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the seventh curse (lam nai-choi, 1986)

This is the twenty-fifth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 25 is called "Golden Harvest Week".

From Wikipedia:

"Orange Sky Golden Harvest, previously known as Golden Harvest from 1970 to 2009, is a film production, distribution, and exhibition company based in Hong Kong. It dominated Hong Kong box office sales from the 1970s to 1980s and played a major role in introducing Hong Kong films to the Western market, especially those by Bruce Lee (Concord Production Inc.), Jackie Chan, and Sammo Hung."

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film produced and/or distributed by Golden Harvest.

The Seventh Curse is the kind of movie where the IMDB parents guide gives a sense of what you are in for:

  • A baby monster bites a man's neck and erupts from his abdomen, lots of blood everywhere (looks like red paint)
  • General martial arts fighting
  • Police and villains are shot and have little bullet holes with small amounts of blood dripping
  • Man tears flesh off his face and punches hole into his belly, where maggots pour out.
  • A curse causes small spurts of blood to occasionally "pop" out of his veins.
  • Small children are lowered into a stone device that crushes them and their blood pours out. You don't see their bodies being crushed, but the concept is disturbing.
  • A woman has a disfigured face (looks like burn scar)
  • Character is torn in half by a trap and his int stones [?] are seen, group of men are skewered on spikes. Not overly graphic, but aftermath shows some blood.
  • Monster attacks people and tears at their skin. 2 monsters fight, blood pouring out of wounds. monster is shot by bazooka and explodes into bits, not overly bloody.

Even the above doesn't really explain how loony this movie is. For that, I go to the Wikipedia description of the plot:

Dr. Yuen (Chin Siu-ho) in the jungle of Thailand attempts to rescue a beautiful girl from being sacrificed to the "Worm Tribe" she belongs to. As a result, Yuen is damned with seven "Blood Curses" which burst through his leg periodically. When the seventh bursts, he will die, but Betsy, the beauty he saved, stops the curse with an antidote that lasts only one year, so on the advice of Wisely (Chow Yun-fat) he heads back to Thailand to find a permanent cure. Action ensues as Yuen and cohorts battle the evil sorcerer of the Worm Tribe, a hideous bloodthirsty baby-like creature, and "Old Ancestor," a skeleton with glowing blue eyes that transforms into a monster that is a cross between Rodan and Alien.

I appreciate that I'm cheating here ... it's not much of a review when all I've done is quote other sources. But really, doesn't the above give you a feel for what The Seventh Curse might be up to?

I can add a little to the above. Apparently the basic plot and characters come from two series of novels by the prolific writer Ni Kuang. There are 150 or so stories in the "Wisely Series" and roughly 30+ Dr. Yuen stories. In The Seventh Curse, Wisely takes a back seat, which means Chow Yun-Fat isn't around nearly enough. His cool factor is seriously challenged by the fact that he smokes a pipe ... even Chow can't make pipe smoking cool. On the other hand, he's the one who turns up at the end with the bazooka. This film came out the same year as the icon-creating A Better Tomorrow, but I can't tell which came out first. Meantime, Maggie Cheung is involved, a year after Police Story ... she's adorable but annoying, kinda like she was in Police Story. (My invaluable source for HK culture, Steve Fore, noted in a comment to my post about Police Story, "Maggie Cheung was participating here in the standard rite of passage for ingenue female stars in HK movies, taking on roles as the whiny and/or ditzy girlfriend and arm candy.") She's only 22 in The Seventh Curse.

Finally, I should mention that director Ngai Choi Lam has quite a cult following. This is the first movie of his I have seen. Fans speak highly of his Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky.

The Seventh Curse is pretty crappy, but also pretty fun. It's also short. You'd have to be in the right mood, but it's certainly possible that if you caught it on the right day, you might get a lot of goofy enjoyment.

african-american directors series/geezer cinema: judas and the black messiah (shaka king, 2021)

I lived in Indiana in 1971-72, and one night we attended a showing of a film called The Murder of Fred Hampton. It couldn't have been more lo-fi, but it really grabbed the audience with its powerful agitprop. After the showing, someone from the Panthers said a few words ... I want to say it was David Hilliard, but you know how my memory is. You can watch the entire movie on YouTube:

Judas and the Black Messiah is nowhere near as raw as that documentary, but I didn't expect it to be. I was excited by the advance notices, but I worried that it was going to be more about "Judas" (William O'Neal, played by Lakeith Stanfield) than about Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). I shouldn't have worried. Shaka King, previously unknown to me, who directed and co-wrote the film, did a superb job of integrating the story of O'Neal into the story of Hampton. The latter is never pushed to the background, and Kaluuya's dynamic performance couldn't be hidden even if they wanted to do so. But as presented, O'Neal is far more than just a snitch. He's placed in a bad position, hounded by the FBI to infiltrate and eventually betray Hampton, and Stanfield, who matches Kaluuya all the way, shows us how O'Neal found himself in such a position, how much he hated himself for it, and how the inspired rhetoric of Hampton draws O'Neal close to becoming a Believer.

There is more going on in Judas and the Black Messiah than just Kaluuya and Stanfield. For one thing, the rest of the cast isn't too shabby, either, especially Dominique Fishback and Jesse Plemons, who underplays his FBI agent so that his evil behavior only sneaks through the surface. King gives us a believable version of Chicago in the late 60s that has too many unfortunate reminders of 2021 ... things haven't changed enough, if at all. Kaluuya is a bit too old for his part, which King rescues by essentially ignoring it, but you lose part of Fred Hampton's amazing life if you don't regularly insist on noting he was only 21 when he died. But these are nitpicks. Judas and the Black Messiah is the best movie I have seen so far in 2021.

music friday

Some big names this week, although in 3 1/2 cases out of 4, they were opening acts.

John Entwistle, Winterland, February 1975. Or John Entwistle's Ox, which is how they were billed. The Who bass player fronted this band, which included Robert Johnson on guitar (not THAT Robert Johnson). Not a lot of memories on this one ... like most people, I was waiting for the headliner, the J. Geils Band, who I was seeing for the first of four times. Johnson was a guitar wunderkind who had auditioned to replace Mick Taylor with the Rolling Stones when he was 23. I certainly had no idea who he was at this concert, but he blasted his way into my heart with this track from 1978:

Lynyrd Skynyrd, Oakland Coliseum, July 1977. Day on the Green show, headlined by Peter Frampton. I've written about it several times. Here's the song we all wanted to hear, recorded at that show ... less than four months later, the plane crashed.

John Lee Hooker, Keystone Berkeley, February 1980. Tiny club, he opened for Muddy Waters. The man was ageless. He was in his 60s when I saw him, and he lived another 20+ years, still releasing albums into the 21st century. Also in 1980, he turned up in a pretty popular movie, and no, he didn't lip-sync:

The Gossip, the Fillmore, June 2000; Bottom of the Hill, February 2001. When I said 3 1/2 of these artists were opening acts, the Gossip is the 1/2. I first saw them opening for Sleater-Kinney, and their performance, led by the amazing Beth Ditto, was as good as any opener I have ever seen. When next I saw them, they were the headliners.

godzilla: king of the monsters (michael dougherty, 2019)

I've been impressed enough by the previews for Godzilla vs. Kong that I decided I needed to prep. I'd seen the first film in the series, Godzilla, and liked it a lot. I began to catchup recently by watching Kong: Skull Island, which was a bit of a drop but still entertaining. Now I've seen Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and the drop is a lot bigger.

This one brings out a bunch of the Japanese originals ... Mothra, Ghidorah, Rodan, and of course Godzilla, all of whom are listed in the credits as playing themselves. This is more fun if you're a fan, although Rodan seems less important to the plot. Michael Dougherty shows his love for the genre, and the film isn't condescending. It's just not very good.

We're invited to care about the characters, and the cast is impressive. But the characters never get deeper than their stereotypical base: family struggling over events in the earlier movie, Japanese scientists with more understanding of the monsters, smart-ass American scientist, Charles Dance as a bad guy. Hey, these are stereotypes for a reason ... they make it easy for us to slide into the movie. But when we are asked to actually care about them, to react emotionally to them, I didn't care and didn't get emotional.

Perhaps it's a bit of a surprise, given the all-star cast, but the standout is someone making her first appearance in a feature film: Millie Bobby Brown, who had already established herself via the television series Stranger Things. Brown only just turned 17, but you can see she'll have a solid future. She isn't just playing the cute factor. Indeed, Brown is the one person who convinced me her character was worthy of an emotional response from the audience.

As for the action, it's fine, as expected, although during the climactic battle, they kept switching attention to the humans when all I wanted to see was Godzilla going up against Ghidorah. Truth is, the action in the Godzilla vs. Kong trailer excited me more.

sound of metal (darius marder, 2019)

Let's get this out of the way. Whatever they are calling the Oscar for sound now, this movie should win in a runaway. Darius Marder and the rest of the film-making team prepared meticulously for the construction of sound in the movie. This short is very informative ... there's a spoiler warning near the end:

It's interesting to see how technical aspects of a film are used, not in the service of gargantuan special effects, but to help convey the experiences of the central character. It's not about showing off what the film makers can do, and is all the more effective for that being the case.

This wouldn't matter much if Riz Ahmed wasn't so good. Stories are told of his intense preparation for the role, including learning to drum and learning to use sign language. But, as with the sound design, Ahmed isn't trying to show off ... he wants to be as good at those achievements as his character is, so we no longer think about the actor behind the actions.

Much of the transition over time is both quick and gradual. Ahmed's face expresses the perplexing way his life is changing, but Sound of Metal doesn't waste time ... one minute he doesn't know sign language, the next scene he's getting the hang of it, the next scene he's proficient. This is occasionally jarring, but isn't any more than that.

Darius Marder, directing his first fictional feature, and his brother Abraham, wrote a screenplay that never feels like an After School Movie. There aren't a lot of touching moments, and the ones we do get are earned. Olivia Cooke is getting some Oscar talk for her work here in a supporting role, and Marder makes good use of the deaf community in his overall casting.

Pretty much everything comes together in Sound of Metal. It is true, though, that Riz Ahmed is the one who takes thinks to another level. #695 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.

film fatales #109: sweetie (jane campion, 1989)

This is the twenty-fourth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 24 is called "Southern Exposure: Jane Campion Week".

Though not as obscure as our Northern Exposure director, Jane Campion has made a name for herself, due in large part to her breakout hit, The Piano. The thing is though, as far as I can tell, a lot of people haven't viewed her work outside of that film. So if you've yet to see it, you're in for a treat, and if you have seen it, you get to see how a filmmaker develops. A win-win.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film directed by Jane Campion.

Sweetie was Jane Campion's debut as a feature director, after a few years making shorts. She's had a fine career, winning an Oscar for her screenplay for The Piano, which she also directed, helping Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin win acting Oscars. She created the television series Top of the Lake with Elisabeth Moss, and had her hand in a variety of movies over the years (I'm partial to An Angel at My Table). Sweetie was her idea ... besides directing, she also co-wrote the screenplay. And it's an odd one.

The family at the center of Sweetie is, let's say, dysfunctional. At first, the film seems to center on Kay, a young woman, shy and superstitious. She seems socially awkward at her work, and she begins a relationship with a new boyfriend, Louis, because of the tea readings of a fortune teller. There is something a tiny bit off in the way Campion and cinematographer Sally Bongers present Kay's life, but it's nothing you can put your finger on, and I settled in to what I assumed would be a quiet look at an unassuming individual. Kay's parents are just eccentric enough to suggest how Kay became Kay.

And then Kay's sister Dawn, called "Sweetie", turns up, and we see that this family is more than a tiny bit off. Sweetie is ... how to say it ... kind of crazy. As the film progresses, we learn that she has essentially demanded attention from her family since childhood, and she goes over the edge more than once in her interactions with others. The tone of the film wavers, at times a comedy, at times a family drama, often exhibiting a mean streak towards Sweetie. To the extent the movie sympathizes with anyone, it's more Sweetie's family than Sweetie herself, although the way her parents indulged her since she was a kid is a type of "explanation" for how she turned out.

Sweetie is different. Karen Colston and Geneviève Lemon are intriguing as Kay and Sweetie. I couldn't always tell what was intended by Campion and her co-screenwriter Gerard Lee, and the movie is not close to a complete success. But it's an interesting look at Campion when she was just starting.

music friday

Dave Brubeck, Concord, 1970s. Not sure if we saw Brubeck more than once. The Concord Jazz Festival started in 1969 ... I believe it is still running. It took place each year in Concord, California (Brubeck's birthplace, along with Tom Hanks, and about 15 miles from where I grew up). My wife's dad was in the newspaper business, so he often got free passes to the Festival, plus the Festival was created by a local car dealer and my dad was in that business, so sometimes he got free passes, too. We went to a few of them over the years ... can't remember when, but in the 70s. Brubeck being a local boy who did good, he was always welcome at the Festival. "Take Five" was that rarity, a jazz track that was a crossover hit. It was written by Paul Desmond, who plays sax. Brubeck is on piano, of course, Eugene Wright was on bass (he was probably gone by the time we saw Brubeck), and Joe Morello was the drummer who does wonders with the 54 time. This recording is from 1961:

Clarence Clemons and the Red Bank Rockers, Keystone Palo Alto, 12-3-82. Clarence put this band together to play with while Bruce was working on something, probably Born in the USA. They released one album, Rescue, which wasn't bad, with a singer named J.T. Bowen who could shout with the best of them. On this date, the crowd spent most of the time waiting for Bruce to show up (he didn't). At one point, Clarence teased us by saying they were going to play "Fire", only to perform the Jimi Hendrix song.

Bruce wrote a song for Rescue, "Savin' Up":

Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Candlestick Park, 9-8-84. I wrote about this a few years ago. It took place after a Giants' game ... CS&N set up on the field and played a set. Don't remember a lot about it, except that it happened, and I was there. You can listen to a show from the next day by clicking this link. Meantime, I'll once again post this, the best song Crosby and Nash ever did:

Tracy Chapman, Oakland Coliseum, 9/23/88. Human Rights Now! was a tour to benefit Amnesty International, with a load of stars: Sting, Peter Gabriel, Youssou N'Dour, Tracy Chapman. Bruce and the E Street Band closed the show. This was his 39th birthday ... as I recall, Joan Baez sang "Happy Birthday" to him. Chapman had released her self-titled debut album that year, featuring the runaway hit "Fast Car".

The last show of the Human Rights Now! tour, in Buenos Aires, was the last time Bruce toured with the E Street Band for more than a decade. The crowd in Argentina was bonkers:

geezer cinema: run (aneesh chaganty, 2020)

Let's get the good stuff out of the way first. Run is basically a chamber piece focusing on two characters, a mother and her daughter Chloe, played by Sarah Paulson and newcomer Kiera Allen. Both are great ... Allen is especially noteworthy because she's up against an all-time veteran, and she's in her first movie. Run is a thriller that actually manages to retain its edge-of-your-seat excitement for most of the film. And it's also historic, since Allen's character is in a wheelchair, as is the actress herself in real life. Hulu makes sure to tell us that this marks the first time in a Hollywood movie in more than 70 years where the chair-bound heroine is played by a disabled actress.

This last point is dealt with in a somewhat subtle way. Chloe is tied to her chair, but it doesn't completely define who she is ... she's a real character of some depth and resourcefulness. You don't forget the wheelchair, and some of the thrills are tied to that chair, but what is more important is how inventive and strong Chloe is.

There are shout outs to plenty of movies from the past, and ... well, I'm trying to avoid spoilers here, but it's impossible to do that with 100% efficiency, so you are warned. I was reminded of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, and the movie is also in the great Gaslight tradition. Aneesh Chaganty's film belongs in the company of those movies.

And yet ... here I'll admit that I'm not sure how much of what I'm about to say matters. You've got a well-made thriller with top-notch acting ... who could ask for anything more? Well, there's a reason Run is good-not-great: the longer it runs, the stupider it gets. The word "ludicrous" comes to mind. The real achievement for Chaganty is that somehow he keeps us thrilled and entertained, even as one part of our brain is rejecting the damn thing.

The result is a movie I have no problem recommending ... if the above sounds like your cup of tea, you'll like Run. It's just so silly in the end.

i read yesterday's news today

There is a very articulate group of people in this country, with plenty of ability to procure publicity for their views, who have consistently refused to cooperate with the mass of the people, whether things were going well or going badly, on the ground that they required more concessions to their point of view before they would admit having what they called "confidence." ...

But, my friends, it is my belief that ... the mass of the American people do have confidence in themselves -- have confidence in their ability, with the aid of Government, to solve their own problems.

It is because you are not satisfied, and I am not satisfied, with the progress that we have made in finally solving our business and agricultural and social problems that I believe the great majority of you want your own Government to keep on trying to solve them. In simple frankness and in simple honesty, I need all the help I can get -- and I see signs of getting more help in the future from many who have fought against progress with tooth and nail in the past.

-- President Roosevelt, Fireside Chat, June 24, 1938