A process movie, which shows you what is happening, letting you guess about the why. Extremely precise in framing and editing, focusing as much on objects as people. I’m generally sympathetic to Bresson films, having loved A Man Escaped and Pickpocket, and have been underwhelmed or confused by some of his others, so wasn’t sure how this one would hit me… and it’s a masterpiece.

Schoolboy Norbert owes money, so his buddy Martial pulls out some counterfeit cash, which they change at a picture frame store. Later, the frame shop owners get pissed at their employee Lucien for accepting the phony bill, and conspire to pass it off to a workman Yvon Targe (Christian Patey, later of Adieu Bonaparte).

Yvon is caught passing the fake bill at a restaurant, unaware, starts a fight and gets in trouble. The frame shop owners pay off Lucien to lie in court, and Yvon loses his job. Lucien loses his job as well when he’s discovered to be pocketing money, then robs the shop and starts stealing ATM cards, is eventually caught. Norbert is also caught, and his mom pays off the frame shop to hush the scandal.

Yvon takes a darker turn, gets hired as a getaway driver and caught during a bank robbery, his daughter dies while he’s in prison, he attempts suicide, rejects help from Lucien (who is caught trying to escape) and is eventually released. Yvon immediately steals from the hotel where he’s staying, then apparently follows a woman home, is allowed to stay with her and her father, and kills them both with an axe, then turns himself in.

Adrian Martin for Criterion:

Bresson told his stories in astoundingly matter-of-fact ellipses or leaps in time; only the most significant moments of information and sensation counted for him. He fragmented the spatial relations of each location and incident, making the world both a fiercely angular labyrinth and an abiding, disorienting mystery.

Based on a Tolstoy story. Bresson tied with Tarkovsky for best director at Cannes, the palme going to Imamura. Great Cannes interview on the disc – Bresson always gives the best answers. “The question is null and void” … “I can’t explain a film. It explains itself.”

Chloe Sevigny (early-career, between Gummo and Boys Don’t Cry) works in publishing with her coworker/roommate/frenemy Kate Beckinsale, and they frequent the disco run by Chris Eigeman (Metropolitan). Kate dates ad-man Mackenzie Astin (star of The Garbage Pail Kids Movie a decade earlier), and Chloe dates Matt Keeslar (Waiting for Guffman, Rose Red), who turns out to be a district attorney investigating the club owners. Not being Stillman obsessives (yet) we didn’t recognize cameos by the Metropolitan and Barcelona casts.

M. ditched the movie halfway in, because she hated all the characters, but I thought hating the characters was part of the point (maybe not, since it’s based on Stillman’s own experiences) and greatly enjoyed. This came out a couple months before 54, less than a year after Boogie Nights, and I skipped it at the time, which was maybe smart since it’s more to my tastes now than in 1998.

Griffin Dunne (An American Werewolf in London) is a hopeless single dude working a boring job with Bronson Pinchot. After work he meets diner patron Marcy (Rosanna Arquette of Desperately Seeking Susan the same year), bonding over their shared love for Henry Miller, and she refers him to her artist roommate Kiki (Linda Fiorentino of Jade). After an undercranked cab ride to their loft, his night spins out of control in tragicomic fashion. Not to get all auteurist on a 1980’s wild-crazy-night picture, but it’s better-looking and more intricately designed than this genre generally gets.

O’Hara and Bloom:

Buncha people with tendencies to panic and lose their cool about small things, not excepting our main man – in Marcy’s bed smoking a bad joint he suddenly sneaks out ranting about needing paperweights. He gets into a barter situation with bartender Tom (the late John Heard), gets shamed by Kiki’s dom boyfriend, wanders over to waitress Teri Garr’s place, then to Catherine O’Hara’s place, then a beardy guy’s place, then Verna Bloom’s place – what is it about Griffin Dunne that makes everyone want to take him home? Verna paper-maches Griffin to hide him from an angry mob who believe he’s responsible for a string of break-ins, then the actual thieves Cheech & Chong steal him, believing he’s art. It’s a very good ending, pulling Griffin abruptly out of the situation and back to his office, which could make the whole thing seem like a harmless dream if not for Marcy’s suicide.

Teri Garr is skeptical:

John Heard is skeptical:

Made by Scorsese between King of Comedy and The Color of Money, after a first attempt to make The Last Temptation of Christ fell apart. Reportedly the flashy camera moves were designed as a Hitchcock parody. Joseph Minion wrote (with some help from Kafka), also wrote Vampire’s Kiss and Scorsese’s episode of Amazing Stories. Tied with Blood Simple at the first Independent Spirit Awards, but it was better-loved in France, where it got a César nomination and won best director at Cannes.

Mouseover to make Dick Miller wink at you:
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Relatively normal-seeming indie film – it took me a while to recalibrate my expectations to the lower budget, the subdued Denis Lavant, these two artists still so young and unaware of the great works they’d eventually achieve. It’s new-wavey, and in love with love, and just wonderful, so it’s my problem that I can’t help but compare it to the later films.

Mireille Perrier (later the sorta-narrator of Chocolat) is “Girl” – both of them are going through breakups when they meet and hang out at a party after Alex has a long night walking dazed through the city. He goes off on his own again but comes back, too late to save her from bathtub scissor suicide.


Mr. X (2014, Tessa Louise-Salome)

A talking-heads interview doc about the films of Leos Carax, with clips. I watched this after catching up with Boy Meets Girl, the last of his major features I hadn’t seen before, and revisiting clips of his other films was pleasure enough, but this doc was remarkably good on its own, projecting interviews visually over film footage and showing outtakes and on-set footage and rehearsals and auditions.

Richard Brody: “[The] enduring enemy in his films is ordinariness, routine, mediocrity. And just as the men in his films are willing to go to dangerous extremes to poeticize their life, so the kinds of women his male characters are attracted to are also poetically extravagant.”

The camera prowls a nice house full of artworks and memorabilia, two visitors conversing on the soundtrack, their footsteps clomping through the halls, but never seen, as a piece of music comes and go in scraps.

Then Manoel de Oliveira introduces himself (“Cinema is my passion”), speaking directly to us. He walks to a new room, the color of his sweater changing and a small picture of the Mona Lisa following him into every camera angle, then shows us home movies with loud projector noise.

Back to the visitors, who were supposed to be meeting someone at the house and feel self-conscious about their intrusion, but not enough to leave… back to Manuel, and so on. Manuel’s deliberately-paced stories of the past in plain language feel like a school report, conflicting strangely with the poetry and superstition of the visitor segments. He eventually tells us that he’s a visitor here himself, having sold his childhood home to pay for his films.

Halfway through, we interview Manuel’s wife Maria Isabel, only the second person we’ve seen in the film. Manuel gets less narrative and more philosophical after this break. He talks about his recent films (and the one he was writing: Non), and we head unexpectedly into reenactment territory with the story of his arrest by the fascist government soon after the premiere of Acto de Primavera.

Oliveira spoke like he was at the end of his life, not realizing that another 22 years and half his body of work was still ahead of him. His final narration, “and I disappear,” then a quick slideshow from the family album until the film runs out of the projector. This was withheld from public release until after the maestro’s death, a fitting finale.

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.

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.