The Passing (1992, Bill Viola)

Soundtrack is the heavy breathing of a person trying to fall asleep, so the movie segments are dreams, I suppose. Lights, cloth, water, children, landscapes. Some movies are described as journeys, but this is one of the few that actually feels like one.

Some of the low-light video is great. It has a very different look from film, and is something you don’t see often, even though video technology has been everywhere for decades.

Official description says it “juxtaposes personal pictures of his mother’s death with images of his own son’s birth to explore foundational and potent themes of beginnings and endings, the cycle of life and the movement of generations” – I can buy that.

Nightbreed (1990, Clive Barker)

Hetero White Male Boone has been having bad dreams, getting calls from psychiatrist David Cronenberg, who is secretly giving his patients hallucinogens. Then a bagface knifes some kid’s parents. Boone’s girlfriend Lori does karaoke at a club. Crazy Boone goes to hospital, where he meets a cheery longhair who scalps himself. All this leads Boone to Midian, underground dwelling of monsters, whose prophet he will become, to the consternation of their gill-cheeked leader Doug Bradley. But there’s trouble before Boone can take his place as prophecised hero, because either he or Cronenberg (who works nights as the psychotic bagface murderer) leads the humans to the monster pit, and a redneck army destroys the pit, driving the monsters away.

Barker creates a fantastic bunch of characters (everyone except Boone) but maybe it’s best he stopped directing. The newly restored director’s cut doesn’t change how creaky and graceless everything is. Everyone talks like they’re in a movie, one guy even screams “nooooooo!” But I hadn’t seen this since the VHS days, was worth revisiting. Maybe I’ll see if I can find the comics.

Cinematographer Robin Vidgeon had shot the first two Hellraiser movies with Clive. Whole companies are credited with the foul crimes committed against movies: “20th Century Fox drastically cut this film at the last minute prior to its theatrical release,” and everywhere it’s Fox this and Fox that. I’d like to see the individuals listed more often, IMDB credits for specific studio execs who sunk the movies.

Princess Mononoke (1997, Hayao Miyazaki)

Final movie we watched in 2014, if we don’t count the disc of Brakhage shorts I put on for New Year’s Eve. Katy was impressed at how weird and non-Disney it seems. There’s a magical nature god with healing powers whom the title character tries and fails to protect, then a fight over its severed head, after which the movie’s main character decides to join the mining town whose leaders have been trying to destroy the forest and its spirits all along. With a more straightforward Avatar approach, the forest-destroying, spirit-killing factions of humanity would be the villains, but here everything is more morally complex.

Most distractingly recognizable voice in the English version: Billy Bob Thornton as a mercenary monk. Minnie Driver led the mining town, Gillian Anderson played the giant wolf that Mononoke hangs with, and Keith David (the guy who fights Roddy Piper for an hour before putting on the glasses in They Live) was the giant blind pig.

Memorable: the cursed boar Ashitaka fights at the beginning, setting him off on a journey to find where it came from and un-curse his arm. And especially the bobble-headed tree spirits.

Batman Returns (1992, Tim Burton)

The best Christmas movie we could find on netflix at the time. Katy had never seen this, did not know the joys of a flipper-fisted Danny DeVito and leather-suited Michelle Pfeiffer and fright-wigged Christopher Walken and Burton’s light-and-shadows pop-color photography and Elfman’s huge soaring music all stealing Micheal Keaton’s own superhero film out from under him. Batman has an undeveloped love interest in Pfeiffer, some last-minute heroism (diverting DeVito’s city-destroying rocket penguins into the zoo), obligatory Batman/Bruce identity crisis, but no major personality or emotion or story developments. And that’s fine with me – Batman movies could’ve gone on forever like this.

Totally missed noticing Paul Reubens as Penguin’s father, damn. Doug Jones (Abe Sapien in Hellboy) played a clown, and Jan Hooks (just-deceased SNL actress) Penguin’s mayoral campaign handler. Happy to see Michael “Tanner ’88” Murphy as the mayor and the great Vincent Schiavelli as Penguin’s monkey man.

Also watched the first 15 minutes of the first Burton Batman movie. Forgot that Jack Palance plays the crime boss who sends Nicholson into the Joker-backstory factory. Billy Dee Williams plays Harvey Dent, who does not get two-faced in this one.

The Stendhal Syndrome (1996, Dario Argento)

Someday I’d like to visit Italy and see if everyone acts the way they do in Argento films, moving all artificially and speaking poor dialogue out-of-sync with their mouths. Probably it’s just a very bad movie. And that’s not even counting the fact that it’s about a rape investigator (played by Argento’s daughter) who gets repeatedly raped (she’s also a cop who repeatedly gets her gun stolen), then it justifies this in the second half by having her become the killer. “He forced his way into me and now I can’t get rid of him.” Worse, I’m not even sure why I watched this. I’d previously read up on Argento and decided which movies might be worth watching (just the ones I’ve seen plus Crystal Plumage, Grey Velvet and Opera), and Stendhal Syndrome was not on the list. Maybe I put it on the netflix blu-queue as a placeholder? Anyway at least the picture on the disc looked fantastic.

The earliest Asia Argento I’ve seen, two years before New Rose Hotel. After being kidnapped and raped the first time she acts prickly towards a creep coworker (Marco Leonardi, love interest Pedro in Like Water For Chocolate) who is relentlessly trying to date her, starts seeing a psychologist (Paolo Bonacelli of Salo, one of the few films more icky than this one), and eventually returns to her stress-inducing family (to relax, haha), where she’s followed by both creep Marco and blood-obsessed rapist Thomas Kretschmann (Argento’s Dracula, also in Queen Margot with Asia).

Then she kills the rapist but keeps insisting he’s still alive, as she carries on his work, taking out the psychologist, her new French boyfriend Marie (a boy with a girl’s name as the movie continually mentions), Marco and a couple others.

Moo Orleans:

And by the way, Asia has the Stendhal Syndrome, which causes you to become entranced by works of art, but the movie doesn’t know what to do with this, plot-wise. It combines well-staged practical effects with the worst computer graphics I’ve ever seen, which is used with Fight Club excess (why, when she swallows pills, must we follow them down her throat?). It’s not just 1996 CGI – it’s Italian 1996 CGI. The movie has story problems (a half hour in, it’s already explaining its first scenes in flashback), missed opportunities (Marco brings Buster Keaton videos to a girl who imagines herself falling into paintings, but we get no Sherlock Jr. clip) and the unsurmountable flaw of having no recognizable human behavior. After reading that interview about invisible acting in The Dirties, and watching well-performed horrors like Hellraiser and The Tenant, this is especially disappointing. At least I could enjoy the paintings, the cinematography and the blatant Vertigo references.

Asia takes up painting:

Things I remembered while going through screenshots: (1) Asia gets amnesia between passing out at the art gallery and being raped by the loony, (2) she kisses a fish in a dream sequence, which looks like the romantic opposite of the zombie-vs-shark scene in Zombi 2, (3) she sees graffiti come alive in the loony’s lair, (4) her dad is freaky.

Asia loves fish:

A Summer’s Tale (1996, Eric Rohmer)

Currently my favorite Rohmer movie. I’ve always thought his movies looked nice, but never thought they looked glorious until now, and I’m worried that’s because I watched this one in theaters, which I’ve got little chance of doing with the others. Either way, the color cinematography, its look naturalistic but never at the expense of style and framing, was perfect.

The story doesn’t seem like all that, but the lead boy’s girl problems become increasingly engrossing. Don’t know how this fits with the Moral Tales, since we wait for our hero to make moral (or at least hastily-justified) life decisions, but he can’t seem to manage, finally ditching all three of his women to pursue a music career.

Melvil Poupaud (of Genealogies of a Crime and Mysteries of Lisbon), with black tousled Garrel-hair, is at the beach awaiting his girlfriend Lena. He befriends Margot (Amanda Langlet, title star of Pauline at the Beach), they hang out, go on long walks and once to a dance club where he sees Solene. Margot claims to be in a relationship, boyfriend is away for the summer, but doubts that Melvil’s is gonna last since his girl is a week late, encourages him to date Solene instead. Lena finally shows up, they have a great day then a less-great day, and Melvil has to decide if he’s taking his long-anticipated trip to a nearby island, and if so, with which girl (at this point, he’s invited each of them separately).

Not officially released in the U.S. until this year.
Third of his four seasons films, which I’m now tempted to watch all of.

G. Kenny:

As Gaspard tries to juggle his girls, he fails to perceive that he’s sinking into the quicksand of little white lies. And the more confident he gets, the more insufferable he becomes. Looking at the picture’s mostly sun-drenched and drolly cheerful surface layer, one marvels at Rohmer’s unerring sense of what drama kings and queens young people can be. But not too far below that surface is an ironic parable about how people, regardless of their age, use their romantic lives to construct their self-images.

Demonic Toys (1992, Peter Manoogian)

“Full Moon Entertainment presents”

FM made this between Puppet Masters 3 and 4, and the year after Dollman, now fully invested in Puppets, Dolls and Toys, dreaming of franchise crossovers to come.

“Screenplay by David S. Goyer”

Goyer later wrote The Puppet Masters (no relation!), the Blade movies (arguably his peak) and the latest Batman movies.

“Directed by Peter Manoogian”

Manoogian isn’t a made-up alias for Charles Band, but a guy who worked on The Howling, Trancers and Ghoulies.

Opens with POV shot of a demonic-toy and grandfather-clock-filled dream sequence, and I’m afraid the budget might be spent already. Then undercover cop Jude (Tracy Scoggins of Toy Soldiers, no relation to demonic toys, and Watchers II, which was a remake, not a sequel to Watchers) is explaining her dreams to scruffy boyfriend/partner Matt (Jeff Celentano of American Ninja 2: The Confrontation), and enter the Goyer trademark dialogue: “You got your piece? Then let’s dance.” While Matt is clumsily arresting arms dealers, he’s killed and an enraged Jude (I keep typing “Dude” by mistake) follows them into – where else? – a conveniently unlocked warehouse. As an injured criminal stumbles into a toy company, I’m checking to see how long ago Child’s Play came out, oh, was it four years before this?

Chicken Boy:

Hold up, movie is getting too action-packed this early on, so suddenly we’re asked to care about a rebel chicken delivery guy named Mark, played by Bentley “grandson of Robert” Mitchum, who also starred in hits like Nice Guys Finish Dead and Real Men Don’t Eat Gummi Bears. He is friends with the gross security guard (Pete Schrum, Santa Claus in Trancers) at the conveniently unlocked toy warehouse. After long periods of time without any toys, demonic or otherwise, finally the injured baddie (possibly Barry Lynch of The Call of Cthulhu) is killed, followed soon enough by the security guard, and we’re off. If the guard worked here for years, how come tonight the demonic toys kill him? It’s something to do with Jude the cop, her pregnancy and/or dreams. An actual kid with glowing eyes (Daniel Cerny, who’d go on to star in Children of the Corn 3 before getting involved with a movie called Bitch Slap) explains all this but I was barely listening, just caught the line “we feed off your fear” and reminisced about Ghostbusters 2.

Trick-or-treating flashback:

Intense surviving baddie (longtime stuntman Michael Russo of The Toxic Avenger and Death Wish 4) and Jude have their “you killed my partner/boyfriend” standoff extended, the chicken delivery guy helps out, and in a moment of Cube-like genius, a dirty-haired girl drops in from the air ducts. More top-notch dialogue: “I played the old houdini act on your lady friend back there, chicken boy.” Flashback to 1925 in which some lady gives a stillborn demon baby to trick or treaters. Homeless girl dies, as does the demonic jester toy, but the talking baby gets away. Did I dream it or was there some decent stop-motion for a second?

Isn’t that Bob Stoeckle of Bloodsucking Pharaohs In Pittsburgh?

What of the toys? Baby Oopsydaisy speaks, which was a bad move. The jester, with its long coiled tail with a rattle at the end that I only now realized was supposed to resemble a rattlesnake, and the sharp-toothed teddy bear aren’t bad, and there’s a robot tank that you don’t see too often. As opposed to most Puppet Master murders, demonic toys are slow, painful, and take teamwork. A single Puppet is a killing machine. I think it’s clear who’s going to win when these groups face off.

Jester, jack-in-the-box, whatever:

The movie is foul and stupid, and I hated watching it, and afterwards vowed to not watch any more bad movies on purpose, but writing it up days later is kinda fun, so maybe I’ll just limit to one shitty Full Moon direct-to-video possessed-toy flick per Shocktober.

Dead Man (1995, Jim Jarmusch)

Kind of a dark movie, as Depp moves west towards nothing good, becoming a killer of white men before/after being killed by one. But it’s also possibly Jarmusch’s funniest and most beautiful movie, with great music.

Nobody: Gary Farmer (how did I miss him in Adaptation?)

Thel: Mili Avital, whose film career didn’t take off after Stargate

This was possibly Robert Mitchum’s final film:

Two Marshalls named Lee and Marvin:

The Kid: Eugene Byrd, a regular on Bones
Conway: Michael Wincott of Alien Resurrection and Basquiat

Benmont Tench (at right): Andy Warhol in I Shot Andy Warhol

Crispin Glover played Andy Warhol in The Doors. This movie has two Andy Warhols!

Whahappan:

Deseret (1995, James Benning)

I’ve finally watched a James Benning movie. I knew I’d either love it, or not get it, which would be frustrating since I have about 15 Benning movies on my must-see list based on critic recommendations. Whew, loved it. Felt like Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind meets Hollis Frampton. I noticed he was cutting the picture on every new spoken sentence, but later I discovered it gets more Framptony yet: there’s one literal/relevant shot per segment, the long between-segment shots get gradually shorter, movie switches to color when Utah becomes a state and there are precisely as many b/w frames as color.

All spoken text is from historical New York Times articles, which don’t seem overly fond of Utah or the Mormons, so it’s interesting to get a history lesson told by a suspicious narrator – from early reports on Brigham Young, U.S. military expeditions to quell the Mormon rebellion, fights against polygamy, the cross-country railroad, and the Mountain Meadows massacre, in which Mormon militia killed 100+ non-Mormon settlers. Things get somewhat less extreme once statehood is achieved – standouts include the U.S. army’s nerve gas tests killing thousands of sheep and Robert Smithson’s great Spiral Jetty.

Amazing quote from 1880s: “Mormonism is a good deal as slavery seemed once to those of the north who had never seen, but only read one-sided unreliable representations of it: not half as bad when you come to see it.”

Rosenbaum: “Benning’s eye for evocative beauty is as sharp as ever, and his complex invitation to the viewer to create a narrative space between his separate elements keeps this 1995 film continually fascinating.”