Manuscripts Don’t Burn (2013, Mohammad Rasoulof)

Kasra is a writer being monitored by the government, secretly working on his memoirs, which include an incident when he and a bunch more writers were meant to be killed together on a bus. Khosrow is an amateur hitman with a sick kid at home, working with his heavier, more confident partner Morteza. They go around calmly tormenting and killing Kasra and everyone he knows in order to shut them up.

G. Cheshire:

In his striking earlier films, Iron Island and The White Meadows, Rasoulof deployed a distinct version of the visual lyricism and quasi-mystical symbolism of other Iranian films. Manuscripts Don’t Burn offers no such cinematic poetry. It is bluntly literal, almost shockingly so given the context … The kinds of killings depicted in the film appear to be based on the “Chain Murders,” in which roughly 80 Iranian intellectuals were murdered between the late ‘80s and 1998 … Rasoulof has done something that Iranians will instantly recognize: drawn a comparison between the Shah’s regime and the present one.

I keep mistakenly calling it Manuscripts Also Die.

Clouds of Sils Maria (2014, Olivier Assayas)

Juliette Binoche is at a crossroads. She started her career with the younger role in a two-hander drama and still identifies with that role, but a new director wants to stunt-cast her as the older role opposite a young Hollywood celebrity. The play’s author, her mentor, has just died. At least her personal life is well-managed by assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart), but as Binoche starts rehearsing scenes with her, playing the pathetic, delusional actress to Valentine’s cynical manipulator, the lines take on multiple meanings.

Binoche is as great as she’s ever been, and Stewart nearly matches her. Chloe Moretz doesn’t have enough screen time for greatness, but is at least given an amazing introduction within a fake sci-fi film. On top of the overwhelming performances, the actresses’ own stories and celebrity are beautifully woven into the characters, as a major plot point is casting young action-movie stars in serious productions. Moretz plays the self-assured, paparazzi-hunted superstar and Stewart gets to be more reigned-in, gradually asserting herself then suddenly vanishing.

Assayas admits this:

It’s a movie where you never lose consciousness of who the actresses are, and in the end that’s a very important element of the film. But that’s something I only realized gradually.

but also:

It’s not a meta movie, it’s not a movie about cinema — it’s not even a movie about theater. It’s a movie about very basic human emotions, which have to do with time passing, the perspective you have on your past.

English folk singer Johnny Flynn (he looks convincingly like a Johnny Flynn) plays Chloe’s girlfriend whose wife attempts suicide, Angela Winkler (star of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, The Tin Drum and Benny’s Video) is the original play director’s widow and Lars Eidinger (Goltzius and the Pelican Company) is directing the new version.

S. Tobias mentions Bergman and D. Ehrlich mentions All About Eve. Played Cannes last year – and since Cannes 2015 was just beginning when I watched this at the Ross, this was supposed to kick off Cannes Month, in which I watch movies I missed from this decade’s fests – but it’s a busy month, so we’ll see. Nominated for everything at the Cesars, mostly beaten by Timbuktu but Kristen Stewart won for supporting.

True Detective season 1 (2014)

The Woody & Matty show, with the always great Woody Harrelson playing against the newly relevant Matthew McConaughey. Woody’s kinda your middle-of-the-road cop, asshole, closed-minded, cheating on wife Michelle Monaghan (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Gone Baby Gone, Mission Impossible 3), and Matty is his alcoholic, loose-cannon, dark and moody partner. In 1995 they famously tracked down and killed a couple of cultist child-abductor/murderers, in 2002 their partnership broke up and in 2012 they’re being interviewed by a couple of guys – Michael Potts (Brother Mouzone of The Wire) and Tory Kittles (Miracle at St. Anna) – investigating similar murders.

Matty’s after the powerful people in charge, suspects their involvement in the cult cover-ups, mainly Reverend Tuttle, cousin of the governor. The interviewers suspect Matty’s involvement, and the show gives him the usual crazy-investigation den, a storage unit covered in line-linked documents, words and icons. Ultimately (after driving a couple witnesses to suicide, or more probably well-covered-up homicide) they track down a scarred house painter they missed the first time around and chase him through a stone maze which is apparently a real thing in Louisiana, which is incidentally a state I’d like to avoid forever. Interesting to hear all the “Time is a flat circle” mumbo and talk of fourth-dimensional perspectives from the star of Interstellar.

With Kevin Dunn (Veep) as their boss, Lily Tomlin as Michelle’s mom and Detective Lester Freamon as a pastor (not for the first time). Written by Louisiana novelist Nic Pizzolatto, directed by Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre, Jane Eyre). It came highly recommended, but only became a must-see for me when I learned about the Handsome Family open. I thought this was a miniseries or one-season deal, but apparently not, as the not-as-well-reviewed second season is airing now with a Leonard Cohen open, boo.

Chaplin Mutuals (1916-1917)

Half-hour movies of Chaplin causing havoc a hundred years ago. Guess I’d assumed they’d be better with more planned-out gags, like my favorite Keaton shorts, since Chaplin had creative control at Mutual. Fun stuff though, and the HD restorations look great.

The Floorwalker (1916)

Charlie wanders into an awful department store, with abusive employees, a thieving manager and shoplifting customers. He swaps place with lookalike Lloyd Bacon (later director of Footlight Parade and 42nd Street), and fights both manager Eric Campbell and a confounding escalator.

The Fireman (1916)

Charlie is a very bad fireman who should not rightly be in the business of saving lives. Chief Campbell is supposedly corrupt, letting Bacon’s house burn down for insurance money in exchange for Campbell getting to wed Bacon’s daughter Edna Purviance. But there are two fires and Edna is caught in one of them and I lose track of what happens but Charlie scales the building, saves Edna and they run off.

The Vagabond (1916)

Good one – Charlie (more Tramp-like than in the previous two) plays violin for spare change, gets chased out of a bar and comes across a gypsy camp where poor Edna is being cruelly mistreated, so he rescues her with speed and violence. But the plot goes on – Charlie helps her clean up and she’s discovered by painter Lloyd Bacon, whose portrait of her wins a prize, attracting the attention of Edna’s real mom, who races to rescue her presumably-kidnapped daughter. Charlie refuses payment for his part in all this, is left sad and alone as usual.

A. Vanneman:

For the first time he “saves” someone, Edna, kidnapped by Gypsies as a child and kept as a virtual slave ever since. In real life Chaplin wanted to save his mother Hannah Chaplin, first from poverty and then from madness, which he was never able to do.

One A.M. (1916)

Wrote this up back in the public-domain DVD days.

The Count (1916)

Chaplin and Campbell are tailors who crash Miss Moneybags’ society costume party hoping to hook up with a rich countess, or at least get some free booze. It doesn’t go well. By the end there’s cake and punch bowls flying into faces, flip kicks and ass beatings (also an unaccountable scene about stinky cheese). Charlie gets the hell out of there, running for his life.

The Pawnshop (1916)

Pretty bad, mostly padding with fight scenes and ladder gags. Chaplin and John Rand work for pawnshop owner Henry Bergman (later Chaplin’s assistant director). He knocks around with Purviance, destroys stuff, threatens the customers and incidentally foils a robbery.

Behind The Screen (1916)

Charlie works for Campbell in movie sets construction. There’s some business with a lever-operated trap door, striking workers and Edna pretending to be a boy to find work, then this all devolves into a pie fight. Ends with Campbell being blown to bits! Poor Eric didn’t have a mustache to twirl in this one, though all the other actors with big fake beards couldn’t stop playing with them.

The Rink (1916)

From working at a restaurant to roller skating and back again (Charlie was both a skater and waiter in Modern Times as well). There’s an attempt to add extra plot and characters (Eric Campbell and his wife are both cheaters) but mostly it’s Charlie hurting people and causing gleeful chaos.

Easy Street (1917)

Elevated by the local mission (actually by missionary Edna), Charlie decides to get his life together and become a cop. He’s assigned to the worst street in town, run by ultraviolent wife-beater Eric Campbell. Charlie defeats Campbell (twice), an angry mob and a needle junkie. Some good moves in this one.

The Cure (1917)

Back to the rich drunk character from One A.M. (“Alcoholic Gentleman” in the credits). This time, Rich Drunk heads for a spa, with hot springs (which he pollutes with booze), a frightening masseur and a confounding revolving door. Eric Campbell is a short-tempered lout with a bad foot (“Gentleman With Gout”).

The Immigrant (1917)

Seen this before. Charlie and Edna immigrate to the U.S., he helps her out a few times, they somehow get jobs and evade Eric Campbell as a sadistic waiter, then Charlie marries Edna by force.

I’ve noticed Albert Austin before (a cook in The Rink), especially liked his reactions here:

Used this same shot last time, but it’s a favorite:

The Adventurer (1917)

Watched before. Charlie is an escaped convict evading police across a beach and mountain, then an endless succession of watery rescues featuring Edna, her mother and her loser fiancee Campbell, and finally Charlie and Campbell have an ass-kicking contest at a society party.

Speed Racer (2008, Wachowskis)

The most inventive “live-action cartoon” movie?

The bright, color-manipulated sets ensure that we don’t take the action seriously for even a second – which is good, since the movie is a fairly faithful adaptation of the horrendous Speed Racer series, in which the mysterious Racer X is actually Speed’s brother. The movie’s main contribution (besides toning down the part of Chim-Chim) is a twist: Racer X turns out not to be Speed’s brother! But wait, another twist: Racer X is really Speed’s brother!

Not toned-down: Spritle

Evil racers with dollars in their eyes:

Speed is Emile Hirsch, having a big year with this between Into the Wild and Milk, with Christina Ricci as Trixie. His overqualified parents: Susan Sarandon and John Goodman (dressed like Super Mario). Rain (I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK) is a friend/enemy/informant/fall guy, Royalton (Al Gore-looking Roger Allam of The Angels’ Share and V for Vendetta) is the corporate baddie, and Matthew Fox (TV’s Lost) is Racer X, who is emphatically not Speed’s brother (yes he is!)!!!

Under the Roofs of Paris (1930, Rene Clair)

Fred (of early Bunuels – also good roles in major Renoir movies, but I suppose I’ll always think of him as the enraged looney from L’Age d’Or) is would-be rapist who steals pretty Pola’s key to surprise her at home – a foolish plan, since without the key she spends the night with Al instead. He’s Albert Prejean of The Crazy Ray, the French version of Threepenny Opera, S.S. Tenacity and something called The Buttock. Also in the mix: pickpocket Emile and criminal Louis (Edmond Greville, who’d later helm a Hands of Orlac remake).

Will the pretty girl with the cheek curls choose the thief, the lout, the rapist or the cheater? She is Pola Illery, who’d appear in an unknown 1930’s version of The Indian Tomb / The Tiger of Eschnapur as well as a poetic realist Pierre Chenal film from the same year as L’Atalante. Anyway, she ends up with Louis but only because Albert is arrested for a crime Emile committed. We would’ve preferred she end up with nobody, or at least leave town and find some better guys. Anyway it’s quite a pretty movie and more importantly for 1930, uses the title song expressively.

Luc Sante for Criterion:

In that era, the start of the worldwide financial crash, important movies tended to be set in fantasy realms of impossible wealth. Clair’s Paris was, in a way, no less fantastic—every street and square, every tenement, garret, dancehall, and café was designed by the great Lazare Meerson and built in the studio. But its characters, who live on the border between ill-paid labor and petty crime, were both instantly recognizable the world around and imbued with romance by the magic of Paris. In the decade that followed, that setting and those kinds of characters were to constitute the fundament of the French cinematic style called “poetic realism,” a principal architect of which was Marcel Carné, an assistant director on Under the Roofs of Paris.


His Royal Slyness (1920, Hal Roach)

Katy went flipping through the endless scroll of Criterion movies on Hulu, settling on this. Of course we didn’t know it was a short, so 20 minutes later we started Under the Roofs of Paris. This one’s a Harold Lloyd short, where Lloyd and the King of Whatever trade places then he ends up joining the revolution against the monarchy. There’s a princess, and I dunno it was lightly amusing and now I don’t remember it all that well.

Hairspray (1988, John Waters)

Oops, you all forgot to tell me that this is one of the best rock & roll movies ever made. I guess Rosenbaum put it on a couple lists, but the rest of you let me down. Thrilling to see this in theaters, even 17 years late, to see why people at my high school used to mention Ricki Lake so much (she’s very lovable here), to see Divine in a double role right after watching Polyester, to hear all the classic songs and see goofball appearances by new-wave heroes (Deborah Harry as the villain, Ric Ocasek as a cartoonish beatnik painter) and witness the movie’s idealized version of desegregation in Baltimore the same week there were actually riots there.

Polyester (1981, John Waters)

Inspired by Douglas Sirk movies, and inspiration of the song “Frontier Psychiatrist”. An extreme example of the normal person pushed-to-the-brink genre, and starring Divine (not even a normal person). Everything that can possibly go wrong does so all at once – she turns to alcohol as her pornographer husband leaves, daughter is pregnant by her delinquent boyfriend (Stiv Bators of The Dead Boys, writer of Sonic Reducer), son is a foot-fetishist sex criminal, and the family is being protested by the neighbors. Divine’s still got her friend Cuddles, her former housekeeper who recently inherited great wealth, and starts to recover in the company a sexy stranger (Tab Hunter of Track of the Cat) – but it turns out he’s actually dating Divine’s mom, and the romance was a plot to get money. After all this pain (even if it’s over-the-top comedy-pain), Waters allows some lightness (even if it’s murdery lightness). The son is reformed, the delinquent is killed, Cuddles’s chauffeur/fiancee Heinz runs down the mom and Tab, and all (who remain) live happily.

Divine’s superpower is her keen sense of smell, hence the Odorama cards (which we didn’t get, alas). The Ross played it off an average-quality DVD, but it’s a good movie to watch with a crowd. My head exploded when the movie had a profitable highbrow drive-theater showing a Marguerite Duras triple-feature. It also featured the same tasteless lawn jockey that my landlords have. Department of Redundancy Department: an imdb user calls it a “mainstream overground non-underground movie.”

The American Friend (1977, Wim Wenders)

Felt like a good time to watch this since I’d recently seen Purple Noon, and The American Friend is more or less a sequel. I don’t know how things worked in the book series, but besides some art forgery at the beginning, I’d easily believe that they’re unrelated and Dennis Hopper’s character just happens to be named Tom Ripley.

Movie connection #2: Joe vs. the Volcano. Bruno Ganz, who’s the real star of the film over Ripley/Hopper, is sick and short on money, but it turns out his doctor is exaggerating Bruno’s health problems so he’ll be desperate enough to accept a mission as assassin. This despite the fact that Bruno works in a frame shop and is not normally a killer (naturally, the working title was Framed).

Bruno, making it literal:

Movie connection #3: Barton Fink. Bruno takes an instant dislike to Hopper at a (fraudulent) art auction at the beginning, refuses to shake his hand. At the end, Hopper confesses this is why Hopper put Bruno through it all, the doomed medical prognosis and three murders.

Movie connection #4: Rushmore, via the Kinks song “Nothing In This World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ’bout That Girl”.

Cool movie, with real suspense to the spy/murder proceedings, and a visual theme of magic lanterns and other illusions. Terrific lighting, color and cinematography (by Robby Müller, natch), as far as I could tell on my DVD copy. And of course it features both Nicholas Ray (as Hopper’s painter of fakes) and Samuel Fuller (as head target “The American”, eventually thrown down stone stairs).

Ray:

Fuller:

Hopper:

Can’t say I fully understood Ripley’s involvement in the whole plot, nor why Bruno has to die at the end (Wenders loves when everyone dies at the end). Ebert says it’s not important. Dave Kehr says that’s the whole idea: “The plot, laid out baldly, gives only a thin impression of the film itself. For one thing, Wenders has systematically eliminated most of the purely expository scenes (purposefully, after shooting them). … We already know the story, having seen its variations in a hundred films.”

Film Quarterly says it cost more than Wenders’s previous five films combined. Won best editing and direction in Germany and played at Cannes along with 3 Women, The Duellists and Padre Padrone.

Hopper’s follow-up to Apocalypse Now, which wouldn’t be released for two more years. Bruno was between The Marquise of O and Nosferatu. As his wife: Lisa Kreuzer of Radio On and Alice in the Cities. Gerard Blain (star of Chabrol’s Les Cousins and Le Beau Serge) is the guy who gives Bruno his assignment, and Lou Castel (star of Fists in the Pocket and Beware of a Holy Whore) is his driver/overseer. Semi-remade a couple times, once with Malkovich as Ripley and once with Barry Pepper.