“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:

A very long, bizarre movie, feels like the script was written by a distracted conspiracy theorist then it was was filmed completely straightfaced by dedicated (but low-budget) actors and craftsmen armed with heavy giallo lighting.

Opens with a massive fake rant about yuppie culture on 60 Minutes, then our man Trent sees himself inside the TV preview for The Hand That Rocks The Cradle. Outside, a maniac in a hairpiece is wrapping a dead woman in foil. I think this is Trent’s brother, but Trent complains to his wife about “your brother-in-law,” which is a strange way to refer to your own brother. After the brother(-in-law) sexually harasses a woman whose Secret Service ex-boyfriend then runs him over repeatedly in an alley while a lumpy pink alien look on, I realized I needed to let go of basic things like the characters’ identities and relationships.

“Get her some coffee, some cocaine, anything left over from the 80’s.” If the Mr. Robot guy can win an oscar for portraying Freddie Mercury, then Damon Packard can fill his movie with sub-cable actors and claim they’re major celebrities. Julia Roberts crashes on Trent’s couch for six months, Sade rehearses next to Rush, a hitman is sent after Bono, Dick Cheney takes orders from Johnny Carson’s band leader Doc Severinsen, William Friedkin gets mad that nobody wants to see his movie The Guardian, and Janet Jackson is married to one of Trent’s fellow Illuminati members.

This is all aimed at people slightly older than me, who saw Sleeping With the Enemy in theaters and got upset when Rush rapped on a 1991 single. Have I mentioned that it’s long? Every scene goes on for a small eternity, with repetitive dialogue, though sometimes the sound mixer will amuse himself by randomly pitch-shifting an actor, or blatantly dubbing in completely different lines, or an actor’s face will get Black Hole Sunned. The song Ice Ice Baby is being used for mind control, the movie New Jack City sparks riots (the rioters simply chanting “new jack city!”)… even this movie has multiple titles. The whole vibe is cool and unusual, chase scenes through empty Hollywood streets in the middle of the night with 1991 movie posters photoshopped onto the billboards, cheap direct-to-video effects combined with creative production design and an indecipherable story. I’ve long been tempted to rent Packard’s Reflections of Evil, which sounds similarly demented (but is very, very long); there’s also the 1982-set sci-fi feature Foxfur, the hour-long SpaceDisco One, and the twenty minute fake-trailer Dawn of an Evil Millennium, and I should watch all of these – even if they’re “bad,” they’re also exactly the kinds of movies I always aspired to make.

It’s unwise to watch more than two Italian horrors per SHOCKtober, but this caught my eye at Videodrome, and it’s been years since anything caught my eye at Videodrome since we haven’t lived close enough, so I rented it to celebrate being able to spontaneously pick movies off shelves again, rather than relying on my premeditated lists. Surprise: it’s really good. Almost seems like a parody of previous Italian horrors – “woman in a strange new house discovers gateway to hell in her basement” is the plot of half these things, and this one adds a Rosemary’s Baby element, with supernatural cultists enlisting the unwilling woman in their rituals.

If you see something suspicious in an Italian horror, always put your eyeball reeeeeal close to it:

Starts off shaky, with a mad prophet stumbling in from the desert, meeting some hippies, mis-quoting a Rolling Stones lyric to each other, making me wonder if the song was translated into Italian and back – then when night falls there’s a hippie slaughter, and I realize after Race With The Devil, I’ve accidentally programmed a satanist double-feature. In Germany years later, a balding dude follows a woman home and kills her, “why did you disobey?,” then on the subway a pickpocket pulls a human heart out of the balding dude’s jacket, and this is already crazier with more visual imagination than the other satanist movie.

A straight plot summary seems wrong for such a mad movie, but I’ll try, Kelly Curtis hits an old man with her car (Herbert Lom, Walken’s doctor in The Dead Zone), takes him home where his insects impregnate her with the devil, then he dies after a rabbit knocks over his meds, leaving behind a sentient death-shroud. Kelly is attacked by the reanimated body of her knife-murdered friend. A hot doctor helps her out, investigates the subterranean cult beneath her house, somehow ends up dying in an auto explosion, and the mom apparently survives the same fire, saved by her devil-baby. Whatever nonsense is happening, the camera is always up for filming it in bold color, with roving movements or in extreme close-up. There is bird tossing, voicemail from a dead man, a metal coffin unsealed with a can opener, a stork attack, a face transplant, and a basement with a skylight.

Opens with a psychokinetic woman reading Bluebeard, then a guy kills someone with a pipe to happy upbeat music. I haven’t seen this since it came out, and didn’t remember most of it, except that the whole movie takes place in shabby, leaky buildings.

Takabe (the great Kôji Yakusho – he’ll always be “Ship Captain in Pulse” to me) investigates the pipe murder and finds the killer immediately. Then a guy kills his wife, a cop shoots his partner, each admits their crime and says it felt like the right thing to do at the time, and they’d all been in contact with a wandering amnesiac (Masato Hagiwara: Café Lumière, Chaos), a psychology dropout who got deep into hypnotism and occult psychotherapy. “All the things that used to be inside me… now they’re all outside.”

Peter Labuza on letterboxd:

While the film is told in long takes, these takes are given a mundane design. The initial scene at the beach is one of the most frightening moments in the film without anything in the frame to suggest that this moment is frightening. Characters are relaxedly placed in the frame, not tightly ordered, and the way that the antagonist controls his doomed subjects is through commonplace lighters and glasses of water. Kurosawa emphasizes their importance the first time in the frame, but then allows them to stand as far back in the frame as possible otherwise, letting our own paranoid spectatorship create the fear than letting the camera do it. Cure‘s mise-en-scene does everything possible to tell you “this is not a horror movie,” in the same way that the hypnotized have no understanding of the atrocities they are forced to commit.

Rewatched for the first time since theaters (?) in prep for M:I:6:Fallout, and it was much fun. I remembered Emilio Estevez’s elevator death, but not that it happens in the opening sequence and that he dies along with the entire team of Kristin Scott Thomas, Emmanuelle Béart (not really dead) and her husband and team leader Jon Voight (also not dead, and the secret double-agent mole who planned the whole thing to frame Tom Cruise and make off with the secret documents or whatever). On the side of evil Voight are Jean Reno, who dies in the preposterous helicopter-in-the-train-tunnel finale, and Vanessa Redgrave, who is just quietly arrested. I was impressed by the rubber-masks game, recalling the advanced digital trickery in M:I:4:Ghost:Protocol, and then happily, part six featured just as many rubber masks.

Dramatic camera angles, first-person shots and entire subjective scenes which play differently in flashback, because it’s still De Palma.

Team 1: Estevez (his last appearance in a theatrical film that he didn’t direct), Cruise (same year as Jerry Maguire), Béart (right between her two major Rivette films), and Burnt by the Sun star Ingeborga Dapkunaite:

Cruise and K.S.T., lurking:

“Your life was hard at times, but hard is not always bad.”

Dark and bleary, twisted and smeary, gives the sense of walking through paintings without the greenscreen feel of The Mill and the Cross.

The Son is home to visit his dying Mother. She can’t go for a walk, so he carries her. They decide that mom should live, then she promptly dies. He goes out and cries next to a shadowy tree, while a song plays beneath the breeze. A relentlessly slow movie that dares you to stay awake – certainly innovative and artistic, but maybe I’m not as excited as everyone who ranked it as a great film of the 1990’s. Probably watching it in a cinema would help, instead of DVD, which was the best I could find.

Nick Cave “wept and wept, from start to finish”:

The son leaves the house and moves into the exquisite landscape that surrounds it. It is in these long, lingering, nearly motionless scenes that the film rises to heights of the most breathtaking beauty. Sokurov’s landscapes are not burdened by any desire for realism. His scenes are transformed into cinematic canvases, far closer to painting than to film, awash with artificial, opalescent light. These dream-born vistas recall the work of the German Romantic painters of the early 19th century: in particular those of Caspar David Friedrich, in which everything is softened by a milky lustre. The vastness and mystery of this heightened nature creates a spirituality not dependent on any formula of traditional Christianity. And the care Sokurov applies to these fastidiously crafted scenes echoes the care with which his characters treat each other – the devotion to detail, the unhurried tenderness, the love.

Adam Cook on Letterboxd:

The son takes over the motherly duties. He carries her like a newborn child and shows her the world which has become new and foreign to her as her memory begins to fade. It is a very touching and tender portrait of their relationship but nothing is explained and no backstory is forthcoming. The son had clearly done something that shamed him in his past but what this act was is never revealed.

This was made right between Whispering Pages and Russian Ark, both of which I kinda loved, though I gotta admit Sokurov is usually a tough watch (the recent Francofonia was surprisingly/relatively easygoing). Played Berlin in the international showcase “Panorama” section (along with Chasing Amy – that’d be a jarring double-feature).

Based on the style of newspaper comics, the animation has unfinished backgrounds that fade away on the edges, reminding me (in a good way) of Ernest & Celestine. Married couple, older schoolboy, younger daughter and gramma appear in disconnected sketches, stories and fantasies. The most dramatic thing that happens is the daughter gets left behind at the mall and while the family is stuck in traffic trying to retrieve her, she’s taken home by a friendly neighbor – it’s very lightweight drama with an overall big-hearted feeling (the polar opposite of the previous film I’d watched).

The first animated work to make me consider trying animation because it looks like fun, even though I know plenty of animators so I should know better.

Me IRL:

Maybe it felt more emotional because we watched it in memory of the great Isao Takahata, who increasingly looks like Ghibli’s secret weapon, a patient genius who never made the same kind of great film twice.