While the Lady Gaga superbowl party raged downstairs, I was upstairs watching one of the most emotionally upsetting war films ever made…

Americans in the Vietnam war get into a battle while De Palma lowers his camera into the tunnels where someone is creeping up on Michael J. Fox, who has fallen partway through before being rescued. So the movie opens with Fox not being a huge help to his squad, and his reputation only gets worse. The men survive, but a few (movie) minutes later, Fox rescuer Erik King gets shot at a supposedly friendly village. Back at camp, Fox’s teammates (leader Sean Penn, Sean’s violent buddy Don Harvey, John C. Reilly and timid new replacement John Leguizamo) are frustrated that the whorehouse is off limits, so on the way out to their next assignment they kidnap a village girl (Thuy Thu Le) as a sex slave. After she’s raped and tortured for a couple days, they stab and shoot her during a battle atop a train trestle (during which, if I’m not mistaken, there’s a friendly-fire disaster down below) and toss her body off a cliff.

Fox has never gone along with this, trying to free the girl and once standing up armed against his men. Later as he’s recovering from a head injury back at base, he’s told “what happens in the field stays in the field” but reports his men’s actions to Lt. Ving Rhames, who says he’ll break the men into new squads and that Fox should forget it. Fox persists and finds sympathetic Sgt. Dale Dye (a Vietnam vet and the film’s technical advisor) who helps him take the men to military court, but not before Clark attempts to assassinate Fox with a latrine grenade (with some impressive first-person camera) and Fox strikes back with a shovel. The investigators find the girl’s body, each soldier is sentenced to at least eight years in prison, then back to Framing Story Fox, who still has nightmare/daydreams.

While Fox is distracted:

Such an intense and brutal movie. De Palma seems to borrow some of the obvious war stuff from Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket, but the acting and filmmaking are on point, and the bitter fury comes through loud and clear. It’s not so much an anti-war movie, more about extremes of human nature, but obviously Redacted is a companion piece. Michael (not Paul) Verhoeven shot a 1970 feature called O.K. covering the same story, which caused outrage at its Berlin Film Festival premiere.


De Palma (2015, Noah Baumbach & Jake Paltrow)

After finally catching up with Casualties (glad I waited for blu-ray) I watched the recent career-summary documentary, finding it amusing that the guy who directed the swearingest movie of the 1980’s looks like Uncle Toad and keeps saying “holy mackerel.” He’s proud that his generation of buddy filmmakers (Spielberg, Scorsese, Lucas, Coppola) were able to do great work inside the studio system “before the businessmen took over again.”

On Carrie remakes: “It’s wonderful to see what happens when somebody takes a piece of material and makes all the mistakes that you avoided.” He wrote the spy kid in Dressed To Kill as himself. “I used to follow my father around when he was cheating on my mother.” I finally got to see the alternate tidal-wave ending in Snake Eyes, and as suspected it’s cooler than the real ending.

B. Ebiri:

Paltrow and Baumbach don’t get fancy with the filmmaking. They’re smart enough to let De Palma’s own resonant images — his gorgeous compositions, his smooth camera moves — do much of the work. (After all, if you can’t make an awesome clip reel out of Brian De Palma films, then what good are you?)

Directing Dancing in the Dark:

A. Nayman, who does a good job discussing the doc itself, instead of using it as an excuse to talk about De Palma’s career:

De Palma’s pride at taking a potentially ordinary, corporately backed genre exercise and hotwiring it into a slick and enjoyable piece of craftsmanship seems tied to the fact that Mission: Impossible made a lot of money. Whatever their technical or artistic merits, the successes of Carrie, The Untouchables, and Mission: Impossible differentiates them within a body of work that’s typically been more notable — and in some corners, largely validated — on the grounds of failing to connect with audiences. For all the glee De Palma says he takes in making viewers uncomfortable, he seems to get off even more on getting big crowds into the theater in the first place.

Me, I’m using it as an excuse to talk about De Palma’s career. It’s time to rewatch them all, but I’m in the middle of a hundred other things so it’ll probably have to wait. The ones I most need to watch are Hi, Mom! and Wise Guys. And to rewatch, in order:

The Untouchables
Carlito’s Way
Scarface
Mission: Impossible
Body Double
Femme Fatale
Blow Out
Raising Cain (the new edit)
Mission to Mars
Phantom of the Paradise
Sisters

Skipped the Golden Globes and watched this non-award-winning Rohmer movie instead. Rohmer’s lead characters aren’t always cool cats. In this case, kinda obsessive, immature Francois sees the ex of his girlfriend Anne (Marie Rivière, star of Autumn Tale) leaving her apartment, then runs into him again later and stalks him to the park. While inexpertly following this guy (Mathieu Carrière, a German who appeared in some Volker Schlöndorff movies and India Song) with another girl, clueless Francois runs into super-cute (too young) Lucie, who figures out what he’s up to and helps out as a laugh. Francois stays on the trail after they part, finds out the ex was just walking around with his sister, goes to meet his fellow spy but catches Lucie with her boyfriend and sends a postcard instead. So the title refers to the ex (a pilot), whose wife isn’t even in the movie.

Lucie:

“It is impossible to think about nothing.” The first of the six-film Comedies and Proverbs series. Pretty fun little adventure, but not sure that I got anything meaningful out of it, least of all an illustration of why it is impossible to think about nothing.

Ebert:

The story … reveals little of the texture of this film, which Is about how goofy, sad and driven we can be, especially when our hearts are fueled by self-made loneliness. There’s a lot of talk in this movie … There needs to be a lot of talk, because The Aviator’s Wife isn’t about actions but about reactions, speculations, false leads, hurtful suspicions and romantic insecurity. We need to live within these weaknesses for a time in order to understand them. … The ending, in which the hero chooses alienation over the simplicity of accepting happiness, is sad, and sadder still in that we immediately identify with it.

Francois and Anne:

Lead guy Philippe Marlaud had been in a Maurice Pialat film, died at 22 in a camping accident a few months after this opened, and the young Anne-Laure Meury would return in Rohmer’s Boyfriends and Girlfriends.

Not an exceptionally good-looking movie thirty years later, and not usually fun enough to justify the dull dialogue and tired plotting (amnesia leads to mistaken identity) but it comes alive whenever Madonna is onscreen. It was on Linklater’s list of the best 1980’s movies, and has been appearing on lists of women-directed films lately, but the thing that stuck in my mind and always made me want to see it was hearing it was inspired by Celine & Julie Go Boating. Apparent Rivette influence – one woman (Rosanna Arquette of Crash and After Hours) starts following another (Madonna in her first major film role), identities get mixed up, and a magic show is involved. There’s no Fiction House, sadly.

Roberta is married to spa king Mark Blum, wears appalling 80’s clothes and big glasses, follows the hookups of the cool and mysterious Susan and her man Jim (Robert Joy of Atlantic City, a mutant in The Hills Have Eyes Remake) in the classifieds, builds up the nerve to follow Susan around and buy her pawned jacket. Roberta’s knocked on the head and mistaken for a prostitute by NYPD, then rescued by Jim’s projectionist friend Dez (Aidan Quinn of Benny & Joon, The Handmaid’s Tale) who thinks she must be Susan.

A neighbor plays saxophone, seen backlit through a window, and I thought “1980’s, New York, saxophone, it’s probably John Lurie” and was right! Also appearing: Richard Hell (Madonna’s boyfriend who gets killed in prologue, setting off the chase), Steven Wright (dating Roberta’s sister[?] Laurie Metcalf) and John Turturro (manager of the magic club). Writer Leora Barish also did a Chantal Akerman movie and Basic Instinct 2, a weird career. Seidelman also made Smithereens and a movie about a robot John Malkovich, and directed some Electric Company reboot episodes which means I’m technically her collaborator and shouldn’t be talking smack about her most famous movie. Good acting and a pleasantly goofball flick, I’ve got no hard feelings.

Sometimes I get it wrong. I remembered this from 25 years ago as a pretty good movie with a great creature and cool lighting, so I bought it cheap on blu-ray, and it’s a very bad movie with a great creature and mostly poor lighting (screenshots below only represent the highlights).

P’head is unimpressed by crosses:

City folk vacationing in a cabin in the sticks accidentally kill some kid with their motorbike, so the kid’s dad Lance Henriksen asks local witch Haggis to summon a pumpkinhead demon and slaughter the motherfuckers, but when Lance realizes the death and horrors he has caused he tries to stop the thing, eventually shooting himself (cuz their souls are linked, or something). There are no police in this town – if your son dies, you just bury him in the yard.

Lance swears revenge:

I think Jeff East (young Huck Finn in the 1970’s) and local Beyond Thunderdome-looking kid Bunt (Brian Bremer of Society) survive at the end. Slaughtered are leather-jacketed tough guy John D’Aquino (That’s My Bush!) and his indistinguishable friends Kimberly Ross (Death Street USA), Cynthia Bain (Spontaneous Combustion), Joel Hoffman (Slumber Party Massacre II) and Kerry Remsen (Ghoulies 2), in no particular order. This got a 1990’s sequel with Soleil Moon Frye, and a couple more in the mid-2000’s with Lance (and Doug Bradley).

Baby P’head awakens:

Cabin Witch Haggis:

Halfway-decent haunted-house movie inexplicably appearing on a few lists of best horrors. I get annoyed with Medak, feel like he’s over-emphatic, harping on things, but at least he did this to a lesser extent here than in his headache-inducing The Ruling Class.

Well-off composer George C. Scott (year after Hardcore) loses his wife and kid in an accident, moves elsewhere to teach music and rents a huge haunted house from the historical society. Ghosts lead him to a boarded-up bedroom upstairs, and a combination of visions, a really well-staged seance, and good ol’ historical research in the city library lead him and his realtor companion Trish Van Devere (Scott’s wife and costar in Stanley Donen’s Movie Movie) to uncover the ghost’s identity. It seems the house’s owner in the early 1900’s killed his own sickly, crippled son and replaced him with a sturdier orphan, whom he raised as his real son and inheritor. That kid has grown up to be elderly Senator Melvyn Douglas (The Old Dark House star, quite active in his 70’s appearing in The Tenant and Being There and Twilight’s Last Gleaming), who doesn’t want any of this history brought up right now.

“Who you callin’ a changeling,” asks Melvyn:

Apparently it’s a based-on-true-events ghost story, but this is before filmmakers splashed these things across their posters and opening titles. Besides the cool seance (the medium writing, her assistant narrating, like a more efficient ouija board) there’s much generic ghost business with clanking noises, whispers on audiotape, a creepy music box and a discarded rubber ball repeatedly appearing. My main complaint is that the ghost succeeds in getting Scott to help him out, then repays him by burning down the house with all Scott’s possessions inside.

George and Trish at the microfiche:

Probably not interesting to anyone but me: John Colicos plays an asshole cop in this, and in the following year he was murdered by Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Crap Italian filmmaker Lamberto Bava later made a movie called Per Sempre which was conceived as a sequel to Postman and released on video as The Changeling 2.

Mesmerising footage using slow-motion and time-lapse to make ordinary things (clouds, a night drive, video games, stock exchange) look wonderous.

Glass:

Several generations have grown up looking at those images, but in ’78 they were extremely startling and it was like looking at the world for the first time.

Reggio: “It’s not for lack of love of the language that these films have no words. It’s because, from my point of view, our language is in a state of vast humiliation. It no longer describes the world in which we live.”

Rebaixes!

I knew what Reggio was going for with the images, but was pondering how, until the final title cards (defining the title as life in turmoil / disintegrating / out of balance), it’d be possible to see most of the movie as a positive celebration of technological progress. Reggio apparently meant it to be ambiguous in this way.

Set to a rightly celebrated Philip Glass score (reminded me at times of the latest Tortoise album), shot by Ron Fricke (Baraka, Chronos), played in competition in Berlin (with La Belle Captive and Pauline at the Beach). But most importantly, someone at IMDB has figured out how many frames of this film contain topless footage of Marilyn Chambers (four).

Pruitt-Igoe:

From the extras it looks like the movie could’ve become a hippie happening, with staged art events and an Allen Ginsberg spoken-word response soundtrack, before the concept was reworked. Reggio was inspired to filmmaking by Los Olvidados and there’s a good segment on his ACLU-sponsored anti-surveillance campaign.

“I was a cop, a driver.”

That settles it: the even-numbered Mad Max movies are brilliant and the odd-numbered are just alright. This was mostly a time-wasting attempt to turn Mad Max into a trilogy. I had pretty decent memories of this from watching it on cable in the 1980’s, back when I didn’t know the rules of franchises and licensed properties and believed that all crossovers were possible, imagining Indiana Jones: Beyond Thunderdome, or Care Bears: Beyond Thunderdome. Two bears enter, one bear leaves.

Max is introduced as The Man With No Name, tying him to Eastwood’s trilogy about a loner character who keeps getting in the middle of other groups’ fights. The gyrocaptain returns, making him the only character (not the only actor) besides Max to appear in multiple movies. Over the closing credits I thought “We Don’t Need Another Hero” wasn’t as great a song as I remembered, but then it got stuck in my head for days.

The language is great anyway, with references to the pocky-clipse. But the movie’s a mess – it’s the one in this series where I least understood the characters and the stakes. Bartertown ruler Tina Turner and thunderdome champ Master Blaster are villains… or are they? I liked Master Blaster – The Mighty as a warrior. The tiny Master was Angelo Rossitto (in movies since the 1920’s) and Blaster was Paul Larsson (billed just under John Larroquette in Altered States). The action scenes were still believable, and very well filmed.

Thunderdome MC spinning the wheel of fate:

Max’s death sentence, before being rescued by the tribe of children:

If true, IMDB trivia comes in handy for once:

George Miller lost interest in the project after his friend and producer Byron Kennedy was killed in a helicopter crash while location scouting. That may explain why Miller only handled the action scenes while George Ogilvie handled the rest. The film is dedicated to Byron Kennedy.

NxNW-reminiscent finale:

Opens by telling us that yes, the first movie took place after the Oil Wars, and now we’re in the post-apocalyptic future wasteland, and I appreciate them clearing that up. I’m still not convinced that Max is all that mad, not even in the fourth movie. Gibson seemed madder in Lethal Weapon. That said, the climactic road race is pretty damned mad.

Max w/ flamethrower:

These details aside, this movie is electrifying, with an expert mix of intensity and absurdity. Setting the pattern for parts 3 and 4, Max is out in the desert minding his own business and looking for fuel when he stumbles into a situation where people are being oppressed by an evil authority. Max doesn’t set out to save them because he’s a noble hero – it’s in his own self-interest. Max doesn’t even make friends with the gyrocopter pilot who leads him to the oil town (Bruce Spence, later a Dark City alien), keeps him chained up until needed.

Gyrocaptain and snake friend:

Max has a cool dog, who comes to a predictably bad end:

Villains: hockey-masked sharpshooter Lord Humungus and his rage-filled biker enforcer Wez (Vernon Wells, villain of Commando and Innerspace), who is excellent. Also really good is the eight-year-old boomerang moppet – but not good enough to justify the proliferation of kids in part three.

Wez – there are no bad shots of this guy:

Some advanced Babe-foreshadowing via pigs, like when Dekker put a message from the Monster Squad in Night of the Creeps. I didn’t realize when watching this that Thunderdome would be absolutely full of pigs.

Virginia Hey, later a blue-skinned alien in Farscape:

Toadie reminds me of Dennis Hopper in Waterworld:

A Gentle Spirit (1985)

Morphy, smeary animation beneath a crosshatched texture overlay. Time is ticking away and people appear still and sad, a slow-motion human drama with insect cameos, until music ramps up to a climactic chase scene. I couldn’t figure out the story, but I think Dumala assumed no viewer would be so uncultured as to be unfamiliar with the source Dostoevsky novel. Will have to watch this again after seeing the Bresson version (Une Femme Douce, “a young woman kills herself, leaving no explanation to her grief-stricken pawnbroker husband”), which sounds like a barrel of laughs. Some very cool effects in this, including a table transforming into a bed.


Walls (1988)

A man is trapped within some walls. Sometimes things (drawers, insects) appear on their featureless surfaces. I guess he goes mad from sensory deprivation, since his senses start freaking out, his eyes and ears transforming. I liked it better than the previous movie.

This would seem to be an inspiration for both Tool’s Prison Sex video and the movie Symbol. Dumala would further explore his interest in insects with Franz Kafka before returning to Dostoevsky for his half-hour opus.


Crime and Punishment (2000)

I don’t think it’s all drawing, looks like there are layers of filmed objects in there, though in standard-def it’s hard to tell. Of course there are insects – buzzing flies in every scene – and I recognize the basic Crime (with an axe, killing the pawnbroker and a witness), but the crime is finished with only seven minutes to go in the film, so there’s little Punishment. The killer sits at home feeling bad for a minute before Dumala goes outside to play with animals in the rain. Perhaps a mute witness to the crime kills himself at the end? There are some cool effects – I liked the liquid glimmer of nervous eyes in extreme close-up – but it’s so static it loses my attention repeatedly over the thirty minutes.

Raptor in the rain, a drop falling from its beak: