Shutter Island (2010, Martin Scorsese)

“Men like you are my specialty. You know, men of violence.”

Ruffalo, Leo and Norm in front of a crazy fake sky:

I don’t usually try to outthink a movie, to suppose what will happen next, but when I know in advance that it’s a twist-ending movie I’ve got no choice. What’s the twist ending? Will hallucinogenic drugs be involved? Who here is actually evil? Did the missing patient never exist? And if not, what is Leo supposed to be investigating? And so on, but it turned out to be the twist I’d guessed from the trailer, that Leo was mad all along. Seems his wife Michelle “Wendy & Lucy” Williams killed their kids, so he killed her and got committed, and now he wanders the asylum/island with a plastic gun pretending to solve crimes. Lead doctor Ben “Death and the Maiden” Kingsley assigns Leo’s own doctor Mark “Zodiac” Ruffalo as Leo’s “partner” and sets Leo loose for a couple days to run his “investigation” and see if he figures out the truth about himself.

Leo with dead wife:

Leo with imaginary friend:

Opens with Leo puking on a boat, then being greeted on the island by Norm from Fargo, which is distracting. Kingsley sets our detectives looking for a girl whose name is an anagram for Leo’s dead wife’s name – alternately played by Emily “Young Adam” Mortimer and Patricia “Station Agent” Clarkson (I liked the Clarkson version better – all suspicious survivalist in a cave). Things get more impossible and surreal from then on. Leo has some psychologically obvious dreams, Scorsese reverses the film (cigarette smoke, not as awesome as the snow in Bringing Out The Dead), and Jackie Earle “Little Children” Haley tells Leo “You’re not investigating anything. You’re a fucking rat in a maze.” It’s totally clear about halfway through the movie, and increasingly afterwards that something is happening which is not happening. At this point, if it was a crappy movie I’d be impatiently waiting out the twist ending so I could go home, but this stayed fun to watch through all the ludicrous turns.

Clarkson on fire:

Starts to remind me of The Game. More star power: Max “holy cow, The Seventh Seal was over 50 years ago” von Sydow as a doctor, Ted “lotion in the basket” Levine as a tough-looking warden and Elias “Thin Red Line” Koteas as a figment of Leo’s imagination. Not a lot of women in your movies, eh Marty?

Von Sydow in danger:

I hardly ever watch movies with headphones, just assumed they’d sound pretty professional, but this one had some clumsy-ass dialogue editing. Fine music, though. Written by Steve’s old Avatar buddy, who’s not as smart a writer as Steve probably would’ve been, and by Dennis “Gone Baby Gone” Lehane. Shot by Robert Richardson, who worked with Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino and shot two of Marty’s more outlandish looking features, The Aviator and Bringing Out The Dead. I like this guy.

Kingsley patiently explains the twist ending to us:

Leo can’t believe this shit:

Buy from Amazon:
Shutter Island DVD
Shutter Island blu-ray

The Last Ten Minutes vol. 2: Dario Argento spotlight

Now that I’ve seen some exciting, excellent/horrible Argento movies from his peak period (Suspiria, Inferno) and some depressing, horrible/horrible movies from his more recent period (Giallo, Pelts), it’s safe to say I never need to watch these three all the way through (although I’m still undecided on Mother of Tears), so here’s The Last Ten Minutes of them:

Do You Like Hitchcock? (2005, Dario Argento)
First thing I see is a black-gloved hand. First thing I hear is an unconvincingly delivered line. It’s an Argento movie, all right. Looks like I’ve stumbled into a crap remake of Rear Window. Police chase the black-gloved girl onto the rooftop, where she falls, hanging Vertigo-style from the gutter while the crippled Giulio (Elio Germano of musical Nine) watches across the alley. But a minute later everyone is friends? So there was no killer? Down on the street a shopping cart lady puts on a wig. Huh? Anyway, months later, Giulio watches a hot nude girl across the alley and enters a confusing flashback montage. One of the girls was Elisabetta Rocchetti, who later appeared in something called Last House in the Woods (oh Italian movie industry, how you amuse me).

The Card Player (2004, Dario Argento)
“I’m sorry, I had to kill him,” says a dude with a cellphone (and disappointingly, no long mustache to twirl) who has tied a girl to the train tracks. He cranks up a CD of funky electro music and lies on the tracks with her playing cards on his laptop, while she taunts him instead of smashing the computer into his face like it seems like she should do. He gets run over by a train, and she shoots out his car stereo, mercifully stopping the electro music. Someone in the movie was Liam Cunningham of Wind That Shakes The Barley – hopefully not the card-playing killer, because that guy was terrible.

Phantom of the Opera (1998, Dario Argento)
Oh no, it’s a period piece. Asia Argento is pretty convincing as an opera star until a sewer troll interrupts the performance and handsome Julian Sands (Warlock himself – the description says he’d not physically disfigured in this one, but was “raised by telepathic rats”) sweeps Asia away. It is very dark, and a man with a funny mustache stumbles upon an enclave of dead bodies. Long-haired hero Andrea di Stefano (star of a Marco Bellocchio movie) shoots Julian and escapes the bloodthirsty search party (wasn’t he part of the search party), as Asia screams in horror (she’s good at that sort of thing). This looks a ton better than the last two movies, though it has the lowest rating. Maybe that’s from people thinking they were getting the Joel Schumacher version. The rat-squealing sound effects over the finale got my birds very excited.

First Snow (2006, Mark Fergus)
This dude Vince says he still considers Guy Pearce his best friend, but says that Guy has fucked up and pulls out a gun. Vince goes off with a long, tortured speech then tries to kill them both but only manages himself. Guy Pearce is sad, flashes back to a pretty girl in a cowboy hat as it starts to snow. The writers/director worked on Children of Men and Iron Man, so I suppose this should’ve been good. Didn’t look awful, but I’m not saying I wanna see 90 more minutes of it.

Noise (2007, Henry Bean)
Tim Robbins’ car is making a ton of noise and William Hurt is angry, then he makes it stop, then start again, then he has some kind of noise-epiphany as judge Chuck Cooper smashes his car with a golf club. A Baldwin tackles the judge, who is arrested under suspicious of being Tim Robbins’ anti-noise vigilante. A way unrealistic court scene follows, in which Tim helps Chuck win in order to set precedent that noise can be considered assault and battery. High on his success, Tim considers joining a pimply militant in blowing up city eyesores but chooses not to. He smashes cars Michael Jackson-style as the credits roll. Overall the movie looks pretty fun, if kinda silly. From the writer of Basic Instinct 2.

Lakeview Terrace (2008, Neil LaBute)
Controversially interracial couple Patrick “Little Children” Wilson and Kerry “Last King of Scotland” Washington come home to a mess of a house, then dude goes out back to thank Samuel L. Jackson for helping him for a break-in. But Jackson knows that Wilson knows that Jackson knew the guys who broke in, and now Jackson’s on the attack. Much punching and many gunshots ensue. I wish Samuel L. had the integrity I always imagine he had. Ugh, his character name is Abel. Cops shoot Sam a bunch, the couple turns out semi-okay and family values are protected. Besides rogue cop Abel, the rest of the LAPD force is portrayed as remarkably restrained and competent. Follow-up to The Wicker Man by Neil LaBute’s doppelganger – the one who killed the real Neil and replaced him in 2000, halfway through production of Nurse Betty.

Obsessed (2009, Steve Shill)
Beyonce catches Ali Lartner (Resident Evil 3) in bed surrounded by rose petals, presumable waiting for Idris “Stringer Bell” Elba. Girlfight ensues! So which one of these girls is “obsessed”? I think it’s Lartner, who plays it weirdly affectless. Generic thriller music, fight scene, camerawork and everything. Lartner is killed by a falling chandelier and family values are protected. Idris Elba comes home just in time for the credits, dammit, the only reason I watched this was to see him.

It’s Alive (2008, Josef Rusnak)
Thought I’d peep tha remake since I recently saw the original and more recently saw Splice. Oh it’s the ol’ flashlight-into-the-camera trick from X-Files. This is taking place in a very dark house, not a sewer – the movie probably couldn’t afford a sewer. Father Frank (TV’s James Murray) catches the baby (how? we don’t know) in a trash can and creeps off to a very dark outdoor area, then unwisely opens the can and gets savaged by the baby (played by an out-of-context CG effect). Motherly Bijou Phillips (of Hostel II, here with the horror-in-joke character name Lenore Harker) catches up with them and takes the baby into a burning house where they both perish… or DO they?? Hmmm, no cops – the movie probably couldn’t afford cops. That seemed longer than ten minutes.

Simon Says (2006, William Dear)
Key phrase from the description: “Simon and Stanley (both played by Crispin Glover), backwoods twin brothers with a fondness for booby traps.” That’s all you needed to tell me! Helpless Stanley is being groped by some girl – but he’s got a knife!! She’s got a bigger knife! Did he just headbutt a corpse? Now he’s screaming with a fake southern accent in the woods, wounded and toting a scythe. Could this be the end of Crispin Glover? Yep, got a knife in the skull by a girl who I assume is Margo Harshman (good name). Where’s the twin brother? Maybe there never was one. Oh Crispy is still alive and gets the girl, twist ending. They said “you forgot to say simon says” about four times. I missed the epilogue bit since someone knocked on the door, but I saw a bunch of mirrors and I’m guessing there was never a twin brother, which is disappointing. William Dear, also the writer, once made Harry and the Hendersons.

Decasia (2002, Bill Morrison)

After “A Bill Morrison film” it says “A Michael Gordon symphony”, assigning auteur credit separately over the soundtrack, a rare thing. I didn’t love the symphony, though – an undertone even more monotonous than Philip Glass with bombs-falling string-sliding atop it. I enjoyed the bit where percussion chattering along with the background rhythm sounded like an old TV news theme song. But next time I’ll just listen to a Pinback album instead.

Visuals are exciting, though – Fragments of narrative films (and science films and home movies and other weirdness) gone Brakhage (or less generously, gone Begotten) through decay, slowed down so we can appreciate the distinct frame-by-frame damage.

I don’t understand what property of film decay causes the picture to go negative, bright whites turning black while the rest of the picture looks unaffected, but I’ve never much understood the chemical side of film anyway. Elsewhere, scenes are obscured by dark blots, sunken under oily water and giant amoebas, or just torn to shreds.

Forget the Great American Scream Machine – this is the most terrifying carnival ride. Each car emerges from a burbling time/space warp on left side of the frame, to circle around and go back inside. At the end of the ride, whoever’s left inside the reality-warp is doomed to spend the rest of their days in a hellish alternate dimension.

Second best part here, a boxer fighting an amorphous column of decay

Buy used from Amazon (why must everything go out-of-print?)
Decasia DVD

Desk Set (1957, Walter Lang)

Walter “no relation to Fritz” Lang had just come off a couple big musicals and been nominated for an oscar (George Stevens beat him with Giant). Written by Phoebe and Henry “parents of Nora” Ephron (Carousel) and shot by Leon Shamroy (Caprice, Leave Her to Heaven, You Only Live Once) in glorious Cinemascope. Seems odd for an office comedy which all takes place indoors, but it looked really nice so I’m not complaining. Katy liked it, too.

This massive wide shot of the research department, where the bulk of the film takes place, looks so sad shrunken down to web-size:

Katharine Hepburn heads the research department at a TV network, with her loyal coworkers Peg The Older One (Joan Blondell of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, Footlight Parade, Nightmare Alley), Ruthie The Cute One (Sue Randall, whom I thought I recognized, but this was her only film before a busy ten-year TV career) and Sylvia The Nondescript Blonde (Dina Merrill of The Magnificent Ambersons [not the Welles], Beyond a Reasonable Doubt [not the Lang] and Catch Me If You Can [not the Spielberg]).

The girls, L-R: Hepburn, Blondell, Randall, Merrill. Notice anything about the actresses’ names when they’re strung together like that?

All is running smoothly until Spencer Tracy shows up muttering about computers and waving a measuring tape all over the place. Rumors fly that he’s planning to replace the girls with machines. Finally the mammoth computer is installed (thanks to the movie’s marketing partner IBM) along with its brittle operator (TV’s Neva Patterson), and worst fears come true when the researchers all get pink slips in their next paycheck. But it turns out everyone got pink slips – the computer in accounting is malfunctioning. IBM didn’t have the whole product-placement thing figured out yet – humorous or not, you’re not supposed to show your major new technological innovation causing massive problems at the company that installed it. To make up for that, Tracy explains that none of the girls will lose their jobs, and in fact their work will be easier than ever thanks to the new computer – a giant lie.

Wikipedia: “At that time IBM had not quite finished establishing its dominance over the computer market, but computers were already starting to replace whole offices of clerical workers, and most Americans did not know much more than that about computers. This movie would prepare them for what computers were about to do to their society.”

I know how Tracy feels. This weekend it took the Flying Biscuit twenty minutes to make my sausage biscuit because “the computer was down”. What computer??

Secondary conflict: Hepburn’s boss (Gig Young of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and the George Sidney Three Musketeers) is also her occasional boyfriend. He’s a loser manager who can’t even do his own budget reports, getting Hepburn to secretly do them for him, and she’s a total brainiac, so it figures at the end she’ll dump the loser in favor of socially-awkward computer egghead Tracy.

Spencer Tracy knows a thing or two about a thing or two. Hepburn’s boss/boyfriend listens intently while she flashes a ghastly expression:

Why not buy it from Amazon?
Desk Set DVD

Splice (2009, Vincenzo Natali)

A pleasantly surprising flick from the guy who made ambitious indies Cube and Nothing, now with wider scope, more ambitious sfx and an oscarrific cast in Adrien Brody (fortunately much better than in Giallo) and Sarah Polley (of No Such Thing). Feels shorter than it was – full of twists and changes, the movie doesn’t slow down to relish its concept, but throws out and leaves behind any number of ideas and directions it could’ve explored as it hurtles forward. I’ve seen complaints about weak screenwriting and plot holes, but I was satisfied. No need to wrap everything up in a neat package.

David Hewlitt, star of Nothing and Cube (and Scanners II: The New Order), and Simona Maicanescu (of Marc Caro’s Dante 01) are company bosses over married couple Brody and Polley, who are rebel genius geneticists fond of splicing things in more scientific/less ridiculous ways than The Human Centipede. Or perhaps Brody is more the rebel and Polley is more the (psychologically disturbed) genius. They split their attention between two cloning projects: publicly “Fred and Ginger,” two creatures that look like leather sacks full of chipmunks, and secretly “Dren,” which looks like Lily Cole with creepy legs, a tail and hidden Wolverine wings. Polley has huge motherhood issues and the human couple are torn between love, disgust, scientific curiosity and fear of being caught over their humanoid beastie (bred from Polley’s own DNA).

image

Finally the movie destroys itself. Ginger turns into a male, and he and Fred kill each other with their poison spikes in front of the shareholders. Stashed in the family barn, Dren seduces Brody (it’s surprisingly easy to seduce Brody) and they make sweet interspecies love. Hewlitt and Brody’s little brother (an actor who’s been made up to look comically similar to Brody) crash the party and both wind up missing or dead at the hands of Dren, who has suddenly turned male like the chipmunk-sack before her. Dren, now looking less like Lily Cole than a terrifying, winged CGI effect, rapes Polley while stabbing Brody to death, the movie making up for any baby-Dren cuteness with a sudden turn towards queasy horror. Nice sequel setup with a pregnant Polley meeting with boss lady Maicanescu is the payoff from all her psycho-mother issues earlier.

Afterwards, went to pick up Katy at Sex & The City 2 and caught the end of that, featuring a closeup of a widescreen TV showing Cary Grant in The Talk of the Town, improperly cropped to fill the screen. S&TC2 has no respect for cinema!

Rollergator (1996, Donald G. Jackson)

“We live in a democracy. You can’t just take a little baby gator.”

Thanks heaps to the White Elephant Blogathon for making me watch this.

Original announcement
List of reviews
My pick, The Gate, reviewed here


“Scott Shaw Presents…”

Shaw is behind fifty direct-to-video movies that sounds awesome but are almost certainly not: Samurai Vampire Bikers from Hell, Lingerie Kickboxer, Max Hell Frog Warrior and more.

“A film by Donald G. Jackson…”

Jackson also voices the gator. IMDB says he died in 2003, but he is so productive, he continued making movies through 2009.

“Roller
Gator”

Hmmm, the title is on two lines, so is it “Roller Gator” or “Rollergator”? Since the director is partying in b-movie heaven with Ed Wood and Dennis Hopper, we may never know for sure. Aspect ratio is unknown as well – I’m watching a 4:3 frame inside a widescreen window, thanks to Amazon.

Roller (not pictured: gator)

Supposedly Joe Estevez (who has previously explored these themes in Legend of the Roller Blade Seven, Gator King, and Return of the Roller Blade Seven) is running an amusement park, but I’m pretty sure the filmmakers just paid admission (or hopped the fence – I wouldn’t put it past them) and shot Joe shouting dialogue to himself on what looks like a late-80’s camcorder.

Suddenly a ninja is playing loud acoustic guitar while a girl frolics on the beach. Or is that a rifle the ninja is holding? Then who is playing the guitar? Enter the grating voice of the Rollergator, shouting from a cave near the frolicking girl. Oh, special-effects be damned, the gator is just gonna be a hand puppet.

“You’re an alligator. You’re a purple alligator. But you’re purple, and you can talk”. Immediate references to Barney and the electric boogaloo follow. One thing I can say for the alligator puppet – it’s a better actor than this girl (played by Sandra Shuker, also of: nothing), who is apparently going to be our protagonist. I’m not seeing how this even qualifies as a movie. It wouldn’t make the cut at Mystery Science Theater 3000 (on which I’ve seen two previous Joe Estevez flicks: Werewolf and Soultaker) for lack of any qualities whatsoever.

Joe Estevez, also of Lethal Orbit, Fatal Justice and Murder-in-Law, with gator:

Finally the movie kicks it up, with a drum track, some rollerblading, and dutch angles on the ninja.

I wanted to get a motion capture of this scene – after narrowly escaping the least-competent “ninja” ever, the girl rocks slowly on a coin-op ride for 2-year-olds, leaning on the gator exactly like it’s a stuffed animal (which it is) and looking just depressed.

Also, I can no longer make out her dialogue over the guitar music, not that I’m complaining. I think they might’ve left the guitarist in charge of the movie’s final sound mix. Back to Joe Estevez (of Horrorween, Killa Zombies and Caesar and Otto’s Summer Camp Massacre), who talks to his nephew Reggie about locating the gator, which Joe thinks will draw customers to his park, and I just noticed Joe’s cute little ponytail.

Speaking of the amusement park, they get a lot of mileage out of simply filming stuff there: rides, games, displays. Saves money on sets, production design and story, I suppose – although not on talent, since sometimes Joe Estevez (of Hercules in Hollywood, Las Vegas Psycho and The Rockville Slayer) and Reggie are shown joylessly sitting on the rides. The credits claim production design by Sergio Kurosawa, a name that I’m positive was made-up since I didn’t notice any production design. Effects (and I didn’t see any of those either) by Tom Irvin, whose IMDB trivia page tells a heartwarming story of how Clive Barker’s Lord of Illusions helped reunite him with his estranged father. I’m glad that movie served a purpose besides wasting my time.

This facial expression will be referenced later:

The gator is trying to hide from a “crooked carnival owner”, so they go straight to a carnival, agree to talk to carnival worker Reggie’s boss, then act surprised when it turns out to be crooked carnival owner Chi Chi (Joe Estevez of Necronaut, Zombiegeddon and Crimes of the Chupacabra). Oh shit, Joe is having a heart attack! Wait, is this in the script, or is it really happening? Oh he’s okay. Contract negotiations break down and PJ leaves with the gator, taking him to her completely unfurnished apartment. Again with the production design.

Enter the mythical Swamp Farmer (played by mythical Ed Wood actor Conrad Brooks, also of Beast of Yucca Flats, Curse of the Queerwolf and F.A.R.T.: The Movie), who wanders the urban swamp chattering to himself.

Note: lens hood visible in upper-left corner:

There isn’t even an attempt at action – everyone just saunters around, even the supposed ninja, although she does have some high-kicking nunchuck moves. Oh wait, this isn’t the ninja, its the “karate instructor” – my mistake. Her motivation: “I’m gonna return [the gator] to Mr. Dennis, who’s gonna turn him over to the police.” Is Mr. Dennis supposed to be Joe Estevez (of Koreatown, Mexican American and Spanish Fly)? I thought his name was Chi Chi. Chi Chi Dennis? Oh, now the karate lady has turned on her boss and joined PJ and the gator. That was easy.

Our team is joined by another rollerblading girl, this one with a slingshot, who says things like “this is so fly!” The ensuing chase scene is the most exciting bit of the movie so far, seeming to move at more of a light jog than the usual aimless, depressed stroll – I credit the blaring surf guitar on the soundtrack for energizing things. Back at the office, Joe Estevez (of PrimeMates, No Dogs Allowed and Toad Warrior) is not amused that the karate instructor has defected.

Is the cameraman three feet tall? There are telephone lines in every shot:

After a painfully long conversation between slingshot gal and a “friend of pj” who turns out to be the ninja in disguise (or is it out of disguise), the ninja gets away with a decoy backpack and Slingshot tries her best to come up with an appropriate facial expression. Joe Estevez (of Pacino Is Missing, Not Another B Movie and 14 Ways to Wear Lipstick) has an uncomfortable chat with the ninja, then the gator & girl discuss how to find the Swamp Farmer (have I mentioned him lately? Looks like he’s now roaming around abandoned movie sets). A tearful reunion between Farmer and Gator follows.

Finally, after an attempt at a beautiful sunset coda (it’s daylight again a minute later), Joe Estevez (of Green Diggity Dog, Motorcycle Cheering Mommas and Blood Slaves of the Vampire Wolf) has somehow received the “curse of the gator.”

A piss-poor movie which even makes Curse of the Puppet Master look good by comparison. Hardly anyone seems to be trying at all, and the attempts at comedy, drama, entertainment and “rap” music are laughable (except the comedy – that’d be unlaughable).

Rollergator theme song by Elizabeth Mehr (whose band Baby Alive won some MTV award in 1994, claimed she “would like to enlighten the world, and hopefully bring change, peace, and unity through music”) and performed by Magic Man (google suggests this could be a 2009 French electronica duo, a hit rock song by Heart, a Billy Zane movie, or a member of the United States Men’s National soccer team – each seems equally likely).

Fortunately, this dark prophecy has not yet come to pass:

*Corpus Callosum (2002, Michael Snow)

This was both wonderful – an inventively whimsical little ride of a rigorous art film – and tedious in that way that non-narrative films can be. It wouldn’t be a Snow work if it didn’t test my patience a little – it’s part of his charm. This kind of thing is always very different with an audience, not that I think it’s likely I’ll ever get the chance. I picked up visual similarities to Presents and Sshtoorrty… not so much Wavelength unless you count every zoom as a reference to Wavelength (which I guess some critics do).

People walk through a door with the title printed on it (this is where the zoom comes in), while we hear Snow, offscreen, instructing each on the entrance of their timing. Cut to inside the office, and the camera rolls to the right, an infinite camera move since the set is digitally joined at the seams. He electrocutes all his actors, a chair disappears in a lap dissolve, blatant digital effects pop up, then the picture twists like a ribbon as it transitions to next scene. Apparently these are many different actors dressed similarly to give the appearance of a regular cast of characters, but I can’t see subtleties like that on my VHS copy… a shame.

A family sits in their garishly (digitally) decorated living room with a wall mirror reflecting the camera until objects fly off the wall and destroy themselves while the people sit still staring at the sky inside their television. Obnoxious noise permeates, except when one would expect a sound effect (during an explosion, say) when it goes silent.

A classroom is shot from above until the kids notice the camera, stack their desks so they can reach it.

Two people enter a too-small doorway at the same time, fusing and morphing into a slow-moving doorway-shaped block, which lumbers back into the infinite-loop office set. The credits show up before the hour mark and begin to lap themselves. The whole movie rewinds. Then at the end a couple enters a cinema and sits down to watch an early animated work by Snow.

J Hoberman calls it “that rarest of things—a summarizing work. Like Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman or Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, it could be used to conclude Motion Pictures 101. … Rigorously predicated on irreducible cinematic facts, Snow’s structuralist epics – Wavelength and La Région Centrale – announced the imminent passing of the film era. Rich with new possibilities, *Corpus Callosum heralds the advent of the next. Whatever it is, it cannot be too highly praised.

Hoberman again: “a bonanza of wacky sight gags, outlandish color schemes, and corny visual puns that can be appreciated equally as an abstract Frank Tashlin comedy and as a playful recapitulation of the artist’s career.”

Pop Matters:

Similarly, domestic life in *Corpus Callosum is irrevocably altered by innovations. The home is filled with televisions, pizzas, and empty glasses. Intense oranges and pinks make the living room seem alive and breathing. The walls are decorated with paintings, an eye-test chart, a crutch, and a skeleton. A mirror reflecting what appears to be Snow and his film crew forms the focal point, reminding us that this film has an author, just as our own environments have human creators. In one 12-minute sequence, objects on the walls begin exploding, one at a time, into beautiful pixel starbursts. Snow, the reflected “god” (for he is creator of this space and the characters who dwell within) appears here to be an Old Testament type: he can give and he can take away.

NY Times:

In keeping with his lighter side, *Corpus is also fun … But then it starts to feel as if things are going on for too long. Mr. Snow realizes he is literally playing with time, though, and even jokes about it: he inserts the credits in the middle of the picture. … We get the point, but the movie goes on and on, using repetition to comment on repetitive behavior.

Rosenbaum, who ranked it his #1 movie of 2002, above even Platform: “Not counting the asterisk, the title refers to the tissue connecting the hemispheres of the brain, an apt reference given the prodigious and joyful inventiveness on display.”

In Snow’s description he says:

The sound – electronic like the picture – is also a continuous metamorphosis and as the film’s “nervous system”, is as important to the film as the picture. Or: the sound and the picture are two hemispheres joined by the artist. *Corpus Callosum is resolutely “artificial”, it not only wants to convince, but also to be a perceived pictorial and musical phenomenon.

… a shame, since my copy had lousy sound.

Funny that I watched this the day after The Last Movie, since it turns out Snow put out a record called “The Last LP”.

Snow, interviewed:
“Although it was all done in the computer, so there isn’t any film in it except for a little tiny bit at the end which is something I did in 1956 and is in a sense my first film. The film I usually refer to as my first film A to Z which is a cut out animation film in 1956. Where as what appears at the end here is, well something which we used to call flimsies. You see I started out in animation and that is how I got involved with film. We used to make the drawings on tracing paper, we would put them on pins with one over the other on a light box and you would draw them. And I did this little sequence of this leg stretching in 1956, but I never shot it, I just kept it as a flimsy. So I guess that is in a sense my first film or at least it was intended to be shot as film. But it was not shot as a film.”

Offscreen: Has it changed over the years, the audience reception?

Michael Snow: Yes. I don’t know what is happening to people but they are not as tough as they used to be. … I really want to make physical things so that the experience is a real experience and not just conceptual. Well yes there are ideas in the works, but they are also body affects, like the panning, for example in Back and Forth. I’ve seen someone get sick and people have fainted with La Region Centrale, so I must be doing something right.

The Last Movie (1971, Dennis Hopper)

“You underprivileged bastard!”

Iconic Hopper, slightly blurry:

A strange movie in many ways. For instance, no opening credits then after 12 minutes it says “a film by Dennis Hopper”… then after 12 more minutes we get the title. Hopper plays a different sort of hippie drifter loner. He’d like to get married and have a steady job, but on his terms. He worked as a stunt man on a film about Billy the Kid (under director Sam Fuller, in a cameo) in Peru, but seems alienated at the wrap party, only comfortable in smaller groups.

When the production leaves, he stays behind with local girl Maria, idyllic until a priest tries to get Hopper’s help when locals pretend to be making their own movie, with real violence, not understanding the Hollywood fakery. Maria also starts getting him down – turns out she’s not satisfied with the natural paradise that Hollywood Dennis had envisioned. She wants all the American conveniences, which an out-of-work stuntman can’t afford. He turns to the elusive fast-buck by helping his shady friend Don Gordon (Bullitt) try to strike gold, but that ends in failure and embarrassment.

Don Gordon and Donna Baccala, whose only other film was Brainscan:

From what I’d heard I was expecting a rambling incoherent mess of a film, a drugged-up slog making no real sense. But it’s a right proper movie, and a good one. There’s much more to it though; more plot and characters than I’ve mentioned, events sliding out of order, flash-backs-and-forwards. Reference to someone who died during the film shoot. At the end there are “scene missing” cards and a slate onscreen, we see a retake of a scene we just watched, and people start breaking character as the movie winds itself down.

Nice garfunkly folk music throughout. Maybe they’re pushing it when they play a Jesus song while Dennis is dazed and wounded. After the gold mine idea goes bad he rampages through the old movie set and is imprisoned by the local “filmmakers” with their wicker camera. “They want me to die in the movie like Dean did” – so he named his dead friend Dean. “That’s what’s wrong is we brought the movies – that’s where we made our mistake.”

The priest: “They didn’t want to come to my church anymore. They got carried away by that game. So I just wanted to show them that the same moralities that exist in the real church can exist here in the movie church. I hope that after this game is over, morality can be born again.”

Priest Tomas Milian of Traffic, also starred in an Antonioni film and a Django movie:

Mubi explains it all:

The success of Hopper’s Easy Rider gave many young filmmakers the opportunity to work in Hollywood under the studio system. In 1970, Universal hired five “young genius” directors to make pictures for them. Hopper was one of these and developed a script with Steward Stern, the writer for Rebel Without a Cause, about the process of moviemaking and its effect on the natives of a remote and primitive village in Peru where it is being shot.

The Last Movie was the result – an amazing milieu of cinema and the decade it was created in. Hopper is a stunt man and wrangler on a big budget western, with which Hopper infused the presence of Sam Fuller, Sylvia Miles, Toni Basil, Henry Fonda, Kris Kristofferson, Michelle Phillips, Dean Stockwell and the cinematography of Laszlo Kovacs. After the production leaves town, Hopper’s life starts to get a little insane, torn between a new movie producer in town, a buddy (the great Don Gordon) and his quest for gold, and the incredible, ritualistic movie being “shot” by the locals using a wicker camera and boom mike. Under the surface bubbles the genius of the film, dealing with friendship, loyalty, the superstitious nature of filmmaking and the notion of film genre.

Although it received the only award given at the 1971 Venice Film Festival, Universal refused to distribute the film unless Hopper re-edited it. Hopper was intransigent, and Universal gave The Last Movie only token distribution and the picture was shelved.

Sam Fuller:

Only two user reviews on Mubi. One says “it’s wildly textured, emotionally intense, covers a lot of thematic ground, but its all of a piece-it works.” and the other, “a truly loathsome work of self-pity and self-aggrandizement, whose charms include smug, playful racism, and casually brutal misogyny.”

Peruvian “director” frames up a shot:

Wicker-cam:

MZ Seitz on Hopper’s filmmaking:

Although he directed just seven features, his style is quite distinctive. It’s ragged and intuitive, more sensual than logical, intoxicated by drugs, sex and music. And to greater or lesser degrees, all of his films address the individual’s struggle to survive within a machine without becoming a cog — the central narrative of Hopper’s long and strange career, with its youthful promise, adult madness and autumnal wisdom.

Z. Campbell:

The Last Movie is the only film I’ve seen that makes me think that it well and truly is an ‘anti-Western.’ (Though: this much-maligned genre that I love so much didn’t actually need ‘post’ or ‘neo’ updates–it had a strong critical component to it from the classical era onwards.) The Last Movie is quite possibly the only true and intentional avant-garde feature film I’ve seen from Hollywood. It shatters its own sense of fiction, of narrative illusion, it’s just celluloid material projected, and in so doing foregrounds the personal & cultural situations which constitute these fictions. Apocalypse Now? Child’s play–everything Coppola tried to do in his film on violence and imperialism and cinema, Hopper has already done–better–by 1971.

Maria and the city: Stella Garcia was also in a Clint Eastwood western called Joe Kidd.

Mrs. Anderson: Julie Adams was great in this. Hopper cast her in Catchfire twenty years later, and twenty years earlier she’d starred in Creature from the Black Lagoon.


The American Dreamer (1971)

“A camera is always a questioning instrument”

Also watched a washed-out old VHS of a truly ridiculous documentary on Hopper made during the editing of The Last Movie. Not about The Last Movie at all, just a portrait of a hippie for people fascinated by the Easy Rider freakshow. It’s everything that Lions Love was accused of being. Hopper gives his views on spirituality but mostly talks incessantly about sex. The movie takes up plenty of time showing him shooting guns and getting naked, and even writes him a theme song.

“There’s no honest men in the movie business except me.”

An hour in, the movie gets more interesting when Hopper starts to question and criticize the filmmakers methods, and to their great credit they left this in there. The doc is made by L.M. Kit Carson – David Holzman himself, who’d later write the terrible Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 starring Hopper – and Larry Schiller, who later made not one but two JonBenet Ramsey movies. I’d heard that The Last Movie was a disaster and that this intrepid documentary shows why, but I found the opposite to be the case.

“I don’t need to have people make movies about me.”

“This movie, it’s a nice idea, whether it’s damaging or whether it isn’t,
it doesn’t really matter to me.”

Rebel Without a Cause (1955, Nicholas Ray)

Katy not too impressed with Natalie Wood for some reason. I’m always happy to watch Sal Mineo splash about and Dean defy his tough-guy reputation with this oddball super-sensitive role. Was telling Katy I think history has gotten Dean’s rebel confused with Brando’s wild one. But watching this so soon after the death of Dennis Hopper, I couldn’t look away from him when he was on screen. Not that he’s completely electrifying in the part of “goon,” it’s just the fascination of seeing a teenage Hopper taking it all in.

I still don’t get Nick Ray, but this has always been a helluva interesting movie. Senses of Cinema on the director:

Among [Ray’s guiding concerns] are the relations between individuals and cruel, unforgiving environments or authority – in particular, the marginal status of adolescents; the nature of masculinity; and violence as a defining attribute of social relations. To express and reinforce this thematic coherence, and corresponding to the emotional turbulence of characters and actions on the screen, his films also display a visual flair and recognisable style marked by restless camera movement and quick editing generally uncharacteristic of the widescreen formats favoured by the director.

The Times review says the kids hide out in the same mansion used as Norma Desmond’s home in Sunset Blvd. – must look for that next time. Dean, forever a 24-year-old teenager, died a month before the movie’s release, having already shot his role in Giant.

JD Slocum:

In the 50 years since it first appeared, the film has continued to serve as a touchstone for imagining anxieties over coming-of-age rituals, traditional values of family and community, the provocations of mass or consumer society, and even threats from abroad. The specific sources of individual and social insecurity have changed, the specific motivations for rebellion have shifted, and the role of cinema and its heroes in the United States and other societies have been forever altered. What has persisted is Rebel Without a Cause’s power to represent individual rebellion and the possibilities of social reconciliation, an affirmation of the cinema’s capacity to illuminate such realities and, through bold performance and bravura filmmaking, to serve as a bellwether of cultural change.