Opens on my birthday, sometime during the cold war. Mute Amelie (Sally Hawkins) lives in the apartment above a reclusive artist (Richard Jenkins) who forges them fake IDs and van decals when it’s time to break her fishman boyfriend out of the government facility where she works alongside Octavia Spencer, but wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. First, blatantly evil U.S. government agent Michael Shannon wants to kill and dissect the fishman, and sympathetic Russian spy Michael Stuhlbarg defies his superiors to save the fishman, all the while nobody noticing that Mute Amelie is having an affair with the fishman, and forgetting that she’s not deaf and can hear all their plans which they are constantly saying out loud.

I was warned by the anti-Guillermo critic contingent, but thought it’d be worth checking out Sally’s dance moves on the big screen, and jeez, does this movie ever have the best production design. Since Doug Jones plays the fishman, can this count as a Hellboy prequel?

On one hand, we’ve got the wacky misadventures of a failing museum administrator (Claes Bang), but the movie wanders about, exploring different sides of its themes of altruism, trust and honesty. Essentially, Claes fails the test of the Square completely and repeatedly, while the severe compositions give us Michael Haneke flashbacks and the light vocal music tells us not to take Claes’s plight too seriously.

Also, Elisabeth Moss makes a phone call while a monkey paints its face red, and guest artist Dominic West (among others) gets roughed up by an overcommitted performance artist. Matt Lynch: “This works more than it doesn’t mostly because it’s very funny and feels spontaneous even though it’s almost absurdly schematic and can’t stop bluntly explaining itself.”

The first film by Studio Ponoc is also Yonebayashi’s third feature based on British children’s lit, with much of the familiar visual style and same crew members as Ghibli, so it’s more a continuation than anything bold and new. We’d also just watched Castle in the Sky, another movie where a girl with unexplained powers is chased from a floating castle. We played spot-the-reference as Mary finds a flower that turns her into a super-powerful witch, rides to witch school, then gets pursued by the schoolmasters who want to harness the flower’s power to crossbreed animals, or do some Captain America kinda thing, I dunno. It’s all very attractive, and impressive on the big screen, but like its witchy predecessor, it started to feel like we were just watching a kids movie.

A great swordsman defeats an entire army of thugs who murdered his sister, then is made immortal by an old woman, and this entire backstory only takes up the first twelve minutes of the movie. Miike wasting no damn time with this one, supposedly his hundredth film, though I’d like to see what list they used to calculate this, since IMDB considers Pandoora a movie, and counts MPD Psycho as three movies.

Anyway… fifty years later, the “itto-ryu” is a supervillain samurai clan killing all the dojo heads in the Tokyo, including the parents of this girl Rin, who reminds our man of his sister, so he agrees to take on the gang. Rest of the movie is a series of high-energy fights, one-on-one and one-on-hundreds, against badasses with a variety of weapons. I found Sukiyaki Western Django too tiresomely goofy, 13 Assassins too classy and Hara-Kiri too faithful – this one’s just right.

Our heroes:

Clan leader Sôta Fukushi:

Our immortal hero is Takuya Kimura (Faye Wong’s bf in 2046, voice of Howl, star of two separate movies called Hero), Rin is the voice of Mary, and the fey cult leader starred in As The Gods Will. That leaves all the specialty assassins:

Kuroi Sabato (Kazuki Kitamura of Miike’s video game movie Like a Dragon) wears Shredder headgear, goes down first. Magatsu (Shinnosuke Mitsushima of the next Kore-eda movie) has long spiky hair and a sweet facemask. Shizuma Eiku (Ebizô Ichikawa, main dude in Miike’s Hara-Kiri) is a white-haired immortal who knows how they can be killed (bloodworm poison!). Makie (Erika Toda of the Death Note series) wields a double-edged spear and changes sides, and Shina (Hayato Ichihara, bullied boy of All About Lily Chou-Chou) is a blonde dude who focuses on killing the girl even when the army is attacking. Chiaki Kuriyama (Gogo in Kill Bill) is a government spy with long blonde hair, and Tsutomu Yamazaki (Goro in Tampopo) leads the government army, which needless to say in a Miike film is no better than the murderous cult. With no main-cast crossovers between this and 13 Assassins, it looks like Miike is trying to turn every actor in Japan into a badass killer.

Maatsu:

Makie:

Willow Maclay on her blog:

Miike doesn’t pull any punches as things reach a climax (with a few bloated, unnecessary side plots here and there) frequently zeroing in on Manji’s immortal body as it falls apart, but impossibly perseveres. When Manji finally confronts the man who wronged Rin … he’s barely a man anymore, more zombie than alive, and there is no elegant duel between sword wielding warriors. It is merely an act of execution, a job being completed, and a loss of life. It is with blunt honesty that Miike displays this final dance not as something worthwhile or justifiable, but another violent act in a long string of violent acts that Manji has committed during his lifetime, and some day Rin will die because of his actions.

Optimally, this should be watched directly after The Rise of Louis XIV by Rossellini. I’m such an idiot about royalty and history that I’d forgotten it was the same king until I looked it up after watching this. I do hope Serra makes films about the deaths of every Louis, so we can keep them all straight.

The King has an infected leg, but everyone’s too deferential to insist he get help or to suggest anything drastic like amputation, so he just lays there and slowly dies. Serra has finally decided that if nothing’s going to happen in his movies, at least they could stand to look nice, which is a huge step forward for him after the last one, but I’m not sure why I keep watching them. It’s attractively underlit, thanks to new cinematographer Jonathan Ricquebourg (The Challenge). Long takes, with an intriguing performance by Jean-Pierre Leaud, who’s like an overdressed baby. And it’s probably worth watching the entire movie for the great final line, which was also the title of Cinema Scope’s Cannes roundup article.

I didn’t recognize Patrick d’Assumçao (the guy who isn’t naked in Stranger by the Lake) as lead doctor Fagon, and IMDB is unenlightening about the other two guys who are always in the room, Marechal and servant Blouin.

There’s a whole subgenre of action thrillers in which Liam Neeson’s family members get taken, with different spinoffs and variations (like Keanu Reeves’ dog getting taken), all of which I’ve been skipping. I probably would’ve skipped this too, but I was fifteen minutes late for The Square, and I’m saving The Post for Katy, and the vulgar auteurists who prompted my fruitful journey through the Resident Evil movies last summer are saying The Commuter is pure cinema, so fine. And they’re wrong, obviously, though their articles are a blast to read – it’s just a pretty good suspenseful movie where Liam kicks some ass and we forgive the ludicrous situation because we’re having a good time.

Liam is a good family man, ex-cop with a kid entering college and major money problems, especially today when he lost his wallet and his insurance job, so when he’s offered $100k to finger a witness on his daily train, he goes along at first, then discovers the people he’s working with are murderers covering for corrupt cops including his ex-partner Patrick Wilson. Various groups claim to be holding Liam’s wife Lady Grantham, but this turns out maybe not to be true – either way, Liam runs up and down the train, making enemies and alliances, eventually gathering everyone in one car and yelling at them while carrying a gun until things get sorted. This is all what I imagine the recent remake of Murder on the Orient Express was like, but with funnier mustaches. The opening montage detailing Liam’s daily family routine is excellent, and a massive train derailment scene was exciting if you get past the conductor’s little Titanic-like self-sacrifice dialogue. The super-happy post-hostage-situation wrap scene was a bit of a stretch. People are dead, a train is destroyed and Liam is supposedly holding hostages. The cop sent in to negotiate is killed. Then a couple minutes after a thousand police storm the train car and grab everybody, Liam is just allowed to go free because the other passengers say he’s a hero. Call me cynical, but I’d expect him to be taken away, beaten half to death and held as a terrorist for at least a few months.

Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air) is Liam’s contact, Sam Neill a cop boss, and Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth herself) a passenger. The crossover casting between this movie and Atomic Blonde (more deserving of the “pure cinema” label) is tough-looking fellow commuter Roland Møller. This is Collet-Serra’s fourth film where Liam Neeson is holding a gun on the poster, and I’m glad it’s working out for both of them – he also made The Shallows, which I’ve been meaning to watch some SHOCKtober.

Extreme jumpcut cinema, making a dubby hash of its would-be monologues. Strobey, glitchy, overlapping audio and video, cutting against any sort of rhythm, like an Autechre album of a movie. Video, and videos of video. Much of what audio survives is soft-spoken poetry and college students having deep discussions about economic theory. Once I realized this wasn’t going to come together for me as a narrative, I wondered if it might’ve been a Begotten thing, where he made a film of his friends and relationship problems and it didn’t come out well so he destroyed it. But then, it was one of Cinema Scope’s top ten of 2015, so there must be more to it.

Phil Coldiron:

… each relationship available to the cinema must be rebuilt; nothing will be taken for granted within the frame. If there are narratives, they will not be simply given and accepted; they will appear as the product of careful study of the relations of the world, which Medina examines and expresses through the logic of rhythms.

It’s not just a restless critic reading too much into a semi-documentary Begotten breakbeat – in the interview, Medina is full of references and philosophy on the nature of his cinema, so I think I was too tired and undervalued the thing. They’re both mentioning the Lumiere brothers, who also come up in Dawson City and In The Intense Now. I cannot quote from the interview, because if I was too tired then to get what the film was going for, I’m definitely too tired now to get what these two are on about. I liked Michael Sicinski’s explanation of the thing:

There are fragments of an ostensible narrative. Or perhaps it is better to say, there are figures whose affect and experiences we observe across the running time of Medina’s film. They bob in and out of our view—a coterie of young Filipino-Canadian friends and lovers, given to creativity and anger and philosophizing and confusion. But 88:88 does not adhere to any given point of view. It hangs out, but in a jittery, caffeinated way, holding onto present moments without deadening them into connective tissue, mere “moving-towards.” Or, if there is a point of view, it’s that of “the digital image,” which is indiscriminate and regards a private breakdown with the same impassive fascination it affords greenish-yellow light through a treetop.

Decker has a new film at Sundance, so I checked out her debut… watched this 70-minute feature after work, floated off to dinner thinking about how much I loved it, then discovered the people I follow on letterboxd didn’t love it at all. Someone must’ve recommended it – Richard Brody, maybe. Anyway, everyone’s loving the new one to death, so I’m feeling ahead of the curve in my appreciation.

Starts out disorienting – Sarah gets a call from someone we haven’t seen, who has woken up in a strange apartment, and she’s yelling panicked orders into the phone. Then after a night clubbing, Sarah appears to be in the same situation herself. That’s the end of city life – the next scene has her meeting old friend Isolde at a Bulgarian folk music camp on the other coast, their reunion scene shot completely out of focus. Overall the camera and editing choices are completely bizarre, keeping me on my toes through what could’ve been a typical semi-improvised indie drama. The playfully strange filmmaking combined with a scenario where we never find out who anyone is or what’s going on reminded me of The Strange Little Cat. We also get slow focus pulls, cutaways to slugs, sudden witchy/culty flash-edits, a Blair Witch-like scene, and of course, much performance and dancing to Bulgarian folk music. Eventually Sarah starts drifting apart from Isolde as Sarah is falling for fellow camper Charlie Hewson, then she seems to drown him in the lake.

Sarah:

Isolde with the Dancing Woman:

Watched right after Christine. I didn’t love Greene’s Actress (or Christine), but they made for good prep-work for this masterpiece whatsit. A sort-of documentary following Kate Lyn Sheil as she preps to play Christine Chubbuck, presumably in a feature along the lines of Christine, though we see few any details about the feature and nobody’s helping her with character prep.

The first movie I’ve seen to film its own crowd release notice:

Kate’s in Florida where it happened, and locals seem to have no memory of Christine or her fate. She goes through library microfiche, reads books about suicide, does some serious tanning and gets fitted for a wig, goes gun shopping and finally gets a peek at some archive footage of the real Christine. It all leads to a joke of an ending, Kate finally building up the nerve to shoot herself, but the entire process leading up to that was fascinatingly staged (or “staged”).