• What Have I Done to Deserve This?

    What Have I Done to Deserve This?

    ★★★½

    The first resounding success of Pedro Almodóvar's career, What Have I Done to Deserve This? is less aligned with trash cinema than his three prior films (even if it starts with a woman spontaneously having sex with a naked man in a dojo locker room) while still maintaining their interest in subversive sexual activity. Its deviance is playful and relatively fun compared to the seemingly forced ostentation of Labyrinth of Passion and Pepi, Luci, Bom, and its protagonist, a relatively…

  • The Card Counter

    The Card Counter

    ★★★

    The line between white elephant prestige and ridiculous pulp is a recurrent subject in the cinema of Paul Schrader, with The Card Counter serving as a prime example. I am less familiar with Schrader's directorial work, having only seen First Reformed prior to this, but The Card Counter reminded me of Rolling Thunder (written by Schrader and directed by John Flynn) for the way it explores relatively confusing and difficult emotions while satisfying its audience's bloodlust. As with Rolling Thunder,…

  • Clueless

    Clueless

    ★★★

    Clueless is a star vehicle through and through, virtually its entire value residing in Alicia Silverstone's unforgettable performance as a spoiled rich girl whose obsession with popularity and material possessions belies her conniving brilliance with regard to teenage social hierarchy. Her comedic timing is impeccable, making her cluelessness its own kind of genius, and her embodiment of the "guys want her / girls want to be her" sentiment makes her nearly impossible to find fault in. As with Amy Heckerling's…

  • The Year of the Everlasting Storm

    The Year of the Everlasting Storm

    ★★★

    The Year of the Everlasting Storm is composed of seven shorts, of which two are really worth seeing (as standalones, they would be my two favorite 2021 premieres so far).

    Jafar Panahi's Life, the opening segment, is a documentary-seeming vignette about a visit to Panahi's home from his mother; though the film is clearly at least somewhat scripted, the family's closeness lends their interactions some verve and spontaneity, and its light-hearted depiction of the ordinary difficulties of living in a…

  • Down by Law

    Down by Law

    ★★★

    Following up the great Stranger Than Paradise, Jim Jarmusch repeated the tactic of throwing a few outcasts into a room together and watching their rhythms align on wavelengths of their own in Down by Law. The effect is similar, especially given the film's similarly meandering narrative structure, albeit weaker; Tom Waits is always a pleasure to behold, and John Lurie puts in solid work, while Roberto Benigni can be distractingly annoying at times. The men don't mesh as well as…

  • Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl

    Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl

    ★★★★½

    Manoel de Oliveira's directorial talents were like those of a painter; perhaps better than any other filmmaker ever, he was able to capture incredibly powerful and complex emotions in a single frame. When Macário sees Luísa for the first time, the dim lighting and surreptitious framing evokes the exact feeling of wonder and guilt that might accompany the discovery of a beautiful girl living across the street, while the relatively stark intensity of certain later shots lends an increased dynamism…

  • Céline and Julie Go Boating

    Céline and Julie Go Boating

    ★★★★

    Operating at the seam between rigor and playfulness, Céline and Julie Go Boating sees two women stretch the boundaries of their world by inserting themselves within an existing mythology in order to interrogate its core. For all this, the film doesn't seem to care much about the actual solution to its mystery and instead enjoys working within these edges, the women's spontaneous interjections and jarring breaks from the tonal austerity of many of the other actors working as both hilarious…

  • Battling Butler

    Battling Butler

    ★★★

    Battling Butler has some solid gags and hilarious comic irony, though its relatively sentimental tenor and higher narrative focus make this one of Buster Keaton's weaker features. In some ways, it is more similar to a Charlie Chaplin film, lacking much of the creative ingenuity of Keaton films like The Scarecrow and Sherlock Jr. or the clever emotion of Our Hospitality and Seven Chances. Still, there are certainly plenty of moments to love: the final fight sequence is one of the more resoundingly celebratory moments in Keaton's filmography.

  • The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

    The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

    ★★★½

    Film #1 in Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021–22

    The Killing of a Chinese Bookie follows its protagonist, Cosmo Vittelli, through his working and leisure hours as well as through a crime narrative that sees him attempt to pay off a gambling debt to a group of gangsters. Scenes in the film follow the flow of his life and do not appear to be overtly structured around any screenplay formula, which allows his character to develop naturally; this also means the film…

  • A Brighter Summer Day

    A Brighter Summer Day

    ★★½

    A Brighter Summer Day has its share of beautiful shots, especially those involving characters seeing something they shouldn't and thus taking a step forward in their coming of age. I also generally liked the epic narrative structure, which allows its protagonist to develop gradually and as a direct result of various events, both major and minor, that occur to him or around him. Despite all that, there were very few individual scenes that did much for me. The actors all…

  • A Woman Under the Influence

    A Woman Under the Influence

    ★★★★½

    Gena Rowlands is as good as advertised: rarely are pull-the-stops performances as delicately handled as this, especially when the subject is a mental breakdown. Rowlands allows her character's pain to come through both on the surface (through intense but uniquely handled emotive expression) and more subliminally (in the way her coping mechanisms, especially in the film's second half, seem precarious at best). Peter Falk and the other actors around her respond in ways that reflect the pain they all face…

  • The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

    The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

    ★★★½

    The bubbling tension between Walter Matthau and the crew of hijackers is the film's focus, but the most interesting parts of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three are those moments of local color, when extras or one-line characters express their reaction to the drama and almost subliminally transform the film from an interpersonal narrative to the story of a city's response at large to an act of terrorism. These asides and isolated lines of dialogue add a layer of humanity to the film's thrills and make it a surprisingly intelligent movie.