Quick-Thoughts: Seijun Suzuki’s Gate of Flesh (1964)

Seijun Suzuki Marathon Part II of V

“The moment I become a real woman, I’m an outcast.”

First and foremost, Gate of Flesh is predominately supported by its brutally limned environment which typifies Japan’s post-World War II (post-apocalyptic) state, a graphic vicinity that seems as if it’s barely being held up by its many eroding planks and brick walls. The center of attention besides a former plot involving a prostitute fellowship and a runaway ex-soldier is simply found in the many instances Seijun Suzuki has for us to engage with the everyday of this world. We enter headfirst into this greased-out compression of unions where prostitution rings are the major competing hotspots for American soldiers, and everybody plays for teams as much as they do backstab them, seduced by the chances that could immerse themselves of a life rather prevailing these fundamentals of food and flesh.

Perhaps what’s most interesting though about Suzuki’s stance on this time period in Japan is his nihilism towards love as a possibility. So much of his look on emerging young and abandoned older women seems to be that they look towards prostitution as an exclusive means for survival and a steady social culture given all that war has taken from them, and so much of his look on the men seems to be that they’re soldiers mulishly stuck in the past, stuck reminiscing a rather dead culture, looking only for superficial pleasure now. Nonetheless, a euphoric sample of this so-called love would hypothetically alas wake them up to this new world now built on sheer hunger for the bare minimum and nothing else.

The highlight out of all of this for me though was when our Japanese ex-soldier covered his face in front of the prostitutes with the very flag of their country only to then weep under it. Lost at home. 

Verdict: B

Seijun Suzuki Ranked

“Gate of Flesh” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Seijun Suzuki’s Youth of the Beast (1963)

Seijun Suzuki Marathon Part I of V

Like Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964), this is a neat spin on one of my all-time favorite action movies Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961). It plays too with the inevitable backfire when recklessly seeking justice, this time via the classic search for vengeance. Another self-important with a special set of skills ultimately pins two crime organizations against one another, causing chaos and mayhem to all, further exclaiming the myth of protagonist even in dislike towards these sort of iniquitous settings. Nobody is a victim, and everybody might just be a villain. At a definite, all are prone backstabbers and liars, with glimpses of a fruitful relationship for any of them remaining to be but glimpses. A bleak world it is, aye?

As I hoped, I’m really taken aback by Seijun Suzuki’s style so far. A 1963 release date is already enough to convince me how new his level of composition and blocking must’ve been for the genre — the intense color / light isolating in the set pieces and the single-take shot size changing from some seriously meticulous camera movements are particularly notable examples. Not to mention the quirky (therefore at least memorable) character personalities, how modest the work is when structuring its reserved amount of action sequences, and the engaging experience it gives us being in this main character’s tricky situation that wittily seems to only get trickier as trusts begin to dangle, plus it’s all encompassed by a mystery! The scenes where a prostitute druggy hallucinates her boss galloping off into an unsure distance, a sadist whips his betrayer into the hills, one of our lead’s fingernails is dug under by a knife, and when he slyly shuts the door on a deviant who had just called the other suspect in the room’s mom a “whore” are moments that made me go, “yeah this can be excruciating to watch, but to hell if it ain’t what crime cinema was meant to do.” 

Verdict: B

Seijun Suzuki Ranked

“Youth of the Beast” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Peter Strickland’s Flux Gourmet

Screened at The Frida Cinema

S**thouse.

Let’s face it: Peter Strickland makes films and will likely continue making films for the hormonally insecure. Flux Gourmet’s plot of a con art becoming “thee art” is not too different from a taboo facing its respected exposure, and this complex side of the self-humiliating facade of the artist is examined with a perfectly enjoyable satirical thrust that will, although, probably work its way for those akin to its subjects rather than those stumped by them. It’s full of farts, foodgaze, egg-lady emo-boy roleplay, but as bonkers as it sounds, it may just be Strickland at his most reserved, which is not to be completely minded.

Verdict: B-

2022 Ranked, Peter Strickland Ranked

“Flux Gourmet” is now playing in select theaters and available to stream on VOD.

Quick-Thoughts: Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

For as joyously cute as the innocence in his nimble little innovations which create purpose in the supposedly imperceptible things can seem, Marcel is still equally as wholesome as he is just a bonafide savage – which can also admittedly be cute to behold at times nonetheless – yet it eventually encourages him to be judgmental and pessimistic too as he’s given opportunities to learn more about the world outside of his cozy yet quiet Airbnb, leading to halts on his once pure zeal for exploration.

By good fortune though, he happens to be shipwrecked with none other than his Grandmother Isabella Rossellini; if anyone has experienced life, it’s thee one and only, and she is ready to spiel it all out to get Marcel back on the right path for which he was once always on, but with an emphasis on applying it into the, at first, daunting elsewhere. You may have seen this sort of coming-of-age tale before, but perhaps not told with the amount of aesthetical perseverance that its mockumentary live-action meets stop-motion meets arts-and-craft seashell protagonists concoction has to offer.

Verdict: B-

2022 Ranked

“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” is now playing in select theaters and will be playing in wide release theaters July 15.

Quick-Thoughts: Bill Melendez’s Snoopy Come Home (1972)

Screened at The Beverly Cinema

“You got a used dog, Charlie Brown.”

Snoopy Come Home is thee movie I can recall the most of from my childhood, and there are probably some good reasons for that. Sure, it targets best for dogs given that it’s quite literally a coming of age story about being a pet to humans, but its secondary demographic would of course be children as the film attempts to correlate that pet to humans aspect with kid to parents, and subsequently parents to kid as the Peanuts gang debate just how much ownership they’ve really had over Snoopy while he’s away. 

Per usual, Melendez and Schultz prove themselves some of animation’s most dedicated theme conveyors. Here, they stress the importance of being content with the amount of independence you’re given. They make aware of this gap between settling with destined parental owners and the inevitable desired independence to be raised elsewhere no matter how good you have it. There are always worse parental figures out there, some who are even willing to treat their children on the level of animals like with the film’s momentary antagonist Clara who’s an exceptionally unpleasant prototype for Sid from Pixar’s Toy Story (1995). Schulz also seems invested in the past, such as with old friends or owners, controlling what you should do and therefore inspiring the youth’s initial confrontations with morality. He also suggests the audience to make the best out of inequities, especially since they can sometimes relieve you of tough and mature responsibilities that you may not be ready for – the movie uses humorous “no dogs allowed” signs to express this, but we all know its meant to let kids reminisce on their own experiences of being denied privileges as a child. From the perspective of the Peanuts gang, however, the film is also debating the natural yet imprudent nature of paranoia that we may have towards people close to us who clearly aren’t exactly like us, or better worded, not in exactly a similar stage of life as us, hence this parents trying to understand their kid motif going on, which is ironic because it’s mirrored by mere children who are trying to understand their dog.

It was really charming to see a movie this old though in an auditorium where the kids responded very eagerly to the slapstick just as I had as a child watching this during the early 2000s, and there are even some adult gags in this that genuinely had me laughing too – a taxpayer’s joke in particular had the whole crowd riled and moreover fitted right and well with this childhood allegory. Plus, Snoopy and Woodstock go acid tripping in this. Yeah.

Verdict: B

“Snoopy Come Home” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

Quick-Thoughts: Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom (1992)

Bill Hunter’s character looks way too much like Donald Trump for it to be a coincidence.

Admittedly (and ironically) down to all the dramatic tension and release, this is mostly just a stick-to-the-script story that repaints your typical forbidden romance based in a society where common consensus derives from a single leading culture, sustaining fear and suppressing independent thinking in an industry depended on formula. And yet, despite us having consumed this cut-and-dry tale about a gazillion times before, there’s something about Baz Lurhman’s energy and style that ALMOST successfully gives new life to it. From his perceptive sound effect and musical timing to the controlled little zeal spasms in the shots which appear steadily glittered; it’s all crowd-pleasing stuff! Those quirks do feel like they’re holding back at times, but perhaps it’s for the better — yes, I’ve seen clips from The Great Gatsby (2013) before. All the foreshadowing moments with Scott’s father prior to his reveal have a nice melancholic edge to them as well. The battle for the nerd being with the popular kid also suggestively becomes a bit weightier in the form of the battle for the minority of an uncommercial culture linking with the commercially accepted white figure. You either stay strictly ballroom or generously selfish.

Being parroted contrived examples of the “a life lived in fear is a life half lived” quote though honestly had close to enough staying power for me.

Verdict: C+

“Strictly Ballroom” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

Quick-Thoughts: Robert Altman’s Three Women (1977)

Screened at The New Beverly

“I rather face a thousand crazy savages than one woman who’s learned how to shoot.”

Rodarte founders Kate and Laura Mulleavy once described Three Women as a film that doesn’t rely on logic despite it being logical, which to me epitomizes Robert Altman’s one-of-a-kind knack for making movies that narratively soar both literally on their own but also figuratively on their own as well. 

As relaxing and plush as it can be to sink into this town’s environment, there appears to be some burnout lurking in every crevice of its seemingly haunted yet totally populated and outwardly breezy essence, Altman again proving himself a cinematic genius when it comes to getting you to remember his infectiously lived-in settings that quietly deconstruct the hidden within the casual. What can comfortably be seen as a simple coming of age story about a young woman learning to adapt and a slightly older woman learning to adapt to her is actually open to so much more psychological reading, particularly in regards to how these interactions inspire personal identity.

How is it possible to ever know ourselves when personality upon personality runs into us everyday in society to do it for us, inciting us to idolize, inciting us to compete, inciting us to submit, inciting us to infantilize? Is identity simply made up of us running into distinct personas by chance that register into our own combination, yet a combination that could be rigged and particularly formatted based on how we’re born? Altman’s film here is therefore often presented as a comedy on the self-perceived appearance, but then it incrementally becomes a tragedy on this appearance’s conditions too, as if the eerie recurring score that slithers between supposedly unquestionable moments couldn’t tell you otherwise. 

Three women is underselling it; there are but hundreds populating in each, and the three are but merely the most broad and socially expected, pressured, etc. of segments in this husband + wife perspective of a woman’s timeline. In the less literal sense, they are the ecdysis of their most basic life: dream as the child, become — or at least think you’ve become — as the desired adult, and reconsider the child through birth. It’s propagated negatively by the validation of men, validation of repeating, embodiment of media and idolization that foresees such. Apotheosis then validates the child’s aspiration, projection validating the adult’s superiority complex of being lusted for, and birth validating their signs of reminiscence. It’s a real life horror of human instinct, of generational indulgence, but eventually it comes to a monotonous release of equilibrium and acceptance towards the three stages, if you can call that a release though and maybe more so an imprisonment of disappointment. Christ, welcome to the California dream.

Essentially, the entire plot allegorizes this train of thought, where highly dramatic moments often signify clear transitions into each character’s new stage, but in its most literal sense, it also works as a plausible example to real life that confirms their existence. The film is clearly contrived to have distinct symbolics, but the symbolics in a sense work their way into our own reality. They are there, destined to happen in this structuring of fiction, but isn’t life already destined of certain things based on how we are socially and culturally identified, expected, or controlled as? Three Women doesn’t need to rely on logic during even its theatrical incidents because life itself can sometimes be such given the drastic changes in persona that we’re essentially forced to go through, therefore making its place in the film seem logical even if appearing a bit prophesied – the world simply operates at that, and the movie is compressing that knowledge into a tight two hours.

Also, shoutout to this movie for featuring what’s essentially a feminine existential crisis version of the 2001 (1968) stargate sequence, and then it’s immediately followed by another masterfully vehement sequence and by that point I was like yeah this film is hitting the f**k out of me alright. Another Altman masterpiece go figure.

Verdict: A+

All-Time Favorites, Robert Altman Ranked

“Three Women” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

Quick-Thoughts: Xavier Dolan’s Mommy (2014)

Screened at The Alamo Drafthouse

The spelling of the word “hello” did always seem suspicious to me.

Mommy may be supported by a pretty standard plot that’s tethered to the usual breed between coming of age drama and tragedy, but its ultimately hauled by three absolutely mind-blowing performances that embody three seriously expatiated and elaborate characters, and Xavier Dolan’s avant-garde cinematic style is calculated to a T here — the 1:1 aspect ratio redefining composition is a breath of fresh air in particular. Dolan furthermore decisively gets across just how tough a situation like this must be where the extremes of either abandonment or embrace seem to be a mother’s only options, out of love to each. The film wisely grants us a few moments of tenderness to suggest that capable relationships are building yet also reveals to us its tragic coexistence with the tangible society of today where its inability to prevail is almost marked a guarantee, allocating you into this mother who must undergo and live narrowed with this far from ideal reality. Dolan’s methodology to manifest these polarities can sometimes be a bit too on-the-nose and tonally bait-and-switch, but certainly not enough so to ruin what’s already otherwise marvelous in it.

And I see what you did there Dolan with that Lana Del Rey song. The classic double entendre.

Verdict: B

“Mommy” is now available to stream on Paramount+.

Quick-Thoughts: Phil Tippett’s Mad God (2021)

Screened at The Frida Cinema

A movie like Mad God longs for your interpretation. It is a vulnerable cinematic excavation of the content of its creator’s nightmares, a practice in artistically materializing one’s déjà-rêvé, perhaps acting as a sort of therapy for Phil Tippett in doing so. The Old Testament-inspired fantasy realm that he has – for the past thirty years now – reconcocted with a doyen’s level of care humorously toys with our corporal circle of life by adjusted conditions that stretch the reality which we know of, just as dreams often do. A faceless figure giving a traveler the pouty eyes yet with no actual visible eyes, the voice of an infant spewing cryptic demands or for all we know whatever on an intercom broadcasted though importantly to the ears of thousands of disposable idols, a World War Hell filled with unsystematic clock ticks that subjectively bend time; what do they remind you of? What could they possibly be trying to tell you? Maybe this is something better left for the certified psychologists to decode but we’re all here anyways now, aren’t we?

An ambient album equivalent of a movie if I’d ever seen one. 

Verdict: B-

2022 Ranked

“Mad God” will be playing in select theaters and available to stream on Shudder June 16th.

Quick-Thoughts: Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin (2004)

Screened at The Frida Cinema

Never in my life did I expect cereal to embody one of the most visually revolting images in cinema.

A contrast between two divisions of childhood sexual abuse trauma: succumbing and repression, and for such intense subject matter, Gregg Araki mercifully does right by depicting them with rather merciless execution that comes off as nothing short of a cinematic slaughterhouse on the once presumed destined discoveries from the curious young; the exclusive childhood mechanism of innocence is used completely against itself to an utmost immoral kind of manipulation, Araki putting us momentarily right back into that delicate juvenile headspace of our past as a plausible victim to these atrocities. Some of those unidentified objects we saw in youth are things we were never meant to experience, never meant to grow into either confidently or subconsciously; they very much became permanent inflammations prowling even in the masses of every alternative cover-up we could think of.  

There are worse things, but being told we’re “special” for anything early on is dangerous. Our inception defines a lot about us onward, and yet we don’t exactly get to choose it. 

So suffice it to say, I loathed watching Mysterious Skin, and it almost made me cry because. Pain.

Verdict: B+

“Mysterious Skin” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.