She’s Funny That Way (2014, Peter Bogdanovich)

A busy comedy, mostly keeps up its charming energy for a bit of throwback fun. Famed theater director Owen Wilson overpays call girl Imogen Poots (Green Room) and tells her to follow her dream, which turns out to be auditioning for his play. Owen’s wife Kathryn Hahn (Parks & Rec politician) stars in the play, pursued by both costar Rhys Ifans (The Boat That Rocked) and playwright Will Forte (MacGruber). Also in play: Forte’s ex, substitute-therapist Jennifer Aniston, and his detective dad George Morfogen. For some reason it’s all framed as a years-later celeb-profile interview with Poots.

Ehrlich on Poots:

Her performance is a reckless tightrope walk of woefully accented genius and it’s very important to me.

Finding Dory (2016, Andrew Stanton)

Dory starts to remember things about her home and family, goes on an adventure, discovering she was born at an aquatic park. The others follow, and all are assisted by a couple whales and an Ed O’Neill octopus.

I told Katy it felt good, but not necessary – Matt Singer nails why:

Like so many of the studio’s previous features, Dory is a story about the unbreakable bonds between parents and children, mismatched partners bonding over the course of a long adventure, and the pleasures of a team working together to achieve a common goal. After 21 years, that formula is still very satisfying. But it also feels more like a formula than ever before.


Piper (2016, Alan Barillaro)

Dory and The Good Dinosaur have started an upsetting trend where the opening short is better than the feature. I’m probably biased because I love birds, and especially love watching sandpipers, but this story of a baby sandpiper learning to deal with the surf is the greatest film of all time. Director Barillaro has been a Pixar animator since A Bug’s Life.

Le Grand Amour (1968, Pierre Etaix)

Another sheer delight from Etaix, who is now officially one of my favorite comedians. Pierre feels smothered by his marriage to Florence (Annie Fratellini, a former circus clown who married Etaix the year this came out), working at his in-laws’ company, living in their house, decides to have an affair with his secretary (Nicole Calfan, a sexy maid in The Three Musketeers), pushed by his pro-cheating friend Jacques. Etaix is so even-tempered that despite the movie’s flights of fancy, he seems less driven to the affair out of desperation or uncontrollably lusting after the secretary than coolly determining that this is the proper course of action and plotting how it should happen.

Fascinating that Etaix shared a co-screenwriter with Bunuel. This is his most Bunuelian movie yet – also his first film in color, shot by Jean Boffety (Thieves Like Us, Je t’aime, je t’aime).

V. Rizov:

The big dream sequence — Étaix in a bed cruising along country roads like a car, past many others, past comic vignettes of chastely-pajama’d bedroom conflicts — stops when he spies secretary Agnès (Nicole Calfan, such stunning, undeniable 20something bait in her nightgown that rare, audible jaws dropping and whistles were heard at the Film Forum). She later subjectively views him, during an awkwardly-arranged dinner, as an old man with long whiskers droning on about business, a startling POV shift all the more impactful for being a one-off. My admiration’s held back by an ending that doesn’t seem nearly despairing enough, but that may be a personal problem.

D. Ehrlich: “It’s no Yoyo, but what a tragic standard against which to hold other films.”

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016, Dan Trachtenberg)

Fun, twisty thriller. I probably never want to watch it again, and I probably still don’t want to watch the shaky-cam action prequel, but I didn’t regret renting this.

Mary E. Winstead (Ramona Flowers, the girl with hair like this) is in a car crash and wakes up chained to John Goodman’s basement. But wait, Goodman is a nice guy who rescued her on his way to his massive emergency shelter and outside the world has gone to hell. But wait, she hears a car overhead and there’s a person outside and Goodman denies this is possible. But wait, that outside person is crazy and wounded and is trying to get into the shelter, proving Goodman’s point. Goodman’s neighbor John Gallagher (Short Term 12) is also in the bunker and says Goodman’s on the level and John isn’t a creepy sex fiend and he talks like a normal sad guy about his daughter. But wait, Gallagher says the girl in the photo isn’t Goodman’s daughter. But wait, Mary suspects Goodman is the one who caused her car crash in the first place. But wait, before she confronts him about this, Goodman sheepishly admits that he crashed into her in his haste to get to the shelter.

All this back-and-forth is resolved in the best possible way: Goodman is right about the extinction-level event outside AND he’s dangerously crazy, so Mary has to fight her way out of the bunker then fight Cloverfield aliens, which I assumed would be more Godzilla-like, not floating spaceships with Hellraiser tentacles.

Obvs produced by JJ Abrams, but directed by Trachtenberg, whose previous film was a fan-film short for the video game Portal (he was also key grip on Phantasm OblIVion). Written by a Narnia editor, a G.I. Joe associate producer and Whiplash director Damien Chazelle. That is a fucked-up lineage but man the actors are so good in this.

M. D’Angelo:

What if you got trapped in an elevator with your abusive ex-boyfriend and you’re a hemophiliac and OMG your ex-boyfriend is a vampire! Come on.

Winsor McCay shorts

I’ve previously written up McCay’s Little Nemo (aka Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and His Moving Comics) and How a Mosquito Operates and The Sinking of the Lusitania, and Bill Plympton’s restoration of The Flying House. Well, I got my hands on the Master Edition DVD, so now I’m watching (in most cases rewatching) the rest.


Gertie The Dinosaur (1914)

Similar to Lusitania, the full movie is more than the animation – it opens with a documentary account of the cartoon’s inspiration, with intertitles explaining to audiences unfamiliar with animation how work-intensive the process was. Per the commentary, the shorter version of this film lacks the intro and titles and was played in a live show with McCay on stage interacting with his dinosaur, giving commands and having conversation. I like how the commentary says Emile Cohl and J. Stuart Blackton were McCay’s primary influences, but that McCay also publicly claimed to have invented the animated film.

Gertie attacks the camera/presenter:

Guess what’s about to happen to that stack of original Gertie drawings:


The Centaurs (fragment)

Because you can show topless women if they’re half horse. A weird, slow-moving little piece that Canemaker imagines may have been part of McCay’s vaudeville act a la Gertie.


Gertie On Tour (fragment)
Gertie torments a trolley then dances for a crowd of dinosaurs. Animation scholars today don’t know why.


Flip’s Circus (fragment)

Little Nemo character Flip performs a stage show with a mini-Gertie, which finally eats Flip then vomits him out. Serves him right, really, since Flip spends half the movie beating the thing with a club.


Bug Vaudeville (1921)

Sketches of insects doing circus-like stunt routines on a stage, each one lasting about twice as long as it could. All this is being dreamt by a hobo under a tree (his head appearing MST3K-style watching the insect action) who frustratingly ate some cheesecake, not rarebit.


The Pet (1921)

Cute little creature walks into a house where a woman feeds it. It grows visibly larger while eating. As as it grows, it eats increasingly large things, from food to dishes to household decorations, finally to buildings and airplanes, until the army blows it to bits. Favorite scene: the pet drinks from a hose, then slurps up and eats the hose like spaghetti. Of course this is all just a rarebit dream by the man of the house, who eats dinner at “the club” and resents his wife for wanting a pet. Plympton’s redo of The Flying House is great and all, but I think this was my favorite of the rarebit fiend shorts.

The included documentary, Remembering Winsor McCay (1976) by John Canemaker, is cool for providing first-hand accounts of McCay’s life and work by his younger assistant John Fitzsimmons. But since the films are silent, I’d already played them with Canemaker’s commentary, which reuses all of Fitz’s stories and comments.

Dheepan (2015, Jacques Audiard)

At first I thought Audiard seems influenced by the Godfather movies, from the young enforcer who takes over a crime business in A Prophet to this movie’s immigrant stories (dunno how Rust & Bone would fit in), but after it became clear that Dheepan was heading towards rage and revenge, I thought of it as a more currently-fashionable Harry Brown (others are saying Straw Dogs).

The most interesting twist: Dheepan and his “family” are only pretending to be a family in order to get refugee status and flee Sri Lanka, where Dheepan was a Tamil Tiger. They live together like strangers, only playing the family role for outside observers, but gradually begin to respect and protect each other. Meanwhile, the block of apartments where they live and work is a drug hub which turns violent when lead dealer Vincent Rottiers (young Jean in the Renoir biopic) returns from prison. With these pieces in place, the movie gets to create a crowd-pleasing finale where Dheepan draws on his violent past to protect his makeshift family. M. D’Angelo: “After nearly two hours of depicting the improvised family’s patient adjustments, negotiations, and compromises, Audiard abruptly switches to Hollywood fantasy, and there’s no sign that he’s doing so ironically, metatextually, or with any other subversive purpose in mind.”

Still a pretty good movie. I’m not as upset about this winning the palme d’or (or Loach winning in 2016) as others are. Regardless of the winner, I’m still seeking out as many of the acclaimed competition films as possible (so far: Carol, The Assassin, The Lobster, Sicario).

Cul-de-sac (1966, Roman Polanski)

I follow a lotta must-see movie lists, and supposedly one of my core interests is the Criterion Collection. Movies that are generally accepted as great, released in pristine quality with valuable extras – it’s a no-brainer. At the halfway point of every month I reload their site all day until the new disc announcements appear, and I agonize over which titles I need to buy during the next half-price sale and which are okay to rent from netflix (in the increasingly rare case that they’re actually carried).

And yet it’s not unusual for a month to go by where I watch no Criterion blu-rays, and I think I’ve figured out why that is. I think in the back of my mind, when the Criterion discs come out they lose their sense of urgency. This movie is now readily available in a near-ideal form, so no need to worry about that. Perhaps the wealth of extras is actually hurting as well – I know when I watch Red I’m gonna have to watch another hour’s worth of (really great!) bonus material, which takes up extra time. I’m always threatening a Criterion Month to catch up, but somehow that never happens, while Shocktober and Cannes Month and the Shorts Project and Rock Docs and TV shows and my random decision this month to watch six adaptations of Crime & Punishment go off without a hitch.

So damn it, I’m declaring that from now until Shocktober is Criterion Month.

I watched a fair number of Polanski films in the last couple years, and am starting to make sense of his style. The Apartment Trilogy is dark and weird, but at least two of the three films have bits of heightened silliness. Carnage and Fearless Vampire Killers are ridiculous, and I thought I was supposed to take Ghost Writer seriously as a drama, but perhaps not. I wouldn’t say Cul-de-sac is one of my favorites, but I get its mood: a hostage thriller with the tension constantly undercut by comic situations and performances.

After a robbery gone wrong, gorilla thug Lionel Stander and mortally wounded Jack MacGowran (the nutty Professor in the following year’s Fearless Vampire Killers) hole up at a castle on the shore, not realizing that the tide would trap them there for the next day. The castle dwellers include insecure author Donald Pleasence, introduced being dressed as a woman by young wife Francoise Dorléac (Catherine Deneuve’s sister in life and in The Young Girls of Rochefort). Lionel alternates between seeming quite menacing and seeming like a dumb guy with nowhere else to go, after he’s disowned by his crime bosses via phone and his partner dies, lumbering into scenes of marital discord like a disfigured remake of Knife in the Water. Stressed, Pleasance alienates his wife and the friends who come to visit while Lionel is still waiting for word from the bosses (pretending to be a drunk uncle or something). Pleasance does finally transform from emasculated dress-up doll to heroic man of violence, shooting a marauding Lionel, but it doesn’t last – he’s freezing up moments later, and Francoise flees, leaving him to his freakouts.

Won the golden bear in Berlin, playing with Lord Love a Duck and Masculin Feminin. First film appearance by Jacqueline Bisset (Day For Night, Under The Volcano) as one of the visitors. Donald Pleasence is campy here, but to be fair, it seems like he’s supposed to be. I only know him as the least-convincing part of such realist films as Halloween, Phenomena, Mr. Freedom and The Pumaman. If only I knew a Pleasence expert who could explain this guy’s methods. Lionel Stander is an actor with an interesting history. He worked throughout the 1930’s and 40’s (Hangmen Also Die, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, A Star is Born). His Eugene Pallette-like voice endeared him to Preston Sturges in the late 1940’s, then he was blacklisted for many years before showing up here.

David Thompson:

What Polanski created with Cul-de-sac was a cinema of the absurd, delving into situations of humiliation, role-playing, and betrayal, and evoking an unsettling atmosphere quite unlike anything else on the big screen. This is underlined by his then favorite composer Krzysztof Komeda’s haunting music, a nagging cross-mix of cool jazz and early pop electronica that continuously twists back on itself in repetitive phrases — even to the point where, when Teresa plays a gramophone record of the main theme, the needle becomes stuck … Polanski had previously approached the august Beckett about making a cinema version of his revolutionary Waiting for Godot. But the author saw no reason for something conceived for the stage to be adapted into a film and refused the rights. Nevertheless, Beckett’s exploration of universal human experience through a pair of philosophical bums had a great influence on the young Polanski, as did the disturbing plays of his contemporary Pinter, with their theme of, yes, imposition, laced with menace and black humor. Although he would downplay it, Polanski’s eventual casting of Jack MacGowran, who had acted in Waiting for Godot and Beckett’s Endgame, and Donald Pleasence, who was in both the stage and film versions of Pinter’s The Caretaker, suggests more than pure coincidence.

The Last Ten Minutes Vol. 18: Shabby Studio Flicks from the 1990’s

Wing Commander (1999, Chris Roberts)

I played the first Wing Commander video game a fair amount, the second one a ton, and I think my computer was underpowered for the third (1994) so that one not so much. When the movie came out too-many-years later and I saw its posters splashed all over Barcelona, I ignored it. Looks like that was the right choice. Euro-accented spaceship crew is yelling the standard space-movie stuff about shields, then there’s a solo-flying Freddie Prinz Jr. with a cool monocole. I’ve got nothing against Freddie, didn’t see any of his poorly-received movies of the era and he was alright on The Brak Show. This movie is so full of jargon and effects, I doubt anyone knows or cares what is happening. Cool to see David Warner as the admiral, anyway. I don’t approve of the Kilrathi being slow-motion underwater green-tinted puppets speaking in subtitled death-metal voices. Appearance at the end by Saffron Burrows of Klimt. Why is Mark Hamill credited as “?” when he appears in all the games?


Star Trek 7: Generations (1994, David Carson)

I went back further than ten minutes because I didn’t want to miss Kirk dying. He and Picard fight Malcolm McDowell in the desert trying to get some magic remote control that makes a missile turn invisible. Doesn’t seem like a plot worth dying for, but Kirk gets crushed under a metal bridge, freeing up Shatner to do more important work, like that amazing Se7en parody in 1996. Epilogue: Data has emotions and a pet cat, Picard has a monologue about time being a flat circle and Frakes makes a sly joke about living forever (he will). Director Carson went on to make Unstoppable (the Wesley Snipes one, not the Denzel Washington one).


Congo (1995, Frank Marshall)

I don’t remember the novel, other than I hated it but it was the only book I had while stuck in a Costa Rica airport for six hours… or maybe that was Sphere… anyway, why are army people machine-gunning monkeys, and why is one monkey speaking English while wearing a nintendo power glove? Good to see Ernie Hudson, and weird to see Laura Linney blasting monkeys with lasers and oh now a volcano is erupting and burning all the monkeys. Do NOT watch this movie if you love monkeys. Joe Don Baker!! After all the digital motion-capture shit of recent years it’s nice to see one monkey played by an actor wearing a furry suit. Director Marshall went on to make a Paul Walker sled dog movie and screenwriter John Patrick Shanley was slumming between an oscar win for Moonstruck and a nomination for Doubt.


The Relic (1997, Peter Hyams)

I guess this is the one that wasn’t Species or Mimic. Apparently it stars Penelope Ann Miller (Big Top Pee-Wee) and Tom Sizemore (Dreamcatcher), but I can’t see a damned thing. Looks like figures running through a dark chemical plant. When we finally see the Relic and its gross long tongue, it looks like some Alien/Predator/Pumpkinhead/Krang mashup for the ten seconds before Penelope uses confusing editing to set it on fire, then she spits some weak Hellraiser catchphrase and it blows up. Was this movie about anything? Hyams made a Sean Connery movie called Outland 16 years earlier which I apparently watched (I gave it a 6). He also made Timecop and End of Days, which I would totally watch the last ten minutes of either of those if available, so get your shit together netflix.


Deep Impact (1998, Mimi Leder)

This was the asteroid movie that wasn’t Armageddon but came out at the same time. Sure enough, the asteroid hits the Earth and kills everyone. It kills the loving couple on the beach. It kills New York City. It kills everything. Elijah Wood and Leelee Sobieski escape, chuckling at the devastation. Meanwhile some crying astronauts led by Robert Duvall are saying goodbye and it gets real weepy before they crash into a second asteroid and blow it to bits then President Morgan Freeman gives a boring speech. This looks like it was a boring movie. Mimi Leder went on to make the movie that shook my faith in movies, Pay It Forward.


The Phantom (1996, Simon Wincer)

In today’s superhero-fueled world, it’s quaint to visit the superhero movies of yesteryear, which were medium-budget and starred Billy Zane. Billy is a fine actor as long as he never has to speak, so he’s always cast in major roles and given tons of dialogue. Some bad guy picks up a crystal skull and says “at last!” and someone else is accused of kiling Phantom’s father. All movies are basically the same, aren’t they? Phantom has a pathetic, sub-lightsaber effects-duel with the baddie, whoever he was, then everything explodes. Where is Catherine Zeta-Jones? Holy shit, Patrick McGoohan cameo as Phantom’s dad. Phantom’s girlfriend is Kristy Swanson, the lead in Mannequin 2: On The Move. This has kind of a Rocketeer / Sky Captain / Indiana Jones throwback look which I appreciate. It was director Wincer’s follow-up to Operation Dumbo Drop, and he’d go on to make Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles.

After each of these movies, netflix assumed next I’d want to watch their new Adam Sandler flick. That is either persistent self-marketing or a sadly accurate attempt to predict the tastes of people watching Congo on a thursday night in 2016.

Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome (1985, Miller & Ogilvie)

“I was a cop, a driver.”

That settles it: the even-numbered Mad Max movies are brilliant and the odd-numbered are just alright. This was mostly a time-wasting attempt to turn Mad Max into a trilogy. I had pretty decent memories of this from watching it on cable in the 1980’s, back when I didn’t know the rules of franchises and licensed properties and believed that all crossovers were possible, imagining Indiana Jones: Beyond Thunderdome, or Care Bears: Beyond Thunderdome. Two bears enter, one bear leaves.

Max is introduced as The Man With No Name, tying him to Eastwood’s trilogy about a loner character who keeps getting in the middle of other groups’ fights. The gyrocaptain returns, making him the only character (not the only actor) besides Max to appear in multiple movies. Over the closing credits I thought “We Don’t Need Another Hero” wasn’t as great a song as I remembered, but then it got stuck in my head for days.

The language is great anyway, with references to the pocky-clipse. But the movie’s a mess – it’s the one in this series where I least understood the characters and the stakes. Bartertown ruler Tina Turner and thunderdome champ Master Blaster are villains… or are they? I liked Master Blaster – The Mighty as a warrior. The tiny Master was Angelo Rossitto (in movies since the 1920’s) and Blaster was Paul Larsson (billed just under John Larroquette in Altered States). The action scenes were still believable, and very well filmed.

Thunderdome MC spinning the wheel of fate:

Max’s death sentence, before being rescued by the tribe of children:

If true, IMDB trivia comes in handy for once:

George Miller lost interest in the project after his friend and producer Byron Kennedy was killed in a helicopter crash while location scouting. That may explain why Miller only handled the action scenes while George Ogilvie handled the rest. The film is dedicated to Byron Kennedy.

NxNW-reminiscent finale: