Force Majeure (2014, Ruben Östlund)

Sometimes I get behind on the ol’ movie blog because I watch a movie I’d been expecting to like and it turns out I have nothing to say about it and can’t even bring myself to write a plot description. Fortunately there’s Cinema Scope to tell me what to think.

Inspired by a bunch of viral videos! Yes, exclamation mark. I’m still confused by the bus-ride finale, but at least now I know it’s part of the director’s weird urge to incorporate his favorite youtube videos into the script. Full of gentle doom music, plus some Vivaldi. Won a million awards, including a prize at Cannes – where Mark Peranson wrote:

The film benefits immensely from Ostlund viewing this familial tragedy through a wry microscopic lens, which helps counteract his Haneke-like tendencies: when Tomas bursts out crying after faking tears mere seconds earlier, and then can’t stop, the situation is at the same time funny-sad and funny ha-ha. There’s a glimmer of warmth to be found in the winter chills, and Ostlund’s accomplishment is rare: Force Majeure is an example of universal distance. Here, man is the animal.

It’s actually Oostlund, or Oestlund, or O-with-two-dots-stlund, but my Macbook has decided to disable the useful feature where I used to hold down a vowel key and it would ask me how I’d like to decorate it with accent marks and such.

So this is the movie where the dad abandons his family during an apparent avalanche, and this leads to strife. It’s got the same problem as most movies (and possibly most relationships): that of communication. They can’t move past this moment because the dad refuses to talk about it, even though the mom doesn’t want to talk about anything else. They drag other couples into their vacation-crisis, sparking little sub-crises everywhere.

The family with Fanny and Mats:

Whiteout rescue – possibly staged for the kids’ benefit:

A. Muredda:

Ultimately, Force Majeure isn’t about “the crisis of masculinity” so much as the way personal edges never quite get shaved off with the adoption of archetypal roles: not just father and husband, but also mother and girlfriend. In a film rife with smart visual set pieces, from Tomas’ flight from the table to a later family excursion into whiteout conditions that allows him to reassert his dominance, the richest belongs to Ebba. Late in a day off from her family, mostly spent sitting at the hotel bar and having a private ski, Ebba relieves herself in the bushes off to the side of the hill, the camera slowly pushing in on her face as she hears what sounds like her little tribe slowly coming down the slope before her; she tearfully looks in their direction but doesn’t announce herself, troubled by her momentary separateness but not about to change it. Tomas’ actions during what ought to have been a redemptive defining moment are the ones that will surely inspire the most post-screening discussions, as they do with the couples Ebba solicits, but what sets Force Majeure apart is this heightened sensitivity to how even an event as minor as Ebba’s little breather is incongruous with the stories that families tell about who they are.

Song of the Sea (2014, Tomm Moore)

One of those Totoro/Coraline stories where the kids move to a new place and discover wonders there…kind of… but also one of the kids is a mermaid-seal, and so was her mom, and the girl needs to recover the seal pelt her dad chucked into the ocean or else all the mythological creatures in the land will be turned to stone.

Triumph of animation and design, as foretold by The Secret of Kells. It’s Irish, so Brendan Gleeson is in it (as the dad). I loved it despite the fact that owls were the villains.

Big Hero 6 and How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Miniscule and Princess Kaguya took most of the awards this was nominated for. Admittedly it was a great year for animation, also with Boxtrolls and Cheatin’ and The Lego Movie but I’m surprised this didn’t get more love.

Camille (1936, George Cukor)

A pretty good Cukor movie made in between really great Cukor movies. For some reason I can’t ever get into movies about rich courtesans in ill health who can’t decide between their callous rich suitor or their young and energetic, devout but poor suitor.

Stars Greta Garbo, who I’ve rarely seen in movies and doesn’t make much of a distinctive impression, in one of her final films. We’ll have to watch Queen Christina or Grand Hotel sometime to see what the hubbub is about. Henry Daniell (The Suspect, Witness for the Prosecution) is the boring old baron and Nebraskan Robert Taylor (Ivanhoe, Three Comrades, the 1935 Magnificent Obsession) is young and in love.

Based on the Alexandre Dumas novel, which has been adapted a million times, because apparently audiences love courtesans. The Theda Bara version is presumed lost. Others starred Norma Talmadge, Pola Negri or Rudolph Valentino. Isabelle Huppert and Bruno Ganz appeared together. Ben Kingsley played Colin Firth’s dad. Raymond Bernard made a version. Fortunately, the Antonioni film The Lady Without Camelias is an entirely different story.

Disney Shorts

The Little Matchgirl (2006, Roger Allers), which I saw in theaters. Huh, it was supposed to be part of a third Fantasia feature, hence the music score with no dialogue or effects. Oscar-nominated with The Danish Poet and Pixar’s Lifted. Allers worked on The Prophet, which we missed at filmstreams this year.

Lorenzo (2004, Mike Gabriel), great one, jazzy and dancey. Blue cat in a rich house taunts the street cats outdoors, gets cursed so his puffy tail will have a mind of its own. Gabriel codirected Pocahontas and The Rescuers Down Under. This was oscar-nominated along with Ryan and Guard Dog, and I’m surprised I never saw it until now. Also part of the cancelled Fantasia 3, along with Destino and South African kite-flying short One By One.

John Henry (2000, Mark Henn), strange, unfinished-looking with squigglevision pencil marks visible around the blocky human figures. Katy recognized the voice of narrator Alfre Woodard. Part of Disney’s post-Lion King discovery of non-white people.

How to Hook Up Your Home Theater (2007, Deters & Wermers), cute, fast-paced Goofy short with lots of classic-Disney references. Has a shot-on-film look to it (it wasn’t: made with cintiqs and toon boom). Played in theaters with National Treasure 2 for some reason.

Tick Tock Tale (2010, Dean Wellins), sentimental story of novelty clock in a clock shop (where all the timepieces come to life after hours, natch) who saves the others from a burglary but is destroyed in the process. Will the clockmaker repair the heroic clock or leave it in pieces in the trash? Not telling! Wellins is a writer/animator/composer involved with The Iron Giant and The Princess and the Frog.

Prep & Landing: Operation Secret Santa (2010, Deters & Wermers), where two elves are on a Mission: Impossible-referencing assignment from Mrs. Claus to retrieve a trinket from Santa’s workshop so she can give him a sentimental Christmas gift. Apparently a spinoff from a half-hour special released with the 3D version of Monsters Inc. Dave Foley played one of the elves – coincidentally since we just rewatched A Bug’s Life.

The Ballad of Nessie (2011, Deters & Wermers), poem about how Nessie the sea monster was displaced from her natural habitat by mini-golf course construction, and cried herself a new lake to live in, surely displacing thousands of mammals in her selfish quest to find a new home. Narrated by Billy Connolly, the only Scotsman known to Hollywood. I liked the tartan-patterned hills.

Then we rewatched Paperman, Feast and Get a Horse, and skipped Frozen Fever and Tangled Ever After.

The Hateful Eight (2015, Quentin Tarantino)

Did anyone else count nine? Maybe Kurt Russell isn’t considered hateful since he always appears to be telling the truth? But he does punch Daisy in the face a lot of times (to the great amusement of the Alamo crowd). So if we count him, there’s the seven star actors mentioned in the trailer, plus the definitely hateful Mexican Bob (Demián Bichir, Castro in Che), and certainly-hateful not-surprise (since there are opening credits, though when he showed up three hours later I’d just about forgotten) guest star Tater Channing. So I suppose the title is meant to throw you off, as is most of the script.

I got to see the little-known 35mm roadshow version, though now having seen it, I wouldn’t cry to lose ten minutes of footage and the intermission. Alamo’s a cool place, though they ran out of half the stuff we ordered and came crawling down the floor to let us know, which all seemed awkward. Mostly it was fabulous to sit front row watching a great-looking 35mm widescreen film from a perfect print.

Let’s keep this short: bounty-hunter Kurt Russell transporting criminal Jennifer Jason Leigh picks up fellow bounty-hunter Sam Jackson and would-be-sheriff Walt Goggins on the way to a rest stop to wait out a blizzard. Waiting there are, as we find out in the second half, an ambush of J.J. Leigh’s compatriots pretending to be random travelers, including hangman Tim Roth, quiet cowboy Michael Madsen and the aforementioned Bob… and confederate general Bruce Dern, a genuinely random traveler searching for his son. Also, Leigh’s outlaw brother Tater is hiding in the basement. Everyone gets shot except Kurt Russell gets poisoned and Leigh gets hanged by ragged, barely-survivors Goggins and Jackson, who reluctantly team up as the plot unfolds. Partly an homage to The Thing (Kurt Russell trapped in snow, nobody being who they say they are). Oh also Zoë Bell of Death Proof appears with others in a flashback massacre. And haha, QT cast a guy named Stark to play a naked man in the flashback leading to Dern’s death just before intermission.

The actors are all perfect for their roles. I’ve barely seen JJ Leigh since the great eXistenZ, though she was one of a hundred confusing people and things in Synecdoche, New York. So the film is well-shot, though confined to the damned cabin for most of its runtime, and the new Ennio Morricone music is lovely, though sparsely used, and the actors are super, though their characters are truly hateful. So I’m not sure what to make of this, or why it’s the movie Tarantino felt he had to make right now. There’s a lot to talk about, and Glenn Kenny takes a great shot at covering it.

Sam Adams, in an article amazingly titled “Fear of a Black Dingus” (just beating Cinema Scope’s headline “You’ve Gotta Be Fucking Kidding Me”): “Tarantino has never worked so strenuously to get a rise out of his audience … Watching The Hateful Eight is a little like being [Bruce Dern], knowing that Tarantino wants you to jump, and feeling like a sucker when you do.”

J. Reichert in Reverse Shot:

So, after his biggest box-office success, one of our most obnoxious filmmakers made a movie whose worldview lines up with the Republican presidential debates or a Donald Trump rally … It functions as the opposite of Reverse Shot’s best film of the year, In Jackson Heights, which shows Americans our best selves. The Hateful Eight may not be the Quentin Tarantino film anyone wanted, but it may be the Quentin Tarantino film we deserved.

A. Nayman in Cinema Scope:

One possible way to approach the pachydermous beast that is The Hateful Eight is as a hybrid tribute to/remake of Carpenter’s The Thing … And one possible way to look at Tarantino at this point is as the artistic equivalent of Carpenter’s parasite: an unscrupulous shape-shifter who will throw on any disguise that suits his purposes before moving on, leaving the host party hollowed out as he proceeds on his relentless mission of conquest … This is Tarantino’s most audience-alienating film to date. A line from The Thing springs to mind: “I don’t know what the hell’s in there… but it’s weird and pissed off, whatever it is.”

Between watching Hateful Eight and getting this post online we also saw Inglorious Basterds at the Alamo, since they’re having a Tarantino fest to celebrate Hateful’s release. Fassbender made more of an impression this time, since now I know who he is. I’d forgotten Waltz’s defecting to the allies at the end, and personally planting one of the basterds’ bombs under Hitler’s chair. Katy was surprised to like the movie, despite all its graphic violence.

Life of Riley (2014, Alain Resnais)

Resnais’s second movie in a row about a group of actors rallying around a dying friend. You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet was a perfect final film, but Resnais was still alive and working, so he made another one. It’s just as playful, but more in the story than the filmmaking – this time the never-seen dying friend uses his situation to steal all the women.

Actually called Aimer, Boire et Chanter (google: Loving, Drinking and Singing), which is a wonderful title for the final film of one of our greatest directors – but Life of Riley was the title of the Alan Ayckbourn play it adapts. Resnais’s third Alan Ayckbourn adaptation, fourth if you consider Smoking/No Smoking two movies, fourth-and-a-half if you consider the play-within-the-film here is Ayckbourn’s Relatively Speaking.

The players: Kathryn (the great Sabine Azéma) and her balding clock-watcher husband Colin (Hippolyte Girardot, Anne Consigny’s husband in A Christmas Tale, ensemble in You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet) live in a comfy row house.

The dying man’s wealthy best friend Jack (sideburnsed Michel Vuillermoz of the last two Resnais films) and wife Tamara (Caroline Silhol, young rich guy’s mom in A Girl Cut In Two) live in a nice, big house.

The dying man’s ex-wife Monica (Sandrine Kiberlain of Benoît Jacquot’s Seventh Heaven) and her new man, the much older Simeon (André Dussollier in his eighth Resnais film) live at Simeon’s place in the country.

Tamara, Monica, Kathryn:

Colin, Jack, Simeon:

George Riley, afflicted with cancer, is never seen or heard, nor is the amateur theater director who casts a few of our characters in Relatively Speaking, which they’re rehearsing throughout the film. Kathryn and Tamara convince a reluctant Monica to move back in with Riley for a few weeks, but all three women start spending too much time at his house, and each is personally invited to go on a final vacation with him after the play closes. Each is tempted: Tamara’s upset that her husband is cheating, Monica was Riley’s wife for years, and Kathryn almost married Riley before meeting Colin. Ultimately Colin and Kathryn’s daughter Tilly sneaks away and joins Riley on the trip, during which he passes away.

Almost all the action is set on backyard patios – blatantly artificial, stagey sets (house walls are represented with hanging strips of cloth). Establishing shots are drawings. Closeups are always set against a b/w crosshatch pattern. And there are a couple of appearances by an angry-looking puppet groundhog. Lovely, light music by Mark Snow. Won prizes at Berlin, playing with Boyhood, Beloved Sisters and winner Black Coal, Thin Ice.

M. D’Angelo: “In years to come I’m probably just gonna mentally reverse the order of these last two films, so as to let him go out on a high note,” and D. Ehrlich calls it “Alain Resnais’ YOU AIN’T SEEN AN INFINITELY MORE INTERESTING VERSION OF THIS LAST YEAR?

V. Rizov: “It may be impossible (for me, anyway) to understand what repeatedly drew Resnais to these rather mediocre Alan Ayckbourn plays, but his commitment to rendering them nearly impossible to understand intent-wise is a beguiling final spectacle of its own.”

Tilly at the funeral:

Max Nelson for Reverse Shot:

Colin and Kathryn’s beautiful teenage daughter, who comes to the old seducer’s funeral, is the film’s trump card; her serene indifference to the event is a kind of mirror image to the equally serene god’s-eye perspective with which the movie treats its heroes … The couple’s daughter, on the other hand, speaks the unflappably confident language of a person just starting to live. To say that the movie lacks the terms to interpret this language is only to say that it’s a film made in the spirit of old age rather than that of youth — but few swan songs cede the floor to a younger generation this graciously, or with such mischievous parting words.

Fascinating, mostly unrelated, from Cinema Scope:

After meeting in the late ’60’s, Resnais and [Marvel Comics visionary Stan] Lee first worked together in 1971 on a screenplay called The Monster Maker, about a schlock-horror filmmaker who attempts to go legit by making a prestige picture about imminent ecological disaster. Though the pair managed to sell the script, the project failed to find financing when producers balked at the cost of creating a climactic deluge of rubbish that would choke the streets of New York. (A later project called The Inmates, a romantic comedy that revealed how humans were exiled to Earth long ago as punishment for extraterrestrial wrongdoing, never made it past the treatment stage, while Lee’s proposal for Resnais to direct Spider-Man – with Henry Winkler in the lead – may not have even made it that far.)

So, it’s far from the best Resnais film, as most of the reviews I’ve read agree, but as F. Nehme said, “it’s still an affectionate coda for a master,” and that’s nothing to sneeze at. After all, the death of Riley didn’t move me, but the phrase in Richard Brody’s review, “Sabine Azéma — Resnais’s wife, now his widow,” is the saddest I’ve read all month.

Mission: Impossible 5: Rogue Nation (2015, Christopher McQuarrie)

Neither of us could recall what happened in any previous Mission: Impossible movie, but it didn’t seem that important. Confusing exposition scenes – afterwards we wondered why the secret accounts stored in the data vault protected by the underwater red box coded by the prime minister’s biometrics had continued to accumulate massive funds for the hypothetical secret project, when the PM thought the project had been cancelled, and if someone was routing that money counter to the PM’s wishes, why he wouldn’t have stored it somewhere more accessible. But the rest of the movie is fab action scenes and Simon Pegg quips, and that’s what we came for.

Evil Simon Pegg:

McQuarrie also cowrote Edge of Tomorrow, directed Jack Reacher. It’s a less distinctive-looking movie than the others, and less ecstatically wonderful than part four. Whichever film critic said this was equal to Mad Max: Fury Road was high. Action scenes could’ve been more coherent looking. Gripes aside, a solid movie with good shootouts and motorcycle chases, an intense-as-ever Cruise and his great comic sidekick Pegg. Jeremy Renner is reduced to a talking head, Ving Rhames is barely in the movie, and Alec Baldwin plays their boss. Swedish newcomer Rebecca Ferguson (Queen Elizabeth in a recent British miniseries) is the latest in a string of interchangeable M:I women, working for three different sides and looking stylish doing it. Simon McBurney is a slimy head of british intelligence and our evil mastermind is Sean Harris, the punk rock geologist in Prometheus, who looks upsettingly similar to Simon Pegg. Katy was annoyed that they keep referring to the IMF (“Impossible Mission Force”) and also mention the World Bank (related to the real IMF).

Definite proof that Pegg and Harris are different people:

M. D’Angelo: “[McQuarrie] found, in Rebecca Ferguson, the first woman to make a real impression in this boys’ club. Every time she removes her shoes, look out.”

The Good Dinosaur (2015, Peter Sohn)

First film watched in 2016 and it’s… pretty good? Kinda of a Lion King-cribbing story with dialogue mainly consisting of Big Life Lessons and setup for them. We liked the concept – talking, farming dinosaurs and barking, feral humans – but I paid more attention to the (beautiful!) lighting than the characters. Only voice I definitely recognized was Sam Elliott as the daddy t-rex rancher, but we’ve also got Jeffrey Wright as Mufasa and Steve Zahn as an evil pterodactyl.

Arlo is small, afraid of everything, bad at his chores, and present when the river floods and his dad dies. Will he go on a great adventure and learn how to overcome his fears and become a responsible adult? Yes! He and the human he names Spot help each other out, dodge carnivorous dinos, find food and figure how to get home, all set to blandly soaring music. I sound like I’m being dismissive, but I got so emotional my head hurt.

Director Peter Sohn made Partly Cloudy, the stork short. Original/replaced director Bob Peterson cowrote Pixar’s best features, but even better, he’s the voice of Roz in Monsters Inc and Dug in Up. Changes between the cancelled version of the movie and the final release: Arlo is younger, major unspecified story changes and whole voice cast replaced except for Frances McDormand as Arlo’s mom.

Sanjay’s Super Team (2015, Sanjay Patel)

Imagination-memoir, in which young Sanjay learns to fuse his interest in a televised superhero team and his dad’s Hindu prayers. A bit of culturally-diverse fun, and a massive improvement over Lava. Looks like Patel has been with Pixar since at least A Bug’s Life.

TV Specials from the Tail End of 2015

A Wish For Wings That Work (1991, Skip Jones)

First time I’ve watched this since its highly anticipated TV premiere. It’s like Rudolph but with Opus – he helps Santa with a problem and is rewarded with a fly-around by the ducks that used to laugh and call him names. Highlight is when Opus is injected into a scene from Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon after an ad break.

Opus was Michael Bell (Duke in G.I. Joe), neighborhood pig and ducks were Joe Alaskey (Plucky in Tiny Toons, Bugs and Daffy in Looney Tunes: Back in Action), and uncredited appearances by Robin Williams (botching a NZ accent) and Dustin Hoffman (goofing on Tootsie). Director Skip Jones was a Don Bluth animator.

Breathed was not happy with the final result, and I can see his point. Still the only appearance of Bloom County characters on TV – technically Outland characters at this point – though Breathed’s Mars Need Moms book was adapted as a crappy-looking flop feature film, and his story Edwurd Fudwupper Fibbed Big was adapted into a short the author called “an unmitigated technical disaster – unfinished and unwatchable.”

Isabella Rossellini’s Green Porno Live (2015, Jody Shapiro)

A weird hour-long mash-up of scenes from Rossellini’s Green Porno live tour, behind-the-scenes tour footage, coverage of the book tour, the original short films, and related stuff, like following a scientist to observe mating seals. “It is essential that what I say is scientifically correct. Otherwise I’m a nut – and who needs another nut?” I didn’t realize she’s done two other series called Seduce Me and Mammas, and an hourlong documentary called Animals Distract Me. Jody Shapiro also shoots and produces Guy Maddin films.

A Very Murray Christmas (2015, Sofia Coppola)

In which a bunch of our favorite actors who cannot sing very well, and a handful of actual singers, congregate in Coppola’s underlit Lost In Translation hotel to act sad, goof around and gradually cheer up. The band Phoenix was the best part, with Chris Rock’s off-time backing vocals a close second.

Chris Isaak Christmas (2004)

Watched in hotel while getting ready for the family Christmas. A million times more festive than the Bill Murray one, with more upbeat music.

Charlie Brooker’s 2015 Wipe

Funny look at a depressing year. Good bit on the media’s changing attitudes on the humanity of refugees, and Brooker finally got to address his spooky Black Mirror PM pig-sex prediction on the air. Stanhope got cut for being too controversial… hope his segment turns up sometime.

Shaun The Sheep: The Farmer’s Llamas (2015, Jay Grace)

Like the movie, but shorter, and with troublemaking nihilist llamas which are even worse than the pigs.