25 episodes

Flicks with The Film Snob features a weekly film review focused on new independent releases and old classics. Chris Dashiell knows film, and he knows enough to know what’s worth watching and why. Produced in Tucson Arizona at KXCI Community Radio.

Flicks with The Film Snob KXCI

    • Arts
    • 4.3 • 11 Ratings

Flicks with The Film Snob features a weekly film review focused on new independent releases and old classics. Chris Dashiell knows film, and he knows enough to know what’s worth watching and why. Produced in Tucson Arizona at KXCI Community Radio.

    Evil Does Not Exist

    Evil Does Not Exist

    Japanese director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi is an artist of the liminal—that place between perception and symbol that we experience as mystery. This makes his films difficult, because he refuses to break things down to an easily understandable linear pattern, preferring to let meanings arise at their own pace, and not by suggestion. This was true of Drive My Car, which won the Foreign Language Oscar a couple years ago. And it’s especially true of his latest movie, Evil Does Not Exist.
    I reviewed a good Iranian film recently called There is No Evil, so I was surprised to encounter another movie title that is almost identical. The meaning of that other one proved to be fairly evident if you paid attention. But in this film, the understanding, if it comes at all, is delivered through shock.
    In a village located in some beautiful forest and lake country in Japan, the people live with a rhythm close to nature. The director establishes an intense feeling right away, with a lengthy sequence, accompanied by the credits, of tall trees moving within our vision, a glimpse of immensity from the point of view of our life below. Then eventually we see, it’s a young girl looking up at these trees. She’s the daughter of a local man named Takumi who is living in a cabin, chopping wood, doing odd jobs around the village. The director doesn’t shorten his actions by cutting; we see the slow pace of his life, walking with the little girl, chopping the wood, moving yet living in stillness.
    After this mood has been established, we cut to a town meeting at which two young representatives of a Tokyo company are explaining a plan to build a tourist site nearby for what they call “glamping,” which is slang for glamorous camping, and this just means putting up nice little hotels instead of tents and campfires. They get an earful from the residents at this meeting. For one thing, the planned location of the septic tank is bad—the waste will go downstream to the village’s drinking water. Other aspects threaten the traditional life of the village. Takumi is one of the more eloquent persons objecting to the plan.
    The two young employees, a man and a woman, are open to what they’re being told, even though their supervisors won’t budge. This sympathetic couple makes friends with Takumi, and visit him at his home where he feeds them and discusses the village’s issues. But it so happens that his daughter does not return home from school that day, and he organizes a search for her.
    After the interesting and somewhat amusing town meeting scene, we may have thought that this was a conventional story with a narrative arc and so forth, but as I’ve already said, Hamaguchi always challenges what we may habitually understand about events. The ending of Evil Does Not Exist provides an unexpected jolt. It’s one of those endings that an audience will argue about later. All I can say is Hamaguchi is presenting us with something more complex and more serious than we might have thought.
    Evil Does Not Exist is a strange and unsettling experience.

    • 3 min
    Petrov's Flu

    Petrov's Flu

    It’s not often that a movie manages to summarize the spiritual malaise of an entire nation, while using a kaleidoscopic hallucinatory style with shifting time periods and identities to scale the heights and plumb the depths of the human soul. I use such hyperbolic language because I find it otherwise too difficult to describe the effect of Petrov’s Flu, the extraordinary film by Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov.
    We start out on a bus, with a group of sullen passengers, some of whom are arguing. Petrov, a grimy looking man in an overcoat and wool cap played by Semyon Serzin, is coughing as he pays the fare, explaining that he has the flu. Petrov’s flu, as the film is cleverly titled, will continue throughout the film. Among other things, it signals the contagious atmosphere of corruption and degradation in Russian society.
    Petrov will be asked to exit the bus twice: one of the times, where he’s made to serve in a firing squad, only occurs, it would appear, in his fantasy. The film thus begins its full-length strategy of presenting thoughts and fantasies as objectively happening, and this shifting back and forth between the world and realms of the mind is one of the more exciting and challenging aspects of Petrov’s Flu.
    The story takes place in the year 2000 or thereabouts, at the very beginning of Putin’s first term, although of course Putin is never named. The movie expands into multiple characters. Petrov’s ex-wife works at a library, and while working late because of a poetry workshop, she hears one of the old poets being sexist. Her eyes go black, and she then beats the living hell out of him, as if she was some kind of super ninja. I should say that sudden violence does occur in the film, although in this case it comes off as hilarious. And once again, fantasy.
    Like a dream, the film coalesces around several odd locations. One is a van in which Petrov and his sinister friend Igor is riding in the back with a dead guy in a coffin. Later, the story goes around that the dead man got out of the coffin and walked away. A grotesque resurrection as metaphor for Russian life.
    In the film’s middle section, another of Petrov’s friends, an aspiring but bitter author who’s threatening suicide (reminding me of Dostoevsky’s fiction) is the subject of a spectacular 18-minute tracking shot through multiple locations, both real and imagined. The film’s technique is constantly surprising.
    Another odd place is a New Year’s party for children in which the legendary Snow Maiden helps light a tree. Home movie style footage shows Petrov as a child, with his weird but protective parents, who are apparently nudists at home. At the end of this flashback, of which we’ve already had an earlier foreshadowing, he is holding the Snow Maiden’s hand at the party asking her if she’s real. “Yes, I’m real,” she says, “and you have a fever.”
    Back in the present the young son of Petrov and Petrova has also caught the flu, with a dangerously high fever, and we explore the fear and desperation about possibly losing a child, especially in Petrov’s frantic imagination, which by the way we discover is that of a comic book artist.
    Finally, the movie takes a startling turn. We’re in black and white now, the time appears to be the ‘70s, and we have a completely new main character, a young blonde woman. Who is she? Where have we seen her before? Petrov’s Flu is an extravagant and unsparing vision of our predicament.

    • 3 min
    Trouble in Paradise

    Trouble in Paradise

    A classic film about lovers who are jewel thieves represents the height of style from director Ernst Lubitsch.
    A fortunate director can point to one picture in which all the elements came together to create something close to perfection. In the case of the great Ernst Lubitsch, the man who brought continental sophistication to Hollywood, that movie was Trouble in Paradise, released in 1932. It was Lubtisch’s favorite among his own films, and posterity has been almost unanimous in proclaiming it his best.
    Gaston and Lily (played by Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins) are lovers in Paris. They are also high class jewel thieves. To pull off the biggest heist of their careers, they insinuate themselves into the confidence of the wealthy Madame Colet (played by Kay Francis). Unfortunately, Gaston finds himself falling for the charming widow.
    The dialogue (by Laszlo Aladar who also wrote the Astaire-Rogers classic Top Hat), is polished and witty, employing all the virtues of drawing room comedy, while at the same time poking fun at the pretensions of that genre. Lubitsch’s camera placement and timing couldn’t be better. With its brightly lit, purposely artificial set design, marvelous costumes, and creamy visual texture, the film represents the height of early Paramount style. It is also devoid of moralistic twaddle. The main characters are thieves with no apologies, and the movie makes it clear that their rich victims are just thieves of another order. Trouble in Paradise has an air of freedom from hypocrisy, and that makes it escapism in the best sense, a joyous relief from ponderousness. It was made, of course, just prior to the imposition of the Production Code, which put a damper on creativity in American film. That Madame Colet has taken her secretary (Marshall) as a lover, or that in fact people do go to bed with one another without being married (as silly as it seems to say this nowadays), is as clear as can be without ever being stated explicitly.
    And then we have dialogue such as the following between Hopkins and Marshall: “This woman has more than jewelry. Did you ever take a good look at her….” “Certainly.” “They’re all right, aren’t they?” “Beautiful. What of it? As far as I’m concerned, her whole sex appeal is in that safe.” “Oh, Gaston. Let’s open it right now. Let’s get away from here.” “No, sweetheart. There’s more sex appeal coming on the first of the month – 850 thousand francs.” And so forth. They also have a routine (imitated many times since in lesser films) where they pick each other’s pockets while being romantic. At one point Gaston says, “You don’t mind if I keep your garter?” which he produces from his pocket, giving it a little kiss.
    Herbert Marshall, whom I usually find unbearably wooden, is perfect here as an urbane rascal. The underappreciated Kay Francis has marvelous energy and wit: her scenes with Marshall are delicious. If I had to make one complaint (I know, it is heresy to make any), it would be that Miriam Hopkins overdoes things somewhat in her part. She seems a bit too coarse, I think, but this is a mere quibble. With good supporting work from Edward Everett Horton and Charles Ruggles, Trouble in Paradise is a paragon of light entertainment, one of the best examples of what the studio system in Hollywood, with the right mix of talent, could achieve.

    • 3 min
    Tótem

    Tótem

    A birthday party for a dying man is seen through the eyes of his seven-year-old daughter, portraying her gradual recognition of the truth.
    Mexican writer-director Lila Avilés has made a major creative leap in her second film, Tótem. Her excellent debut, The Chambermaid, was focused on a day in the life of one isolated character, a housekeeping employee at a big hotel. Now, five years later, her sophomore effort is a gorgeous multi-character ensemble piece.
    Tótem opens with Sol, a seven-year old girl, in a public restroom with her mother Lucia, who is helping her get ready for a birthday celebration for her father, Tonatiuh. Lucia has an appointment and can’t be there until later, so she drops the girl off at her grandfather’s house. The camera takes Sol’s point of view for the most part, as she wanders through the house while her father’s two sisters, Nuria and Alejandra, busily prepare for the party. Nuria is drinking and trying to bake a cake while her own little daughter climbs on the counter getting into mischief. But where is the father? We find out soon enough, as the film takes us to his room, where he lies in bed, obviously very sick, being tended by their kind female Indian servant Cruz. Tona, a relatively young looking artist, has cancer, and the foreboding of his death will hang over the celebration, and the movie. Even as the guests start to arrive, Tona won’t come out of his room for a long time. Sol, as we find out, knows he’s sick, but not yet how bad it really is.
    Avilés manages to make every character distinct and memorable. The family is loving, but not without problems, as you can tell by the way the aunts bicker about little things. Alejandra has invited a psychic to come over to do healing rituals for Tona. This strange woman roams around the house burning sage, saying that the wall paintings (clearly done by Tona himself) are too negative, and even burning a piece of bread as part of her routine. The grandfather, who has to use an electrolarynx to speak, rasps “I’m not in the mood for your satantic bull,” and it’s all low-key amusing, but never coarsely so. Avilés balances the humor, wonder, conflict, and sadness throughout the picture, maintaining a mood of wistful, anticipatory grief.
    The film’s beauty is assured by the presence of the girl playing Sol, one of Avilés’s fortunate discoveries, Naíma Sentíes. In the opening scene in the restroom, Sol makes a wish that her father won’t die. The rest of the movie is a gradual revelation for her and us, the audience. Her mother, who eventually shows up, is evidently no longer living with her father. Her relatives, concentrated on getting ready, acknowledge her but don’t interact with her very much. She spends more time looking at various animals in the house: a cat, several dogs, a fish, a praying mantis, and a bunch of snails that she begins to carefully put on each of the wall paintings.
    It’s not clear to me why the film is called Tótem. For what it’s worth, the father’s name Tonatiuh, is also the name of an Aztec sun god, and Sol is a Latin name for the sun. But symbolism is always in a minor key here, never overt. The picture is about mortality and our relationship to it. It’s never dreary or slow—the effect is of a transforming intimacy. When Tona finally comes out of his room into the party at the end, his daughter’s recognition of the truth is marvelously conveyed without words.
    There’s something almost unbearably touching about Tótem. It’s a quiet masterwork.

    • 3 min
    The Last Emperor

    The Last Emperor

    Bernardo Bertolucci’s epic about the life of Pu Yi, China’s last emperor, is a biting depiction of the emptiness of power.

    The Last Emperor, a 1987 film from director Bernardo Bertolucci, who co-wrote the screenplay with Mark Peploe, tells the life story of Pu Yi, who ascended the throne of China in 1908 at the age of three, and was eventually deposed. It’s told in flashbacks during his detention and “reeducation” at a prison camp in the 1950s.
    Here Bertolucci found a chance to express his political ideas, and another outlet for his love of working on an epic scale. The government of China gave him permission to film in the Forbidden City, and his version of that historical environment, with its archaic pageantry and poisonous isolation, is awesome in detail, as the movie’s flow of imagery and color is as well. The bright reds in the scenes of childhood form a meaningful contrast with the drab grays and blues of the scenes in the prison.
    More important than the film’s formal technique, however, is its use of the epic form to portray an unusual vantage point on modern history. Pu Yi represents the ancient ways, the heirarchy that had ruled for centuries, but which was already on the way out at the time of his birth. He thus stands at a crossroads, a figure stuck in the past through no choice of his own, literally imprisoned by his own rule as emperor, and, despite an urge to escape to the outer world, mentally imprisoned as well. The emperor is really a pawn, and later, by his own tragic choice, he becomes a puppet of the Japanese. Thus the great spectacle of modern history is displayed from the point of view of a supposed leader, who is actually almost a passive observer swept along by the tide, just as millions of victims were swept along by the murderous forces let loose in that deadly 20th century.
    John Lone plays the adult Pu Yi with a fragile, tentative sort of dignity. We can see the young man struggling to maintain the pretence of power. The later scenes in Manchuria, when he has fooled himself into reprising the role of emperor with Japanese support, are heartbreaking. Slowly it dawns on him that he has chosen complete ruin for his lot. In the role of the empress, Joan Chen expertly portrays the transformation from loving hearted girl to bitterly disillusioned woman. Peter O’Toole lends his arch, amusing English manner to the role of the Emperor’s tutor, Johnston. His performance is almost hypnotic.
    Success sometimes has a way of inspiring skepticism. The Last Emperor ended up winning nine Academy Awards, including best picture and director, and one of the unexpected results of this is that the film gained the stuffy aura of respectability. More than one critic has complained that the title character is too passive, as if that wasn’t exactly the point. Admittedly, Bertolucci is missing a certain something—I’m tempted to call it “soul” for lack of a better word—that would deepen his film and allow the elements to cohere in a way that strikes the heart. But rather than wish that the director had genius in addition to talent, I choose to appreciate what he did attain: a remarkable view into a world of ancestral greatness that has become ineffectual. In its sly fashion, The Last Emperor is saying that the individual nowadays, faced with the nightmare of history, would most likely wish for the same thing as the emperor turned humble gardener—to be left in peace.

    • 3 min
    The Settlers

    The Settlers

    An indigenous Chilean is forced to accompany two white men massacring native people in Tierra del Fuego to make room for business and settlements.
    The time is 1901, the place is Chile. A group of peons are putting up a fence in the middle of a fierce wind. One of the workers falls to the ground, unable to continue because of a bad arm. A man on horseback wearing the red coat of a British soldier comes up the hill. The worker begs for his life, but the British man shoots him dead on the spot. Another worker, an Indian, witnesses this. In his eyes we see him realize the terror of the situation. Thus begins The Settlers, the debut film of Chilean director Felipe Gálvez, a gripping testament of the truth behind the modern colonial history of Chile.
    MacLennan, the British soldier, works for a wealthy Chilean rancher. He’s been given a new mission, to go south to Tierra del Fuego, the land at the southern tip of South America, grab whatever land he can, claiming it for Chile, and find a route to the sea for the rancher’s sheep to be driven for transport to overseas markets. He lines up the fence workers and has each of them shoot a rifle at targets that he’s set up. The Indian with the fierce gaze, whose name is Segundo, turns out to be a crack shot. So MacLennan chooses him to come along on his journey. It’s not as if he has a choice. It’s obvious from the fate of the worker that was killed that these peons are essentially enslaved by the rancher and his men. As they’re leaving, they’re joined by a third man, Bill, a mercenary from Texas assigned by the boss to accompany MacLennan and make sure he accomplishes his mission.
    The bulk of the movie then follows these three horsemen as they travel through the stark mountainous lands of Patagonia. MacLennan is a man who drinks a lot and is subject to fits of rage. The tension is heightened because Bill, the man from Texas, hates Indians and is always complaining that you can’t trust Segundo, whom he calls “the half breed.” Bill is often hinting that they should just kill Segundo and go on without him, apparently assuming that the Indian only understands Spanish and not English.
    The excellent color cinematography highlights the awesome and forbidding landscape, with the three men often dwarfed by the gigantic natural scenery of this arid wilderness. Soon, Segundo discovers the sickening truth—their mission includes murdering any and all native people that they encounter. Trigger warning here: The Settlers features horrifying scenes of massacre and abuse. Segundo is forced to participate in these crimes, or his white bosses will murder him as well. Even a sequence where they meet a group of land surveyors mapping the border between Chile and Argentina ends up devolving into a wrestling and fist fighting contest. It all culminates in an encounter with a rogue band of fighters led by a fierce British colonel, played by Sam Spruell, an impressive performer whom I recognized from the most recent season of the TV show Fargo.
    Galvez is determined to trace Chile’s history back to the roots of violent settlement and displacement of indigenous Chileans. The film’s final section carefully displays how native people were quite deliberately turned into helpless figures of the country’s so-called cultural heritage. The Settlers is a film of uncompromising power.

    • 3 min

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5
11 Ratings

11 Ratings

dingobros ,

Hello from Tucson!

It’s so cool to find a fellow film snob, in Tucson, who doesn’t just focus on whatever’s new. I’ll be sure to tune in to the radio!

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