Four Lions (2010, Christopher Morris)

Lately I’ve been getting burned watching recent indie/foreign movies as soon as they’re digitally available, then seeing them announced for local theater runs a few weeks later – most recently What We Do in the Shadows and The Babadook, and you could’ve added Winter Sleep and Two Days One Night and Clouds of Sils Maria if I hadn’t been slow to watch them at home. To solve this, I thought I’d start focusing on less recent movies, finally landing on 2010 – old enough that everything’s out in HD and nobody’s talking about them anymore. This was first up, since I’ve recently seen lots of Chris Morris on TV via The IT Crowd and Brass Eye.

Pretty good comedy, most of the humor coming from would-be terrorists blowing themselves up accidentally/preemptively. Riz Ahmed and his Bradley-Coopery friend Waj (Kayvan Novak of Syriana, a lead voice in Curse of the Were-Rabbit) go to Pakistan for jihad training, but accidentally blow up their friends and are sent home. Hassan is the new guy, invites neighbor Julia Davis (Big Train) into their bomb-making den. Riz and Barry (Nigel Lindsay of Alan Partridge) struggle for control of the group. Finally the four strap on their suicide vests under silly animal costumes and head to a fun run aiming to take some infidels down with them (this probably would’ve been changed after the Boston Marathon). Doesn’t go very well. Favorite bit: Waj takes a muslim guy as a hostage; cops don’t know which is which, shoot the hostage.

The Lego Movie (2014, Lord & Miller)

All turned out to be in imagination of kid who’s not supposed to be playing with dad Will Ferrell’s precious lego collection. Ferrell gives in, lets the kid play – a tragic ending. Some of those sets are probably valuable! Will Arnett does a good batman voice.

Winter Sleep (2014, Nuri Bilge Ceylan)

The longest Palme d’or winner. Some similarities to Leviathan in style. That one seems angry about the individual’s plight against the corrupt state and religion (although the individual’s drinking problems aren’t helping any), but this one has more general, philosophical matters in mind: the ability of people from different classes to sympathize with each other, a single woman’s place in society, self-glorifying acts supposedly for the benefit of others, so on. Variety said it was “considerably more accessible” than the great Once Upon a Time in Anatolia – not sure that I’d agree, since I thought that one more explicitly explained what was on its mind.

Inspired, as are all Ceylan’s films apparently, by Chekhov stories. Aydin is a major landowner in a beautiful location. He’s made a hotel out of his family home carved into the side of the hills, where he lives with sister Necla and young wife Nihal. Discontent appears almost immediately, when out with his driver/assistant, their tenant’s son throws a rock at their Jeep window. Three hours later, after a series of very long conversations (I timed one at 19 minutes), it’s clear why nobody likes Aydin. M. Smith writes that “no contemporary director has a better compositional eye than Ceylan,” and that’s part of what keeps this 3+ hour talkfest compelling – it’s so beautiful. The endless speeches are tiring, but also draw you into the characters, until at the end, nothing much has happened and nobody has progressed from where they started, but it feels like the world has shaken.

B. Croll for Twitch:

At first, Aydin seems like a perfectly reasonable person … He’s happily married, charitable and polite. He’s good natured, cultured and hospitable to all. He seems on his face to be the agreeable avatar of contented middle-agedom, and yet by film’s end we recognize in him a malicious, almost tyrannical villainy.

G. Kenny:

The talk, for all its abstractions, gradually lays bare the poor regard with which most of the characters hold each other, and, at about the halfway point, when Aydin (played with glum tenacity by Haluk Bilginer) calls his put-upon spouse (Melisa Sözen) a “bored neurotic,” the fur really begins to fly. … The accumulation of images imbues the film with a kind of bleak coziness that brings to life the accusation that Aydin’s sister Necia (Demet Akbag) levels at him: “In order not to suffer, you prefer to fool yourself.” The strength of Winter Sleep is not so much in what any of the characters say as much as what it needs its near-monumental length to actually show: which is the way the most seemingly banal circumstances can throw you into a dark night of the soul before you even know what’s going on, a state of wide-awake despair so calamitous one has no choice but to make a companion of it.

Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Film (2012, Pip Chodorov)

Personal history by Chodorov – I know the name because I was once subscribed to his FrameWorks email list. His dad Stephan was a filmmaker, so Pip grew up surrounded by independent film and artists. He’s got interviews with the big names: Mekas, Kubelka, Jacobs, Breer, Snow… and Hans Richter, so I guess some of the interviews were archival and I didn’t take great notes. He takes a fun, enthusiast approach rather than the history-book implied by the title, and any excuse to revisit this work is a good one.

Includes some short films (in their entirety?):

Free Radicals (1958, Len Lye) – tremendous, white scratches on black, edited rhythmically to an African drum group in ever-changing patterns.

Recreation (1956, Robert Breer) – seen this before, I don’t get the Noel Burch narration but the visuals are fast and exciting.

Rainbow Dance (1936, Len Lye) – insanely complicated color and effects for the mid-1930’s.

And the section of Brakhage’s Dante Quartet called Existence Is Song (I forgot the Quartet sections were titled).

Two Days, One Night (2014, Those Dardennes)

Marion Cotillard has been on sick leave with the depression, returns to her solar-panel factory where the boss has decided that they got along just fine without her, so he’s eliminating her job and giving everyone a bonus. If she can convince half of ‘em to give up their bonus over the weekend, she gets her job back. Cruel setup, and she’s not up for the task, decides to overdose on sleeping pills instead, but then her husband (Fabrizio Rongione of half their other films) and a couple sympathetic coworkers help get her back on track.

Those Dardennes keep the pace moving, don’t follow-cam the back of Marion’s head for extended periods like they did the star of L’Enfant. Overall more believable that the earlier film too, all conversational realism. Ending is a win for Marion’s self-esteem, at least. She’s a vote short, so the boss, impressed by the effort, offers to give her the job of an immigrant coworker whose contract is up for renewal, and she takes the high road and refuses, says she’ll find a job elsewhere.

R. Collin:

If the Dardennes’ last film, The Kid with a Bike, was their modern-day reworking of Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist classic Bicycle Thieves, consider this their Umberto D. It’s a film about the dignity that meaningful work confers; and the way in which an economic downturn can effect other equally ruinous slumps, both social and emotional.

Luc Dardenne:

The question or dilemma posed in the film is the same as the other [Dardenne] films, in essence. Someone has been ostracized, excluded, or forcefully removed from the community, and is trying to re-enter. The moral dilemma is not hers initially, but it falls to the others. In the end, it’s a similar situation, no more or less urgent, but complicated by new forms of labor.

The Double (2013, Richard Ayoade)

Third screening of Sundance Week, though the posts have been broken up and delayed. I guess if this blog was my real job, I’d have watched the Sundance movies in advance and posted ‘em on the week itself, but it’s not, so here we are in mid-March. And with the delays I’ve forgotten what I wanted to say about this, if anything, except that J MASCIS plays a janitor for some reason. Also it’s a remarkably good movie, with an excellent balance between comedy/amusement and mystery/terror, all with super camerawork. Jesse “Social Network” Eisenberg plays a pathetic drip so well that when his confident double (also Eisenberg) shows up they seem like different actors. The drip is obsessed with meeting neighbor Mia “Stoker” Wasikowska, tries to please boss Wallace Shawn and get noticed by head company man James Fox. The double does all this and more with ease, leading the drip to finally assert himself and destroy the other man by attempting suicide (since their bodies are linked). Feels a bit like The Tenant at the end. Three of Ayoade’s Submarine stars also appear.

What We Do in the Shadows (2014, Taika Waititi & Jemaine Clement)

Amusing vampire comedy, directed and starring people from Flight of the Conchords. Shot reality-style (the film crew wore crosses), set mostly in the New Zealand house shared by four vamps: Taika Waititi with a sweet Andy Kaufman smile, fashionable Jemaine Clement, rough ex-nazi Jonathan Brugh and a Nosferatu horror named Peter in the basement. They turn a clueless new guy called Nick, who goes around town bragging he’s a vampire, attracting the vampire hunter who kills Peter. But Nick gets to stay because everyone loves his mortal friend Stu. The great ending twist is that the werewolves (led by Conchord manager Rhys Darby) turn Stu instead, which ends up uniting the two groups.

I actually only started watching it because Edge of Tomorrow was gonna take an hour to copy. Didn’t seem like an amazing comedy, just lightly enjoyable, though admittedly much better than a vampire reality show had any right to be. But Slant and Dissolve gave it masterpiece-level ratings and it made the front cover of Film Comment. And now it’s opening in town, which should teach me to wait a few months before watching new acclaimed indie films.

N. Rabin:

What We Do In The Shadows brilliantly juxtaposes the mundane with the supernatural, where superhuman creatures of the night are subject to the demands of a chore wheel and complain about five years of no one doing the bloody dishes (i.e dishes covered with blood). The movie gets terrific comic mileage out of the contrast between the decked-out ghouls and the ramshackle, go-nowhere town where they do their dark yet tedious bidding.

O. Ivanov:

As we watch the vampires make new friends and become reacquainted with old lovers, the film reveals itself to be a thoughtful and moving treatise on aging gracefully. Confronted with endless cycles of loss and regret, the vampires avoid melancholy by embracing the inexhaustible possibilities of love and friendship that life offers to even its unholiest creations.

Rocks In My Pockets (2014, Signe Baumane)

A good night, with the energetic director in attendance, introducing then discussing her film. It’s an impressive feat too, an animated feature made by a very small team, 2D animation composited onto paper mache backgrounds. Not completely crazy about the movie since it felt like a wearying illustrated audiobook after a while with her relentless narration, but it’s a mostly charming work about her family history of depression and suicide.

Grandma is well educated but runs off with her nationalist entrepeneur boss and bears eight children in a secluded forest, as Latvia is fought over by Russians and nazis and nationalism becomes irrelevant. She raises the kids, tends the animals, carries buckets of water up the hill all day while the entrepeneur works for years on his anti-Russian manifesto, which is burned when discovered by the kids years later. It’s said that grandma would have drowned herself but she kept floating because she didn’t know to put rocks in her pockets. Signe explores her family history while dealing with her own periodic depression, learning about strange and suicidal cousins, before returning to her own feelings and the way she deals with them through art.