Thief (1981, Michael Mann)

Taking Cannes Month way back to 1981, this played in competition alongside Possession, Excalibur, Heaven’s Gate and winner Man of Iron. Mann’s first theatrical feature, though he’d already made TV prison/sports movie The Jericho Mile and written/created the series Vega$. Frank (James Caan, best known as Mr. Henry in Bottle Rocket) gets out of prison and has a clear plan for the rest of his life and the safecracking skills to fund this plan. All he needs is a girl (Tuesday Weld of Lord Love a Duck) and to reunite with his friend (Willie Nelson)

Tuesday is along for the ride but other things start going wrong. Willie dies his first day out of prison, and gangster Leo (Robert Prosky of Broadcast News, a priest in The Keep) offers to help Frank line up a big job and get him and Tuesday a fast-track adoption, and somehow professional criminal Frank isn’t savvy enough to realize that Leo’s not gonna let him do a couple jobs then walk away.

I’m fortunate to be watching this for the first time in the mid-2010’s. The movie’s keyboardy Tangerine Dream soundtrack went from a cool experiment to a long-lasting embarrassment, staying that way for decades until post-Drive it became cool again. Drive seems indebted to this movie’s ending as well, when the hero leaves the girl behind to go on a potentially suicidal rampage against the guys who wronged him – or maybe that’s just how all crime movies end.

I love the bizarre, against-type casting of Willie Nelson and Jim Belushi (pre-SNL, his first movie) as Frank’s partners – wish Mann had kept doing that. Of course it’s Mann-stylish, all slick streets and street lights, but what seemed stylish in the early 1980’s looks pretty subdued today.

The two Jims:

The movie’s one De Palma shot:

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (2011, Johnnie To)

Love triangle movie, where Yuanyuan Gao (Beijing Bicycle, dunno who she played in Blind Detective) is torn between two rich suitors: the playful Paperman in the building across the street (Louis Koo of Drug War, Romancing in Thin Air, Zu Warriors) and a patient, washed-up architect who she runs into on the street (Daniel Wu of Overheard, The Banquet, Man with the Iron Fists). All three of the leads were new to me, though I recognized Gao’s heavyset coworker Suet Lam from Mad Detective and/or Exiled.

Each guy has personality and problems, and the choice between them could go either way until the two men finally meet and there’s a Frog Incident. After that, Koo claims his womanizing days are over and stages a Big Romantic Gesture while Gao and Wu are out together, but it’s too little, too late, since he’s standing upon Wu’s even bigger romantic gesture: a skyscraper modeled after her silhouette, lit in the shape of a proposal.

Cute movie, keeping us off-guard with its unusual plotting and our unfamiliarity with Hong Kong movie traditions (the joke that Koo gets a nosebleed whenever he’s turned-on didn’t work for me). Think it’s my most-successful-ever group movie pick, charming Katy and Maria, and keeping my cinephile-self occupied with all the wonderful staging To does using windows, reflections and shadows.

M. D’Angelo:

Hardly surprising that a Johnnie To romcom is light years more formally sophisticated than Hollywood’s efforts, making expert use of spatial relationships and insisting that every shot please the eye rather than be merely functional … I can’t even remember the last time I saw a version of this story in which the outcome was genuinely in doubt, much less one in which I was unsure what I wanted to happen.

Television watched early 2016

Master of None season 1 (2015)

We watched this in mourning for the end of Parks & Recreation, and it’s fantastic – a very successful comedy-drama mix with hot issues (most notably racism and immigrant-parent stories) mixed into its relationship drama. I love how there’s an ensemble cast but each episode gets to tell its own story without roping in superfluous characters just because their actors are listed in the opening titles. Aziz, returning from Parks & Rec and the great Human Giant is a struggling actor, having been cast in (and cut from) an awful-looking movie called The Sickening. His on-again girlfriend is SNL’s Noël Wells and his friends are the giant Eric Wareheim and Lena Waithe (a writer on Bones and producer of Dear White People) and Kelvin Yu (Bob’s Burgers writer, in Milk and Cloverfield), with appearances by usual suspects Todd Barry and Jon Benjamin.

Great editing and music, widescreen cinematography – TV comedy is reaching new levels. Eric and Aziz directed episodes, along with Lynn Shelton (Laggies, Humpday) and James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now).


Rick and Morty season 2 (2015)

Not as revelatory as the first season, but just as high quality.

Featuring Key & Peele as testicle monsters, Jemaine Clement as a psychic cloud-being named Fart, Christina Hendricks and Patton Oswalt as hive-minds, Matt Walsh as Beth’s new bisexual husband Sleepy Gary, Stephen Colbert as a Rick-like scientist inside the car-battery microverse, half the Mr. Show cast in minor roles, and Dan Harmon as Ice-T.


Veep season 3 (2014)

In which Selina is running for president, Amy and Dan compete to be her campaign manager, and Jonah bounces between campaigns while running a DC insider blog. Also in the presidential race are defense secretary Isiah Whitlock Jr., senator(?) Randall Park, MLB coach Glenn Wrage, and some normal-looking white guy who I forget who he is (Paul Fitzgerald). Unbelievable ending, as Veep’s losing on the campaign trail, but becomes President anyway after her boss steps down. I’m guessing it won’t last long.

Presidential debaters:

Veep Daughter Sarah Sutherland in front of the strategy board:

Trip to England:


And rewatched The Mighty Boosh season 3

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (2011, Takashi Miike)

Cannes Month continues. This played there in 2011 – in 3D! The 3D would’ve added some novelty to a remake which seems to have none at all, unless we’re counting that it’s filmed in color. Scene-for-scene redo of the original, well-acted and shot (but the original was well-acted and shot), kinda languid in the flashback-heavy middle, and with a less biting ending.

Motome (Eita of Memories of Matsuko) had a desperately sick wife (Hikari Mitsushima of Love Exposure) and baby and needed doctor money, so he did a dishonorable thing, telling the local samurai house that he wanted to commit seppuku at their house so they’d pay him to go away. But they’d decided to make an example out of the next sap who tried this, and since Motome had done another dishonorable thing – selling his sword for food and secretly substituting a wooden one – he’s forced to die an agonizing, splintery death while his family succumbs to illness at home.

So the dead wife’s dad Hanshiro (Ebizo Ichikawa, later in Miike’s Over Your Dead Body) visits the house a couple months later with the same seppuku story in order to get an audience and shame them for what they’ve done. Per an IMDB comment (I know!) the film argues “that honour is ultimately irrelevant in the face of social suffering.” It’s a compelling story, but during hard times, the house (led by Doppelganger & 13 Assassins star Koji Yakusho) has built its fortune on the traditional ideas of honor and can’t afford to let Hanshiro’s humanist ideas take hold.

C. Huber in Cinema Scope:

Hara-Kiri [demonstrates] a classical craftsmanship few contemporary directors could ever hope to match, but at the cost of personal expression. Miike’s single-minded take on a straightforward samurai tragedy follows the original’s outlines, yet replaces its smart, suspenseful time-shifts with big blocks of flashback melodrama … the marvellous, mostly brownish palette of the interiors tended to sink in the murky fog of light reduction, making Cannes’ first 3-D competition entry a good argument against the process.

Midnight Special (2016, Jeff Nichols)

After Take Shelter, I’ll definitely sign up for another Jeff Nichols/Michael Shannon drama about impending doom. This one is maybe more ambitious, definitely more confusingly plotted, and has less well-defined characters and relationships. Shannon and childhood friend Joel Edgerton have kidnapped Shannon’s magic son Alton from a doomsday cult and with help from Shannon’s (ex-?)wife Kirsten Dunst and federal agent Adam Driver they take Alton to fulfill his destiny by ascending to Tomorrowland.

Pretty sure this was meant to evoke the string of psychic-child adventure stories in the late 1970’s: Firestarter (the novel, if not the film) and The Fury. In fact I was so busy trying to remember how Firestarter ends that I may have missed some details about the doomsday cult and why exactly they wanted Alton – or maybe they weren’t even sure of that themselves. If not an instant classic, at least a cool-looking, mysterious movie, full of great acting and shocking moments (I leapt when satellite parts rained down on the gas station). I always appreciate sci-fi stories that show glimpses of larger worlds and deeper mysteries than the film has the time or inclination to explain.

This counted as the kickoff to Cannes Month, since Nichols’ previous movie Mud played Cannes, and his second film of 2016 Loving is about to premiere there. Although I would’ve watched it anyway.

M. D’Angelo:

For some reason, the emotional core of this film seems to have gone missing — I can see where it’s supposed to reside, but the love Alton’s parents feel for him is oddly abstract, perhaps because E.T. seems more human than he does.

I. Vishvenetsky:

The bad guys trace [our heroes’ car] through an insurance bill left on a kitchen counter, because even Midnight Special’s sense of conspiracy is grounded in the commonplace. The only explicitly poetic line the movie allows itself is spoken by the cult’s neckless goon, played by character actor Bill Camp. Sitting in his truck, he says, “I was an electrician, certified in two states. What do I know of these things?” This is the most the viewer will ever learn about him. Midnight Special defines characters through what they can’t understand, contrasting fear of the unknown with faith in it, and flipping the supernatural into a metaphor for the everyday.

From J. Romney’s review intro:

Cinema has rarely felt so much like a son et lumière as it did in a brief period in the early ’80s, when suddenly shafts of light came shooting out of movie images, as if the screen had been slashed. It became a defining image of Steven Spielberg’s films — Close Encounters, E.T., and Poltergeist too, if you want to count that as one of his … In their purest and most glaring form, those shafts of light had something of the quality of angelic revelation about them. Certainly, you suspected that cinematographers such as Vilmos Zsigmond and Allen Daviau had taken a close look at certain academic religious paintings of the 19th century, or perhaps at Renaissance church sculpture, with their sheaves of marble emulating beams from the divine. At any rate, it came as a shock to get the impression from these films — and with such eye-searing intensity — that cinema was a matter of light streaming directly out of the screen, rather than just bounced off it. The motif was a powerful way of restoring, if not a holy, at least an authentically otherworldly dimension to cinema.

Mad Max (1979, George Miller)

“I’m the (k)night rider. The toe cutter, he knows who I am!”

I was immediately impressed with the character names, but also confused by the movie. Max is a cop, and yes his police station looks awfully run down, but it’s not some Tom Petty wasteland future – it’s all pretty much how I assume Australia looked in 1979. So maybe the apocalypse happens before part two, and that’s when Max becomes Mad. He gets pretty close to Mad in this one – give an awesomely dangerous guy a “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” montage showing how much he loves his precious family, and guess what’s gonna happen to that family – but I wouldn’t call his murder-revenge spree against the biker gang that killed his family and his partner and broke his arm a permanent madness.

“Any longer out on that road and I’m one of them – a terminal crazy”

Other Weirdness: the big cartoon music during tense scenes. And Max locks a dude to a bomb, suggests he sever a limb to get free – an influence on SAW? Pretty straightforward, sharp-looking movie. And hey, the baddies only run down Max’s wife and kid – nobody gets tortured or raped, making this one of the more palatable 1970’s revenge movies.

We all know Mel Gibson went on to star in The Beaver and Machete Kills, but who was everyone else? Max’s wife Jessie was in early Nicole Kidman film Nightmaster. Max’s even-madder partner Goose does a lotta TV, was recently in The Great Gatsby. Max’s boss “Fifi” was once in movies called Stone and Stoner in the same year. Lead baddie Toecutter played lead baddie Immortan Joe in Mad Max 4. Shot by David Eggby (not Dave Eggers) who later shot a couple of Riddick movies.

The Last Ten Minutes Vol. 17: Pre-Blog Bad Movie Redux 1

Why have I not thought of this before? Instead of watching the ends of bad movies I’ve never seen, rewatching the ends of bad movies I saw years ago and don’t remember anymore – and checking out where the idiots who made ’em ended up. Idea sparked by noticing that fondly-remembered Charlie Sheen alien-invasion movie The Arrival was on hulu, so let’s begin with…


The Arrival (1996, David Twohy)

Unshaven Charlie Sheen and panic-eyed Teri Polo (a cut-rate Sharon Stone) are locked in a box, when suddenly a van crashes their party and a quick-thinking Charlie attacks a canister of liquid nitrogen with an axe, causing the van’s (presumably alien) occupants to make like T-1000 (but without the one-liner and the shattering). They drop their floating spherical puzzle box – a Hellraiser-meets-Phantasm device which fails to stop Charlie from retrieving a MiniDV tape from an Alien egg, then Charlie waves the tape at a kid whose knees reverse (the only detail I remembered from this movie) as he runs off, ostrich-like. Ends with Charlie exposing the alien conspiracy over television, exactly like They Live. Hey, if you’re gonna steal, steal big. Editing and effects (including some early CG) are inept.

Twohy cowrote some big-deal films in the 1990’s: The Fugitive, Waterworld, G.I. Jane, then created the Riddick character in Pitch Black and focused entirely on that for the next 15 years. Teri Polo played the mom in The Hole and appears in the acclaimed Meet The Parents trilogy. Sheen appeared in Machete Kills and I don’t know what else he’s been up to.


Cube 2: Hypercube (2002, Andrzej Sekula)

Lot of equations and diagrams scrawled on the walls of this here cube, as a tattooed V-Mars woman narrates to herself everything that we’re seeing. Her previously unnoticed friend Sasha says the realities are collapsing. On top of all the time-and-space-warping, Criminal Simon drops in and there are murders, then dodgy effects a-go-go and V-Mars wakes up in a military puddle. Some floaty device is recovered from her and she’s shot in the head, an anticlimactic ending to the Cube saga.

Sekula is mainly a cinematographer (shot Pulp Fiction and American Psycho). Writer Sean Hood worked on the Halloween sequel with Busta Rhymes. V-Mars was Canadian Kari Matchett of many generically-titled TV shows and Mad Simon had his own show Forever Knight in the 1990’s.


Hellraiser 5: Inferno (2000, Scott Derrickson)

Ah why is this Tim Robbinsy Bruce Campbelly guy shotgunning naked women in showers? Why is the camera shaking so hard? This is the part where tormented Tim/Bruce confronts all his dead friends and has to kill them again. Pinhead arrives to make fun of him, seeming more moralistic than usual (Pinhead’s message is that we should be nicer to people?). After getting his face exploded by hell-chains, Tim Bruce wakes up and goes to work, then kills himself, then wakes up again, living a Hellraiser Groundhog Day.

Derrickson made some popular recent horrors about which I’ve heard nothing good, is working on a major Marvel feature. Lead actor Craig Sheffer (who gets to yell both WHYYYYY and NOOOOOO in the last ten minutes) was the star of Nightbreed and more recently did 60+ episodes of One Tree Hill.


Hellraiser 6: Hellseeker (2002, Rick Bota)

Cenobites are being dramatic in front of bland Trevor, kind of a young Michael Madsen/Ben Affleck type. Trevor seems an arrogant businessman, is rude to the demons, gets himself chained and cues a buncha flashbacks in which Ashley Laurence is working with Pinhead to collect souls. It’s like they’ve combined the episodic post-Bloodline movies with the original story, good move.

Bota keeps busy, though he’s done nothing I’ve heard of since Hellworld. Oh man I recognized Trevor but didn’t realize who he was: Dennis, Tina Fey’s pager-selling boyfriend in 30 Rock. In the last year he’s got his own show Battle Creek, and is appearing on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.


Mortal Kombat 2: Annihilation (1997, John Leonetti)

I love Jax for the grunts and cries he’s always making. There are lots of simultaneous fights, and the bad guys always seem to be winning then the good guys turn that shit around. Sonya kills Red Scorpion with her sexy legs, but it looks like she couldn’t do the stunts so they edited around it. Fuck, Liu Kang is a dragon. It’s kind of nice to remember that comic movies used to make it into theaters even when they looked like cheap garbage. Still, that techno theme song counts for a lot. Anyway Liu Kang defeats some deep-voiced baddie and the world’s landmarks (including the twin towers) are restored to peace. Where’s Christopher Lambert?

Leonetti works as a cinematographer on horror movies. The five(!) writers include a producer of C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud, a writer on the Prehysteria! sequels, and the chairman of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Of the actors, I saw Liu Kang in Death Race, Sonya played Viper in an early Marvel/Shield TV movie, and Omaha native Jax was an American Gladiator and did a couple episodes of NightMan.


The Mummy Returns (2001, Stephen Sommers)

Man this movie was long. Brendan Fraser quotes The Monkees then screams at Comic Relief Jonathan then gets attacked by one of my favorite bad special effects: a digital scorpion with a Toy Story version of The Rock’s face crudely pasted on. Rachel Weisz gets a brief action scene, then they’re all saved by Airship Izzy. Seems like the kind of movie that has no reason to exist after its digital effects had badly aged, which happened before it hit theaters.

Sommers is a Last Ten Minutes veteran, having made G.I. Joe 2 and Odd Thomas – and 1994’s live-action Jungle Book, which Disney is hoping nobody remembers right now. Brendan Fraser is apparently still working, but in nothing I’ve heard of since 2008’s Inkheart. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was governor of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003. Comic Relief John Hannah starred in Charlie Brooker’s A Touch of Cloth. And Rachel Weisz was so excellent in The Deep Blue Sea that I’d like to forget her dark Mummy-sequel past.


This might not be a recurring feature, since the streaming services’ catalog from 1990-2004 is pretty poor. Taking 1998 as an example of a particularly undiscriminating year, bad movies I watched included The Siege, Emmerich Godzilla, Spriggan, Armageddon, Bride of Chucky, Deep Impact, U.S. Marshals, Mighty Joe Young, The Faculty, I Stand Alone, Halloween H2O, A Simple Plan, The Avengers, Star Trek Insurrection, Urban Legend, The Negotiator, Very Bad Things, Enemy of the State, GVS Psycho, Meet Joe Black, Ambushed, The Dentist 2 and John Carpenter’s Vampires. Netflix has three of those (13%) and Hulu has NONE – though I appreciated its suggestion of Hollis Frampton’s The Birth of Magellan: Cadenza I for Bride of Chucky.

Moneyball (2011, Bennett Miller)

A baseball movie perversely set in quiet, underlit offices and locker rooms (Mom: “Can you make the TV brighter?”). 2002 Oakland A’s manager Brad Pitt becomes impressed with nerdy Jonah Hill’s stats theories, hires him to create a low-budget team of effective/undervalued players. Strange idea for an underdog sports movie, because their ideas don’t actually work. Pitt can’t get coach Philip Seymour Hoffman to play the roster that Hill intended to maximize wins, so Pitt trades away Hoffman’s favorite players to force the issue… and they set a league winning streak and make the postseason, but the year still ends disappointingly. Meanwhile we get backstory of Pitt’s unimpressive early career as a player and his current home life (ex-wife Robin Wright and a daughter he’ll be able to see less often if he takes a different job) and a side plot with no payoff feat. Chris Pratt as a washed-up catcher turned fledgeling first baseman. But it’s got appealing actors and an Aaron Sorkin script, so it’s mostly a good time (memorable scene: Jonah Hill having to inform a player twice his size that he’s been traded) – and it made me care enough about Pitt’s Billy Beane to look up the real guy (still with the A’s through 2019).

Pitt makes most key decisions while driving:

Film Quarterly wrote a joint article about this and Margin Call, which made me realize that these two Autumn 2011-opening financial films with rhyming titles are the reason I still get Bennett Miller and JC Chandor confused.

Embrace of the Serpent (2015, Ciro Guerra)

Karamakate in the Amazon is visited by two white men seeking the same herb at different times in his life. As a strong and suspicious young man in 1909 he meets Belgian Theo (Borgman star Jan Bijvoet) who claims he seeks the plant to cure an illness. As a forgetful old man during WWII he meets Evan (Brionne Davis of a recent Wizard of Oz miniseries – IMDB: “ambitious and terrible”), who claims to be a noble scientist but is ultimately seeking materials for military use.

Really beautiful black-and-white jungle/river photography, recreations of native life and its corruption and destruction by so-called Christians. The story about needing to teach the white guys to dream, and the parallel timelines (the latter-day one ending with Karamakate destroying the plant rather than hand it over) were a bit confounding and the heavy symbolism a bit tiresome, but overall I liked it better than Cinema Scope did, and not as much as Reverse Shot did.