Movies I’ve Recently Seen: Wanda, Kung-Fu Master & Race

In the last three weeks, outside of films sent to me for review purposes, I’ve only had time to watch only three movies. Here they are.

A- Wanda (1970), Criterion Channel

This extremely low-budget, independent crime thriller turns cheap production values and ugly, poverty-wrecked locations into virtues. Writer/director Barbara Loden plays the title character, a drifter who goes where people take her. So it’s no surprise that she falls in with a cheap crook. The movie was shot in 16mm, with bad lighting and echo-filled sound recording, and has no background music; but that lack of polish forces you to accept the people and places as they are.

B+ Kung-Fu Master! (1988), Kanopy

who could possibly expect that Agnes Varda
would make a film called Kung-Fu Master!? But despite the commercial title, it’s a matter-of-fact story about forbidden love that quietly digs into some very difficult emotions. In other words, it’s very much a Varda film. Jane Birkin (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Varda) plays a 40ish, tomboyish woman who develops a friendship, and then a sort-of romance, with a 14-year-old boy (Mathieu Demy). This is all happening as the AIDS epidemic is hitting its peak. The title comes from the young boy’s favorite video arcade game.

C+ Race (2016) Netflix Blu-ray

I was reading Steven Bach’s biography of Leni Riefenstahl, and had just finished the section on the 1936 Olympic Games, when this disc arrived in the mail. It was the perfect time to watch a biopic of Jesse Owen – the African-American athlete who tore a hole in Hitler’s plan to prove that only Aryans could be great athletes. But good timing doesn’t make a good film.

Stephen Hopkins’s film Race is a conventional biopic, with sentimental photography and sweeping, heroic music. Stephan James plays Owen as a very nice and principled young man who wins over everyone who gets to know him (except Hitler, of course). Jason Sudeikis plays his very nice and racism-free coach. A great deal of the movie covers the controversies over Hitler’s Olympics, and race issues before, during, and after the games. Strangely, the film treats Riefenstahl surprisingly well.