As awards continue to be thrown at Moonlight, we watched the director’s first feature on MLK weekend. It’s a low-key drama in mostly b/w that seems to contain a few pale colors. At first we thought it was the TV, or an optical illusion, but apparently they shot in color then extremely desaturated most scenes.

Wyatt Cenac (The Daily Show) and Tracey Heggins wake up together after a party, and after she embarrasedly tries to bolt he doggedly convinces her to join him for breakfast, then they roam San Francisco Before Sunrise-style, going to a museum and each of their apartments, talking about gentrification and relationships and the loneliness of being a black indie dude (TV on the Radio comes up), slowly warming to each other but remaining critical. They end up sleeping together again, sober this time, which is kind of the perfect ending even if she goes back to her white, art-critic boyfriend when it’s all over.

Ebert:

It becomes more of a test-drive of a possible life together. Neither seriously expects to lead such a life, but it’s intriguing to play. At one point they go to Whole Foods. When a newly-met couple go grocery shopping together, they’re playing house.

I missed the evening show of Manchester by the Sea because I misremembered the start time and got caught up watching Black Mirror episodes. But I still wanted to get bummed out watching a long Casey Affleck movie, so fortunately I had The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford handy. I don’t remember Casey from the Oceans trilogy or Interstellar, so this served as a reintroduction before Manchester, and both turned out to be stunner movies with great lead performances. If anyone is working on a Timothy Carey biopic, I nominate Casey as lead.

I’ve seen this story before, in Sam Fuller’s I Shot Jesse James, in which The Coward Robert Ford shoots his hero/boss Jesse in the back, then lives the rest of his short life as a famous outlaw-killer, reenacting his crime onstage. This movie fleshes out the gang much more, showing a Robert as a starstruck, excitable kid, the runt of the Fords, and Jesse as paranoid and dangerous.

After one last train robbery, the gang lays low. Jesse has a family with wife Mary-Louise Parker, lives in a forest house near Kansas City under a fake name, never got caught. Ol’ Frank James (Sam Shepard) and Charley (Sam Rockwell) make the weasely, weak-sounding Robert feel bad about his Jesse James hero-worship, but Jesse recruits Robert when the rest of his gang starts falling away and he gets nervous that someone will sell him out for reward money, visits old friend Garret Dillahunt and kills him. Meanwhile, Paul Schneider and Jeremy Renner are none too bright, compete for the attention of a teen girl, eventually have a huge falling out and Bob kills Renner and calls the cops on Schneider. Late appearance by James Carville as the governor, Nick Cave as a troubadour and Zooey “She” Deschanel.

Casey and Carville have a psychic battle:

Dominik and DP Roger Deakins don’t overdo the stylistic quirks, allowing the story and actors to do their thing against gorgeous landscapes, but the movie’s got its share of flair – shots with edges blurred like old-timey photographs, an occasional omniscient narrator.

Casey of the Clouds:

A. Cook:

On one side it mythologizes the transitionary period of American history via the fable-building narration and dreamy photography, and on the other it slowly and methodically demystifies the characters that populate it and the falsehood of celebrity. It is this contradiction that is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the film and mirrors the inner-conflict of Robert Ford and his complex relationship with Jesse James.

“We live three times as long since man invented movies.”

First movie watched in 2017. Interweaving life stories of family members during the year grandma spent in a coma, with mirrors of behaviors and situations across generations.

NJ and daughter Ting-Ting with the happy couple:

NJ is Nien-Jen Wu (cowrote Hou Hsiao-Hsien films including City of Sadness and The Puppetmaster). He’s a reasonable, middle-aged, frowny-faced guy disillusioned with his job. He bumps into an ex, Sherry, at the wedding, then arranges to meet her in Japan while courting software developer Ota (Issei Ogata, the emperor in The Sun) for work. Having casual conversations with Ota about music and spending his days with Sherry (Su-Yun Ko also played a lead male character’s Tokyo ex in Taipei Story) gives him nostalgia flashbacks of first love, while his daughter Ting-Ting is home dealing with similar issues firsthand.

Ting-Ting starts the movie feeling guilty that she might be responsible for grandma’s stroke, and soon adds more typical teenage problems into the mix, as she picks up her new neighbor Lili’s barely-ex-boyfriend Fatty, but the two of them are nervously unsure how to be in a romantic relationship (and incidentally, he later murders the neighbor’s mom’s boyfriend).

The neighbor with Fatty, who is not fat:

Min-Min is the mom of the family (Elaine Jin, also a mom in A Brighter Summer Day), has a breakdown while trying to talk to her comatose mom then disappears to a meditation retreat for the rest of the movie. And young son Yang-Yang is a slightly offbeat kid (spotted in his room: Astro Boy, Mickey Mouse, Batman, Pikachu… and the Hindenburg) who takes photos of the backs of people’s heads (a naïve, questioning photographer/observer who shows people things they can’t see for themselves, named after the film’s director, hmm).

Yang-Yang couldn’t deal with the wedding reception food:

Newlywed astrology nut A-Di is Min-Min’s brother, can’t keep his financial or romantic act together, with his longtime ex-girlfriend Yun-Yun showing up at the wedding and baby shower and making scenes. His wife Xiao Yan threatens to leave then comes back thinking A-Di has attempted suicide – he says he just fell asleep in the tub with the gas on. And I think A-Di’s money is stolen by business partner Piggy (yes, there’s a Piggy and a Fatty).

Yang won best director at Cannes, and died of cancer seven years later without producing a follow-up, which was rumored to be an animated Jackie Chan feature.

Kent Jones:

The New Taiwan Cinema was a predominantly urban phenomenon, the better to dramatize the rapacious speed of cultural upheaval. And Yang, Hou, and the slightly younger, Malaysian-born Tsai have employed, each in his own unique way, the sights, textures, rhythms, and social configurations of city living to devastating effect … Yang has set his city symphonies in a variety of emotional keys — the doleful lament of Taipei Story, the gridlike coolness of The Terrorizer, the comic hysteria of A Confucian Confusion, the carefully modulated fury of Mahjong. In Yi Yi, he brings all of these moods together, never allowing any one of them to take precedence over another. Which is to say that this is a grand choral work, with a panoptic majesty.

Rewatched this in less-than-optimal conditions (not on my fucking telephone, at least), but I’ve seen it so many times already. It’s hard to watch without the fan theories I read online in 2002 popping into my head… can’t let the mystery of it all wash over me when my mind keeps fitting the pieces into a puzzle. Granted, the theories work pretty well. And each scene is fantastic whether it makes narrative sense or not.

Classic Hollywood: landlady Coco is Ann Miller of Kiss Me Kate and On The Town, and the ranting woman wandering the apartment halls is Lee Grant of Detective Story and Shampoo. Betty’s new friend at the airport is Mary’s mom in Eraserhead. Since this came out I’ve seen Naomi Watts in a few things (none of them very good except Eastern Promises), Laura Harring in nothing, and Justin Theroux in Wanderlust and Charlie’s Angels 2. Most upsetting is when Patrick Fischler, the scared guy in the diner, shows up in a movie or TV show, as he does more regularly than his Mulholland costars.

Learned from the interview extras: Lynch says the title Mulholland Dr. was originally for a cancelled Twin Peaks spinoff, and The Cowboy is wearing Tom Mix’s original clothes.

2500th post!

I thought I heard that this was the kid-friendliest of the post-Mononoke Ghibli movies, and maybe so, but it’s also one of the most unexpectedly bizarre. A magic fish-princess flees her underwater bubble-hatted environmentalist mad-scientist Liam Neeson-sounding dad and befriends a five-year-old boy, turning herself human to stay with him on land during a major flood.

After the flood, octopi and trilobites and eels and jellyfish waste no time moving in:

Most of Neeson’s activities are never explained:

Ponyo running on watery waves of blue fishes is some magical animation:

Human boy Sosuke and his mom meet Ponyo’s ocean-goddess mom:

A straightforward journey film. Vargas is released from prison, then rides and walks and canoes to deliver a letter to his friend’s wife and to find his own daughter, slaughtering a goat on-camera along the way.

Final moments alive for this goat:

I’d read that Alonso’s first three features were more realistic than the crazy-looking Jauja (also a journey movie where a solitary man looks for his daughter) and was afraid they’d be a drag to watch, but I needn’t have worried. Wish the DVD had looked better, though.

Quintín on the opening:

Alonso went on location with a cameraman and shot a scene – actually, one long take – of the main character holding a knife in his hand, leaving behind the bodies of his dead brothers: a mysterious, intriguing sequence with sophisticated camera movements and a sense of tragedy. The blood theme was there, as were the dead of the title. It was a highly remarkable, virtuoso shot. And a shot that made money. Shown to foundations, producers, sales agents and TV buyers, this homeopathic sample allowed the movie to be finished.

Rewatched on the fancy new blu-ray. I’m not this movie’s biggest fan (some of my favorite film critics revere it) but its depiction of two socially awkward people in love is pretty delightful to watch, and feels more true than your Silver Linings Playbook and other recent attempts. The plot reads like a total Little Miss Sunshine quirk-fest (man finds harmonium on the street, gets robbed and stalked by phone sex operators, buys thousands of puddings in order to make a big romantic gesture) but in practice it never seems lame or trite. This time around I appreciated how the music gets weirder, pinging and scratching, according to Sandler’s frame of mind.

A. Cook:

There is an attractive spontaneity here that is largely absent elsewhere. More importantly it is the first, and perhaps only, Anderson film that feels wholly his. It is much harder to pick out the filmic references this time around. No doubt both Boogie Nights and Magnolia were intense labours of love but this film shows Anderson free from the shackles of Scorsese, Altman and his other inspirations and free from audience and critical expectation.

The adventures of:
Heen, a coughing laryngytic dog
Markl, child with a fake beard
Turnip, a scarecrow

And also:
Sophie, a cursed girl
Howl, a bird-demon

And also:
Witch of the Waste, melty-faced after losing her powers
Calcifer, a fire-demon

Katy says large parts of the source novel were omitted in the movie version, which would explain why the war and dealings with evil queen Suliman seem underdeveloped. But as far as visuals and unique characters go, this movie is unsurpassed.

Indie-drama story of loss, as widow decides to live in hometown of her deceased husband. But then after rumors spread of her buying valuable property, her son is kidnapped for real estate money she doesn’t have, then he’s killed and we get a more traumatic story of loss and the indie-drama template goes off the rails. I wasn’t crazy about it but I appreciate its unique message – religion is crap and major trauma can’t be overcome in the span of a movie.

Do-yeon Jeon of the recent Housemaid remake won best actress at Cannes, and the great Kang-ho Song (the year after starring in The Host) plays a subdued local guy who’s interested in her, becomes a Christian when she starts attending church meetings and stays with the church even after it’s clear that she won’t be dating him and she turns against the church. It’s a good portrayal of despair, if that’s what you’re after.

D. Lim:

He has said that before he starts a movie, he always asks himself, “What is cinema for?” Secret Sunshine is a work of visceral emotions and abstract notions; a study of faith in all its power, strangeness, and cruelty; a look at the particularities of human nature and experience that account for the existence, perhaps even the inevitability, of religion — all of which is to say that it’s an attempt to depict the invisible in what is foremost a visual medium … Put simply, Secret Sunshine shows how religion uses us and how we use religion. A film about the lies we tell ourselves in order to live, it suggests that there may be no bigger lie than religion — but also acknowledges that sometimes lies are necessary.