the old man mentioned before begins to tell Wilhelm who he is, the mute young performer girl with him, Mignon, plugs her ears as if to keep some kind of mystery.

In the end, Wilhelm is seeking solace.  Characters come and go, babies in alleyways cry, men yell from windows.  And, Wilhelm is a misanthrope who wants to write about people.

But, a synopsis is besides the point.  What Wenders is fantastic at, is portraying ideas.  For instance, Wilhelm gathers an old man who was an Olympian, a young mute street performer, a beautiful actress and an overweight poet that invites them to his uncle's house.  When they arrive at the house, they find they are at the wrong house, and inside is a man who was about to commit suicide.  He speaks to them about the paradox of loneliness.  "It is in the moments of theatrical loneliness that I feel the most reborn."

It's best not to fight films like this, but instead to ride with it and take in what you can.

-J. Moret

Monday, May 19, 2014


alice-in-the-cities-movie-poster-1974-1020435339.jpg (580×831)

Directed by Wim Wenders
110 mins.  B&W
Axiom Films DVD, Region 2

If you read our site with any regularity (anyone?) you know that we tend to relegate ourselves to lost or obscure low-budget genre fare.  After a bit, though, you have your absolute fill of that, and must enjoy really great films.  As most of those are regularly covered by other sites, we tend to not write much about them.  Some films, however, seem to be missed by American Home Video distributors and are thus overlooked.  Alice in the Cities, The Wrong Move, Kings of the Road and The American Friend are just some of those.  These films by Wim Wenders are on numerous lists of the best films ever made, and yet, nothing.

The idea of regions in DVDs / VHS, etc, is about the most annoying thing that the entertainment industry has ever done.  Initially done because studios were terrified about piracy, it has become the norm to keep different home video distributors that have stakes in certain regions to have control over their releases.

However, when has restricting access to art ever been possible?  With the introduction of the internet, it seems more and more ludicrous to attempt to keep regions intact.  Well, nonetheless, certain films continue to be extremely difficult to find in the states, even brilliant films like Wenders' Road Trilogy.  There are easy ways around this, however.  If you buy the cheapest DVD or Blu-ray players at Best Buy, just check and see where they are made.  If they are produced in China, they are most likely region-free, as they just mass-produce them for the international community and put different logos on them.

The Film:
Alice in the Cities is the first in Wenders' Road Trilogy and one of the best (and first) films of the German New Wave.  Opening with shots of the American countryside, as seen through a dirty windshield, cheap hotel rooms, long overnight rain storms and toll roads.  He perfectly captures that wandering, aimlessness of the open road.

Philip Winter (Rudiger Vogler) has been commissioned to write a story that takes place in the United States, but when he arrives in New York City, he has produced nothing but Polaroid pictures.

Recently, a friend and I traveled thirteen hours to Ohio for Cinema Wasteland.  I had grand plans to write, record podcasts, and be productive.  Instead, a certain preoccupation with the road, exhaustion and constant distraction keeps any sense of production at bay.  As Philip says to his publisher, "I couldn't do anything else.  I can't explain it any other way."

Phillip happens upon a woman and her daughter also trying to get back to Germany, but strikes have made it impossible, so they hold up for a night to wait for an alternate flight to Amsterdam.  While in the hotel, Philip obsessively watches television.  And, here we get what Wenders is really after.

As Phillip says to Alice's mother, "The inhuman thing about American TV is not so much that they hack everything up with commercials, though that's bad enough, but in the end all programmes become commercials.  Commercials for the status quo.  Every image radiates the same disgusting and nauseating message.  A kind of boastful contempt.  Not one image leaves you in peace.  They all want something from you."

I could not have described more clearly why I write about and hunt down the obscure.  I guess that's what I'm constantly looking for.  That constant search for something outside of consumerist culture.  Something honest.  And, like Alice, it's always searching without a clear plan.

Wenders' film is extremely special.  A wandering masterpiece that is as tender as it is intelligent.  Phillip's relationship with Alice is wonderfully gentle.  As he continues his existential wandering, her curious nature brings it all into focus.

-J. Moret

Monday, May 12, 2014


Directed by Robert Altman
118 mins.  Color.
1985 Key Video VHS release

There is something very peculiar about minor works from great masters that I find absolutely fascinating.  Critically panned and hated at the time, Quintet is the type of film that I can definitely say is not for everyone.  The pacing is very slow and the mood is bleak.  And, when I say bleak, I mean downright grim.  That being said, its a brilliant film.

It has a strange, frozen, and dreamy look to it.  The top and bottom of the frame has a "blurry-ness" to it that looks like vaseline on the screen, almost like the bottom of the land-speeder in A New Hope.  Where 3 Women is characterized by the wish and wash of water, as tides of emotion take it over, Quintet is a dreamy existential meditation on politics and hope.

Altman is known for his brilliant characterizations, enormous casts and philosophical subtext.  Giant masterpieces like Nashville and M*A*S*H* established him as one of the great American directors.  Quintet and 3 Women were seen as flops and hurt his reputation, making it tough to make such daring and original work for years.

The Rundown:
The world has entered another ice age.  Humanity has been lowered into a frozen post-apocalyptic nightmare.  Paul Newman has made his way from "the south" where he was hunting seals to the city.  With an original population of five million, it has become an icy wasteland of very few.  Newman arrives with his wife, who is five-months pregnant with what would have been, perhaps, the last baby to be born.  But, she is murdered in a bombing.

The Game:
When the population no longer has any real motivations, it begins to obsess on a game called Quintet.  The rules are a bit mysterious and never truly given, but these are the things that we know.

  • A Five-Sided Board
  • Six Players
  • Players roll to determine who is the "sixth man"
  • Play proceeds with some dice-rolling, moving of markers and lollygagging while the sixth man sits out
  • Markers seem to move in and out of "limbo" and "the killing circle" based on what the players roll
  • The five players "kill" one another until only one remains.  He / She then plays against the sixth man
As the population has dwindled and become more and more lost, the game has become more serious.  When Newman asks about work, his brother replies, "There is nothing left but the game."

quintet3.jpg (635×347)
The Sixth Space is Empty.  Blackness.  Void.

Shit Just Got Real:
All hope is lost.  The last city is full of middle-age people and older.  The steel and concrete that holds up the city is slowly being destroyed as a glacier makes its way north.  As hope is lost and the game takes over, something secretly called "The Tournament" has taken over, involving real people as the markers and the real stakes of the game being people's lives.  What comes is a bloody game to be the last man standing, and at the middle of it, Newman is hoping to find the murderer of his wife.

One of the reasons that this film is so ignored is the extreme harsh critical reception.  For instance, Vincent Canby (asshat) from the New York Times went so far as to say, "At it's worst, which is most of the time, "Quintet" discovers a lot of small ideas that sound as if they'd been borrowed from "Tomorrow," the shrilly dreadful song from Annie."  First off, what does that mean?  Second, Canby seems to have mistaken his inability to connect to the film to it having no large ideas.  Do ideas get any larger than the absolute existence of humanity?  That's like saying that Jaws is dull and not about sharks.  (PS - he also gave Jaws a bad review...)  It's also a film about motivation.  When there is no sense of future, what takes up our productive energy?

Like I said at the beginning of the review, this is definitely not for everyone.  You must enjoy the political intrigue of a conversation that happens about the strategy of the game in the presence of a woman who has a sword through her face.

-J. Moret

Friday, May 9, 2014


Directed by John Woo
136 mins. Color.
Tai Seng VHS w/ English and Mandarin subtitles (very confusingly is cut to 120 mins.)

Bullet in the Head is a real pleasure.  It starts off as a mad disaster and slowly becomes a huge action extravaganza.

I'll describe the opening twenty minutes as best as I can.  As credits begin to roll over a black screen, that monumentally horrible Neil Diamond song, "I'm a Believer" is played, but covered in bad Kool 108 Jelly Roll Morton piano.  There is dancing, fighting, laughing while driving mopeds and old ladies hitting their sons.  While this is not exactly comprehensible, it does have that John Woo flare that is super entertaining.

From there, we get to a wedding, some guy named Ringo beats up somebody else, there is a big fight and someone picks up a flaming log and hits someone else with it.  Ringo dies.  Ben (Tony Leung), Frank (Jacky Cheung), and Paul (Waise Lee) become implicated in Ringo's murder and flee the country, ending up in war-torn Vietnam just as that famous photo of the prisoner getting shot happens at the embassy.

While in a club, Ben is witness to a shooting in the bathroom as The Monkees again perform "I'm a Believer."  Severely off-putting.

John Woo's career is a fascinating one.  His up and down international career is one that has been repeated over and over by other Asian artists.  Woo was born in Hong Kong and began working at Shaw Brothers right around the time that Hong Kong was becoming the epicenter of great action film.  His first feature, The Young Dragons (1973), though somewhat simple in style and amateurish in execution, would be the starting point for a long and successful career in action films.  Over the next fifteen years, he would become a master, making, perhaps, my favorite action films of all time.  The Killer (1989) and finally Hard Boiled (1992) boast some of the best action scenes and fascinating film work I've yet to see.  At the sight of these films, Hollywood was able to coax him to come to the states where he made two decent films (Hard Target, Broken Arrow), one great one (Face/Off) and then plummeted into that Hollywood abyss (Windtalkers).

The Killer and Hard Boiled found their audience in the States via Criterion on laserdisc and DVD and later Dragon Dynasty.  There is a certain absurd playfulness to them.  The violence is extreme and the gunfights are wonderfully choreographed.  The good guys win, characters like Inspector Tequila are loveable and babies are protected throughout giant gunfights.

Bullet, on the other hand, is an exercise in tragedy.  Shakesperian in both tone and scope, it is a film about friendship, greed and desperation.  Though the action is equally impressive, the protagonists are more complicated and their fate more depressing.  So, no wonder its' audience is limited.  I guess I would describe it as a mix of Deer Hunter and Hard Boiled.  And, I loved it.  Over the top, awkwardly emotional and at times cheesy, its still a real pleasure.  If you enjoy the best of Woo's Hong Kong films, you should definitely check it out.

You can find it on Blu-ray for a lot, DVD for even more or VHS for like $6, but as mentioned above it's missing 15 mins. so the editing is pretty confusing at parts.

- J. Moret