She’s Funny That Way (2014, Peter Bogdanovich)

A busy comedy, mostly keeps up its charming energy for a bit of throwback fun. Famed theater director Owen Wilson overpays call girl Imogen Poots (Green Room) and tells her to follow her dream, which turns out to be auditioning for his play. Owen’s wife Kathryn Hahn (Parks & Rec politician) stars in the play, pursued by both costar Rhys Ifans (The Boat That Rocked) and playwright Will Forte (MacGruber). Also in play: Forte’s ex, substitute-therapist Jennifer Aniston, and his detective dad George Morfogen. For some reason it’s all framed as a years-later celeb-profile interview with Poots.

Ehrlich on Poots:

Her performance is a reckless tightrope walk of woefully accented genius and it’s very important to me.

Finding Dory (2016, Andrew Stanton)

Dory starts to remember things about her home and family, goes on an adventure, discovering she was born at an aquatic park. The others follow, and all are assisted by a couple whales and an Ed O’Neill octopus.

I told Katy it felt good, but not necessary – Matt Singer nails why:

Like so many of the studio’s previous features, Dory is a story about the unbreakable bonds between parents and children, mismatched partners bonding over the course of a long adventure, and the pleasures of a team working together to achieve a common goal. After 21 years, that formula is still very satisfying. But it also feels more like a formula than ever before.


Piper (2016, Alan Barillaro)

Dory and The Good Dinosaur have started an upsetting trend where the opening short is better than the feature. I’m probably biased because I love birds, and especially love watching sandpipers, but this story of a baby sandpiper learning to deal with the surf is the greatest film of all time. Director Barillaro has been a Pixar animator since A Bug’s Life.

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016, Dan Trachtenberg)

Fun, twisty thriller. I probably never want to watch it again, and I probably still don’t want to watch the shaky-cam action prequel, but I didn’t regret renting this.

Mary E. Winstead (Ramona Flowers, the girl with hair like this) is in a car crash and wakes up chained to John Goodman’s basement. But wait, Goodman is a nice guy who rescued her on his way to his massive emergency shelter and outside the world has gone to hell. But wait, she hears a car overhead and there’s a person outside and Goodman denies this is possible. But wait, that outside person is crazy and wounded and is trying to get into the shelter, proving Goodman’s point. Goodman’s neighbor John Gallagher (Short Term 12) is also in the bunker and says Goodman’s on the level and John isn’t a creepy sex fiend and he talks like a normal sad guy about his daughter. But wait, Gallagher says the girl in the photo isn’t Goodman’s daughter. But wait, Mary suspects Goodman is the one who caused her car crash in the first place. But wait, before she confronts him about this, Goodman sheepishly admits that he crashed into her in his haste to get to the shelter.

All this back-and-forth is resolved in the best possible way: Goodman is right about the extinction-level event outside AND he’s dangerously crazy, so Mary has to fight her way out of the bunker then fight Cloverfield aliens, which I assumed would be more Godzilla-like, not floating spaceships with Hellraiser tentacles.

Obvs produced by JJ Abrams, but directed by Trachtenberg, whose previous film was a fan-film short for the video game Portal (he was also key grip on Phantasm OblIVion). Written by a Narnia editor, a G.I. Joe associate producer and Whiplash director Damien Chazelle. That is a fucked-up lineage but man the actors are so good in this.

M. D’Angelo:

What if you got trapped in an elevator with your abusive ex-boyfriend and you’re a hemophiliac and OMG your ex-boyfriend is a vampire! Come on.

Dheepan (2015, Jacques Audiard)

At first I thought Audiard seems influenced by the Godfather movies, from the young enforcer who takes over a crime business in A Prophet to this movie’s immigrant stories (dunno how Rust & Bone would fit in), but after it became clear that Dheepan was heading towards rage and revenge, I thought of it as a more currently-fashionable Harry Brown (others are saying Straw Dogs).

The most interesting twist: Dheepan and his “family” are only pretending to be a family in order to get refugee status and flee Sri Lanka, where Dheepan was a Tamil Tiger. They live together like strangers, only playing the family role for outside observers, but gradually begin to respect and protect each other. Meanwhile, the block of apartments where they live and work is a drug hub which turns violent when lead dealer Vincent Rottiers (young Jean in the Renoir biopic) returns from prison. With these pieces in place, the movie gets to create a crowd-pleasing finale where Dheepan draws on his violent past to protect his makeshift family. M. D’Angelo: “After nearly two hours of depicting the improvised family’s patient adjustments, negotiations, and compromises, Audiard abruptly switches to Hollywood fantasy, and there’s no sign that he’s doing so ironically, metatextually, or with any other subversive purpose in mind.”

Still a pretty good movie. I’m not as upset about this winning the palme d’or (or Loach winning in 2016) as others are. Regardless of the winner, I’m still seeking out as many of the acclaimed competition films as possible (so far: Carol, The Assassin, The Lobster, Sicario).

Norte, The End of History (2013, Lav Diaz)

“If you’re doing a revolution, you should have the guts to kill a person.”

Theoretically, this kind of thing is right up my alley: four-hour, long-take, wide-shot foreign film-fest fare with an elliptical ending. But I dunno, I feel like it made its point in a few dialogue scenes scattered throughout, and the rest of the movie was either waiting around, or following a relentlessly grim plot to its lack of conclusion.

Crime and Punishment, but Fabian (Sid Lucero of Independencia) is our Raskolnikov who does the crime, and Joaquin is his neighbor who receives the punishment. It’s hard to know if Fabian is tormented by his crime, or if he’s just an asshole – after all, he seems equally tormented in the first hour of the movie before killing the moneylender woman and her daughter as he does at the end. After the homicide, the middle half of the movie follows imprisoned Joaquin, locked up with a bunch of not-bad guys and one violent psychopath named Wakwak, and Joaquin’s family led by Eliza (Angeli Bayani of Ilo Ilo and Lav’s Melancholia).

Prison visit:

I think Eliza’s sister Ading isn’t too bright, so Eliza is caring for her two kids and the sister, barely making ends meet by selling vegetables. We think a turning point has come when washed-up Fabian finally confronts Eliza after four years, guiltily giving her the cash he got from selling his murder-scene loot, then coercing his former law professors to take up her husband’s case. We assume the movie’s heading towards Fabian turning himself in (as did Peter Lorre and Markku Toikka). Instead he takes his war on society to a new level, visiting his family home only to rape his sister and kill his dog. Meanwhile Eliza visits her imprisoned husband for the first time in years then dies in a bus crash on the way home. Then Fabian goes for a boat ride, the end.

Played Cannes UCR with Stranger by the Lake and Bastards and Manuscripts Don’t Burn – semi-comprehensible stories with unpleasant characters were in vogue that year.

Fabian sleeping with his best friend’s girl:

Eliza fails to find sympathy from the doomed moneylender:

B. Nelepo in Cinema Scope:

An angry narrative by any definition, Norte portrays a country accursed, whose curse, by extension, spills over onto its people; around this curse, furthermore, the backstories of two families weave a subplot of marked importance. In order to prove that their family was doomed to fail from the start, Fabian torments his sister at the end of the movie (the girl is also in a cult, which seems to be a common practice among Filipinos: see Century of Birthing). Their parents, as it turns out, had moved to the US, leaving the kids in the care of hired help. Joaquin’s wife blames his subsequent misfortunes on herself for not letting him work abroad. Rejecting those who have left, the country is twice as harsh on those who have stayed, a theme Diaz has developed before, particularly in Butterflies Have No Memories.

M. D’Angelo:

If Fabian and Joaquin are meant to be distinct individuals, the film is “merely” endless and pointless; I very much fear, alas, that Diaz intends them as class representatives, in which case it’s insultingly schematic verging on outright stupid.

V. Rizov:

Diaz is a formidable talent, eliciting flawlessly naturalistic performances and exhibiting casual visual panache. At 250 minutes, Norte is extremely watchable, and there’s the rub: it’s reasonable to expect transcendence at that sustained length, but instead we get a relatively straightforward tract on political abuses, Christian dogma and social inequity in Filipino society.


The Day Before The End (2016, Lav Diaz)

Also watched this short I found online. Not sure that Norte justified its apocalyptic subtitle, and this short is no Last Night either. Nice b/w photography but not too fun – I think I prefer narrative Lav to experimental. People are rehearsing Shakespeare in public, then wading through torrential rain. This has an IMDB entry, and its description is better than the actual movie: “In the year 2050, the Philippines braces for the coming of the fiercest storm ever to hit the country. And as wind and waters start to rage, poets wander the streets.”

yelling Shakespeare in unison:

Tale of Tales (2015, Matteo Garrone)

Not the best fantasy English-language debut by a Cannes jury prize winning European filmmaker starring John C. Reilly I’ve seen in theaters this week. Hard to believe this was even worse than Reality. No atmosphere or rhythm, just a series of things happening to no apparent purpose. The colors and costumes looked nice, anyway.

I guess there are three nearby kingdoms. King John C. Reilly dies slaying a sea monster to cast a spell so Queen Salma Hayek can have a baby, but her substitute chef also has a baby and they grow up to be albino twins Christian and Jonah Lees, who send messages via water flowing out of a tree root. Second there’s King Vincent Cassel (Black Swan) who loves having sex with ladies and wants all the ladies to have sex with him. He likes the singing voice of Shirley Henderson so her sister Hayley Carmichael semi-competently fools him, then is thrown from his window and turned into young and beautiful Stacy Martin (Young Joe in Nymphomaniac) by a witch in the woods, after which she marries the king. And King Toby Jones is obsessed with his giant pet flea so absentmindedly allows his daughter Bebe Cave to marry a dangerous ogre.

Shot by Peter Suschitzky (Cosmopolis, Lisztomania) and edited by tossing rough-cut scenes in the air and picking them up in any order.

M. D’Angelo:

One tale will be abandoned for so long that its return is like suddenly remembering last night’s dream in the middle of the day. Guy Maddin employed that device masterfully in The Forbidden Room (which premiered at Sundance earlier this year), but he did so by burying dozens of stories inside others, like Russian dolls. Here, Garrone just randomly cuts to someone else every so often, killing the momentum every time.

The CLF in Cinema Scope:

Thanks to very good CGI and a diligent DP, the film looks pleasant if you’re into Middle Ages fetishism, dragons, albino twins, abusive ogres, and that sort of thing. The way Garrone elaborates the source material is pedantic in its refusal to give a moral dimension to the stories (something missing from the original). What is the point of drawing on archetypical forms of storytelling if their transposition fails to meaningfully relate to the present time? Like many films these days, the only good question Tale of Tales raises is: Why was this film made?

Student (2012, Darezhan Omirbayev)

Definitely more in tune with the mopey Kaurismaki Crime and Punishment than the talky, overbaked Sternberg version. In fact, Student out-mopes Kaurismaki, with an unnamed lead character who lives in a constant state of anger and shame, walking head-down and barely speaking a word during the movie.

Get used to this expression – it’s the only one you’ll get:

There’s much explicit talk in the movie (in his philosophy classes, on TV, at his job slating shots on a film production) about wealth disparity and the modern condition. We witness rich guys punishing people and killing animals with impunity, but the Student still murders and robs a local shopkeeper, and in his late confession to a girl he likes, he says he didn’t do it for the money but “to see if I’m capable of real action, or a coward who just talks, like most people.” Differences from the other movies: he doesn’t toss or hide the stolen money, the crime investigation doesn’t enter the film, and he has no contact with the police until the final few minutes when he turns himself in – although he shows up at the scene of the crime and talks with workmen renovating the place, a familiar scene from the other versions.

The poet’s daughter, to whom he eventually confesses:

Online it’s being called Bressonian – I can see that, with the pacing, and some might see the Student as blank-faced, but I saw simmering rage in his expressions. Bresson wouldn’t have injected so many dream sequences – there are at least three, very effectively staged so that you only realize they were dreams moments after he wakes up (so the same time he’s realizing it).

M. Sicinski (who makes a good case for the movie being Bressonian besides just the lead performace):

Omirbayev could hardly be more pointed in his exploration of what these now-classical ur-texts — Dostoyevsky and Bresson — have to tell us about the contemporary situation in Kazakhstan and, arguably, the former Soviet states more generally … the Student is finding himself stranded in a society where unchecked power rules the day, and yet he is expected to stick to his studies, gain knowledge, evaluate ethical quandaries that no one in the urban jungle of Astana even remotely cares about.

B. Nelepo in Cinema Scope has been following Omirbaev’s career, refers to “his trilogy of adaptations of Russian classics after 2007’s Shuga (based on Anna Karenina) and his short film of Chekhov’s About Love for the Jeonju Digital Project in 2006″:

And yet I’m progressively less enthusiastic about each new Omirbayev feature, because he’s caught up in a pattern he invented a long time ago. Student is his most explicitly political film: the director juxtaposes the protagonist’s crime to the assassination of JFK, the final monologue is a lashing-out against the bombings of civilians, and a visit by George W. Bush is broadcast on TV as a reference to Napoleon, who is mentioned in Crime and Punishment. One would hardly expect the author of the stunning Kaïrat (1992) and Cardiogram (1995) to reduce Dostoyevsky to a simple anti-capitalist poster.

The Lobster (2015, Yorgos Lanthimos)

I love when an absurd movie by a foreign filmmaker starring a pile of my favorite current international actors opens in town… and plays the multiplex. Judging from the turnout, they won’t be making that mistake again.

We open with the situation I knew from the trailer: Colin Farrell and acquaintance-turned-rival John C. Reilly are at a hotel where they are given thirty days to find a compatible mate or else they’ll be turned into an animal of their choosing. They go for daily treks in the woods to shoot escaped loners – for each one they bag, they’re given an extension of their hotel stay. In desperation, each man tries to fake compatibility with a woman – Reilly gives himself nosebleeds to get paired with pretty young nosebleed-prone Jessica Barden (because these are the kinds of surface similarities that make successful couples) and Farrell acts heartless to get matched with champion hunter Angeliki Papoulia. After this fails catastrophically and she murders his brother (a dog), he escapes into the woods, later returning to forcibly turn her into an animal (he also murders double-agent maid Ariane Labed, which means he dispatches both stars of Alps).

It’s no better in the woods, as leader Lea Seydoux has even stricter rules against coupling. Unfortunately, during their covert trips to the city (where Seydoux is pretend-paired with Michael Smiley of Kill List), he and his travel companion Rachel Weisz fall in love, and she is blinded as punishment, which leads to a hilarious/horrifying finale (remember the nosebleeds).

Also at the hotel: Peep Show star Olivia Colman as the manager, Ashley Jensen (Extras) as a sad woman who fails to get Farrell to like her, and Ben Whishaw (Cloud Atlas) as the “limping man”. I’ll have to watch again – when listing islands, did someone say “Chevalier”?

M. Singer:

Combined, [the film’s segments] add up to this cautionary tale about the way rigid governments impose their values on their citizens, and how close-minded people try to convince others (and often themselves) that their beliefs are not only the correct ones but the only ones. In the end, that sort of thinking can leave you blind to the truth that happiness can’t be regimented or regulated. And right now, that feels like a pretty timely message.

Scabbard Samurai (2010, Hitoshi Matsumoto)

My main thought after watching this and Sokurov’s The Sun, more than any thoughts about the films themselves and their content, is that SD video is dingy and blurry and should be abolished. I know I don’t have the persistence to actually do this, but I should just limit myself to HD from now on, since (a) there are already more movies available in HD than I have time to watch and (b) if I’ve seen something in SD and it comes out in HD I always tell myself I have to see it again anyway.

Another fun Matsumoto movie, but unlike R100 and Symbol, which start out weird then go in crazy new directions, this one has a clear structure. Swordless samurai Nomi Kanjuro (Takaaki Nomi, per Hollywood Reporter “a near-toothless, goblin-like sixtysomething with zero acting experience”) is caught and sentenced to death, but he’ll be pardoned if he can make the young prince, in a funk since his mother died, laugh. Nomi’s not very funny, so every night he and his daughter Tae and his two sympathetic guards try to come up with something more ridiculous than yesterday in order to amuse the sullen prince, eventually involving stunts and giant props. Ultimately he’s forced to commit seppuku, but the prince starts to lighten up around Tae – they bond over the deaths of their mothers (and now her father) and become friends. Hardly a masterpiece, but cute enough, and builds very effectively towards its unexpected ending.

In the early days, his daughter’s pained expressions are funnier than Nomi’s attempts at humor:

L-R below: Would-be assassins Pakyun (Rolly, death cult leader of Suicide Circle), Oryu (Ryô of Tsukamoto’s Gemini) and Gori Gori (Fukkin Zen-Nosuke of the Kamen Rider saga), who end up rooting for Nomi once the palace starts selling tickets to watch his daily gags.

Thanks to J. Mobarak at The Film Stage – no other site wanted to translate this movie’s credits. Nomi’s guards are the more serious Itsuji Itao (evil cyborg leader of Tokyo Gore Police) and Tokio Emoto (in Outrage and Norwegian Wood the same year), who I found unaccountably hilarious with his mouth always hanging open. The lord was played by the prolific Jun Kunimura (Takeshi’s boss in Outrage), and the guy who yells “I sentence you to commit seppuku!” after each failed attempt is Masato Ibu (of Shield of Straw and Turtles Swim Faster Than Expected).

Matsumoto in Cinema Scope:

I wanted to make a film that in the beginning is not at all like a film, not filmic. Only towards the end it becomes more and more like a movie. This was one of my central intentions.

C. Huber:

As for the samurai, he breaks free of the ritual cycle when he finally rejects protocol and, pointedly, refuses to read his arduously prepared “death note.” Instead he proves that, like all of Matsumoto’s protagonists, he is, curiously, a man of action.