Damsels In Distress (2011, Whit Stillman)

The structure is bizarre, and scenes suddenly fade out. If that means there’s a longer cut somewhere, bring it on, because I could live inside this movie for another hour or two. Four girls with flowery names solve all problems on their college campus – smelly fraternities, suicide threats, the lack of a dance craze for their generation, and so on.

Flower girls: fearless/fragile leader Greta Gerwig (between House of the Devil and Frances Ha), logical Megalyn Echikunwoke (new The Omen TV series), Carrie MacLemore (Stillman’s TV pilot The Cosmopolitans), and new girl Analeigh Tipton (Warm Bodies).

L-R (I think): Tipton, the suicidal girl who steals Gerwig’s boyfriend, Echikunwoke, MacLemore, Gerwig

Noel Murray:

Whatever mode he’s working in, few filmmakers have ever been as attuned to the way we cheerfully lie to ourselves, right up to the point where the truth is exposed, and we’re left with a choice between breaking down or soldiering on. Or, as so often happens in Stillman’s films, both.

Dana Stevens on the ending:

In Shakespearean-comedy fashion, the various couples partner up and skip through the wooded Seven Oaks campus, dancing and singing to the Gershwin brothers’ song “Things Are Looking Up,” (which was first performed by Fred Astaire in a 1937 musical called A Damsel in Distress).

Stillman:

I like the idea of bringing period into a present-day film. It’s period as a way of solving our problems. The things that worked in the past have been tested a little bit, while the solutions to the future have not been tested. We know that people taking showers is going to have good results. Up to a point.

Mad Max 4: Fury Road (2015, George Miller)

Matt Singer: “Fury Road is an incredible achievement, one that strains so hard at the leash of the possible that it eventually breaks free and barrels headlong into the realm of insane genius. … They’ll keep making car chase movies after Fury Road, but there’s really no need.”

I loved the movie, but was maybe not as bowled-over by its lunatic intensity because was prepped by reviews. What I wasn’t prepared for was the plot twist when the movie’s first-two-thirds nonstop car chase finally stops, and with nothing but salt wasteland in front of them, Max proposes The Worst Idea Of All Time, to drive straight back through the armies that they’d just escaped and attack the citadel.

Tasha Robinson:

These are some preposterously tough people, and yet they’re perpetually at the end of their rope, and yet they perpetually keep going. That’s a very fine emotional place to keep a film pitched to for two straight hours, but the action is so well choreographed, so solid and visceral, that it works fine.

Charlize Theron stars as Furiosa, her team of escaped wives including Zoe Kravitz (Angel in X-Men 4). Max is Tom Hardy (Locke), constantly being threatened and/or helped by “albino maniac” Nicholas Hoult (Beast in X-Men 4). The main gas-masked villain played someone called Toecutter in the original Mad Max, which I should really watch sometime.

The movie was so beloved that even Cinema Scope gives it their breathless Tony Scott treatment, explaining Miller’s filmmaking techniques to keep his action scenes visceral and legible at once. “Advances in data processing and motion capture are rendered moot by Fury Road‘s proof that a basis in reality still adds a sense of weight to the proceedings impossible to recreate artificially.”

Oki’s Movie (2010, Hong Sang-soo)

“Things repeat themselves with differences I can’t understand.”

Four mini-films with the same actors playing similar stories… wasn’t expecting this. My first movie by film fest and Cinema Scope regular Sang-soo.

1. A Day for Incantation

Young film teacher Jingu (Lee Seon-kyun) is told by older prof Song (Moon Sung-geun of Sang-soo’s early feature Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors) that “film as an art is finished.” Later he confronts another professor Bang, who he’s heard has paid for tenure. Later still, Jingu is attacked at a sad post-screening Q&A by a friend of one of his former students who he dated for years. “Once I became a director all these rumors began popping up” is how he pathetically defends himself.

2. King of Kisses

Now Jingu and Oki (Jung Yumi, title star of Our Sunhi) are film students under prof. Song, whom Oki is secretly dating. Jingu is frustrated when he loses an award everyone said he’d win, and that Oki won’t go out with him, but she reconsiders when he shows up at her house drunk.

3. After the Snowstorm

Big storm, nobody shows up to prof. Song’s class, then Oki and Jingu come late.

Andrew Tracy in Cinema Scope:

Oki and Jingu bombard Song with questions in an empty classroom: “Do you think I have any talent in film?” “Keep making films and you’ll find out.” “Am I a good person?” “To somebody.” “What do you want most?” “Well, I want this today, and I want that tomorrow… In life, of all the important things I do, there’s none I know the reason for.” To the extent that we can take anything Hong “says” at face value, this would seem to be an at least tentatively reliable index of his beliefs: that the thing that most interests him – the maddening unknowability of our own selves – is inseparable from his decision to portray it on film, over and over again.

4. Oki’s Movie

Oki narrates and contrasts two walks in the park: one with an older man (Song) she was on the verge of breaking up with, then with new love Jingu, where she crosses paths with her older ex.

I’m not sure it follows that the first segment is a years-later postscript to the others – some critics are saying all the parts are different time periods of the same story, but the details don’t match up, and as The End of Cinema blog points out, Oki’s final line “I chose these actors for their resemblance to the actual people” undercuts the idea that the two men at the end are the same characters we’ve seen before.

Took me the bulk of the first segment to get used to the film’s style. It felt odd that the acting seemed like regular dramatic film-acting, but the lo-fi digital camerawork with regularly placed zooms felt like it wanted a less mannered, more documentary-like story. I think it played in a sub-festival in Venice, along with The Forgotten Space, Robinson in Ruins and prizewinner Summer of Goliath.

A. Tracy:

What gives Oki’s Movie an added charge is announced in the title itself: beginning as another up-close portrait of male vanity, neediness, and narcissistic despair, it subtly shifts across the four movements to deposit narrational control into the hands of the woman who had been the vehicle of this narcissism.

Beyond the Lights (2014, Gina Prince-Bythewood)

Romance between a cop and a singer. Pop star Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw of Belle) is following the pop-star routine prescribed by her manager/mother (Minnie Driver), her label, her producers and her mandated rapper boyfriend, then is saved from a suicide attempt by local hero cop Kaz (Nate Parker of Red Hook Summer), who’s got his own problems, what with political aspirations and people shooting at him, but nobody at work seems to mind when he and Noni disappear on a beach getaway where she rediscovers what she liked about singing (via Nina Simone songs).

Mostly it’s a decent-enough positive-message romance flick, but low-budget flicks with mostly black casts don’t play Nebraska often, so it seemed worth rooting for. Four stars from The Dissolve, too: “beneath the shiny surface of music-video imagery and true-loveisms lie some provocative ideas and deep truths about how people relate on a private level vs. a public one.” Writer/director also made Love & Basketball and The Secret Life of Bees. Probably nothing to this, but I just realized Minnie Driver’s character is named Macy Jean, and there are singers named Macy Gray and Jean Grae.

Trainwreck (2015, Judd Apatow)

Oh, this was funny. Amy Schumer writes for a horrid magazine run by Tilda Swinton (coworkers: Randall Park, Jon Glaser, Vanessa Bayer), dates body-obsessed guy (wrestler John Cena), writes article on athletic surgeon Bill Hader and they like each other, but the life lesson taught by her dying dad Colin Quinn is that monogamy isn’t realistic. Written by Schumer, who is now a permanent comedy star.

Schumer: “I’ve always been crazy about movies. I can’t help it. In our house we would watch a movie until it didn’t work anymore. We would just kill movies over and over again.”

Jupiter Ascending (2015, Wachowskis)

After this and Like Someone In Love and Zero Theorem and Maps to the Stars, I feel like I’m watching a marathon of poorly-reviewed latest films by current (and former) favorite directors. Might as well follow these up with Burying the Ex, Amelia, Mood Indigo, Twixt, Sin City 2, Noah, Tomorrowland, Big Eyes, Queen of the Desert, Knight of Cups, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, Blackhat, Restless, The Hobbit, The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet, Oz the Great and Powerful, Tusk, Tricked, and everything Kiyoshi Kurosawa has made since Tokyo Sonata… then get totally depressed and stop watching movies forever.

I paused after the first few minutes to grab some food, wrote myself a note that the movie would have to try hard to overcome such a boring narrated backstory introduction. And it does try hard, with visuals and action scenes as crazed as the Wachowskis could muster, but it’s also absolutely overstuffed with British-accented galactic royalty speaking endlessly about a plot nobody could care less about, and line readings ranging from stilted to flamboyantly awful (it’s funny that Eddie Redmayne won an oscar for portraying Stephen Hawking the same year he deserves some sort of worst-performance award for this). The self-seriousness and plot overload was a letdown after the campy fun of Speed Racer a month earlier, but at least the action scenes were fun.

What’s happening: Mila Kunis has a shitty job, a selfish family, and is the reincarnation of the galactic queen, whose three kids are fighting over her destiny. There’s evil Eddie, and two others who act nicer but are basically also evil: Douglas Booth (Noah) and Tuppence Middleton (the DJ in Sense8). Ronin Wolfman Tater Channing tenaciously protects her (at one point holding onto the outside of an interstellar-travelling spaceship, which outdoes that stunt in the new Mission Impossible). Sean Bean helps Tater. Doona Bae and some others are crop-circle-creating bounty-hunters.

Matt Singer: “It’s hard to believe that a movie that contains this much exposition could also be this confusing, but it does and it is. Something went horribly wrong here.” And on our heroine, who is constantly being rescued: “Imagine a Matrix where Neo was repeatedly told he was destined for great things and then never learned kung fu or fought Agent Smith, and you begin to see the primary problem.”

Gugu Mbatha-Raw with giant mouse ears:

Like Someone in Love (2012, Abbas Kiarostami)

Akiko (Rin Takanashi of new psycho-murder movie Killers) is sent to visit old man Takashi (Tadashi Okuno) at behest of her boss/pimp (Denden, a cop in Uzumaki), skipping a meeting with her visiting grandmother. She tries to avoid her “fiancé” (Ryo Kase of the Outrage movies), who confronts and torments her and accuses her (correctly) of lying, then he tries to kiss up to Takashi, who he assumes to be Akiko’s grandfather. Later he realizes the truth and shit gets real.

Strange movie, hard to warm up to, with an unexpected ending. Shot by Takeshi Kitano’s DP. Played at Cannes with Amour, Holy Motors, Cosmopolis and You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet. Title was meant to be The End, which would’ve been darkly funny if it flashed up right after the final scene.

R. Porton in Cinema Scope:

Like Amir Naderi’s Cut, another recent films made in Japan by an Iranian director, Kiarostami employs a rather schlocky narrative schema as a means of exploring, and exploding, cultural contradictions.

V. Rizov:

The threat of something horrid happening throughout — especially when the prof’s at the wheel, going into reverse while seemingly unaware of little kids behind the vehicle or nodding off at a red light — is finally delivered upon. This is effectively a movie that wonders about a society in which an abusive fiance can “confront,” with barely suppressed violence and much arm-grabbing and yelling, his would-be future wife in a wide open public area and not merit a glance, let alone an intervention.

Detective Dee and the Mystery of Phantom Flame (2010, Tsui Hark)

Been a long while since I watched a Tsui Hark movie. Pretty fun, with a cool title character played by the great Andy Lau, an enemy of the state given freedom by Empress Carina Lau (Mimi in 2046) to investigate why officials are spontaneously combusting into super fake-looking fire sfx. He teams up with court-appointed Jing’er (Bingbing Li of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, a badass with her CGI whip) and albino Pei (Chao Deng) and the cave-dwelling, millipede-eating Donkey Wang to investigate, eventually discovers someone has a convoluted plan to crush the Empress during her coronation by toppling a massive statue. That someone is one-armed master builder Shatuo, an old ally of Dee who I would’ve known was the villain if I’d recognized him as Tony Leung Ka Fai (aka Tony 2 of Ashes of Time).

Politics: “A confession under torture is useless. Don’t you know that it’s torture which alienates people from the Empress and makes them turn against her?” I liked that Dee carried his pet birds with him on assignment, but it turns out that was only so the movie could have more things to set on fire. Speaking of the fake fire, there’s also an amazingly fake fight against CG deer.

Won a bunch of Hong Kong Film Awards but couldn’t beat Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere at the Venice Film Festival. IMDB’s summary calls it an “incredible true story,” haha.

The Zero Theorem (2014, Terry Gilliam)

Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz, not Michael Fassbender – I think of each as “the guy from Inglorious Basterds,” so get them confused) is a socially inept worker bee who doesn’t hate his video-game-reminiscent job, just hates having to come into work, so he gets permission to work from home on a special project from management (Matt Damon): proving “the zero theorem”. He’s aided/annoyed by Waltz’s direct supervisor David Thewlis, party-girl-for-hire Melanie Thierry (The Princess of Montpensier) and whiz-kid Bob (Lucas Hedges), who calls everyone else Bob so he doesn’t have to remember names. As Leth’s video therapist: Tilda Swinton – between this, Trainwreck, Snowpiercer and Moonrise Kingdom, she has really gotten into comedy lately.

Kinda about a search for the meaning of life (or a disproof of its meaning), with sort of a Dark City ending. Shot on the cheap in Romania.

Thierry at Leth’s glorious, delapidated-church home:

Sadly (so sadly) Mike D’Angelo might have put it best: “Like a relic from an alternate universe in which Brazil was made by an idiot.” Written by a creative writing teacher from Florida, it’s got its moments, but the story and characters and entire movie seem to add up to nothing (maybe the film proves its own theorem).

Leth and Bob at the park: