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Sundays at Videotheque

Videotheque in South Pasadena, CA was my film school post-college. Even though I live far away now, I still make it out almost every Sunday to check out movies that I have no luck finding online, for money or otherwise. In this ongoing series, I will give my brief impressions about my rentals from the past week.

Since I had a few days off for Thanksgiving break, I decided to raid Videotheque and cram as much good cinematic lovin’ as I could with films I couldn’t access at home. I also had stumbled across a personal best of the 90’s list by Letterboxd user I. Flick, and his list was so offbeat and interesting that it immediately grabbed my attention, and I just had to seek out a few of the many hard-to-find titles on his list.

Uptight (1968) dir. Jules Dassin, starring Raymond St. Jacques, Ruby Dee

This was Barry Jenkins’ recommendation on the Criterion channel, and you can feel the rage and rawness of the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. I’m surprised this film isn’t shown more in high schools (probably because of its violence) or at least in colleges. Ruby Dee, a major civil rights activist in her own right as well as an artist and performer, was a major creative force in this movie, and you can tell how lovingly drawn all of the Black cast was. Jules Dassin, of course, is no slouch of a director and brings his tactile, vivid style and genre sensibility to what is essentially a Judas story, except with the significant backdrop of the civil rights movement and the disillusionment many Black people felt about the chaos going on at the time.

Calendar (1993) dir. Atom Egoyan, starring Atom Egoyan, Arsinee Khanjian, and Ashot Adamyan

A very modest movie with the exception of shooting on site in Armenia, Egoyan’s motherland. It took me a while to get into the wavelength of the movie, as it felt deliberately stripped down and deliberately paced. But then I saw what was going on and how a story about the loss of love was unfolding before my eyes, and Egoyan only had to hint at the story rather than lay it all out on the screen. The movie is inspiring because it shows how you can tell a rich and complex story with just the minimum of equipment and funding.

Angel Dust (1994) dir. Gakuryu Ishii, starring Kaho MInami and Takeshi Wakamatsu

Sogo Ishii, later renamed Gakuryu, or Dragon, by himself of course, made his name with anarchic, low-budget features inspired by his own punk background. This movie, however, feels more like if Michael Haneke had decided to make a genre picture. The cold, antiseptic feel and look of Tokyo complements the main story of a psychiatrist who is trying to solve the case of a serial killer. She has to call on her ex-husband, who is a cult deprogrammer, to help her. This is already an interesting enough premise, but it gets weirder and more twisted as we realize that everyone, main character included, is slightly off with their perception of the world. The movie is uneven and has plot holes galore, but it’s an eerily effective and nasty thriller nevertheless.

Lovers on the Bridge (1991) dir. Leos Carax, starring Juliette Binoche and Denis Lavant

I haven’t loved Leos Carax’s work such as Holy Motors and his short film in Tokyo!, but I may have to revisit him because I loved this film. I will never get tired of the outcast lovers genre, but Carax brings a specificness and world-building that makes us understand what his main characters are going through and how their environments affect them. Denis Lavant is always an interesting physical presence and good directors know to let Lavant be physical and let that be his way of expressing characters. I also never thought someone as radiant and beautiful as Juliette Binoche could look so believably scruffy, but she is one of the best actresses ever.

The Blackout (1997) /New Rose Hotel (1998) dir. Abel Ferrara

I am honestly sick of filmmakers like Abel Ferrara in terms of the subject matter that they choose to portray. I don’t really want to watch more movies about over-privileged White men who suffer problems related to their excessive lifestyles. I did like The Blackout better basically because it had a more interesting plot, and it did seem accurate about the perils of addiction and how hard the rehabilitation process is. New Rose Hotel was a lot of conversations about sex and violence (both literal and not) and not much else, and while Christopher Walken and Willem Dafoe and Asia Argento are quite good, I just didn’t find enough that was compelling about this very specific story about some very odious people.

Comrades: Almost a Love Story (1996) dir. Peter Chan, starring Maggie Cheung and Leon Lai

This insanely popular movie’s influence is still felt today in Asian cinema. It’s essentially a K-drama condensed into one movie that extends many eras, even if the number of years is actual relatively small. I give a lot of credit to screenwriter Ivy Ho for making Maggie Cheung’s character so likable. Leon Lai looks like kind of a drip in comparison to Maggie Cheung, but you believe their romance and that the specialness of their relationship could be something that lasts with them and defines them even through tumultuous times, which are more hinted at than explicitly shown in this film.

 

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