Swan's 2019 Film Diary

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Thanks for the recs. The only one I've seen is Supercop, which I personally like a lot. I have a pile of unwatched physical copies, in which Police Story and The Legend of Drunken Master sit ready to be watched. I'll check out those Shaw Brothers. I like the balletic/musical description you give, because I feel like it pertains to a lot of great action cinema.

RE: Horror that are comedies, I think you may have a point. And I even think about the production behind a lot of great horror gore-fests are not marred by depressing seriousness, but instead joy and fun. I like to imagine Raimi and Campbell and the rest of the crew goofing around while making The Evil Dead. For some reason, horror is the one genre that - depending on what you're making - goofing around on set can make your movie BETTER! Whoda thunk?

The Grudge
(Takashi Shimizu, 2004)


The problem is this movie doesn't do anything to justify it's existence as a remake. It's deviations are not substantial enough, with no overarching new angle, which in most cases is necessary for a remake - because if you're not doing anything new with the material, why not just watch the original? I actually think the direction, led by Shimizu (who also did the original Ju-On), is pretty competent. My impression though is that a lot gets lost in translation. The story seems set in it's culture - which may be why Shimizu kept the Tokyo setting for this American version, to his credit - focusing on ambiguity and folklore in a way that is essentially Japanese. When it becomes Americanized, there is instead a tendency to focus on literal interpretation. That's not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, but to me this story feels very much defined by Japanese sensibilities, and therefore doesn't work with the cultural shift to America, despite it's competent craft.

(Joe Penna, 2018)


The trailer for this didn't appeal to me much. The reason I saw it was when I looked into the film I discovered it's director, Joe Penna, has another alias, one that I am familiar with from way back in around 2010. That alias is MysteryGuitarMan. A popular YouTuber at the time, I recalled watching his fun videos that utilized filmmaking techniques in interesting ways to explore music. I was a little shocked he was now making a debut film with freaking Mads Mikkelsen, who, let's be frank - you could do worse when casting your first feature film. Having finally seen it, I was endlessly impressed by Penna's work, along with Mikkelsen but when is that guy not impressive? First off all, kudos to the director on making his debut film require what was probably an intense shoot. From what I know it's difficult adjusting your schedule to various weather conditions, which I would imagine made this a challenge. That aside, this is a tale of one man's survival that might tread familiar territory but does so with commendable craft and storytelling. This type of story is good for showing the triumph of the human spirit, and the filmmaker's took that and ran with it. Beautiful ending to boot.

Ivan's Childhood
(Andrei Tarkovsky, 1962)


My filmmaking buddy and I watch video essays a lot, and I was showing him stuff on Tarkovsky, who I like a lot. It intrigued him immensely and he wanted to watch his filmography in chronological order. We started here, with his debut full-length film. I guess for me when ranking Tarkovsky film it's not "best to worst" but "best to least best," and with that in mind I appreciated his first film considerably more than the first time I saw it years ago. Could it be one of the most confidently directed debuts in history? Probably. I do struggle with war movies still (unfortunate), and that might be why this is doesn't grab me in the same way as Mirror or Solaris, but it's a damn fine movie anyway.

Bo Burnham: Make Happy
(Bo Burnham & Christopher Storer, 2016)


I was considering not even writing about this here because it's a comedy special and I haven't seen many. So maybe my opinion on it's place in comedian history is not worthwhile. That said I'm a big fan of Bo and it's not just because we share the same name spelled differently. I have casually followed him since his early days on YouTube and it has been a joy to see someone as humble, articulate, thoughtful and funny get the success he deserves. I was into this the whole way through, very much so, in an entertainment way. Then the last ten minutes start, and it continues going uphill quality-wise to a surprising conclusion during the last two minutes... and then the final image happens, and sappy Swan is on the verge of tears.

Fighting with My Family
(Stephen Merchant, 2019)


Worked for me mostly because of the emotional through-line regarding the brother-sister dynamic. I am also an unashamed fan of Dwayne Johnson, who gives a good role as some dude named The Rock. Minor criticism: what the hell kind of a character name is "The Rock"?

Apollo 11
(Todd Douglas Miller, 2019)


A transporting piece of cinema if ever there was one, this documentary disregards the notion of talking head interviews and simply utilizes footage (including breath-taking 70mm shots) and audio from the people involved at the time it happened to document the mission from start to finish. And you feel like you're there, perhaps alongside the average citizens shown with their binoculars and cameras waiting for liftoff, perhaps with those in the control center, or perhaps with Aldrin, Armstrong and Collins - or perhaps with all of them at once. Regardless, this is one of the best glimpses into a specific time and place I've ever seen. Emotional and thought-provoking, it's a time-capsule that is absolutely worth seeing on the biggest screen possible.

Once Upon a Time in America
(Sergio Leone, 1984)


Epic and sprawling film with the focus on corruption. Funnily enough, in my quest to see the big picture and understand the themes there was an overwhelming rush of understanding during the final thirty minutes. Specifically the final scene between Noodles and Deborah, which is my favorite of the film. I wouldn't say I fully grasp it yet, though, so surely there will more to discover next time I visit the film.