Life On Earth (1998, Abderrahmane Sissako)

Sort of a slice-of-life movie set on the last day of the century (which is summer in Africa). Has a Bamako-village feel to a few of the scenes. Slight, but a nice movie. Kept returning to the idea that “it’s difficult to contact people; it’s a matter of luck”, with townspeople visiting the post office to use the telephone and try calling others, usually unsuccessfully.

Otherwise, there’s a boy kicking a ball, a pretty girl on bicycle, a guy (who likes the pretty girl) returning to his hometown for new year, this guy’s father writing him a letter (descriptive at times, poetic at others), farmers chasing birds off the crops, and of course, some scenes about radios.

I like how Sissako shows the passage of time with a group of men sitting in chairs in the shade from a building, out in the street… later sitting closer to the building, then right next to it, then standing against the building, and finally (no more shade) picking up their chairs and going home.

I think there were six or eight of these last-day-of-the-century movies done by different directors as part of a Y2K film project. So far, this is the better of the two I’ve seen (vs. Hal Hartley’s Book of Life).

Katy remembers more than me:

“This is an ensemble film, with Dramane, played by Sissako, composing a letter to his father in the village of Sokolo. Dramane lives in Paris but decides to visit his village at the dawning of the new millennium because he misses the life of the village.”

“The film opens in a brightly lit supermarket in Paris, with rows and rows of cheeses. Dramane’s voice over begins there, and we switch to the village which shows people working for their food: drawing water, out in the fields. The colors also change. The brightness remains, but the yellow mud homes and the yellow sand of the village dominates the color palette.”

28 Weeks Later (2007, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo)

The NJ Star Ledger, of all things, says: “When you watch the early scenes of American soldiers standing night watch, using their telescopic rifle lenses to peep on their charges — Americans as leering voyeurs in the aftermath of destruction — the movie’s pulp sensibility seems to be an almost exact mirror of what many other countries think of America right now.”

It’s a good article, and yeah there’s lots of political interest in 28 Weeks Later. The idea that we can set up a safe/green zone surrounded by hostile territory and maintain those boundaries is called into question… but especially the idea that we’d be prepared if something went wrong with the plan, that our “disaster readiness” is sufficient.

The leering-voyeur soldiers go from mocking their mission (because there’s nothing to do)… to enacting their horribly ineffective containment plan (locking everyone in a room together, cutting the electricity and doing nothing about the panic that ensues, and of course not being able to ensure that rage-infected beasties can’t get inside for a feeding frenzy)… to valiantly protecting the British civilians, picking off beasties… immediately to panic when they can’t tell beastie from Brit… to all-out apocalyptic asshats, attempting to save their own butts with a kill-everyone order. After all that, it’s a pleasure to watch a few infected beasties rip apart an American sniper.

Movie doesn’t make it too easy. One super soldier won’t take the kill-all order and joins our medic friend in trying to protect the kids, even taking out his own comrades to do so. His chopper-driving buddy ain’t all bad either, at first very suspicious (even killing a survivor) but finally airlifting the kids to (ha-ha) safety.

Unfortunately it’s not all political intent, it’s also an action/horror movie, and that’s the part the filmmakers can’t get right. Sure there are moments of tension, but the close-up action is wrecked with you-are-there, extreme-close-up camerawork and, as the Star-Ledger calls it, “razor-sharp editing”. I know the editing is supposed to draw you into the crazed confusion that the victims/survivors must feel, particularly effective in the Carlyle-escape opening sequence, but if “I” was really “there”, I doubt my perspective would involve so many edits. The rest of the world hasn’t caught up with the new you-are-there long-cut technique brought to the action films by Alfonso Cuaron in Children of Men. Here in 28 Days Later I could never tell what was going on when the action supposedly revved up.

Who Were Those People:
Director of Intacto and DP of Down in the Valley and The Faculty
Robert Carlyle, who hasn’t been in shit I’ve heard of since The Beach, will be in another Irvine Welsh movie this year or next.
Alice, his wife, is Catherine McCormack of Shadow of the Vampire.
The medical rescuer is Rose Byrne of Marie Antoinette and Sunshine.
The army rescuer is Jeremy Renner of The Heart Is Deceitful.
And the two kids have the greatest names in the world: Imogen Poots and Mackintosh Muggleton.

Martin Arnold shorts (1989-1998)

All seen on a wonderful DVD called The Cineseizure.

Pièce touchée (1989) – girl is reading, guy walks in the door, they kiss, he crosses behind her, she gets up. But for 15 minutes, painstakingly and obsessively re-enacted, rewound, stalled and repeated. Arnold mirrors the shot about halfway in, and flips it upside-down towards the end. An intriguing start. The main fault with this one is the annoying machine-loop audio.

Passage à l’acte (1993) – looks like a dinner scene from To Kill a Mockingbird. Boy comes running in, tells girl to hurry up, “I’m trying to”, “come on”, they run out but she stops to kiss her dad first. But all one frame at a time, with the obsessive back-forth repetition. The sound from the movie is here, so this is much less annoying than Piece Touchee… a large step towards the Andy Hardy movie, which, even had I not been told before I saw it, would recognize as the masterpiece of this bunch.

Extras: Psycho trailer (just a shower head, no text, clever), Jesus Walking On Screen trailer (“master, give me sight”), another trailer (in a train station), and a relatively serene montage of old clips called Der Osterreichfilm.

Also rewatched Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy (1998) a couple times. I had very little to say about it back in September ’06.

I’ll bet the actors in these films would be horrified by what Martin Arnold does to them, calling attention to every single tiny expression and movement and gesture. Sure is fun/interesting to watch though. IMDB says he did one in 2002 called Deanimated and it sounds like he’s working with some new techniques.

Arnold: “The cinema of Hollywood is a cinema of exclusion, reduction and denial, a cinema of repression. There is always something behind that which is being represented, which was not represented. And it is exactly that that is most interesting to consider.”

Hell and High Water (1954, Samuel Fuller)

Second time seen, but first time with proper cinemascope ratio. Imagine this cropped:

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Interesting to use cinemascope on a picture that mostly takes place on a cramped submarine, actually. Even more interesting that this was one of the first cinemascope films.

Richard Widmark, after both Night and the City and Pickup on South Street, is an experienced former submarine commander who is called back in for a secret mission: to escort a nuclear scientist (who disappeared from the public eye weeks earlier) and his scientist daughter (we don’t find that out until the end) to an island offshore of some bad country (China?) who’s developing a nuclear bomb, which they’ll drop from a plane disguised as a U.S. plane to get us into war with some other bad country (Russia?).

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Sam Fuller directs in the hard, solid style he’s known for. Movie gets slowed down a couple times by preachy moments and the scientist repeats his line about “each man having their own reasons for living and their own price for dying” about two times too many, but for the most part it’s an engaging 100 minutes with some really good parts. They capture a Chinese fighter and lock him down below, then fake that their own Chinese officer is another captive… beat him up and throw him down with the first guy to get information out with a hidden mic. The evil Chinese catches on and beats the good guy to death with a pipe before the others can stop him. A harsh price to pay for information, but worth it because it leads them to discover the nuclear plot just in time. It’s a badass scene that really sticks out in my memory from the first time I watched this.

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The good Chinese guy was in Steel Helmet. Widmark is alive and retired, but his co-star Bella Darvi committed suicide at 43. The cinematographer did House of Bamboo and Pickup On South Street and lots of famous late 40′s noir.

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Triplets of Belleville (2003, Sylvain Chomet)

“Is that it, then? Is it over, do you think? What have you got to say to Grandma?”

Watched this again because Katy had never seen (and the mime sequence in Paris je t’aime put me in the mood). Had never seen on video – still just as good as it’s always been. Last-minute before the picture I tried to mislead Katy into having low expectations, so surely she would come out of the movie ecstatic with joy because it is surely one of the best animated features made in our lifetime, but the ploy didn’t work and she told me it’s okay, watchable but a little slow. Poo.

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I love the parts about the tortured psyche of the dog and his awful lifelong relationship with trains. Love how, when the dog is little, he just looks like a full-size dog hit with a shrink-ray. Love the sad look that a disguised gramma gives the biker when she finally finds him (below).

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A newspaper refers to the French Mafia as the suspects in a biker’s death, which is the clue that leads gramma to their lair… I’d forgotten that bit. I guess our biker was never going to win the tour de france anyway… he’s way in back when he is captured (even though he always outruns the others during the mafia-inflicted games). The DVD comes with a silly music video for M, the performer of the title song (lyrics written by Chomet himself).

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IMDB users have sleuthed out some details in the Tour de France scenes and determined that the movie takes place in 1957.

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Destricted (2006)

“A compilation of erotic films intended to illuminate the points where art meets sexuality”

A real mixed bag. I sat down just to watch the Larry Clark segment (which turned out to be the best) and ended up watching the rest, because the transition from Impaled into The Triplets of Belleville would have been too awkward.

Impaled by Larry Clark
Casting couch for a porn film. Bunch of guys (one, a virgin, flew in from Utah) sit down and answer questions: why are they here, what experience do they have, what’s their history with pornography, and what would they like to do? Then each gets up and shows off his package to the camera. They pick a guy, then the girls come in one by one, but they guy stays in the room and gets to make his own choice. Picks a 40-yr-old mom who will do anal, maybe because she’s the cuddliest to him during the interviews. Awkward sex ensues, with the same lighting and angles as the audition. Strange, enlightening.

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Sync by Marco Brambilla
Surprisingly cool. Just two minutes of extreme editing from one porn image to the next, forming a pattern of similar shots and poses. Must have been awful to make this. Director made Excess Baggage and Demolition Man!! Must have been awful to make those too.

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We Fuck Alone by Gaspar Noé
Along with Catherine Breillat and Todd Solondz, I like to avoid Gaspar Noé whenever possible. Was dreading this one, but even though it wasn’t any good, it also turned out not to be overly traumatic. There’s some standard porn stuff on TV, and the same show is playing in two bedrooms. The girl is masturbating in her bedroom very gently and lovingly with cuddly fluffy teddy bears helping her. The boy is masturbating in his bedroom roughly, treating his blowup doll like a slave, finally sticking a gun in its mouth. Do you see the point we are trying to make here? Goes on for 15 minutes. Oh, with a strobe-light effect on the entire thing.

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Balkan Erotic Epic by Marina Abramovic
Bunch of weirdness involving the recreation of fake-sounding Balkan old wives’ tales. Group nudity out in the fields, men humping the ground, and women with baddd saggy boobs. Abramovic apparently has made a career of this, with her other works called Balkan Baroque and Making the Balkans Erotic.

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Death Valley by Sam Taylor Wood
Single shot of a guy jacking off in Death Valley – I didn’t get it. Katy said the backdrop looked fake. Director is a woman who does video work for the Pet Shop Boys.

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Hoist by Matthew Barney
Barney creates a tractor-machine with a spinning crankshaft in the center that looks like his trademark vasoline on a clay pottery wheel, then hoists it on a crane, while a guy within the tractor who has a turnip up his ass rubs his penis against the vasoline. High-concept I am sure.

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House Call by Richard Prince
As far as I can tell, this was just a short doctor-makes-house-call porn piece, filmed, worn, transferred to video, played on a TV and videorecorded. Third or fourth-gen porn with abnormal music and horrible color. I dunno, I got distracted at this point.

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Mostly Animated Shorts

Watched some of the earliest shorts I downloaded, over a year ago, and had never seen before.

The World of Stainboy (2000, Tim Burton)
Stainboy is a hero of sorts whose only power is creating stains. He takes on a giant darth bowling ball, a poisonous chemical hazard, a power-sucking robot, a girl with a hypnotic stare, and a match-prostitute, then in the final episode he flashes back to birth and the orphanage (where “boy with nails in his eyes” has a cameo). Pretty okay little show, short with funny bits.

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Breakfast (1976, Michael Snow)
Decided not to watch it because the quality is too low. Don’t know how I’m going to see the Michael Snow films, but not like this.

Vibroboy (1994, Jan Kounen)
Loud, cartoonish, full of threatened sexual violence, feels like taking a beating or watching the Shelly and Leo home scenes from Twin Peaks for a half hour. Explorers spirit away ancient statue from Mexico, it’s entrusted to transvestite Francesca, who comes home to his trailer park to find his pet murdered and his neighbors Leon and Brigitte fighting. Leon is a violent shit, and threatens both “women”, ends up shooting F. (not fatally), breaking the statue, retrieving the metal dildo within and turning into Vibroboy, who just goes on beating the two girls but with the dildo now. Stylishly shot, but why film such a piece of shit story? Real disappointing because Kounen is someone I’d decided I was interested in before seeing any of his movies, so now I don’t know what to do about Dobermann and Blueberry. (Update: a Kounen fan advises to check out the uneven Blueberry and the doc on psychedelics and skip Dobermann)

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Escargot de Venus (1975, Walerian Borowczyk)
Camera pans over color drawings of half-snail-half-women having sex with each other and themselves and various snaily men, while renfest flute music plays. Halfway in, a woman starts narrating in French, didn’t catch most of it except some of the dirty words. We actually see her flipping through the drawings, closes with her feeding a snail to an iguana. Nice, sexy images, liked it better than his DOM short. Internet says the woman is Bona Tibertelli De Pisis, and the drawings are hers.

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L’Amour monstre de tous les temps (1977, Walerian Borowczyk)
Close-up on a painter at work, nicely edited with music by Richard Wagner. Final painting involved a beast and human nudity, so right up Walerian’s alley. A good one. Can’t find who the bearded painter was.

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Lapis (1966, James Whitney)
finely detailed geometric images (points of light?) falling inwards and outwards to and from the center into infinity. Sound (indian music) didn’t play right on my copy, but when it did, it adds to the trance effect. Would be pretty awesome to see this in a theater. Apparently used motion-control camera (“analogue computer equipment”) and the circular shape is a mandala, “a Tibetan Buddhist spiritual meditation aid”. Director’s brother designed the motion-control for the title sequence of Vertigo!

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Recreation (1956, Robert Breer)
extremely rapidly edited shots of objects on plain backgrounds, a little animation, some guy talking in French, FIN.

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A Man And His Dog Out For Air (1957, Robert Breer)
flowing line drawing animation forming many abstract shapes but nothing quite recognizable until right before the end, when they form a man and his dog out for air. Neat.

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Les Astronautes (1959, Walerian Borowczyk)

A pretty goofy look at space travel. A precursor to Terry Gilliam (the animator) and Asteroids (the video game). Awesome movie, funny. Would show this one off to other people. There’s a snail (escargot de venus) and an owl (movie is “in collaboration with” Chris Marker).

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Our guy, with hat and pipe, examines the designs of different inventions and creatures and builds himself a spaceship. He and his pet owl go for a little ride. Of course the first thing he does is stop at an apartment tower and peep on some woman. He visits space, saves a troubles spacecraft, eventually gets shot down and possibly dies, but it’s all in good fun. All done with cut-out animation. Won a bunch of awards.

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Paris, je t’aime (2006)

Wonderful anthology film, bunch of episodes connected with unexceptional cityscapes shot by one of the producers. I don’t know anything about the neighborhoods of Paris, but I guess each short is supposed to have its own local tone to it.

Montmartre
Man is cursing traffic, cursing everyone, alone and angry, then woman walks by and passes out next to his car. He acts the husband to other onlookers and lays her down in the backseat. She wakes up, they kinda like each other, she’s off to her tobaccologist (?) but they’ll meet up later. A nice opening piece, more like the kind of short that plays the film festivals than most of the other segments turned out to be… they were more episodes, excerpts, not stand-alone stories.
Director Bruno Podalydès starred himself, along with Florence Muller of Resnais’s Coeurs.

Quais de Seine
Boy’s friends are yelling insulting things to every woman who walks by, so boy gets away from them and helps up muslim girl. They like each other, it’s cute, her grandfather is nice to him, awww.
Director Guriner Chadha made Bride & Prejudice and Bend It Like Beckham.

La Marais
Jokey bit where dude helping artist Marianne Faithful at a press falls immediately for guy sitting on floor. Dude talks to him forever, tells him how they were destined to meet, gives his phone number, walks off, turns out guy on floor speaks no French, har!
Director Gus Van Sant lovingly photographs Gaspard (the boyfriend in A Very Long Engagement) and Elias (Elephant) in mostly long takes.

Tuileries
American tourist Steve Buscemi is waiting for his subway train and breaking the rules in his tour guide (“don’t make eye contact”), getting himself involved in the power games of two young lovers across the station and leading to his being beaten up with his souvenirs dumped all over him. Poor guy.
Directors Joel & Ethan Coen almost make up for The Ladykillers with this one. Katy was defeated by too-high expectations.

Loin du 16ème
Girl puts her own baby down at the babysitting place, then rides public transit to her job taking case of some rich lady’s baby, sings the same sweet song to both babies. One of the more obvious message-movies, but nice.
Director Walter Salles (Motorcycle Diaries) cast Catalina Sandino Moreno, of Fast Food Nation and Maria Full of Grace.

Porte de Choisy
Okay, Barbet Schroeder is a bald hair-care product salesman who goes to hardass Madame Li’s place to sell her stuff. First meeting doesn’t go well but she tries the stuff and calls him back, delighted. Sort of a choreographed musical comedy. Makes no damn sense. Best part is when he’s between meetings, bowling at a monastery and monks take away his cell phone.
Directed by Christopher Doyle, who I see is shooting a Rufus Sewell thriller and Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park next.

Bastille
Guy meets his wife for lunch, intending to tell her he’s leaving her for his mistress, but first she hands over a doctor’s note saying she has terminal leukemia. So he “rises to the occasion”, dumps his girlfriend, and spends the rest of his wife’s life doing things they used to love to do together, falls back in love with her and is destroyed when she dies. The only piece with a 3rd-party narrator, and one of my favorites.
Director Isabel Coixet made The Secret Life of Words and My Life Without Me… stars a guy from Va Savoir as the husband, the girl in a coma in Talk To Her as the mistress, and Miranda Richardson as the wife.

Place des Victoires
Kinda crappy despite two fave stars Willem Dafoe and Juliette Binoche. Her son died a week ago and she follows his phantom voice out to the plaza where Dafoe is a cowboy on a horse who lets her see her son once more. Katy liked it, I thought it was David Lynch-derivative.
Director Nobuhiro Suwa made some well-regarded Japanese movies I’ve never heard of before.

Tour Eiffel
Kid describes how his mime parents first met. Awesome, funny, features identical twins, imaginary cars and lots of miming… the one short that the whole movie would be worth seeing just to catch.
Director Sylvain Chomet’s follow-up to the perfect Triplets of Belleville.

Parc Monceau
In a single shot, father Nick Nolte walks down the street with his daughter to where a friend is watching her son. He takes over babysitting and the friends go off together. Jokey because the dialogue at first makes it sound like she’s cheating on her husband (actually the son) with Nolte.
Director Alfonso Cuarón is into long takes now. I told Katy I was waiting for something to explode but she didn’t get me.

Quartier des Enfants Rouges
One of the better ones… Maggie Gyllenhaal has a kinda cute encounter with her drug dealer, then calls him up to order more (really to see him again), but he sends a flunky instead who steals her watch.
Director Olivier Assayas has apparently completed his new Asia Argento / Michael Madsen thriller.

Place des Fêtes
Another great one, man gets stabbed and as he’s dying, a girl he recognizes is trying to help him. He flashes back to his not-so-easy life in Paris and all the times he’s tried to talk to her. Sad movie.
Director Oliver Schmitz has made a buncha German films. The girl is Aïssa Maïga, the lead (bar singer) in Bamako and also appeared in Caché.

Pigalle
Guy is trying to have a role-playing night out with his wife – it doesn’t go as planned but they’re still alright.
Director Richard LaGravenese made Freedom Writers, seems a weird choice for this. Bob Hoskins stars with Fanny Ardant, whom Katy recognized from 8 Women.

Quartier de la Madeleine
On a creepy street with desaturated colors except for bright-red blood, model Olga Kurylenko is devouring Wes Craven when Elijah Wood interrupts her. Vampire love ensues.
Director Vincenzo Natali made Cube and Nothing, and has seen Sin City more than once.

Père-Lachaise
Spacey, businesslike guy’s on a pre-wedding honeymoon with cute girl, she kisses Oscar Wilde’s grave then decides he’s not romantic enough for her and storms off. He talks to Wilde’s ghost briefly then runs after her and quotes her some Wilde, which idiotically makes her fall back in love with him.
Director Wes Craven isn’t known for this kind of thing. Rufus Sewell and Emily Mortimer are the couple, Alex Payne plays Wilde.

Faubourg Saint-Denis
Blind boy gets phone call from girlfriend, apparently breaking up with him. He flashes back in high-energy Lola-style through their relationship, how he first met her thinking she was in trouble, falling for her rehearsal performance (she’s an actress). He’s fallen for it again and she’s not really breaking up with him. One of my faves.
Director Tom Tykwer made Perfume. Natalie Portman is the girl. This apparently existed as a separate short back in 2004.

Quartier Latin
Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara get together at a cafe to talk over their divorce at the end of a long marriage. Good one, Rowlands wrote.
Director Gérard Depardieu is probably a big John Cassavetes fan, appears himself as the waiter.

14th arrondissement
Another really nice one, American woman is narrating to her French class (?) about her trip to Paris. She’s kind of lonely and jetlagged, but everything falls into place for her at the end.
Director Alexander Payne made Sideways and Election, and actress Margo Martindale is in Rocket Science and played Swank’s mom in Million Dollar Baby.

Katy liked it, too.