Pandemic viewing, Part One

Brigitte Lahaie serves the bloodsucking Count in Jean Rollin's La fiancee de Dracula (2002)

Social isolation and “working from home” mean a lot of time for movie-watching … and the volume far outstrips my ability to say anything substantive about many of the films I do watch: so here I mostly just acknowledge what I’ve been viewing in the past 4-6 weeks. Part one of four.

Asia extreme

Boxer Leo (Masataka Kubota) and prostitute Monica (Sakurako Konishi) face off against yakuza gangs in Takashi Miike's First Love (2019)

Although there are obviously differences from culture to culture, many Asian movies share a tendency to to ignore the kind of “realism” Western, and particularly American, movies so often feel is necessary – which is one reason so many U.S. remakes of Asian genre movies take on a pedestrian quality nowhere evident in the originals. Three recent Asian movies – from Korea, Japan and China – use different approaches to explore societies in which economic and social inequality engender violence and to some degree madness. One uses blackly comic satire, one pushes genre tropes to absurd extremes, and one pushes neorealism into the realm of nightmare.

Smart Sci-Fi

The space elevator carries passengers and cargo to the transport ship Aniara in Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja's Aniara (2018)

Quiet, contemplative character-based science fiction movies feel like a refreshing oasis in a desert of big, loud, empty franchise blockbusters. James Gray’s Ad Astra (2019), Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja’s Ad Astra (2018), Sion Sono’s The Whispering Star (2015) and Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer (2008) provide satisfaction on many levels.

Year End 2019

Ahmad (Babak Ahmadpour) searches for his friend in an unfamiliar village in Abbas Kiarostami's Where is the Friend's House? (1987)

The usual year-end round-up – not necessarily the best movies or disks, but some of the ones I most enjoyed, from high art to entertaining trash. The sheer range of what’s available should lay to rest any lingering rumours about the demise of physical media.

Catching up on Arrow

Long hair and creepy eyes, key features of J-Horror ghosts: Hideo Nakata's Ringu (1998)

My collecting obsession leads me to Arrow’s Ring Collection — Hideo Nakata’s hugely influential Ringu (1998), two divergent sequels, George Iida’s Spiral (1998) and Nakata’s own Ring 2 (1999), plus the prequel Ring 0: Birthday (2000). While the three follow-up movies can’t match the effectiveness of the original, Arrow present them all in excellent transfers, with a lot of supportive extras.