Jackie Brown (1997, Quentin Tarantino)

Haven’t seen this in 18 years, so I’d forgotten most of it, and didn’t realize it contains The Definitive Samuel L. Jackson Performance.

Sam Goody:

Shot by Tarantino buddy Robert Rodriguez’s cinematographer Guillermo Navarro – close-ups galore and terrific acting. Part of a mid-90’s cinematic Elmore Leonard craze, between Get Shorty and Out of Sight. Grier, Forster and Jackson got various awards and nominations. Only Forster made it to the oscars, though… jeez, it was an all-white year at the oscars except for a 4 Little Girls documentary nomination.

Keaton, the year after Multiplicity. De Niro shortly before he turned to self-mocking comedy in Analyze This and never looked back. Bridget Fonda apparently retired after 2002. Jackson would continue the 1970’s references with his Shaft remakquel. Chris Tucker’s Fifth Element costar Tiny Lister appears as Forster’s employee at the bail-bond place.

Unfortunately Pam Grier’s follow-ups don’t look so good: Chris Elliott comedy Snow Day, Fortress 2, Snoop Dogg’s Bones, Ghosts of Mars, and finally the career-killing Adventures of Pluto Nash. I assumed Jackie Brown was a comeback for her, but it looks like the movies she made the year before were better than any that came after: Mars Attacks, Escape From L.A. and Larry Cohen’s Original Gangstas.

The Spoilers (1942, Ray Enright)

A not-too-exciting Marlene Dietrich/John Wayne western. Boring ol’ Randolph Scott (Roberta, Ride Lonesome) rides into town claiming to represent the law of the country but really planning to steal land from local miners. John Wayne is seduced by Scott’s uneasy companion Margaret Lindsay (Jezebel, Fog Over Frisco) until he catches onto their scheme. Dietrich is wise from the beginning. She and third-wheel Richard Barthelmess (that guy from Only Angels Have Wings who looks like a cross between Buster Keaton and Peter Lorre) help Wayne foil the plan, and the mines are saved, yay.

But most notably: John Wayne in blackface!

Jauja (2014, Lisandro Alonso)

A Danish engineer (Viggo Mortensen) and his teen daughter Ingeborg are in 1880’s Argentina. The locals spread rumors about Zuluaga, a savage desert killer with supernatural powers. Ingeborg runs off with young soldier Corto, Viggo gives chase and finds Corto has been killed. Now he seeks to rescue his daughter from Zuluaga.

Whaaaat that sky:

Sounds like a fine Western, but this is one unusual and beautiful movie. Picture is windowboxed with rounded corners, and the colors are extremely vivid (I think blues or greens were boosted), shot by Kaurismaki’s DP Timo Salminen. The story moves slowly when it moves at all, but the film isn’t its story – it’s more a moving postcard of a barely understood past.

Viggo is injured, his gun and horse stolen, and continues on foot armed with his sword. A dog leads him up a mountain (“what a shit country,” he complains of the rocky ascent) to a cave inhabited by a woman (Ghita Norby, narrator of Babette’s Feast) who may be his daughter many years older.

Cave Woman:

Young Ingeborg wakes up in a massive house in modern-day Denmark, is told by a guy in the yard that her dad’s out, and her dogs are developing nervous rashes because she leaves them alone for so long. Then a shot of sea lions on the rocks of Argentina.

Future Ingeborg:

Viggo also made an Albert Camus movie last year, is clearly in a different headspace these days than during his Lord of the Rings and David Cronenberg eras. Ingeborg’s parents are actors, both on Borgen and The Killing.

Quintin in Cinema Scope:

Needless to say, [the ending] turns the entire film upside down, in an even more radical way than the original last scene from La Libertad, where Misael laughs with the film crew and the whole ethnological dispositif is erased, revealing the entire enterprise as only a film with an actor, as artificial as any other film (perhaps more artificial, in fact). That scene, however, isn’t in the final cut of the film: it was edited out under pressure from Cannes, who requested its removal as a condition to program the film in Un Certain Regard. Thirteen years later, Alonso—whose films have always screened in Cannes, but never in the Competition—was able to retain his intended ending for Jauja, though once again there was pressure from the festival to remove it. Cannes, like many major festivals, prefers to screen films where content and style are clear, distinguishable, uniform, rather than deal with a film where not even the filmmaker knows what exactly is going on. And Alonso is one of those few filmmakers—I can only think of Kiarostami or Monte Hellman as other examples—who understand cinema as the sole medium where there’s no real divide between true and false, dream and reality, film and filmmaking.

I haven’t read all the articles online, but it looks like this was rapturously received by my favorite critics back in March. Won a prize at Cannes, too.

Viggo with Lt. Pittaluga


In the beginning, it was a little bit linear but then after the girl disappeared … the film breaks itself a little bit and starts to have distortions in time, space, and reality. I mean, there’s no way to keep on in the film after he realizes that he’s not going to see the girl again. He has no horse, and he has not even a hat to protect him from the sun. He’s a man in a desert, and he loses all that he has, his daughter.

A. Martin:

Ingeborg speaks of her desire to own a dog – one that will follow her everywhere, that will live only for her. And what does Dinesen become, 30 minutes into the film, but precisely that, abandoning his mission in a heartbeat and blindly following her every trace … Alonso takes Jauja more in the direction of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films, or Miguel Gomes’s celebrated Tabu – a type of cinema in which the materiality of landscapes and political histories is melded with the magical, transformative elements of fairytale and myth.

B. Ebiri: “Alonso has a lot on his mind, but he’s interested in casting a spell more than sending a message, in texture, sound, and image more than narrative.”

Alonso again:

We composed the film in 1.85:1, which is more panoramic, a little bit more modern. But then, when I asked for the transfer from the lab, I just asked them to give me a full frame, and I started editing in 4:3 … I was thinking that if I go with a more ’scope film, people maybe would get the wrong idea about Viggo, the swords, and the horse, and they’ll look more for action. Is he going to kill the Indians? And that is not the film. So if I put it in an old frame, they will start seeing the film another way, not waiting for more action. It’s a better perspective to have.

Funny, that’s the opposite of what Serra did with Story of My Death, shooting 4:3 then reframing in ‘scope.

Zuluaga in Jauja:

Zuluaga in Letter for Serra:

Alonso is one of Cinema Scope’s 50 Under 50 – a quest I’d put on the back burner, then considered abandoning after suffering through Story of My Death this summer. Serra came to mind while watching Jauja, and probably not coincidentally, the two filmmakers know each other, and I’ve found an hour-long 2008 discussion between the two of them. Serra seems more lively and interesting than his films do. Alonso on the difficulty of creating a film: “Perhaps the scene in question was easy to film … the difficult thing is putting one shot after another and adding sound and creating an atmosphere around it.” Serra is focused on Honor de Cavalleria, Alonso on his “Lonely Men Trilogy” of La Libertad, Los Muertos and Liverpool. I abandoned the interview after a half hour and watched something else: there was a 2011 project called Correspondences where filmmakers made video “letters” to each other, and Alonso and Serra participated. Skipping Serra’s section for now because it’s two and a half hours long.

Letter for Serra (2011)

Long takes, just a few shots in 20+ minutes. Among tall grasses and twisted trees, we follow a nervous rifleman taking a shot in the woods. Then an axe man walking with his dogs. We watch the dogs in the woods, then a narrator takes out some notes and tells the story of the axe man Zuluaga – a backstory for Jauja, it would seem.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972, Luis Bunuel)

Seen this a few times before, and a year or two after watching, I can never remember what I loved about it. The story’s not exciting (similar plot description to The Exterminating Angel) and I recall it being slow and weird, but not weird enough to be memorable. So I watched again, and loved it again, and this time maybe it’ll stick.

Starts out with a bunch of slightly awful people trying to make dinner appointments that never quite work out. They arrive at a house on the wrong night. They walk out of a restaurant whose owner is lying dead in the next room. Their hosts abandon them to have sex in the bushes. Meanwhile, ambassador Fernando Rey is dodging terrorists, and local priest Julien Bertheau wants to be the Senechals’ gardener.

So far a finely-shot, classy-looking film about slightly weird things, then the second half becomes a series of sidetracks. A random officer in a restaurant tells a long ghost story, the ambassador shoots a guy, the dinner table becomes a stage play, the priest takes revenge on the man who killed his parents, the whole group is raided by police and arrested, the whole group is slaughtered, and all these things turn out to be dreams, dreams within dreams, punctuated by shots of the group (minus the priest) walking down a road (recalling a shot in The Milky Way).

Murderous priest:

The sex-in-bushes, priest-employing couple: Jean-Pierre Cassel (Army of Shadows, the king in Lester’s The Three Musketeers) and Stephane Audran (Babette’s Feast, La Rupture). The other couple: Paul Frankeur (The Milky Way, Jour de Fete) and Delphine Seyrig, and her drunk sister is the great Bulle Ogier. So that’s another difference between this viewing and my previous ones: this time I know and love all three lead actresses.

Didn’t realize when I decided to watch this and Day For Night that they won consecutive foreign-film oscars.

Piccoli cameo:

M. D’Angelo:

Hard to quantify the cumulative satirical force this movie brings to bear, as it maintains the same level of genial drollery from start to finish. I always start out mildly amused, wind up gobsmacked… but it seems entirely possible that shuffling the scenes at random would have much the same effect. It’s just a single pointed joke that gets funnier and funnier, abetted by a sextet of actors who refrain from any winking or nudging — Bulle Ogier in particular achieves maximum vacuity without calling attention to herself in any way, but they all embody entitlement with zero fuss.

Day for Night (1973, Francois Truffaut)

Movie about chaos and joys of filmmaking, with producers and director, love affairs, on-set PR/media crew, interfering locals, rumor monging, old friends, unexpectedly pregnant actors, stunt doubles, lab mistakes, uncooperative animals, movie references, flashbacks, breakdowns, and an Italian actress who can’t deal with sync sound.

The torture of sync sound!

Real director playing fake director fake-showing his real actors how to act:

Truffaut plays a director and Leaud plays his lead actor – imagine that. The film-within’s plot is that Leaud’s young wife Jacqueline Bisset (Albert Finney’s ex-wife in Under The Volcano) runs off with his dad Jean-Pierre Aumont (Hotel du Nord). Meanwhile on set, Leaud’s girlfriend Dani leaves him (and abandons the film), Leaud goes a bit nuts, then nearly breaks up Bisset’s new marriage with her doctor.

Bisset and her doctor:

Leaud’s film-in-film mom is unstable Italian Valentina Cortese (star of Thieves’ Highway, a friend in Juliet of the Spirits), buzzing around set is script-girl Nathalie Baye (star of La Mémoire Courte), and in his only acting role, author Graham Greene plays the film’s insurer.

My favorite bit: Truffaut, who has brought his experiences on other films into this one, stealing from real life to create fiction, has his director-character write his lead actress some last-minute dialogue stealing from something she’d said earlier.

Equipage equipage equipage…

This was the movie that Godard wrote a nasty letter over, ending his friendship with Truffaut. Godard thought Day For Night was dishonest – M. D’Angelo only accuses it of being slight: “Truffaut shoots for amiable, and achieves it.”

SHOCKtober 2015 Post Mortem

Hitfix did yet another “ultimate horror poll”, too late since I’d already found everything I was gonna watch this year, so let’s see if it has recommendations for next year.

Unseen on the top hundred:
The Changeling (1980)
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
Black Christmas (1974)
The Conjuring (2013)
The Mummy (1932)
Legend of Hell House (1973)
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
The Orphanage (2007)
The Signal (2007)

Should really watch again sometime:
The Devils (1971)
Fright Night (1985)
28 Days/Weeks Later
The Brood (1979)
The Fly (1986)
Cure (1997)

Interesting picks from the individual top-tens:
Men Behind The Sun (1988)
The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)
Communion aka Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)
The Twonky (1953)
The Devil Rides Out (1968)
The Woman in Black (1989)
The Witch (2015)
Red Riding Trilogy
Lips of Blood (1975, Jean Rollin)
The Demon (1978, Yoshitaro Nomura)
Jigoku (1979 remake, Tatsumi Kumashiro)

From AV Club’s 25 Best Horror Movies Since 2000:
Ginger Snaps
The Strangers

And my own SHOCKtober picks that I didn’t get to this year:
Daughters of Darkness
A Girl Walks Home Alone
Night Tide
The Devil
Bloodsucking Bastards
Dead of Night
The Avenging Conscience

Let Us Prey (2014, Brian O’Malley)

A Shocktober Postscript Screening, since I found out this was available on netflix at the start of November and couldn’t wait until next season to watch. Kidnapping survivor Pollyanna McIntosh (the woman in The Woman) arrives at her new job at a small-town police station, collaring a reckless driver on the way in (no direct Hot Fuzz references I could detect, sadly). She’s in for a rough night. Turns out the driver, the arriving doctor, everyone in the cells, all her fellow cops, and the Flying Irishman of her crow-feathered dreams are all murderers.

Or maybe the unnamed Irishman (named Six for his cell number) isn’t directly a murderer but a witness, but he appears to be the one orchestrating the night of mayhem by bringing all these people together, along with new witness Pollyanna, who accepts the chance to join him at the end. Snappy dialogue throughout, cowritten by my favorite film writer (David Cairns of Natan) and Fiona Watson, who intended a different title (Cell 6) and ending. The movie looks wonderful, one of those small-scale confined-space stories that still manages to be stylishly and inventively shot (see also: Pontypool) and I dig the trendy use of a strong synth score. Nobody has written about this movie yet without saying it’s indebted to John Carpenter, and I won’t be the first.

It’s not just the Sarge who’s crazy, but the crossword writers. Check out yesterday’s solution, including SADISM, PLAGUE, SUCCUMB, ROUGHLY:

At first I thought the Flying Irishman was an evil hypnotist (see: Stuart Gordon’s Eater), but once it’s revealed that every character (except Pollyanna and possibly the Irishman) is a huge creep or worse, the bloody (and fiery) mayhem becomes more fun than horrific – awful people butchering each other to cover up other murders, or just for the heck of it, or in the sergeant’s case because he fancies himself a biblical destroyer. Sarge is Douglas Russell of the upcoming The Survivalist (Doug prefers his films apocalyptic), the mad doctor is Niall Fulton, a cop in Cry For Bobo, and the Irishman is Liam Cunningham of Wind That Shakes The Barley and Dog Soldiers.

Nosferatu Hand comes after schoolteacher Jon Watson:

The Guest (2014, Adam Wingard)

Sometimes I hear good things about a movie but don’t watch it right away for some reason (in The Guest‘s case, because I hated the director’s previous movie), then a year goes by and I forget the reason and end up watching the movie on netflix, and damned if it isn’t really good. So I guess I like Adam Wingard now. Ti West: your move. Well-paced thriller, and once it starts building, it keeps going higher and higher towards total insanity. When Dan Stevens suspects a waitress might have information on him, he stabs her to death in the middle of her workplace then blows up the restaurant with grenades.

Oh yeah, Dan Stevens, the guy who ruined Downton Abbey to become a movie star, appearing in Julian Assange bios, Adam Sandler fantasies, Ben Stiller sequels and Liam Neeson revenge dramas, finally getting raves from this. He arrives at a family’s house, says he’s a friend of their son who died in the military, and they invite him to stay. He helps out in small ways, mostly by murdering anyone who gets in the family’s way. But the kids with their damned googles become suspicious, track down some info and finally call in the military cops led by Lt. Cedric Daniels, who destroy the house with their firepower but still prove laughably outmatched by Dan and his few pistols.

Finally Dan starts turning on the family to protect his secrets, first mom (Sheila Kelley of Matchstick Men) with a knife, then dad (Leland Orser of that Chris Lambert movie Resurrection) with a car crash, then he follows the kids to – where else? – a school haunted house (just like Lesson of Evil). Bullied youngest (Brendan Meyer of Dinosapien) is protected by It Follows star Maika Monroe (and Daniels, for a while) while fog machines and fire fighter gear obscure their assailant. And speaking of fog machines, this movie continues the recent tradition of blasting 1980’s-style synth music, to great effect.

Also starring Chase Williamson (star of John Dies at the End) as Maika’s pothead boyfriend. I’ve already spoiled You’re Next, the Wingard/Barrett/Swanberg/West/Fessenden/Sheil movie between A Horrible Way To Die and this one, in a Last Ten Minutes installment.

Mindwarp (1992, Steve Barnett)

Rebellious young Judy (Marta Alicia of Body Chemistry 4: Full Exposure) is rebelling against Infinisynth, the mind-control company that provides her family with virtual-reality escapism via a data port in the back of their necks. She’s chastised by the Systems Operator for invading her mom’s dreams and soon expelled into the wastelands outside their cushy VR-fueled apartment building, where she’s discovered and protected by post-apocalyptic survivalist Bruce Campbell and threatened by a cult of underground mutants led by Angus Scrimm.

Angus displays his ID card:

Bruce displays a possum:

So it’s Ash vs. The Tall Man in a post-apocalyptic virtual-reality sci-fi/horror… in HD. But it’s poorly made, dingy looking and dull, all those promising ideas and cast members wasted on a movie that doesn’t quite work. At least it continues to get weirder, Angus having his mutants comb through the ruins of civilization for useful junk, occasionally sacrificing a mutant via his person-juicing-machine. He reveals that he’s Judy’s father and reveals his plan to repopulate the earth with her in the same scene. Bruce proves an ineffective protector, is fed to pirahnas. Then Angus says it was all a test, that he’s the SysOp of the VR universe and he wants his daughter to take over. Then that was all a dream – then that was all a dream. The Matrix and Existenz would use similar ideas with improved cinematography.

Judy’s mutant army:

Sleep pods from Je t’aime, je t’aime:

SysOp Guy Fieri:

Produced by the short-lived Fangoria Films, who at least attracted good casts, with Oliver Reed and Karen Black in their other early-90’s movies. From the director of Scanner Cop II and Hollywood Boulevard II (no way), written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris (Terminator 3 and 4, The Net). At least something good came out of this movie – Bruce Campbell married the costume designer. Also, it appears to have invented the roomba.