Interstellar (2014, Christopher Nolan)

Probably my favorite Christopher Nolan movie. I have no urge to revisit Memento anytime soon, so I guess The Prestige would be my second favorite – I think that makes me a weird Nolan fan, since most are bonkers for Inception and the Batman movies. Anyway this was a very personal but still very epic time/space/dimension-travelling movie about keeping families together and saving all of humanity, a way-too-ambitious premise that was actually pulled off.

Pilot-turned-farmer Matthew McConaughey leaves his kids with Grandpa Lithgow since Matt’s the only maverick who can pilot NASA’s secret spaceship (hey you can’t make a movie this ambitious without leaning on a few time-saving cliches) through a wormhole to find a habitable planet, alongside Anne Hathaway (daughter of NASA head Michael Caine), David Gyasi (Cloud Atlas), Wes Bentley and two awesome robots. First landing is on the giant-waves planet, where Bentley dies, then on to the frozen-wasteland planet where crazy Matt Damon kills Gyasi, then into a black hole where McConaughey sends interdimensional coded messages to his daughter (who grew up to be Jessica Chastain, dating former scientist Topher Grace and fighting with stubborn older brother Casey Affleck), then is picked up, still the same age as when he left, by the human-exodus spaceship containing his dying, elderly daughter (now Ellen Burstyn).

I would’ve liked to see the 70mm super-imax version, but settled for at least going to the dumb local theater and not waiting for blu-ray.

The Dance of Reality (2013, Alejandro Jodorowsky)

You expect a new Jodorowsky movie to be bonkers, and I was skeptical because movies this bonkers are usually wannabe-cult empty-headed nonsense. Text descriptions of a boy with a huge-breasted mom whose dialogue is all sung opera-style and a dad who gets surrounded by miners missing limbs all singing their woes would raise a few red flags, but AJ makes it all seem rich and wonderful, then tones down the circus act and pulls off a surprisingly emotional second half.

Explores AJ’s own childhood in 1930’s Chile, the same way Guy Maddin explored his childhood in Brand Upon The Brain and My Winnipeg, keeping emotional truths and memorable details and poetically inventing the rest. Young AJ is followed around by wise old AJ (playing himself as a phantom narrator), and as usual it’s a family affair, with AJ’s son Brontis (the little kid from El Topo!) playing the father (and I’m guessing a real opera singer as the mom).

Jaime is an ex-circus performer (see also: Santa Sangre), volunteer fireman and passionate communist ashamed of his timid, long-haired art-loving son Alejandro. Jaime’s wife (they run a shop together) is obsessed with her dead father, thinks he is reincarnated in her son because of the long hair, which Jaime finally has cut off, causing family disharmony. Jaime tries to man-up his son, giving him painful challenges, while young Alejandro’s other influences are the colorful characters around town.

After the death of his fire chief and a failed attempt to help plague-afflicted slum-dwellers, Jaime regroups and decides to journey to the capital and assassinate tyrant president Ibáñez. First Jaime protects the president from a fellow communist in order to earn a position as the president’s personal horse groom, planning a more insidious revenge. But after poisoning the president’s prize horse according to plan, Jaime can’t murder the man, his hands becoming useless claws, then loses his memory and disappears into the slums, while back home Alejandro’s mom teaches her son a different way to disappear, showing him how not to be noticed to avoid antisemitic discrimination from the locals. Jaime regains his self-worth only to be captured and tortured by nazis on the way home – but he does get home, and the family flees their fucked-up town.

Colorful, beautiful movie that can’t go five minutes without doing something different and amazing, also with judicious use of digital effects. I love a good imaginary history, and after all the family affection (and pain, let’s face it) in this movie, I was shocked to read wikipedia’s cold version of AJ’s childhood. AJ: “My father had no humanity. So here, look, I am making him human.”

P. Bradshaw:

For the first time, Jodorowsky is coming close to telling us how personal evasiveness has governed his film-making style; his flights of fancy are flights of pain, flights from childhood and flights from reality. And now he is using his transformative style to come to terms with and change the past and to confer on his father some of the heroism that he never attained in real life.

Quintin in Cinema Scope:

The Dance of Reality works as an exorcism of an era where false and destructive dreams were also the hope for mankind, and when children were educated through abuse by their parents and by society. But Jodorowsky, one of these abused children, finally became as brave as young Alex is told to be in the film: he dares in his film to take on all of those issues, to speak freely about love and sex, fascism and communism and sorrow and pain and happiness, and to make his personal circus travel the world with brilliance.

My 2000th blog post!

The Strange Little Cat (2013, Ramon Zurcher)

Kinda impossible to describe this movie or why it’s so great. Because of the title the viewer pays close attention to the often-seen family cat, which isn’t all that strange. The family isn’t strange either, gathering for a large meal, mostly appearing without being given names or specific relations. The movie is strange, though, with its easygoing, playful and pleasant nature, and sudden bursts of string music and unusual cutting/framing sometimes making me expect intrigue.

Dissolve calls it “a beautiful, mysterious, beguiling cinematic doodle, and an absolute master class in mise-en-scène, unfolding in odd, fragmented frames and precisely choreographed movement within those frames,” and Mike D’Angelo calls it “the rare film that offers a new way of looking at the everyday world.” Zurcher’s first film, actually his student film, begun at a workshop with Bela Tarr.

J. Kiang:

Unlike many puzzles that tease solutions but never deliver, here the film becomes more engaging as time goes on, so that by the end our attention was unexpectedly rapt. .. In this mini-universe that refers only to itself (imagine a non-creepy Dogtooth), it’s the viewer who’s the weirdo, trying to apply patterns that simply don’t fit, onto a system that abides by its own unseen logic instead.

M. Sicinski’s commentary in Cinema Scope is the best I’ve found.

A visual inventory of various key objects… goes quite a ways toward explaining Zürcher’s somewhat mysterious title. The interlude is not just a clarification, as if one were needed at this point, that objects in and of themselves are the true subjects of The Strange Little Cat (another point of contact with Tati, Bresson, and Ozu); it also represents a clearing of the decks of human dominance, so that we can witness something we might call “feline time.” The cat sees these things, but they have no meaning for her. Rather, they are both foreign (pure entities with no known use value) and absolutely familiar (part of her “turf”).

Journey to the West (2014, Tsai Ming-Liang)

A Walker sequel, now costarring Denis Lavant of Holy Motors! Fourteen shots, and four are exceptionally long, beginning with a dim opening close-up of Lavant’s face.

Red Monk climbs stone stairs, walks through immaculately composed frames, with a couple cuts back to Lavant’s immobile head in different poses.

In the longest shot of the movie, Monk slowly (do I need to say “slowly”?) descends a staircase. Most people dodge him, but one girl stops and tries to figure him out.

Finally the big moment, as the Monk walks past a crowded corner followed by Lavant, focusing hard and copying each step (though Lavant leans more, and uses his arms for balance).

Beautiful finale in a square with a mirrored ceiling, the monk arriving belatedly from the side and not able to compete visually with the man blowing giant soap bubbles in the center.

Lee Kang-sheng and Tsai Ming Liang have other recent shorts listed on IMDB, including Walking On Water and Sleepwalk, so I’m guessing there are more Walker movies out there. Bring ‘em on.

Gone Girl (2014, David Fincher)

Full of great twists that I’m about to give away. Soon after Ben Affleck’s wife disappears, and he’s sad and hanging out with his sympathetic sister (Carrie Coon of HBO show The Leftovers, also about disappearing people) and doing press, and the cops are slightly suspicious that Ben might be a murderer, Ben’s secret girlfriend shows up, turning the tables on his perfect husband image. Then after things start getting worse for Ben amd his sister is mortgaging the house to pay for celebrity lawyer Tyler Perry, the movie reveals wife Rosamund Pike (The World’s End), alive and well and plotting to frame him as a murderer as revenge for the secret girlfriend. Rosamund grew up the subject of her parents’ series of children’s books (Amazing Amy) and is not gonna settle for a less-than-amazing husband. She’s also not very street-smart, and soon loses all her money to thieving motel neighbors, and instead of heating up her plan to commit suicide and have her body’s discovery be the final nail in Ben’s coffin, she hides out with super-rich ex-boyfriend Neil Patrick Harris, then decides to claim the whole thing was an abduction, murders Neil and returns covered in blood to perfect husband Ben. Somehow it managed to outdo itself in the last couple minutes with the creepiest ending possible.

Novel/screenplay by Gillian Flynn. Fincher has kept the efficient snappy editing to the rhythm of dialogue from The Social Network. Who’d have thought circa 2004 that I’d end up liking Ben Affleck so much? Was going to quote from the Fincher interview in Film Comment but it’s all too good, can’t decide which bit is best.

DCairns: “Like a 40s women’s picture, the movie evokes a pleasurable response of condemnation mixed with admiration. The woman is bad, and we should want to see her punished, but she’s also very impressive, and we find ourselves rooting for her. At a certain point in the story, we are rooting for both man and wife — maybe this is what Fincher means by calling it a perfect date movie.” I certainly wonder what Katy would’ve thought, and what conversation would’ve ensued had we watched it together. Maybe someday she’ll have a semester off and we’ll run a week marathon of long movies I wish she’d seen with me: Gone Girl, Interstellar, Margaret

Dear White People (2014, Justin Simien)

Agreeing with J. Rocchi:

Dear White People pulls off a surprising number of things with startling ability. It’s an American film that talks about race with strong feeling, common sense and good humor; it’s an indie screenwriting-directing debut as polished as it is provocative; it’s a satire that also lets its characters be people; it’s a showcase of clever craft and direction as well as whip-smart comedic writing brought to life by a dedicated, charismatic cast that also conveys real ideas and emotion.

Set at an ivy-league school (but shot at the University of Minnesota – Katy recognized the buildings). Sam (Tessa Thompson of Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls) runs the titular radio show, semi-accidentally becomes head of her residence house after giving a provocative speech, defeating her ex-boyfriend Troy (soap actor Brandon Bell).

Troy is son of college dean Dennis Haysbert (last seen in Far From Heaven), starts kissing up to president of a different house, Kurt (Kyle Gallner of Red State), who is son of the college president (Haysbert’s boss). Troy is also dating Kurt’s sister / the president’s daughter, which gives Haysbert a certain racial/sexual-power satisfaction.

Other leads: Lionel is a nerdy gay writer (Tyler James Williams, title star of Everybody Hates Chris), Coco is a fame-hungry student (Teyonah Parris of Mad Men and They Came Together) and Reggie is Sam’s hanger-on at the black student union (Marque Richardson). Climax is Troy’s all-white house throwing a race-reversal/mocking party (blackface rap-video atmosphere with watermelon, etc). Probably the whole mystery surrounding the ending was unnecessary – Coco and Troy are both desperate enough to fit in that they get involved in the party, but it turns out to have been Sam’s brainchild as an anarchist racism-exposure idea. But the twists matter less than they might have, because the movie is so sharply shot and written, and remains warmly character-based instead of leaning too hard on story. Then it shows mind-melting photos of real college race parties over the closing credits.

Antiviral (2012, Brandon Cronenberg)

“Celebrities are not people. They’re group hallucinations.”

I wanted to double-feature this with a Jennifer Chamber Lynch movie, the children of my favorite horror filmmakers, but couldn’t get a copy of Boxing Helena in time so I settled for the Xan Cassavetes instead. Pretty sure that even if I hadn’t known the Cronenberg connection I’d have been able to spot it: a total body-horror flick with a cool and clinical atmosphere. Plus someone says “shivers” within the first five minutes, and lead actor Caleb Landry Jones even reminded me of Cosmopolis star Robert Pattinson.

Speaking of Pattinson, the movie is about a future where the public’s hunger for celebrities has become literal, buying lunchmeat grown from the stars’ cells and getting themselves sickened by viruses that come from the stars’ bloodstreams. I think the movie is acknowledging that this is farfetched by having the virus thing be a premium specialty business (no huge lines out the door) run by a small staff of technicians also acting as salesmen.

Caleb is magnetic as Syd, whose celeb-virus business contracts exclusively with star Hannah Geist, and who is always trying to turn a buck in black-market virus sales while trying to get close to Geist himself. The black-market aspect already brings mystery to the movie before the new twist where Syd has injected himself with Geist’s newest illness, which kills her – or so the story goes, but really she’s being kept alive while people in the Geist business fake her death while trying to figure out the poison plot and deal with the leak perpetrated by Syd. Really it’s more complicated than this, and either I missed some information or the big picture is never fully revealed, while Syd ends up where he wanted to be, selling Geist by day and having (parts of) her to himself by night.

Plus: viral copy-protection hacking, viruses represented with blurred, manipulated photographs, man-machine-fusing nightmares (and realities), and doctor Malcolm McDowell.

Altman (2014, Ron Mann)

A career retrospective of Altman, with short celebrity cameo definitions of “Altmanesque,” none of whom mentioned overlapping dialogue. Narration and interviews with family members, many of whom were at our screening. Some good Altman stories within, but not much to say about the doc itself, so instead here’s a list of his movies I should watch (or *rewatch) soon:

The Long Goodbye
Gosford Park*
Kansas City
Popeye*
Brewster McCloud
Buffalo Bill and the Indians
Thieves Like Us

The Boxtrolls (2014, Laika)

Another delight from Laika. Think we both enjoyed this even more than Coraline. Insect-eating Boxtrolls live beneath the city, taking scraps and bits of shop signage from the above world and transforming them into machinery. Also they have a human boy who thinks he’s a boxtroll until, while fleeing from the town’s obsessive boxtroll exterminator Archibald Snatcher (whose reward for total extermination will be admittance to high-society cheese tastings), he bumps into a macabre little girl who helps him discover that he’s the long-lost son of a missing inventor.

I particularly liked the armatures.

Stop motion inventors with an obsession for cheese obviously brought to mind Wallace & Gromit, so we watched The Wrong Trousers a few nights later.