When I was twelve I played and loved the Rockstar game Red Dead Revolver, I particularly loved the main theme to it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXiTeMcos3Y The score was amazing but that theme in particular really stuck to me. It was my dream to make a Western just to be able to re-work that piece of music (riff most of all) into an iconic and classic Western theme. Then Quentin Tarantino used the music for King Schultz’s theme and stole my dream https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsxOPWtrnko So let it be known, do what you wanna do now or Tarantino will rob it from you. He’s a comin’.

Ms. 45 Directed by Abel Ferrara (1981) and Manhattan Directed by Woody Allen (1979)- “It really is a great city” says Woody Allen’s character as he and Diane Keaton sit and take in the wonderful city of New York. In Abel Ferarra’s version a mute woman is told a rambling story by a man who hasn’t noticed she cannot speak, a story that becomes increasingly sordid. The shot shows how the image of this city and its people are cemented in the eyes of the characters too. In the case of Ms. 45 her hatred of men is solidified while the seedy uncaring city looks on. For Allen it’s romantic, for Zoe Lund in Ms. 45 it is a cesspool of sickening men but at least it’s one where you can get away with killing (them to a point). Two different sides of a city in two excellent films.

Ms. 45 Directed by Abel Ferrara (1981)- After a mute seamstress is sexually assaulted twice in one day she breaks and begins killing every sleazy man she can. All rape/revenge exploitation thrillers are kinda seedy and though Ferrara shows a particularly seedy version of New York City the film definitely transcends that. Ms. 45 is part Repulsion and part Death Wish but with cool pulpy 80’s music and colours. New York is at its nastiest here and the men that walk its streets are even nastier. Ferrara captures the hostility, aggression, forcefulness, and all the general unpleasantness of being a woman in a city like that. It really is tense and scary, something the main character is able to fight back against. Zoe Lund is brilliant as the protagonist Thana. She is mute, though rarely do men ever notice it, and shy though as the film goes on she just gets more and more empowered but sadly more unhinged. Destroying terrible men makes her feel great but as she kills more and more it seems like the act itself may be what she enjoys and not just who she’s doing it too. Though the film doesn’t necessarily make grand statements it does come across as incredibly angry. Angry that something like this, as cool as it is to see, could happen because people are awful enough to let it happen. Probably not a film for everyone but it’s really well made, sparingly but strikingly violent, really funky, and still feels incredibly relevant.

3:10 to Yuma Directed by Delmer Daves (1957)- Until watching this I hadn’t realised how forgettable the remake of this was. Some of the action was cool but it pales in comparison to the original. Daves mixes sweeping landscapes with the intensely intimate while also using shadows in interesting and atmospheric ways. Like a lot of Westerns it is surprisingly sensitive, with very vulnerable and complex characters. Van Heflin stars as a farmhand who is dragged into the transport of a well-known outlaw played by Glenn Ford. Heflin struggles with being powerless to stop bad things, as endangering himself could doom his wife and children, but along the journey he becomes fixated on doing this one good action. Glenn Ford as the outlaw Ben Wade is the real highlight. He is a quiet man who likes to do his work as cleanly as possible. The criminal with the heart of gold is a familiar character type but Ben Wade is a more nuanced character than that. Early on in the film he has a series of wonderful scenes with Felicia Farr that really opens him up as a person. When he and Heflin collide it’s the ultimate test of both of their principles. Even knowing the story beforehand due to the remake didn’t take anything away from it because all of the specifics of this version are what make it so powerful.

Eden and After Directed by Alain Robbe-Grillet (1970)- Grillet’s first colour film is relentlessly abstract to the point of almost failing to connect, yet its mystery is compelling and made even more so by the striking visuals. For the first half of the film I thought I kind of had a handle on it. We’re presented with a strange mirror-filled cafe that these disaffected college kids mess around in. By mess around I mean they act out bizarre scenarios in poppy colours while saying slightly enigmatic things. This section of the film seemed like a playful reflection of the French New Wave directors, particularly Godard. They made films almost out of restlessness, a desire for the new, which is what the college kids are essentially doing. That is until a mysterious stranger joins their group who says they should aim for reality more, and he opens them up to the outside world. The first half seemed to me to be about film-making and storytelling but then the film makes a shift and becomes even more inscrutable. As the film goes on it seems to become more concerned with ideas of reality and sexuality. Grillet’s visual style evolves over the course of the film too. Colour is always a part of it but he moves from very Godard-like compositions to more flowing and handheld camerawork and then into a mix of the two. I’m not really sure it’s a film that asks to be understood, it is more of an experience that invites you to take it in.

I’m pretty sure the only film to combine references to the temperance movement and 1984 with tween drama/comedy and Jon Voight with a fake nose is Bratz. I watched The Leopard, Hara-Kiri, Ronin, and Burn After Reading this week but all I can think about is Bratz. From now on every sentence ends with Bratz.

Innocence Directed by Lucile Hadzihalilovic (2004)- Yet another film that really deserves to be on blu-ray. Even in its current state it is still a striking film though considering how luscious the visuals are (specifically those of nature) it would’ve been nice to see with the colours popping and whatnot. The IMDb summary says “A look inside an offbeat boarding school for young girls”, which is hilariously vague and makes this sounds like a much more pleasant and quirky experience than it is. Yes the boarding school is offbeat in the sense that all the children wear different coloured ribbons to denote their status within the school, but the oddities go far deeper and darker than that. The exact nature of this school is always clouded in mystery though what it could represent is always quite open. Learning obedience, subservience, and general pleasantness seems to be the aim of the place though there are also more insidious things at work. Everything feels off as in a film like Dogtooth, we are seeing some side of reality but everything is warped. All I know of Hadzihalilovic’s other work is that she helped write the mesmerising Enter the Void, and while this is nothing like that it does have its own distinctive visual style. Hadzihalilovic’s style is almost the opposite of Noe’s in Enter the Void. As he went for constant fluidity she has opted for stillness. At times the film moves almost like an old point-and-click game but in reverse. Beginning at a detail like a keyhole or a stream, the next shot will be a little further out, then the next one, and so on. These little jumps pull out rendering the detail almost insignificant, swallowed by everything that came after it. Whether viewed as a deconstruction as to how society tries to condition women’s behavior and thoughts, an exploration of institutionalised control over women’s bodies, or simply as the strange ethereal tale that it is, it is a unique watch. Nothing overtly terrible is actually seen but the film oozes atmosphere and implies a lot that make it a disquieting experience.

Au hasard Balthazar Directed by Robert Bresson (1966)- Though there isn’t much competition, this is hands down the greatest film about a donkey ever made. Bresson’s tale of a put-upon donkey examines human cruelty, the lengths to which people can disassociate themselves from morality, and how easily people can dehumanise others, but it isn’t as focused as that. When the film finishes it feels like it has been about everything. A fool, a sinner, and an innocent all have their stories told in relation to the saintly ass at the centre of it all. Au hasard Balthazar is one of those films that really encapsulates the idea of the sublime (as defined by Werner Herzog anyway) as it doesn’t convince you point-by-point of its mission statement or point of view, the film unfolds in front of you and just puts ideas into your head. Images invoke epiphanies rather than being simple visual metaphors for whatever the directors message is. I was really reminded of Ingmar Bergman’s films just because Bresson has a similarly casual-seeming visual style which becomes intensely affecting. By that I mean things are presented quite matter-of-factly, almost simple looking, but they manage to evoke the most powerful feelings. Balthazar’s story is a truly transcendental experience.

Broadcast News Directed by James L. Brooks (1987)- It bums me out how I barely look at mainstream modern comedies as films anymore. For the most part the quality of these types of comedies are solely based on how funny it is. Obviously that’s a big part of being a successful comedy but with these films that’s it. Neighbours was fine, it was funny, I liked the cast, and that was it. With all these films I feel like my enjoyment will be determined by the quality of actors and comedians and everything else is just a framework for the jokes. Lighting is often flat and sitcom-like and it seems no thought is put into anything unless it’s a set up for a joke. Rarely am I left thinking or feeling very much beyond “that was funny”. Broadcast News is not that type of comedy. The cast is great, it’s very funny, but it’s also a fantastic film. Holly Hunter stars as a producer for a small news channel trying to advance her career whilst caught between the interest of two men. Essentially it’s a love triangle film but that’s way too reductive considering how brilliant this is. Albert Brooks is her long-time friend who has loved her for years and William Hurt is the handsome but kind of dumb new anchor at their station. Both those characters sound cliched but they are not. Every character is so nuanced and as funny as the film is it is also an insightful and thoughtful look at adult relationships. Holly Hunter’s character is also a recipe for cliche, she’s a tough woman who’s all about her job, yet the film never just makes her a stereotype. As strong as she is she still has room for vulnerability and emotional confusion, aka a human being rather than just a stock character. Brooks and Hurt’s characters are the same way. At first glance one might think they know them but there is much more depth to them than that. Broadcast News also sets itself apart from lesser comedies by putting thought into how it looks. The blocking, framing, lighting, colour, camera-movements, everything is constructed and makes for a fulfilling watch. I love pretty much everything about the film, it’s funny, dramatically engaging, even thrilling and tense at times, as well as being such a great look at relationships. Also, I’ve been completely won over by Holly Hunter now. For a while I wasn’t the biggest fan but in this and The Piano she’s just captivated me and blown me away.

Antichrist Directed by Lars von Trier (2009)- I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about Antichrist. I love a lot of Lars von Trier’s films, the opening of Europa actually hypnotised me, and I loved a lot about this but there was still a bit of a disconnect. Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg star as a couple whose child dies which sends Gainsbourg’s character into a pit of despair and anxiety. Dafoe’s a therapist of some sort and begins treating his wife himself, which leads them to a cabin in the woods (the woods are called Eden). I was glad to have seen Nymphomaniac before this but it also muddled the viewing a little. Nymphomaniac is one of Trier’s most playful films and a lot of the time he makes fun of the extreme self-seriousness. So after seeing that there were moments in Antichrist which seemed to be hitting a similar tone of “Xtreme art *guitar riff*” (if that makes sense) in a kind of funny way. At the same time though the film is deadly serious for the most part. The first two thirds I found gripping and one of the most infamous moments in the film (Chaos reigns) really chilled me more than anything else I’ve seen lately. When the film dips into the even more infamous stuff it did kind of lose me. Some moments peppered in there were brilliant like this really creepy scene of Defoe unearthing a featherless bird. One thing I do find strange is how often I see this film get called misogynist. He even includes a “Misogyny Expert” (Danish journalist Heidi Laura) in the credits which is his sense of humour and preemptively acknowledges how some people will see the film. If anything it is about the horrors of misogyny with a broken women getting consumed by all the violence perpetrated against women in the past. On top of that it’s through the acts of Defoe’s character that really worsens Gainsbourg’s situation making him the greater evil for a lot of it. It just bothers me when films that happen to include violence perpetrated by or against women are dismissed as misogynist. I just always go back to what Roger Ebert said; “The most fundamental mistake you can make with any piece of fiction is to confuse the content with the subject”. Especially when these films are trying to explore and tackle things that not everything else is. I just don’t like those dismissive words that can close off discussion. Antichrist isn’t one of my new favourite von Trier films but I was always engaged and really intrigued by every step of it. He strikes a uniquely creepy tone and the Tarkovsky-inspired imagery is striking, particularly how he shows nature. It’s a cabin in the woods movie unlike any other.