The lead cops, whose casting may be holdovers from when this was first planned as a Martin Scorsese picture, get first billing, but the film belongs to Mekhi Phifer as Strike, sort of the D’Angelo Barksdale of this story. He’s a mid-level drug dude with a stern and intense boss (Delroy Lindo) whose heart (and stomach) isn’t in his work. The poor guy either executes a rival or guilts his brother into doing it, and he’s such a harmless dude that even the cops help him get away in the end. Whoever called this a trial run for 25th Hour nailed it.

Keitel and “Chucky”:

Strike tries to get himself a protegee named Tyrone, but keeps getting yelled at by Tyrone’s mom. Some Spike Lee weirdness keeps you on your toes – the climactic murder by Tyrone is foreshadowed in a VR game, and what was up with that “No More Packing” billboard with the gun in a lunchbox? Best of all is when Harvey Keitel, terrible at his job, is telling Tyrone what he should say to get off for the killing, appearing by the kid’s side in alternate-flashback versions of the events.

Showdown:

Somebody was not careful when writing character names – with only a few lead roles, why would you name four of them Ronny and Rodney, Errol and Darryl? Also funny to hear an interviewee correct the cops’ pronunciation of his name “Jesus,” with John Turturro standing right behind him.

First movie watched on the New TV, and first time I’ve seen this in hi-def. The creature/typewriter effects hold up, as does the circular story blending the Burroughs stories with his own strange life, and the acting by Peter Weller and Judy Davis (same year as Barton Fink, wow).

“Rewriting is censorship.” Exterminator Bill is in trouble at work because his wife is shooting up his bug powder (“It’s a Kafka high; you feel like a bug”). “I am your case officer,” says the anus of the bug the cops leave him with, “Your wife is not really your wife.” After Bill catches writer Hank on top of his not-wife Joan, they do the ol’ William Tell act, then the bigger bug at the bar gives him a ticket to Interzone and says he’s to write a report.

Sands, Kiki, Eclectus:

Hitlery Hans (Cronenberg regular Robert Silverman) introduces him to Kiki, who introduces him to another Joan’s husband, typewriter aficionado Ian Holm (I forget how Julian Sands fits in, but he’s there, in a white suit of course). Sinister doctor Roy Scheider reappears as a lesbian mind-control druglord at the end, and the whole thing combines sex, drugs, death, literature and insects in ways that nothing else ever has.

The MFG pays the bills, does all the cooking and cleaning for her mom and stepdad, but they still kick her out when she gets knocked up by hateful Aarne. Then she buys some rat poison and takes care of her tormentors. For such an unrelentingly dark premise, the movie itself is very fun, with good music of course (accordion and surf guitar).

AK’s 7th feature… played Berlin in some sidebar I don’t understand, same year as Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and The Asthenic Syndrome. Opened in the USA belatedly, where it had the misfortune to be up against Raise The Red Lantern in the critics’ awards. MFG Kati Outinen has been in everything, was the sick wife in Le Havre, costarred with her mom again in Drifting Clouds. Her brother is a Leningrad Cowboy, and her dad is Polonius.

Her brother’s apartment is sweet:

I hadn’t seen this since opening weekend, almost thirty years ago. I don’t recall it being good, and it has a poor reputation, but now I’m a seasoned auteurist cinephile with the keen ability to recognize David Fincher’s brilliant work within this studio disaster… oh ha, no I’m not, if anything the flaws were more apparent than ever.

Great opening, showing brief flashes of alien chaos aboard the ship full of sleeping soldiers, intercut with the quiet opening titles. The escape ship from part 2 crash lands on a prison mining planet, where Ripley washes up onshore burned and maggoty while the other cast is killed off via text on a computer screen. I try not to knock myself out keeping track of characters and personalities in these movies until half of them have died off – it was pretty doable in the last movie, gonna be harder here with this bunch of shaved-head barcoded space monkeys. Let’s start with Roc, the only actor I recognize (besides Pete Postlethwaite in a minor role), a sort of unionist preacher who doesn’t want women on his planet.

Ripley and Roc:

In this case I got what I deserved by watching the extended cut – it’s baggy and talky. So much of the movie is people floridly trying to avoid telling each other important things. Charles Dance (of Space Truckers, appropriately) is the soft-voiced medical officer. One of the other officials and also the scar-eyed psycho who teams up with the aliens against humanity are played by Withnail & I actors – lots of British accents in space jail. I forgot the scene where Ripley med-scans herself, proof that there were no new ideas in the prequels.

Spoiler alert:

It’s almost a really well-made movie, full of no-name actors who turned out to be really good at their roles, but it’s got some fundamental problems that good acting couldn’t overcome. It opens by squandering the goodwill of the second movie by killing off Newt and the others… it’s no fun for long stretches, and the last half hour is all aliens running full-tilt down long corridors, which is a visual effect they couldn’t manage. They followed up a great James Cameron movie with a film whose climax involves liquid metal… and the studio couldn’t pull off the effects… the year after Cameron’s Terminator 2 came out. They must have been so embarrassed.

Hundreds of years in the future, video cameras will look like this again:

Ruiz’s Proust adaptation sounds like a dream come true – I held off watching for years, hoping a blu-ray would come out – and it did! From the opening titles, the camera is already doing something dizzying, and there’s a feverish guy in bed, the furniture moving by itself. So far, so close to Mysteries of Lisbon. This turns out to have more stylish flourishes and be more properly expensive looking than Lisbon – but Lisbon is more interested in telling a story than Time Regained is.

The video extra by Bernard Génin says Rene Clement, Luchino Visconti, and Joseph Losey all tried to film Proust. Volker Schlondorff’s Swann In Love is good except for Alain Delon’s casting (“sacrilege”), and Nina Companez’s four-hour miniseries is “a creditable effort.” Ruiz skipped entire books and episodes, including the ones covered by Schlondorff and by Chantal Akerman in The Captive, looking for a way to convey Proust’s prose and time slippages through cinematographic means (including long takes and alarming edits). I haven’t read any Proust, and sometimes I can’t tell one identically-dressed mustached man from the other, so didn’t follow the story so much as enjoy the trip.

Gilberte:

Edith:

“Then, one day, everything changes.” Proust is in bed at the beginning, dictating to serious-looking Mathilde Seigner (Venus Beauty Institute), then he’s played by different actors at various ages throughout the story.

Red-haired Gilberte (La Belle Noiseuse star Emmanuelle Béart) is with blond Robert Saint-Loup (Pascal Greggory from a bunch of Rohmer and Patrice Chéreau movies), but when he’s supposedly on business trips he sneaks off with Rachel (Elsa Zylberstein, star of That Day). Gilberte confides in Marcel (usually played by Italian Marcello Mazzarella), arrives in one scene dressed as Rachel – not the only time the movie tricks us by substituting identically-dressed women. Oriane (the great Edith Scob) is pissed at Gilberte, thinks she was sleeping around, and not Robert. He eventually enlists in WWI, thinking the war won’t last, and dies in battle.

Saint-Loup’s tribute to The Prestige:

Charlie Morel is a longhair violinist, wanted as a deserter (Vincent Perez, star of The Crow 2). Jacques/Bloch (he changes his name) is Christian Vadim (Night Across the Street), and the “American” woman he’s with is Arielle Dombasle (La belle captive). John Malkovich is Baron Charlus, who pays young men to beat him bloody. Catherine Deneuve appears in at least two time periods, looking the same in each. She is Gilberte’s mom, and each of them changes names at least once, adding to my confusion.

In here somewhere is Melvil Poupaud (the kid from City of Pirates and Treasure Island), still looking younger than his mustache… party host Madame Verdurin (Marie-France Pisier of Celine & Julie)… and Marcel’s girl, the curl-haired Albertine (Chiara Mastroianni of Bastards)

Mouseover to see a false Mme Verdurin become Marie-France Pisier:
image

The DP worked with Resnais, and the editor with Rivette, which feels about right.

Played Cannes with Rosetta, Ghost Dog, Kikujiro, and Pola X.

Slant called it “one of the boldest literary adaptations ever made,” and calls out the sound design: “the intense care placed into using sound to capture the material’s subjective perspectives. Small noises like the scratch of a pen on paper or distant bells can become deafening in the mix as they trigger new reminiscences.”

Ebert’s review is the only great one, taking the movie’s (and novel’s) focus on memory and loss to heart.

The opening abduction scene will make more sense eventually, and even then, it wasn’t until I started playing the commentary that I could say with any confidence what’s happening in the open. The household scene that follows quickly reminded that we’re in the hands of the Hard to be a God director – full of movement and talking, bustling activity in every corner of long roving camera takes.

Yuri is a military doctor in 1953, bald with a mustache, an important man who will be brought low by forces that we twenty-first-century non-Soviets can hardly fathom without audio explanation. It’s sure entertaining though, and practically as foul and brutish as God. Sound effects are good – dubbing is bad, but I’m constantly checking subtitles since the movie never shuts up for a second, so we’ll call it even.

Birdie!

Learned from the commentary: the movie is in two parts since they could get double budget if it was submitted as two films. One character with a cane umbrella would be seen as a hilarious foreigner by Russian audiences since he wears galoshes. There are major literature and poetry references throughout (I caught Viy and Sadko). German didn’t look through the camera viewfinder or select lenses, considered cinematographer Vladimir Ilin a co-author of the film, “the lighting cameraman has to be an artist too.”

The doctor gets home, but his son in voiceover says he never saw his father again… there was a double in the film, being trained what to say in case he was captured, and other doubles and siblings, so maybe I got some characters confused, and I only played the first hour of the commentary. It involves antisemitism, the death of Stalin, and a scandal called The Doctor’s Plot, which refuses to make sense no matter how much I read about it. To be clear though, the movie’s power comes through fine even not knowing what’s happening – in fact, I wonder if it’s the whole point not to know. “Poetry floats up in my memory like sailboats in the fog, along with salami.” The doctor ends up on a train, tormenting the abducted man from the opening scene, and looking intense:

German:

Another part of the population was starving in the gulag, but we ignored that reality; we only knew ours, and I can assure you that from that point of view, living in a totalitarian regime isn’t all bad. People who don’t want to know lead an adorable life. That’s why even today a lot of people in our country yearn for totalitarianism.

“You fuck ’em without fuckin’ ’em”

Such a cynical movie, made by Verhoeven in the middle of his 1990’s prime. When it was over I checked something online and was suddenly reminded of its campy so-bad-it’s-good reputation, which definitely scanned in the first few scenes when Nomi (Elizabeth Berkley) gets a ride to Vegas from an Elvis-haired scam artist, but I got on the movie’s heightened wavelength and enjoyed greatly – I doubt I’ve said “oh my god” more times in a two-hour period than when watching this.

Nomi is prone to tantrums and seems like a real pain in the ass, but people keep helping her… though I guess the Elvis-guy stealing her suitcase at the end of the opening sequence teaches us to be on guard. She dances at a shitty club until Kyle MacLachlan walks in with his dancer-gal Gina Gershon (looking ready for her breakout in Bound the next year), who buys Kyle a Nomi lapdance. Kyle then gets Nomi an audition at a fancier hotel where she takes over as understudy and gets her big break (by pushing Gina down some stairs). Meanwhile her supportive roommate Gina Ravera gets raped by her celebrity crush, and some dude from Nomi’s past is threatening to tell everyone about her pre-Vegas criminal life.

Nomi and Gina R:

Nomi and Gina G:

From the writer of Flashdance and Basic Instinct… it feels like one of those decadent. doomed 1980s-90s studio films. Everything looks 20% too studio-fake – or maybe that’s just Vegas. At least one Prince song. Okay this is stupid, but earlier the same night I watched Hang the DJ, directed by Timothy Van Patten who once played “Max Keller” in Master Ninja… and Robert Davi, Nomi’s boss Al at the strip club, played a “Max Keller” in Raw Deal a couple years later. Nomi’s boyfriend/bouncer/choreographer Glenn Plummer (also of Strange Days and Menace II Society) is one of the few who returned for Showgirls 2: Penny’s From Heaven. Elizabeth Berkley trained in ballet and was clearly wasted on Saved by the Bell, but supposedly this movie ruined her acting career, while Kyle, who claims to be embarrassed by it, was unaffected.

We picked up a biscuit with butter and jam from a biscuit-focused food truck, stopped at Gunther Hans, then headed to the Globe for a double feature… and there was The River Arkansas again, still good. I believe this was a new restoration – shockingly clear photography with lots of close-ups. Journey film with slightly confusing storyline, though it seems like it should’ve been straightforward, intertitles explaining each phase. Katy is concerned with shooting India as an outsider, not understanding the Hindu rituals or family dynamics. I don’t know what anyone else thinks, since this was missing from letterboxd until now, but the Finnish director was present to tell horror stories of the difficulty of filming (or maybe I read that in the Neither/Nor book afterwards, I forget).

Immediately after watching a movie by rule-breaker iPhone-cinematographer Soderbergh, roughly his 30th feature, it was fun to catch up with his third, a period piece with relatively subdued editing and energy. The movies would seem to have nothing in common, except that I’d just read David Ehrlich’s review of High Flying Bird, saying that Soderbergh is “drawn to stories about people who try to steal back a measure of self-worth,” and that connects. So now I’ve seen all of his movies except Side Effects, and I guess Mosaic.

Our boy is Aaron, abandoned by both parents due to work and illness, he and his little brother attempt to live in a hotel room in Depression-era St. Louis with no food or income for as long as possible. He tries breeding canaries, dances with an epileptic neighbor, sees the arrest of Adrien Brody and suicide (!) of Spalding Gray while avoiding cops and death himself, and finally escapes the hotel when his travelling salesman father returns.

Gray and Elizabeth McGovern:

Aaron with Lauryn Hill: