Katy hated this, and sure it’s not one of the better or even more memorable movies we’ve watched this summer, but when I heard that Johnnie To made a movie starring Andy Lau as a monk/stripper/strongman in a rubber muscle suit, I knew I had to watch it right away, and I regret nothing. Guess I’m on my own for Johnnie To’s comedy Love on a Diet starring Andy Lau in a fat suit…

This movie starts out crazy enough, with bodybuilder Lau making a nude getaway while a more serious crime is being committed, running into a cop and seeing a vision of her future. They team up and fight crime… but then Andy retreats to a mountain for years, battles his past self, and captures a reclusive killer… and we sense that they either filmed a three-hour epic then cut it to ninety minutes, or everyone was making it up as they went along. The staging of even simple scenes is better than it needs to be, the movie’s never boring, it features some villains straight out of the comics, and it follows through on its promise to kill Andy’s romantic interest (the cop, Cecilia Cheung of The Promise and Zu Warriors), so I admire it despite the parts that never really work (the editing, the muscle suit).

I love the convenience and the selection of the Criterion Channel… and the quality, and the extras, but it’s tough to take screenshots, which ruins my blog flow. This was presented with Biller’s The Love Witch, which I was sorely tempted to watch a third time, but thought I’d better check out her debut while it’s online. Set in the early 1970s, it’s more campy than Love Witch, with self consciously horrible dialogue, shot like a cross between a sitcom and an advertisement. These aren’t complaints necessarily. Of the actors, I only recognized Sheila’s horrible husband Mark, who led the ren-fest scene in Love Witch.

Anna plays Barbi, whose husband Rick leaves her for weeks at a time. Anna and her friend Sheila decide home life is dull, so they sneak off to a modeling agency and get jobs as call girls. Anna as “Viva” meets a nudist musician, a hot girl named Agnes, and a big-deal artist… stars in a few musical numbers and a psychedelic animated fantasy. On one hand, as Viva she becomes a glorious sex goddess, but still everyone she meets is abusing her.

The end of a week catching up with True/False films, beginning with Black Mother. I watched most of this at the airport – inconvenient since I kept having to lift my jaw off the dirty floor. Very happy to learn that Mads has a new shit-stirring movie and we’ll be seeing it next week in Columbia.

“Comedy is the soft spot of all dictatorships.” A group of antifascist subversive Danish comedians takes an official visit to to North Korea with the stated goal of playing Wonderwall with local kids as a cultural exchange. Their purposely terrible musical-comedy act is hijacked by a local cultural director, who “surgically removes” anything cultural and changes their entire act into something just as unfunny but somehow more politically palatable. Meanwhile, Mads has come as a spy, to shine a light on a hated, repressive system. His secret weapon is Jacob, whose physical disability makes his Danish impossible to understand by the censors and translators, but Jacob becomes tormented by all the duplicity. They end up in a parade on national TV cursing the U.S. imperialists, manage to play Wonderwall once, then get the hell out of there.

I mostly know Fessenden from his roles in Kelly Reichardt movies… only previously seen his Habit, the other mid-90’s heroin/vampire movie – know I didn’t like it much but I don’t recall anything about it and don’t trust my 1996 self’s opinions, since 1996 Self loved From Dusk Till Dawn and Happy Gilmore.

I guess this is The Thing meets The Happening meets The Screwfly Solution, an “eco-thriller” in which the environment fights back against an arctic oil team who already had their own inter-personal drama and now have to contend with people turning suicidal/homicical after seeing snowy ghosts. Throw in an evil corporation covering up climate-change evidence, Ron Perlman and Connie Britton, and remarkably good plane-crash effects, and it’s a solid little apocalyptic movie.

Connie and Ronnie:

Maxwell (Connie’s Friday Night Lights costar) is first to die naked in the snow, Jamie Harrold (Kingdom Hospital) just nosebleeds to death in his sleep, and a couple people get taken out when the “rescue” plane crashes into their base. Perlman and his rival, Phantasm II star James Le Gros, end up stranded in the snow with approaching ghost-deers, while back home, Connie kills Joanne Shenandoah for smothering Kevin Corrigan (the not-bright, cleaner-spraying guy in Infinity Baby).

There’s a new Puppet Master movie out this year, so I am falling behind – decided to watch the last of the “classic” series. It’s the Puppet Master clip show, featuring scenes from the other movies in roughly chronological order, with a framing story of an anti-Toulon woman reading a giant book, presumably the official novelization of Puppet Masters 1-7, then trying to get the secret of eternal puppet life out of some vaguely Toulon-looking guy (Jacob Witkin of the Evil Bong trilogy). She’s an assassin, who conveniently claims to have killed the survivors of previous movies, so no more sequels I guess.

We start with the Greg Sestero movie, go through the nazi era to parts one and two, then the laser tag sequels. With all these craptastic movies crammed into one hour, the few decent performances stand out: Guy Rolfe, and surprisingly Cameron, the asshole computer rival in part four. I thought the flashbacks would be a “best of Puppet Master,” so a montage of murder scenes, but the writer/directors (ashamed, working under pseudonyms) assume we watch these movies because we care about the fleshed-out history of original puppetmaster Andre Toulon, so it’s all the mythology stuff (with some good murders mixed in). As a result, this is probably the best Puppet Master movie – but if you’re some kind of idiot who watched the previous seven of these, then there’s no need for it, unless we’re gonna need all this recapping in order to follow Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys.

An aged film actress relates her life story to an interviewer and cameraman at her house. She draws them into her memories so they appear to be watching/filming her life from the sidelines, as she starts by explaining she only went into acting to locate a cute revolutionary artist she once met. Chiyoko’s transformations and the stagings and transitions of the flashbacks are wonderful, sliding through Japanese history and cinema – the movie could’ve happily gone on like this for another hour. Instead it has to wrap up, Chiyoko explaining that she didn’t need the boy, she just loved the pursuit, and the interviewer confessing that he’s a stalker from way back, and returns a memento he found during her studio years. Satoshi Kon’s second feature after Perfect Blue; I’ve also seen Paprika, and feel like his movies are good, but not getting why people think they’re the most amazing things in the whole world. A few years after this movie, Kon made the series Paranoia Agent, which is the most amazing thing in the whole world.

Watched for Cannes Month before the actual festival began… this is from the year of The White Ribbon and Broken Embraces, A Prophet and Antichrist. Another story of a doomed poet, this time from the perspective of a girl who loved him, and maybe that’s what made the difference, because I liked A Quiet Passion a fair bit, but fell for this one completely.

Lovely, sensitive Abbie Cornish (Somersault) is in love with frail poet Ben Whishaw (Cloud Atlas, Nathan Barley, Ariel in The Tempest), and I’m sure that due to social class difference this is a terrible scandal, because it always is in movies, but I appreciate that they downplayed that element. We vaguely recognized Ben’s sardonic friend Paul Schneider, but didn’t realize who he was, since we haven’t thought about him since Water for Elephants. He was great, and indeed he won fourth place in the Skandies that year. Abbie’s mom, Kerry Fox, starred in Shallow Grave, which I guess I haven’t seen in twenty years. Really nice music, and the Australian Film Institute thought so too, but apparently not as nice as the music in Animal Kingdom. The writeup in Film Quarterly is good, so maybe come back to that, since I took poor notes on the story and characters myself.

Better than Creepy, this is K.K. in arthouse French festival mode.

Stéphane (Olivier Gourmet of all the Dardenne movies) is an eccentric whose giant glass plate photographs are only still in demand by a few connoisseurs, so he spends most of his time in the basement photographing his daughter Marie (Constance Rousseau of Simon Killer) in uncomfortable poses for increasingly long exposures, trying to capture the ineffable. He hires Jean (Tahar Rahim, main dude in A Prophet) as a new assistant, which may have been a bad move – don’t hire someone who’s gonna covertly call an auction house to appraise all your belongings.

For the most part, the film follows Jean as he falls for Marie, who wants to move away from the lonely basement photo sessions and start her own life working at a botanical garden. Jean is a bit of a scam artist, and helps her out by scheming to coerce her dad into selling his estate, for which Jean will get a commission that they can live on together. But the schemes don’t totally make sense, and time goes by and things get weird. It’s not a tight Chabrolian thriller, but something more diffuse. Eventually Marie appears to have died in two separate incidents (a stairs tumble, a car crash), but she still appears real to Jean, and Stéphane’s long-dead wife reappears as a Pulse-referencing slow-motion spirit.

Originally titled Le secret de la chambre noire, I watched this right after Creepy. Since Before We Vanish, K.K. has already released its extended semi-remake Foreboding. The others I missed since Tokyo Sonata include Real (Inception-y romance), Seventh Code (an hourlong paranoid thriller), and Penance (a murder-guilt anthology miniseries).

Second movie I watched this week where the lead girl is told at the end to not look back. Some obvious parallels with other Ghibli movies – the romantic lead boy who transforms into a flying creature to work for/against wickedness (Howl’s Moving Castle), living dust sprites (My Neighbor Totoro), the lead girl nervous because she’s moving to a new house in the country, kooky/friendly old folks, villains who are maybe not so evil really, and fantastical beasts galore – like a Ghibli’s Greatest Hits thrown into a giant bathhouse. The greatest.