Took a few weeks off from movie writing, now let’s see what I can remember about Akira. More than last time, anyway – for ages this was one of those movies I knew I’d seen, but couldn’t recall anything about it (same goes for Ghost in the Shell).

In 2019 Tokyo has rebuilt nicely after WWIII, but music hasn’t progressed much (Led Zeppelin and Cream are visible in a jukebox). Kaneda leads a violent street gang at war with rival bikers in clown suits, and Tetsuo is Ryu’s buddy/stooge. After an encounter with a child-elder mutant escaped from gov’t testing lab, Tetsuo acquires massive psychic powers, which he only uses to cause destruction and taunt his former friends, eventually losing control of his own body, which grows and engulfs everything around. Akira is the name of the most powerful former experiment kid, who may have destroyed Tokyo in the late 80’s – funny how the gov’t didn’t shut down their lab after that. Since I rewatched Fury Road the night before, this was my second movie in a row where someone with a missing arm gets a robotic replacement. Anyway, things don’t end well for poor enraged Tetsuo.

Tetsuo meets Akira:

Based on Otomo’s own comic, the movie was a smash hit in Japan and an enduring cult favorite. Obvious parallels with Godzilla – the original, not the bad version I just watched – and full of extreme violence and nightmare imagery. Somehow it still doesn’t have any sequels or remakes, but with new Blade Runner and Star Wars and Alien and Flatliners and Jumanji movies all out this year, anything’s possible.

Feels like The Silence remade with the visual style of Autumn Sonata, and minus my favorite part (little Johan and the colorful characters he meets in the hotel). So we’re left with two sisters who hate each other and a dying third sister whom they both hate. All the relentless grim hopelessness is killing my Bergman-love momentum that started with Monika, Magician and Smiles… after this, I was gonna rewatch Persona, but instead I watched some sci-fi movies about the death of all humanity (Alien 6 and the Resident Evil series) and those seemed relatively upbeat.

Agnes (Harriet Andersson: Monika, the daughter in Through a Glass Darkly) is deathly ill in bed, tended by the maid Anna. Liv Ullmann (Ingrid’s daughter in Autumn Sonata) plays bright-eyed sister Maria and also their mom in flashbacks, and Ingrid Thulin (Winter Light, The Magician) is dark-haired older sister Karin.

Maria is cheating with the Doctor: Erland Josephson, baron of Hour of the Wolf

“Pray for those of us left behind on this dark and miserable earth beneath a cruel and empty sky.”

D’Angelo didn’t love it: “The dour humorlessness; the mannered performances; the ticking clocks that infiltrate portentous silences with metronomic reminders of mortality; the overwrought arias of verbal cruelty; the expository flashbacks; the random mood swings designed merely to startle…it’s as close as he ever came to self-parody.” Wonder if Mike has seen Hour of the Wolf, which I thought was even more self-parody.

Undead Agnes comforted by Maid Anna:

Scene transitions are accompanied by haunted whispers on the soundtrack, and the overall look is a rich red, red, red, populated by some of the most beautiful actresses in the world. So maybe I should try appreciating it as a gorgeous horror movie. A Kogonada video explains the structural and thematic brilliance, and has a happier ending than the film itself.

Ingrid Thulin at dinner:

Nominated for five oscars including picture, and won best cinematography over The Exorcist. Day for Night won best foreign film, for which this movie wasn’t nominated – strange. Played Cannes out of competition – the only movie I’ve seen from that year’s fest is O Lucky Man!

Great opening titles, the credits created from an array of redacted documents. I took a note when pausing to grab snacks: “no way will the movie live up to these opening titles” – and it didn’t!

but it’s thrilling when G’s laser-breath is finally unleashed:

It doesn’t go the full Cloverfield, but sticks close to the ground, glimpsing giant monster battles from a panicked human perspective, much of the action unreadably dark on my screen. Bomb disposal expert Col. Witwicky must be cursed, he and each of his family members getting right in the path of monster attacks, until he breaks the curse at the end by torching the bad-guy monsters’ eggs before they can overrun the planet. And oh yeah there are evil monsters here, and Godzilla’s the good guy. And Juliette Binoche dies horribly after only 15 minutes, and Bryan Cranston is the star but he dies too, and Sally Hawkins gets three lines, and Ken Watanabe plays the Japanese scientist, and David Strathairn plays the serious military one, but mostly we’re left with Witwicky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, lead rapist of Nocturnal Animals) trying to get home to his Olsen wife before the world ends.

Evil Mantis Monster:

Hidden Mothra reference on a fishtank:

Gareth made this between indie alien thriller Monsters and a Star Wars spinoff. I was planning to double-feature this with the even newer Godzilla movie from the creator of Evangelion, but after two disappointing action flicks in a row (this and Alien: Covenant) I couldn’t risk a third, so rewatched Fury Road instead. Normally I’d say “argh, why did I watch this bland multiplex junk,” not recalling why it ended up on my must-see list, but now thanks to Letterboxd I can look up exactly who recommended it… aha, Ehrlich with 4.5 stars. “One of the most satisfying, well-paced & beautifully directed blockbusters since Jurassic Park… genuinely registers as the first post-human blockbuster.” And MZ Seitz listed it as one of the century’s best. They are high.

I was so disappointed… instead of the tough, capable Weaver or Rapace, we get a bunch of panicky crew members who make very bad decisions, leading to all of their deaths and leaving evil android David in charge of thousands of frozen would-be colonists. These people have no capacity for fighting, thinking clearly in an emergency situation, or prioritizing… and for some reason everyone in the crew is a married couple, so when their partner dies they become useless. More importantly, it’s no fun watching them walk into traps that we Alien-movie vets easily see coming and just die unceremoniously. Each movie brought something new to the table until this one, which only rehashes things we’ve seen before.

But then I was pondering on the way home – maybe this bunch of useless, easily dispatched characters was assembled on purpose. David says something about humans being a failed species on the evidence that they need a space colonization program in the first place, that it’s worth letting them die, and he’s going to make sure it happens. Maybe this is the opinion of Ridley and the umpteen writers, and they prove their point by having humanity’s most vital mission entrusted to these bozos. The Alien series stories always featured individuals fiercely triumphing over adversity, over external forces and internal human greed, and now Ridley has given his corporate lords another space-massacre movie to sell, but he no longer sees a society worth saving.

Captain Billy Crudup is a Christian, which is mentioned every time he’s on screen to diminished effect from the Prometheus origin-story wonderings. He lasts a good while, is finally replaced by the Carey Mulligan-looking Katherine Waterston (Queen of Earth, Inherent Vice) down on the planet and Cowboy Danny McBride (of mostly James Franco movies) in the ship. The star, of course, is Michael Fassbender as both drama queen David and buttoned-up Walter. They are identical-ish, and in the finale they switch places and you totally can’t tell except that you’ve been expecting it the entire movie, then you know they’ve switched places and you’re waiting for the rest of the characters to discover it and it’s exasperating, then finally it’s too late and you think “good, to hell with humanity.”

Ehrlich called it “majestically shot” and Matt Lynch said “gorgeous,” hmmm, maybe I was sitting too close? Also, come to think of it, David also genocides an entire planet of those bald guys from Prometheus, so maybe it’s less anti-humanity than anti-life.

War Machine (2017, David Michôd)

Oh no, Brad Pitt looks sad. I’m guessing all the fun light comedy from the first half turned sour when people started dying in whatever war this is. Then Rolling Stone writes a mean article about their squad, and smartass Topher Grace argues with another guy. Pitt, using a toned-down version of his Basterds accent, says goodbye to his men and flies off to be fired by the President over the article, according to a cheese voiceover, everything moving just as slow as it can. Nice closing-credits Blues Explosion song, tho. Netflix is now making their own prestige pics with major movie stars from the director of The Rover, but I still read reviews instead of just watching whatever they place in front of me, and the reviews said nah. Speaking of which…


Beasts of No Nation (2015, Cary Fukunaga)

UN blue-helmets disarm a large troop of child soldiers to slow doom-music. The rescued kids have trouble adjusting to the peaceful community, are tormented. These prestige pics, nothing really happens in the last ten minutes, it’s all boring epilogue. Time to switch to something more disreputable.


Clinical (2017, Alistair Legrand)

Another “netflix original,” this one a mystery/horror by Michel Legrand’s legrand-nephew. I don’t like to speculate on the first 90 minutes of these movies, but from the screens flying by as I fast-forwarded, it appears that 75% of this movie is conversations inside a house, then in the last quarter there’s some home invasion action. When I hit play, there’s a conversation in a house in the dark. Jane is being tormented by a disfigured, possibly incestuous torturer backstory-expositionist. Our lead kidnapped psychiatrist is Vinessa Shaw (lead prostitute of Eyes Wide Shut), who escapes and beats hell out of her captor (Kevin Rahm of the Lethal Weapon remake) then rips his face off. Between the psychiatry angle and the face removal, it looks like someone has been watching Silence of the Lambs.


Spectral (2016, Nic Mathieu)

Ah good, an action movie with a dingy blue-brown color palette for a change. Guns with thick cables attached making a whiny powering-up sound, it seems we are in sci-fi action territory… ah yup there are spectral aliens in clone-pods. This looks like a Starship Troopers sequel with ghosts. Pretty cool effects – a good guy set off a superbomb that accidentally freed all the spectres, then another guy pulled their power cord leaving them all suspended and slo-mo evaporating. “They’re not alive… they’re not dead.” Science-hating dude who I’m going to assume is Jimmy Dale of World War Z discovers some brain/nerve experiments controlling the spectres and murders them all. Writer George Nolfi directed The Adjustment Bureau and wrote Oceans Twelve.


Doctor Strange (2016, Scott Derrickson)

Everyone in the city is frozen except Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Cumberbatch. BC flies into space, protecting himself from a galaxy-god in a time-loop with a magic shield – speaking of which, how come everyone on the internet is so conflicted about Patty Jenkins directing this week’s superhero movie when they gave this thing to the director of Hellraiser: Inferno? “Pain’s an old friend,” says a frankly unconvincing BC, trying to channel Hellraiser. He tricks the god into sparing Earth, then some underlit Infinity Stone sequel-setup mumbo, and I skipped to the awkward cutscene with Thor.


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2: Sword of Destiny (2016, Yuen Woo-Ping)

Hero-style, it looks like a soldier did something great in order to get close enough to slay the king. Outside, all hell breaks loose, Michelle Yeoh and her team versus an army, with some really nice wall-stepping, float-jumping, sword-thwacking action. “Now you will join your beloved, Li Mu Bai” – this looks like a killer movie, but this rebels-vs-kingdom stuff seems out of charaacter with the romantic original. Also, like an idiot I changed the language to Chinese then changed it back when I realized the movie was shot in English. Anyway Donnie Yen defeats Lord Whoever, and our heroes return to the mountain Zhang Ziyi jumps from in the original.


Hyena Road (2015, Paul Gross)

How can I pass up the Canadian war movie that was the subject of Guy Maddin’s Bring Me the Head of Tim Horton? Looks like some shit is going down, and the Taliban is fighting back hard. Whoa, a soldier got his legs blown off then crawled away. Music and camerawork all seem like the usual mediocrity. Then the lead guy authorizes his men to blow him up in order to take out the bad guys, after some military types shout numbers and codes at each other very emotionally (“three! niner alpha!!”). In the end we see that the Canadians died for a noble cause, that the good guys are good indeed, and war is necessary. I failed to spot Maddin playing a dead body. Writer/director Gross was a lead actor in Slings & Arrows.


Special Correspondents (2016, Ricky Gervais)

Forgot about this until it showed up on Labuza’s “worst of the century” list. So it’s a fake-kidnapping-turned-real-kidnapping comedy-turned-drama, with Gervais and that Hulk guy Eric Bana. I think Gervais is on drugs, singlehandedly shoots his way out of Ecuador to Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades”. Hey, it’s America Ferrera and Kevin Pollak, then the movie peters out. “This is like the end of a movie.” “A low-budget movie, maybe.” Remake of a French film with Omar Sy, which is hard to picture.


Zootopia (2016, Disney)

We watched the first 15 of this once and it was insufferable so we quit, then it won an oscar. So let’s check out the last 15 – maybe that’s where all the better-than-Kubo stuff is hiding. Good bootleg-Disney-movies joke… then we’re in a meth lab on a train, odd. “Doug is the opposite of friendly… he’s UNfriendly.” Uh oh, the sheep mayor is the bad guy, with a speech about teaming up to defeat the predators, which doesn’t sound so bad really, then she turns our fox hero evil with drugs, sort of, then a final speech about how we have to understand each other and improve the world. I forget that award voters translate “best animated film” into “cutest message-movie for kids”.

Dumont goes even wackier than Lil Quinquin, though this one seemed more coherent, story-wise. I thought it’d be hard to top Quinquin‘s twitchy detective and dullard assistant, but now he’s dressed his lead detectives like Laurel & Hardy, the head cop (the fat one) rolling himself down hills when he’s too tired to walk, and simply inflating and floating away at the end.

Just like Quinquin was named after the lead rapscallion from a poor, possibly criminal family, the French title of this movie was Ma Loute – the nickname of the young man from the only family that seems to live in this picturesque rural town. I suppose they fish, though when a wealthy family arrives at their palatial summer home, we discover what else they do; they kidnap, murder, and eat the rich. The richies are so ludicrously over-the-top (and inbred, it turns out) that it’s tempting to root for the local brutes, except the richies also have ringers in Juliette Binoche and a beautiful/mysterious transgender girl who has a short-lived romance with Ma Loute. Also they’re just too damned silly to wish death upon.

Sicinski describes the richies:

Descending upon the bay for the summer are upper-class cityfolk, bizarre caricatures of humanity sprung from some Gallic division of Monty Python. The Van Peteghems are “led” by spastic, bumbling André (Fabrice Luchini), his prim, lachrymose wife Isabelle (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), brother / cousin Christian (Jean-Luc Vincent), a sort of lacquered descendent of brain-addled mystic Johannes from Dreyer’s Ordet; and eventually, Aunt Aude (Juliette Binoche), a wailing, flailing hysteric whose behavior resembles that of a regional dinner theatre actress on nitrous oxide.

I never would’ve guessed that the richie paterfamilias had been in Rohmer films, but there you go: he played the lead in Perceval. Tedeschi is lately known as a director, was also in Nenette & Boni and Saint Laurent. Vincent and Binoche costarred in Dumont’s much more serious Camille Claudel 1915. Ma Loute, his dad The Eternal, his mom, his almost-girlfriend Raph and the two cops just came out of nowhere.

I suppose the first half is more tense if you’ve read beforehand that the movie involves a terrorist bombing plot – there’s little backstory or explanation as our young heroes walk briskly around Paris, check into hotels, take the subway, looking very serious as they drop off packages into vehicles and trash bins. After a half hour of this, an older-looking mustache guy shoots a dude in his apartment, breaking the simmering tension. Then we see the results of their efforts:

The long second half has our bombers gathered in a department store after hours waiting out the night, for some unexplained reason, instead of going home their separate ways. They blast some Willow Smith on the high-end stereos, shop amongst the high-end toys and expensive clothes, lounge in the designer living spaces, invite a homeless couple inside (Hermine Karagheuz!) and watch the news of their own exploits on TV until it starts to show the outside of the building they’re in. It ends the only way it could, the cops storming the store and killing everyone (even Hermine).

Not sure who everyone was, but our gang included Finnegan Oldfield (Les Cowboys) and Vincent Rottiers (lead baddie of Dheepan). Omar, their inside man at the department store who murdered the other security personnel, was Rabah Nait Oufella of Raw and Girlhood. There’s some fractured chronology, hard to follow even though the current time keeps appearing on screen. This and House of Tolerance were so slick-looking, it’s not surprising he made a fashion film in between them.

Ehrlich calls it “intriguingly inert”:

Bonello’s camera tracks behind each of the kids as they go about their shady business, emulating Elephant as the tactic conjures the same sickening momentum that made Gus Van Sant’s film about homicidal youths so vague and disquieting … It’s fine that Bonello would rather raise unsettling questions than provide unhelpful answers, but his inquiry often feels every bit as confused as his characters.

It does seem confused and perverse, and possibly even offensively wrongheaded (after the Bataclan attack, Nocturama was denied festival appearances and distribution). Why make this film, and what did the characters hope to achieve (in either the first or second half)? Only Blake Williams in Cinema Scope seems to have a convincing, incisive explanation – though you’ve really gotta read the whole thing, so I’m only excerpting his description of the movie’s timeline:

[Nocturama] presents time as indefinite, opposing conceptions of the present as concrete or ahistorical even as it works to augment the gravity of the present happening. Bonello’s choice method for achieving this is through shaping the film’s timeline into something that, were it to be graphed out, might resemble a lightning bolt — working through narrative events from one vantage only to fold back and re-show the same temporal moment again (and again). Many of his time warps are accompanied by either the reappearance of an onscreen time stamp or a repeated music cue, but many others arrive unmarked — especially when Bonello moves us further back in time, such as an extended detour through the initial planning stages for the attack — destabilizing our footing on already tremulous turf.

I can’t tell exactly what it’s supposed to be, perhaps a symbolic arthouse parody/critique of nuclear family life?

Sometimes it seems like psychodrama, sometimes comedy… sometimes we get effectively haunting phantom visuals and sometimes the kid is sitting on a toilet wiping his ass with bible pages.

Lighting can be complex, or scenes can be lit with a single spotlight with inky blackness all around. The actors often look distraught, and the kid spends half the movie crying (and 15 minutes playing with an aerosol can). Their movements can be theatrical, like they’re hitting the marks of a dance routine (in fact, one scene is presented as a stage performance). Camera has some unique methods of moving and reframing to change a scene without cutting, and the kid acknowledges the camera in at least one scene, waving it forward as the family lurches haltingly through a field.

The movie is fully silent, but in accordance with the Director’s Intent (presumably), I played John Zorn’s The Mysteries album followed by the last 20 minutes of Filmworks XXV.

The kid would grow up to be a painter, worked on Genealogies of a Crime, and his dad was an actor, appearing in Truffaut films around this time.

How weird to be watching the DVD extras before the film – I can’t tell if the distributor thought this was necessary, or if Netflix fucked something up (they’ve done worse before)… no, a Cinema Scope review confirms that the 50-minute movie is meant to be preceded by 40 minutes of promo fluff interview material. I lasted less than 10 before skipping ahead.

Not sure if the rest of the promo fluff covers this, but I read online that this was somewhat of a failed experiment. Control freak Verhoeven decided to solicit movie scripts from the public based on a short intro scene, then film segments piecemeal with amateur actors… but he wasn’t happy with the story submissions, so he wrote his own script, cast professionals, and shot it. We’re left with a 50-minute light infidelity comedy that ends with a couple of main characters zipping off to a Rammstein concert. I suppose instead I’ll try Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy or Mysterious Object at Noon to get my fix for disjointed, crowdsourced stories.

Remco (an actor from Black Book) has a long-suffering wife, horny son and Rammstein-loving daughter. His business partners are trying to sell out their company, using Remco’s pregnant mistress to blackmail him into agreeing. Meanwhile the daughter and her best friend Merel (who is sleeping with Remco) figure out the mistress is faking her pregnancy.

Ignatiy in AV Club:

The fact that it’s fast-paced and diverting (rather than, say, a god-awful mess) is a credit to his skill at black comedy … Bereft of subtext and shot in a largely handheld, TV-ready style, it lacks Verhoeven’s usual deep bite, despite the cynical punch line of the ending.