Down Terrace (2009, Ben Wheatley)

Aging couple has run a close-knit drug operation for many years. The week after patriarch Bill and emotionally unstable son Karl get out of jail, Karl finds out his girlfriend is pregnant and Bill shakes up his friends, ends up killing most of them, trying to determine if someone ratted. Low-key movie with nice gradual escalation into ultra-violence. Cowriter Robin Hill plays Karl, his dad Robert Hill plays his dad, his wife Kerry Peacock plays his girlfriend and the great Julia Deakin (Marsha from Spaced) is his mom. Good supporting cast including Wheatley regular Michael Smiley and Tony Way (Edge of Tomorrow, Nine Inch Nails-shirted guy in Dragon Tattoo).

Twisty ending as Karl and gf kill the parents and make their escape. A family and friends affair – Wheatley and Robin say on the commentary that it was even shot in Robin’s parents’ house. They say the concept was to write a dark drama then cast funny people in it (there’s a fair bit of improv in the dialogue).

I guess I’ve seen all Wheatley’s films until High-Rise comes out in a few months. He also wrote for Time Trumpet, directed special-effects sketch show The Wrong Door and some episodes of drug-dealer comedy Ideal. Robin Hill edited Poldark, which I think Katy was watching downstairs while I watched this.

Damsels In Distress (2011, Whit Stillman)

The structure is bizarre, and scenes suddenly fade out. If that means there’s a longer cut somewhere, bring it on, because I could live inside this movie for another hour or two. Four girls with flowery names solve all problems on their college campus – smelly fraternities, suicide threats, the lack of a dance craze for their generation, and so on.

Flower girls: fearless/fragile leader Greta Gerwig (between House of the Devil and Frances Ha), logical Megalyn Echikunwoke (new The Omen TV series), Carrie MacLemore (Stillman’s TV pilot The Cosmopolitans), and new girl Analeigh Tipton (Warm Bodies).

L-R (I think): Tipton, the suicidal girl who steals Gerwig’s boyfriend, Echikunwoke, MacLemore, Gerwig

Noel Murray:

Whatever mode he’s working in, few filmmakers have ever been as attuned to the way we cheerfully lie to ourselves, right up to the point where the truth is exposed, and we’re left with a choice between breaking down or soldiering on. Or, as so often happens in Stillman’s films, both.

Dana Stevens on the ending:

In Shakespearean-comedy fashion, the various couples partner up and skip through the wooded Seven Oaks campus, dancing and singing to the Gershwin brothers’ song “Things Are Looking Up,” (which was first performed by Fred Astaire in a 1937 musical called A Damsel in Distress).

Stillman:

I like the idea of bringing period into a present-day film. It’s period as a way of solving our problems. The things that worked in the past have been tested a little bit, while the solutions to the future have not been tested. We know that people taking showers is going to have good results. Up to a point.

Tale of Springtime (1990, Eric Rohmer)

“Simple conversations engender complicated human interactions,” says the IMDB plot description. Copy/paste to every Rohmer film.

Restless Jeanne doesn’t want to stay at her boyfriend’s place while he’s out of town but she has lent her own place to a cousin (wearing major shoulder pads), explains this to random teenage girl Natacha (Florence Darel, Joan the Maid 2) Jeanne meets at a party, ends up coming home with her. Natacha’s busy father (Hugues Quester, a crazy person in City of Pirates) has a nice place in town and another in the country, but young Natacha is usually left alone while he stays at his new girl Eve’s place. So after initial meetings, the rest of the movie is the four of them meeting in various combinations in those two locations. Natacha is not fond of Eve, would like dad to date her new friend Jeanne instead, despite both their protests. It ends the way you would expect a Rohmer movie to end, with the main character making a decision, declaring their values and the reasons for this decision aloud. I don’t know why I love these movies but I do, and am very glad the whole Seasons series is playing Filmstreams this month.

IMDB says no award nominations. Link must be broken.

Mad Max 4: Fury Road (2015, George Miller)

Matt Singer: “Fury Road is an incredible achievement, one that strains so hard at the leash of the possible that it eventually breaks free and barrels headlong into the realm of insane genius. … They’ll keep making car chase movies after Fury Road, but there’s really no need.”

I loved the movie, but was maybe not as bowled-over by its lunatic intensity because was prepped by reviews. What I wasn’t prepared for was the plot twist when the movie’s first-two-thirds nonstop car chase finally stops, and with nothing but salt wasteland in front of them, Max proposes The Worst Idea Of All Time, to drive straight back through the armies that they’d just escaped and attack the citadel.

Tasha Robinson:

These are some preposterously tough people, and yet they’re perpetually at the end of their rope, and yet they perpetually keep going. That’s a very fine emotional place to keep a film pitched to for two straight hours, but the action is so well choreographed, so solid and visceral, that it works fine.

Charlize Theron stars as Furiosa, her team of escaped wives including Zoe Kravitz (Angel in X-Men 4). Max is Tom Hardy (Locke), constantly being threatened and/or helped by “albino maniac” Nicholas Hoult (Beast in X-Men 4). The main gas-masked villain played someone called Toecutter in the original Mad Max, which I should really watch sometime.

The movie was so beloved that even Cinema Scope gives it their breathless Tony Scott treatment, explaining Miller’s filmmaking techniques to keep his action scenes visceral and legible at once. “Advances in data processing and motion capture are rendered moot by Fury Road‘s proof that a basis in reality still adds a sense of weight to the proceedings impossible to recreate artificially.”

Senso (1954, Luchino Visconti)

Sometimes I watch what I damn well please (The Zero Theorem, On Top of the Whale, Master of the House) and sometimes I am a slave to lists. The lists said it’s time to watch Senso, even though I hated The Leopard and this sounded similar. Since that last Leopard screening almost a decade ago I’ve come to terms with the Italians’ ignorance of proper on-set dialogue recording, and some of my new favorite filmmakers are Italian. I even gave ol’ Pasolini another chance after hating Salo in college, and was blown away by his Teorema this year. But Senso‘s a period melodrama about people who do dumb things for love, a tragedy about the downfall of the upper class, so it had a lot of strikes against it.

Alida Valli (The Third Man, The Spider’s Stratagem, mad doctor’s assistant in Eyes Without a Face) is a wanton countess in 1866 Venice whose cousin (Massimo Girotti, the father in Teorema) is involved in the rebel movement against the occupying Austrians. He gets in an argument with Austrian officer Farley Granger (Rope, Strangers on a Train), she intervenes and falls for Granger – though she’s married to a clueless count (Heinz Moog).

Clueless count:

As the war escalates, Valli betrays the revolution and Granger betrays his army – then betrays Valli, so she reports him and the film ends with his execution. Before the inevitable unhappy ending, I admit the photography could be quite dreamy. Mark Rappaport on the film’s beauty: “You don’t want to hang the images on the wall. You want to live in them.”

Rappaport:

The sets and costumes bespeak wealth, privilege, and especially the casual acceptance of them in a way that no dialogue could adequately convey. If decor is as important an element as characters, camera work, and plot in many films, in Visconti’s, the ante is upped — decor is destiny.

From the extras: aha, it’s pronounced Lu-KEE-no.

Farley cheerfully unveiling his lover:

Valli reporting on him:

Played at Venice Film Festival (obviously) alongside Seven Samurai, Sansho the Bailiff, La Strada, Rear Window and two by Bunuel, but somehow Romeo and Juliet won.

Z (1969, Costa-Gavras)

Greece 1963: leftist protesters against a supposedly democratic government invite guest speaker Yves Montand. Then he and another guy from the opposition party (Jean Bouise, Warok in Out 1) are clumsily killed, and it’s a race to see if the prosecuting attorney (My Night at Maud’s star Jean-Louis Trintignant) can uncover witnesses and prove it was a murder conspiracy before government-sympathist thugs kill all the witnesses. My first Costa-Gavras movie since hating Mad City in ’97, and it’s way more exciting than his plot descriptions sound, with quick, responsive camera and editing.

Trintignant kinda wins, manages to prosecute army big-shots and prove they were at least complicit in not helping to protect the murdered men. But this is bad news in the long run as the country spirals into authoritarian rule (which is why the film was shot in Algiers), getting bloody payback in postscript upon the leftists who dared to fight back – except the actual prosecuting attorney played by Trintignant, who’d return to Greece and become president 20 years later.

Montand widow Irene Papas (Mother of the River in Inquietude), standing in front of Clotilde Joano (Chabrol’s Wedding in Blood):

Doomed men in back seat, driven by Bernard Fresson (La Prisonniere, The Tenant), with shotgun Charles Denner (The Man Who Loved Women):

Warok-killer Gerard Darrieu (The Elusive Corporal, Mon Oncle d’Amerique) makes an accurate statement about birds to attorney Trintignant:

Montand-killer Marcel Bozzuffi (Le Deuxieme Souffle, Altman’s Images) tries to sneak past helpful journalist Jacques Perrin (Prince Charming in Donkey Skin):

Informant Jean Daste hides in an Elvis photomat:

Oscars for best editing (have I mentioned the editing? it’s great, with sudden flashbacks in the middle of conversations, illustrating thoughts of the people on screen) and foreign film at the oscars (vs. Midnight Cowboy, Hello Dolly), best film from the USA film critics society (vs. Stolen Kisses, La femme infidele), a couple prizes at Cannes including actor for Trintignant (vs. his own My Night at Maud’s and best-picture winner If…).

Cowritten by Jorge Semprún (The War Is Over), of course, and shot by Raoul Coutard (post-Weekend), also of course. Editor Francoise Bonnot would continue to work with Costa-Gavras as well as Michael Cimino, Roman Polanski (The Tenant) and Julie Taymor. Trying to figure out why C-G has a hyphenated name I came across a MOMA press release saying he added the dash “to create confusion.”

Armond White, throwing out the titles of some movies I should really watch:

Carrying on the tradition of the politically informed films of Francesco Rosi (Salvatore Giuliano, Hands over the City, and The Moment of Truth), which turned recent politics into complex, engrossing cinematic myths, Costa-Gavras would proceed to advance the political thriller toward a popular mode. His work paralleled that of Gillo Pontecorvo (The Battle of Algiers) and Elio Petri (The Tenth Victim, We Still Kill the Old Way, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion), whose political exposés were also accessible as action films. This trend was distinct from such earnest, earlier cultural movements as Italian neorealism and Russian formalism in that it permitted socially conscious, politically motivated artists to pursue personal causes, infected with the excitement of the era’s post–New Wave aesthetic.

Oki’s Movie (2010, Hong Sang-soo)

“Things repeat themselves with differences I can’t understand.”

Four mini-films with the same actors playing similar stories… wasn’t expecting this. My first movie by film fest and Cinema Scope regular Sang-soo.

1. A Day for Incantation

Young film teacher Jingu (Lee Seon-kyun) is told by older prof Song (Moon Sung-geun of Sang-soo’s early feature Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors) that “film as an art is finished.” Later he confronts another professor Bang, who he’s heard has paid for tenure. Later still, Jingu is attacked at a sad post-screening Q&A by a friend of one of his former students who he dated for years. “Once I became a director all these rumors began popping up” is how he pathetically defends himself.

2. King of Kisses

Now Jingu and Oki (Jung Yumi, title star of Our Sunhi) are film students under prof. Song, whom Oki is secretly dating. Jingu is frustrated when he loses an award everyone said he’d win, and that Oki won’t go out with him, but she reconsiders when he shows up at her house drunk.

3. After the Snowstorm

Big storm, nobody shows up to prof. Song’s class, then Oki and Jingu come late.

Andrew Tracy in Cinema Scope:

Oki and Jingu bombard Song with questions in an empty classroom: “Do you think I have any talent in film?” “Keep making films and you’ll find out.” “Am I a good person?” “To somebody.” “What do you want most?” “Well, I want this today, and I want that tomorrow… In life, of all the important things I do, there’s none I know the reason for.” To the extent that we can take anything Hong “says” at face value, this would seem to be an at least tentatively reliable index of his beliefs: that the thing that most interests him – the maddening unknowability of our own selves – is inseparable from his decision to portray it on film, over and over again.

4. Oki’s Movie

Oki narrates and contrasts two walks in the park: one with an older man (Song) she was on the verge of breaking up with, then with new love Jingu, where she crosses paths with her older ex.

I’m not sure it follows that the first segment is a years-later postscript to the others – some critics are saying all the parts are different time periods of the same story, but the details don’t match up, and as The End of Cinema blog points out, Oki’s final line “I chose these actors for their resemblance to the actual people” undercuts the idea that the two men at the end are the same characters we’ve seen before.

Took me the bulk of the first segment to get used to the film’s style. It felt odd that the acting seemed like regular dramatic film-acting, but the lo-fi digital camerawork with regularly placed zooms felt like it wanted a less mannered, more documentary-like story. I think it played in a sub-festival in Venice, along with The Forgotten Space, Robinson in Ruins and prizewinner Summer of Goliath.

A. Tracy:

What gives Oki’s Movie an added charge is announced in the title itself: beginning as another up-close portrait of male vanity, neediness, and narcissistic despair, it subtly shifts across the four movements to deposit narrational control into the hands of the woman who had been the vehicle of this narcissism.

Béla Tarr Roundup

Tarr Bela, I Used To Be a Filmmaker (2013, Jean-Marc Lamoure)

A making-of-The Turin Horse. Crazy the amount of work, the lighting and helicopters and camera rehearsals and actor-torturing that went into this. Tarr’s movies tend to look primitive and masterfully complicated at once (see: opening shot of the horse and cart) and it seems like a behind-the-scenes documentary could demystify it to death, but I’d already seen set-building stills and couldn’t help myself from wanting to know more. Even when they show the scene construction then immediately play the scene, it’s still just as powerful.

Also watched part of The Turin Horse again with Jonathan Rosenbaum’s audio commentary. Can’t recall if this is a direct quote or not, but he calls it possibly the only Bela Tarr film that’s not a comedy. Writer Laszlo Krasznahorkai has a terrific paragraph on their collaboration quoted in the commentary about 42 minutes in, which I played back a bunch of times, also written here. “Making films isn’t a matter of fairness.”


Damnation (2013, Janice Lee)

“This is no weather for men to live in.”

Been looking forward to this book for a long time, but it turns out it wasn’t for me. Maybe the endless anticipation and delay didn’t help – after all, I read Susan Howe’s Chris Marker book the same day I first heard about it, and the surprise of its existence added to the enjoyment, but this one had already gone from pleasure to chore by the time I began. The ebook was sent to me by the publisher before it came out (thank you! apologies for this “review” and the two-year delay). I prepped by watching the Bela Tarr film, then discovered that I hate reading books on my laptop, so kept pushing it aside after trying to start a few times.

Opens as a biblical PontypoolFlame Alphabet apocalypse, and heads into variations on Tarr/Krasznahorkai worlds: guys compared to dogs, sleeping with neighbors’ wives, watching the endless rain. Ruined towns, howling wind, blank pages like the blackouts between scenes. Some more specific characters, like a drunken Satantango doctor, a disturbed girl in the barn with a scared cat, a lingering accordion player. Speaking of Pontypool (the book, not the movie), there are too many points of view, and much language repetition that felt like it was building a poetic flow which I couldn’t follow at all.


Hotel Magnezit (1978, Bela Tarr)

Belligerent Uncle Tibi is getting kicked out of hostel, has money problems with his roommates. This was Béla Tarr’s graduation film, and is my first exposure to his earlier verite-style.

From the uncredited film description: “First he offends and attacks all of his roommates, then he starts to cry and tells them that he was a pilot in WWII and he’s left his soul there. An interesting portrait of human reactions and changing emotions.”

Beyond the Lights (2014, Gina Prince-Bythewood)

Romance between a cop and a singer. Pop star Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw of Belle) is following the pop-star routine prescribed by her manager/mother (Minnie Driver), her label, her producers and her mandated rapper boyfriend, then is saved from a suicide attempt by local hero cop Kaz (Nate Parker of Red Hook Summer), who’s got his own problems, what with political aspirations and people shooting at him, but nobody at work seems to mind when he and Noni disappear on a beach getaway where she rediscovers what she liked about singing (via Nina Simone songs).

Mostly it’s a decent-enough positive-message romance flick, but low-budget flicks with mostly black casts don’t play Nebraska often, so it seemed worth rooting for. Four stars from The Dissolve, too: “beneath the shiny surface of music-video imagery and true-loveisms lie some provocative ideas and deep truths about how people relate on a private level vs. a public one.” Writer/director also made Love & Basketball and The Secret Life of Bees. Probably nothing to this, but I just realized Minnie Driver’s character is named Macy Jean, and there are singers named Macy Gray and Jean Grae.