the ghost of yotsuya (nobuo nakagawa, 1959)

This is the eighth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22", "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 7th annual challenge, and my third time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", and last year's at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21"). Week 8 is called "J-Horror Week":

From Wikipedia:

"Japanese horror (also known as J-horror) is horror fiction arising from popular culture in Japan, generally noted for its unique thematic and conventional treatment of the horror genre differing from the traditional Western representation of horror. Mediums in which Japanese horror fiction is showcased include literature, film, anime, video games, and artwork. Japanese horror tends to focus on psychological horror, tension building (suspense), and supernatural horror, particularly involving ghosts (yūrei) and poltergeists. Other Japanese horror fiction contains themes of folk religion such as possession, exorcism, shamanism, precognition, and yōkai."

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen J-Horror film.

Yotsuya Kaidan has been called the most famous Japanese ghost story of all time, dating back to its first appearance as a kabuki play in 1825. It has been made into numerous films, starting in 1912, and Nakagawa's version is often considered the best. Nakagawa directed more than 100 movies in his career, including several horror films in the late-50s/early-60s. I came to The Ghost of Yotsuya as a beginner ... for me, it was just another Japanese horror movie, since I didn't have the cultural context the story carries with Japanese audiences. It was occasionally hard to follow, but in a good way ... it added to the supernatural elements in the film.

There are murders from the start, but the ghosts only emerge gradually. Much of the film is interesting, but without the horror aspect I expected. It's almost a character study for much of its running time. But when the ghosts come out, the supernatural horror moves to the front, building on what has come before. There is a visual splendor whenever the film moves outdoors, but most of the time, we're inside with the characters.

The Ghost of Yotsuya might appeal more to an arthouse audience than to one looking for gore and horror, but it succeeds on either level.

Among the choices of others for the Challenge was Kuroneko.


devil's partner (charles r. rondeau, 1961)

This is the seventh film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22", "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 7th annual challenge, and my third time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", and last year's at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21"). Week 7 is called "Hades' Choice Week":

What the Hell?!

Alt. take: Beelze-busted!

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film prominently featuring the Devil.

Junk, but watchable, if only barely. If you and a couple of friends made this movie and showed it to your other friends, they would likely be amazed that you were able to pull off an actual feature film. But the competition isn't home movies, it's movies like Roger Corman's Creature from the Haunted Sea, with which Devil's Partner was released as part of a double-feature. Devil's Partner is competent, but it completely lacks any of the goofy fun that Corman regularly turned out. This can happen when both of your screenwriters are making their debuts as writers (neither ever wrote another film). Director Charles R. Rondeau was a prolific television director whose five feature films were nondescript.

The plot has an unlikeable old man dying mysteriously in a small town, after which his nephew turns up and insinuates himself into the community. He's up to no good, and soon lots of people are dying in unusual ways (being chased down and stomped by a horse is particularly silly). Rondeau and company do what they can to hold things together ... as I say, it's a competent movie, it just lacks anything beyond that basic competence. The acting is decent, with a couple of recognizable faces (Ed Nelson, Edgar "Uncle Joe" Buchanan). Still, as is often the case with such movies, the best thing is that it's only 73 minutes, so you won't be wasting too much of your time.


human experiments (gregory goodell, 1979)

This is the sixth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22", "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 7th annual challenge, and my third time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", and last year's at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21"). Week 6 is called "Video Nasty Week":

Let's get nasty. From Wikipedia:

Video nasty is a colloquial term popularized by the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association (NVALA) in the United Kingdom to refer to a number of films, typically low-budget horror and exploitation films, distributed on video cassette that were criticized for their violent content by the press, social commentators and various religious organizations in the early 1980s. These video releases were not brought before the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) due to a loophole in film classification laws that allowed videos to bypass the review process. The resulting uncensored video releases led to public debate concerning the availability of these films to children due to the unregulated nature of the market.

Following a campaign led by Mary Whitehouse and the NVALA, prosecutions were commenced against individuals engaged in trades exploiting allegedly obscene videos. To assist local authorities in identifying obscene films, the Director of Public Prosecutions released a list of 72 films the office believed to violate the Obscene Publications Act 1959. This list included films that had either been previously acquitted of obscenity or already obtained BBFC certification. In addition, a second list was released that contained an additional 82 titles which were not believed to lead to obscenity convictions but could nonetheless be confiscated under the Act's forfeiture laws. The resultant confusion regarding the definition of obscene material led to Parliament passing the Video Recordings Act 1984, which required certification of video releases by the BBFC.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen Video Nasty movie.

I admit I'd never heard of the "Video Nasty" before this. I decided Human Experiments would be a horror movie, but it's closer to the Women in Prison genre. And it's not the best one. The main thing Human Experiments has going for it is Linda Haynes in the lead. Haynes was underused during her time as an actor, but she shows in this film that she could have done more than she was asked.

Some interesting names are scattered throughout the supporting cast. Geoffrey Lewis, who seemed to be in every other Clint Eastwood movie and was the father of Juliette, plays the doctor performing the experiments of the title. He underplays nicely. Ellen Travolta (John's sister) is featured. Radio legend Lurene Tuttle is "Granny". Aldo Ray and Jackie Coogan turn up in the beginning as good-old-boy cops, but they disappear a few minutes into the film, never to be seen again.

Outside of Haynes, there's nothing much to see here, but it's only 82 minutes.


the raven (lew landers, 1935)

This is the fifth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22", "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 7th annual challenge, and my third time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", and last year's at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21"). Week 5 is called "Universal Monster Week":

The originators of the form here in American horror, the Universal Monster series offers up...scares? Well, they used to, anyway. For the most part, they're now fun novelties to look back upon and maybe even poke fun at if you're into that sort of thing.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen Universal Monster movie.

There are a couple of Universal Monster films that are legit classics ... for me, the two James Whale/Boris Karloff pictures Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein top the list. There are other good ones, and at the least, Universal provided a base that ensured even the lesser pictures were OK. The Raven is one of those lesser movies, and to be honest, it's only borderline OK.

The plot is silly, designed solely to stuff the name Edgar Allan Poe into the picture. Bela Lugosi plays a deranged doctor with a Poe obsession, and that's pretty much the extent of Poe's influence on the movie.  Lugosi's doctor has recreated some of the torture devices featured in Poe's stories, most notably one from "The Pit and the Pendulum". Boris Karloff plays an escaped murderer who, via silly plot shenanigans, is forced to do Lugosi's billing (the doctor has a name, but face it, the characters are essentially "Lugosi" and "Karloff"). Some of the frights are scary enough, and the movie only lasts a minute longer than one hour, so it's not a burden to watch it. But Lugosi's hammy overacting is worse than usual, overshadowing Karloff's usual touching portrayal of a monstrous person. There is nothing here to excite anyone other than Universal completists.

 Other Challenge choices included The Incredible Shrinking Man.


beyond the hills (cristian mungiu, 2012)

This is the fourth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22", "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 7th annual challenge, and my third time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", and last year's at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21"). Week 4 is called "Romanian New Wave":

From Wikipedia:

"The Romanian New Wave is a genre of realist and often minimalist films made in Romania since the mid-aughts...

Aesthetically, Romanian New Wave films share an austere, realist and often minimalist approach. Furthermore, black humour tends to feature prominently. While several of them are set in the late 1980s, near the end of Nicolae Ceaușescu's totalitarian rule over communist Romania, exploring themes of freedom and resilience, others, however, unfold in modern-day Romania, and delve into the ways the transition to democracy and free-market capitalism has shaped Romanian society after the fall of communism in late 1989."

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen Romanian New Wave film.

In 1971, Ken Russell released The Devils. If you've seen any of his films (Tommy), you won't be surprised to know that The Devils was over the top, telling the "true" story of sexual possessions of nuns that result in exorcisms. Russell got the story from a book by Aldous Huxley. Russell includes scenes of torture, forced enemas, self-mutilations, and lots and lots of naked women. The film received an "X" rating in both the U.K. and the U.S., and was banned in several other countries.

That's one way to tell a story.

Cristian Mungiu is a Romanian director who takes his time releasing movies. His first feature came out in 2002, and he's only directed four films since then, one as a co-director. Among those films are 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, which is a favorite of mine, and Graduation, about which I wrote, "Mungiu likes to plant his camera in one place for long takes. Often in Graduation, those takes are conversations between two people. There is an intimacy to this approach, although the characters often seem to lack that intimacy between each other." This was similar to 4 Months, where I described Mungiu's tendency to find "a place to put his camera that he thinks is appropriate for a scene," and leave it there for extended periods of time, letting the movie emerge from the stationary camera." Mungiu's film are not over the top ... he is the anti-Ken Russell.

Which makes Beyond the Hills particularly interesting, in that it, too, tells the "true" story of an exorcism. And those scenes are terrifying, but not due to the excesses of the director. We are shocked by those scenes because we see them through the eyes of a young woman whose friend is the victim of the ritual. Beyond the Hills isn't a story of an entire city gone mad, but instead is the story of a woman who doesn't fit properly into the life of a Romanian Orthodox convent. There are sexual undertones ... the two women have been in love ... but as with so much else in Mungiu's work, the undertones rise slowly to the surface. He doesn't need forced enemas to make his points.

Mungiu gives us two outstanding performances by the lead actresses, both of whom were making their film debuts, although they were not amateurs. Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur were co-winners of the Best Actress award at Cannes. Flutur has the showier role, but Stratan is the one who really draws us into the story. I said about Graduation that "Mungiu doesn't judge his characters, but neither does he let them off the hook." This is very true for Beyond the Hills. The priest (Valeriu Andriuta) is not a crazed fundamentalist, and we are led to believe he actually wants to break the woman free of possession. The results are sadly inevitable, despite the priest's intentions.

Three top-level films, with one true classic. Mungiu may take his time releasing movies, but they are worth the wait. #392 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. (Among the other films chosen for the challenge were 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, and The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.)


terms of endearment (james l. brooks, 1983)

This is the third film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22", "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 7th annual challenge, and my third time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", and last year's at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21"). Week 3 is called "Two Old Queens Week":

With the Season Challenge, not only should we expand our horizons through watching new films, but viewing them in a whole new light. And the podcast Two Old Queens does just that with their search for the "Gayest Movie Ever Made". Though the way they determine this can get quite silly, comedians Mark Rennie and John Flynn always offer great insight and hilarious quips on how gay (or not) each film is. Definitely give the podcast a try once this week's film has been watched, you won't be disappointed.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film discussed on the podcast Two Old Queens.

Terms of Endearment won five Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Screenplay from Another Medium. This isn't one of those oddities where it's hard to imagine why a movie won Best Picture (think The Greatest Show on Earth or Driving Miss Daisy). Terms of Endearment is a good movie ... I'd probably call Under Fire the best picture of the year, but I know that's a quirky choice. Maybe The Right Stuff of the other Best Picture nominees. But I wouldn't watch Terms of Endearment thinking I was about to take in an all-time classic ... it's good-not-great. It's a bit too long, and your tolerance for heart-tugging moments might affect your appreciation of the film. Roger Ebert wrote that it "feels as much like life as any movie I can think of....This is a movie with bold emotional scenes and big laughs, and at the same time it's so firmly in control of its tone that we believe we are seeing real people," while Pauline Kael said "What's infuriating about it is its calculated humanity." I'm with Kael, as usual, but really, it's not that bad.

Brooks bounces back and forth between the stories of a mother (Shirley MacLaine) and daughter (Debra Winger), and it's not always the best way to tell their tales. The movie improves in the later stages, when the two narratives come together. The acting is excellent ... MacLaine and Jack Nicholson won Oscars, but Winger and John Lithgow also got nominations. The film's emotions may be calculated, but the actors make it feel real.

I'm not sure what made Terms of Endearment a topic for the Two Old Queens. I tried to listen to the podcast episode but couldn't get it to work. The description on the website says that "Its got the power of Shirley MacLaine and undeniable lesbian energy from Debra Winger, but is that enough to place TERMS OF ENDEARMENT amongst the top five of gayest movies ever?"

Other Challenge choices included Beau Travail and Point Break.


my winnipeg (guy maddin, 2007)

This is the second film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22", "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 7th annual challenge, and my third time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", and last year's at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21"). Week 2 is called "Northern Exposure: Guy Maddin Week":

Canada's own Guy Maddin offers up a unique lens in which to view life throughout all of his films. If nothing else, you're sure to see something wholly unique this week.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film directed by Guy Maddin.

This film is my introduction to Guy Maddin, who is one of the most idiosyncratic of directors. My Winnipeg is an odd movie, hard to describe, and apparently it is very much like many of Maddin's films. Sometimes a filmmaker will create something so insular, its meanings are clear only to the people who made the movie. That's not the case with My Winnipeg. You always know what is going on in an individual scene, it's just that as the film progresses, you begin to doubt what you think you know, gradually realizing that this documentary is in fact an extremely subjective memoir of Maddin's home town.

And then it becomes clear that "subjective" doesn't really get it. Maddin is inventing things out of icicles, and nothing he shows us can be trusted. Which doesn't mean the film is aimless. In fact, you could argue that Maddin's inventions get closer to "his Winnipeg" than would a more straightforward, "realistic" representation of "facts".

Even if the results can be frustrating, Maddin is expert at giving us the movie he has in his head. He frequently uses techniques we think of as belonging to silent cinema, and he mixes authentic-looking recreations with ... well, actually, I'm not sure anything in My Winnipeg is presented as it happened. The film is narrated by Maddin, and Maddin is a character in what we see, but he's played by an actor, Darcy Fehr. His mother is played by the legendary Ann Savage (Detour). We learn that Winnipeg is the sleepwalking capital of the world. We learn about a television series, LedgeMan, with a character who is always threatening to jump off a ledge to his death. We learn about a general strike in 1919. This last actually happened ... I don't think any of the others ever happened except in Maddin's imagination.

It's all very intriguing, forcing us to confront the ways our memories override actual occurrences. #135 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century, and #603 on the TSPDT users poll of our favorite films.


geezer cinema: lock, stock, and two smoking barrels (guy ritchie, 1998)

This is the first film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22", "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 7th annual challenge, and my third time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", and last year's at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21"). Week 1 is called "Lucky Seven Week":

Looking to score some luck with our first week! Since it's our lucky seventh Season, let's roll the dice on some gambling films and hope not to go bust by the end!

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film about gambling. Here's a list to help you get started.

The start of a new Letterboxd Season Challenge. My previous challenges have led to a mixed bunch of films, some very good (most notably The Shape of Water and French Cancan in 19-20), some not so good (The Beast of Yucca Flats from that same challenge). But I love the opportunity to check out new-to-me movies that someone else has decided might be fun. And so, to gambling films and Guy Ritchie.

I've only seen a few of Ritchie's movies, and outside of the first Sherlock Holmes, I'm unimpressed. His movies are hectic, complicated just to be complicated, and showy to no purpose. Tarantino does it all better. Lock Stock, Ritchie's first feature, fits this description, but it did have some positives. Jason Statham got his first role, as did legendary Welsh "hard man" soccer player Vinnie Jones ... he does well here. Sting pops up in a couple of scenes. The soundtrack is fun. There are hardly any women in the cast, which speaks to what matters to Ritchie. You might scratch your head at times trying to figure out what is going on, or which character is which, or what the hell the actors with their thick accents are saying. But you probably won't be bored.

Among the other "gambling movie" choices people selected for the challenge were Casino RoyaleThe Cooler, and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.

[Letterboxd list of Geezer Cinema movies]