It turns out that it wasn’t watching the movie The Lost City of Z that satisfied me, so much as the quest to watch the movie The Lost City of Z, the confident hope that The Lost City of Z would be a great movie, based on the reviews of my James Gray-obsessed film critics. The movie itself – it’s okay, a quest picture where a determined Charlie Hunnam neglects his family to search repeatedly for Z, stopping only for WWI and to raise funds to return to his quest, eventually aging to the point where his oldest son can join him – then they both disappear forever, having either found their destination or been murdered by cannibals.

D. Kasman:

Fawcett … insists that this city, which he dubs “Zed,” not only exists, but that it represents a corrective to the very society whose recognition and acclaim he had once so passionately sought … Because Gray shows only the barest traces of what his protagonist discovers in the jungle, one is unable to precisely define how Z comes to assume such majestic proportions in Fawcett’s mind. Originating as a self-interested means to escape from the restrictive prejudices of English society, his search for Z increasingly comes to seem like a quixotic attempt to discover a greater, purer form of human dignity…

Rob Pattinson is very good as Hunnam’s loyal co-adventurer, Angus Macfadyen is irritating as an awful man who joins one mission then quits and sues, and barely in the movie are Hunnam wife Sienna Miller (upper-floor temptress of High-Rise) and son Tom Holland (the latest Spider-Man). The forest and the river and the light are all lovely, and I loved a match-cut from colored liquid seeping in a line to a train moving in the same direction… and the final shot of Miller leaving the National Geographic Society having received mixed news about her lost husband and walking out into the jungle.

Gray: “How do you take the classical form and do something with it? The last twenty minutes, something starts to break down in the film.”

N. Bahadur:

Where Lost City of Z becomes truly special for me … is within its final thirty minutes, where he starts to free himself from narratological function and let his formal syntax do the work – it’s a big step for him I think, because I believe it allows him to drive even closer to something idiosyncratic and distinctive – for most of the runtime it is a decent film, with some ok ideas, just like any other film… but suddenly, if just for a few minutes, we enter the realm of a visionary.

Quiet, lumpy Joel Edgerton (fourth movie I’ve seen him in, maybe I’ll recognize him next time?) marries sweet Ruth Negga (Ethiopian, of World War Z), they just want to be left alone with their kids and their auto repairs and home building and what not, but they’re arrested because they live in a racist Virginia shithole, and forced to move out of town. The NAACP hears about this and decides to use their case to challenge federal law, hires a shaky-looking local lawyer (comedian Nick Kroll), and Life sends photographer Michael Shannon, who gets them national attention. A slow-paced, good-natured movie with a happy ending – what’s not to like?

Right after I watched Five Came Back, here’s its inverse: British documentary filmmaker is asked by the war office to make a rousing feature, since nobody enjoys newsreels. Columnist Gemma Arterton (The Girl With All The Gifts, Byzantium) is hired as screenwriter, and washed-up detective-franchise star Bill Nighy as actor, and the movie mostly follows Gemma as she tries to make good work while falling for her cowriter Sam Claflin (a fantasy/action franchise specialist), while breaking up with her not-really-husband Jack Huston (John’s grandson – another Five Came Back connection!).

The movie’s fine, with some weird choices (near the end everything gets bright and quiet when Claflin is killed by some rickety film equipment), some in-fashion feminism, and the same old “yay, people who helped the WWII war effort” which is starting to give me the sinking feeling that that’s the last time people worked together for the common good – since then it’s been harsh wars and solo heroes. Original novel title Their Finest Hour and a Half was lots better, written by a TV writer/producer. Director Scherfig made An Education, which I thought was supposed to be good, but apparently not good enough to make my must-see list. I’ll be seeing at least one more Battle of Dunkirk movie this year – wonder how it’ll compare.

Bill Nighy is great, and refreshingly not dead (I got him confused with Alan Rickman). Erlich: “Alas, the lanky British baritone has no business being the standout of a story that exists in order to celebrate the value of female storytellers; Bill Nighy is many things, but a woman isn’t one of them.”

Watched this twice… it doesn’t quite make sense, and a half hour of screen time is spent watching Kristen Stewart texting, but it’s just about the most electrifying thing I’ve seen in theaters lately.

Kristen spends the night in her late brother’s old house, and sees a ghost, but it’s not him. Dropping off clothes for her employer Kyra (Austrian Nora von Waldstätten of Carlos) she runs into Lars Eidinger (Clouds of Sils Maria), tells him she’s not sure she believes in an afterlife (though we just saw her see a ghost). Soon after this, an unknown number starts texting Kristen asking personal questions, and she is intrigued enough to keep responding as she travels from Paris to London and back.

Things get crazy… we see Kristen drop some bags with super-expensive, high-fashion jewelry in Kyra’s apartment just before discovering Kyra dead and seeing shadows move in back of the apartment with rhythmic sounds, then leave without the bags. She returns to call the cops, which we mostly don’t see – then later, the jewelry bags are at her own place. Unknown Caller (everyone has guessed that it’s Lars at this point) drops off a hotel room key, and she goes to the room in Kyra’s dress with the bags… then he arrives… then the camera tracks an unknown presence leaving… then he leaves and has a shootout with waiting police.

Anyway, Kristen meets Erwin (Anders Danielsen Lie, star of a couple Joachim Trier films), the new boyfriend of the late brother’s ex Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz, a small role in Eden), and we get a glimpse of the brother’s ghost. Then Kristen, who has been avoiding her boyfriend Gary, decides to join him in Oman, where she encounters… something… herself. “I don’t know you.”

If she was killed in the hotel room (as the departing spirit would suggest), what’s she doing meeting new people (Erwin) and having normal conversations and going on trips? But if she didn’t, then what happened in the room, and why does she never mention it? I suppose we know that ghosts can become visible and pick up glasses, so maybe they can masquerade as their sisters and carry bags of jewelry across the city… but no, that doesn’t make sense either. Anyway, this unknowability of the story, the lapses in logic and storytelling, only add to the movie’s great mixture of the mundane and the mysterious which has kept me thinking about it all month.

Tied with Mungiu’s Graduation for best director at Cannes last year. DP Yorick Le Saux is on a roll, with this film following A Bigger Splash, Clouds of Sils Maria and Only Lovers Left Alive. I read a bunch of articles which I won’t quote from… David Ehrlich’s family grief essay/interview was a favorite personal take, and V. Rizov’s “Anxiety of Economic Influence” article approaches the movie from a fascinating angle.

An exciting anime feature, which we got to see on a big screen thanks to the Alamo (in a dubbed version which was refreshingly free of slumming Hollywood celebs). Jumps between protagonists, between bodies, between time and space, then throws in a town-destroying meteor. Incident and action piles up, more and louder, until the body-swapping boy appears to have saved hundreds of lives and we fast-forward to the couple’s first real-life (chance) meeting.

M. D’Angelo:

The film’s body-swapping setup foregrounds questions of identity, beginning with the way that both teens react to their new, temporary genders; Taki-as-Mitsuha spends so much time feeling up his own breasts, for example, that it becomes a running gag. Meanwhile, Mitsuha-as-Taki starts flirting heavily with a slightly older female co-worker at the restaurant where Taki works, and it really looks as if Mitsuha herself is smitten, rather than merely doing Taki a favor while she’s in control of his actions.

D. Ehrlich:

Like all of Shinkai’s films, the richness of the light coats everything it touches with such an evocative hue of nostalgia that the plot only puts a damper on things (and there’s a lot of plot here). Watching these colors bleed between Taki and Mitsuha’s divergent lives is all you need to appreciate the beauty of being in this world together, and the tragedy of how that same beauty always seems to slip through our fingers.

The movie itself was a bit frustrating – we’re told that burlesque star Tempest has a famously hot temper (with no examples), that her life was full of fascinating incident (with no details) and that she changed the face of burlesque dancing (with no support). But the stories Tempest told in person were fun, and she’s one of the most interesting people we’ve ever had dinner with.

Cannes Month continues. Hong has two new films premiering at this year’s fest, and another one premiered just a few months ago in Berlin, so it’s catchup time… this is from way back in 2012, so, ten movies ago. In framing story, girl at a hotel, hiding out with her mom while her uncle is up to no good, kills time by writing a series of stories, similar scenarios which all play out in the same hotel with the same actors playing (usually) different characters. Well, each time there’s a French woman named Anne (Isabelle Huppert, same year she was in Amour and Lines of Wellington) and a lifeguard who also works part-time at the hotel (Joon-sang Yoo, lead of The Day He Arrives), but Anne has different identities each time, and the lifeguard doesn’t seem to remember her from previous visits.

1. Anne is a visiting film director and the lifeguard is stalkerish in this one. Won-ju (Yu-mi Jung, title star of both Oki’s Movie and Our Sunhi) is pregnant and jealous of Anne, since her man Jongsoo (Hae-hyo Kwon of all the 2017 Hong movies) knows Anne from way back. Everyone wants Anne, and she is gracious about it, but really just wants to see the local lighthouse, have some grilled squid and be off.

2. Anne is “a rich housewife,” cheating on her Hong Kong husband with filmmaker Soo (Seong-kun Mun, the professor in Oki’s Movie). The lifeguard is somewhat helpful here, finding Anne’s phone – and she locates the lighthouse (and brays at some goats), but later she doesn’t – maybe a dream sequence or alternate version (it wouldn’t be the first), but anyway it’s quickly interrupted by…

3. Anne has been left by her husband (a different husband, since this is a different Anne), is vacationing with her friend Park (Yeo-jeong Yoon, maybe one of the girl’s friends in Right Now, Wrong Then) and they meet a film director (Jongsoo from #1). Everyone gets drunk on soju of course. The framing-story screenwriter is obsessed with visiting filmmaker characters drinking soju, as is Hong. Anyway, Anne wants to meet a local monk in order to find wisdom, but he talks her in circles, so she goes off and sleeps with the lifeguard, failing once more to find the lighthouse.

P. Labuza:

Certainly the MVP here is the lifeguard whose declarations (“I will protect you!!!”) and wonderfully dopey song are probably the closest to broad comedy I’ve seen from Hong so far. Huppert plays three different versions of a cipher (cold, needy, mourning) who all get men attracted to her no matter how she acts … Foreignness is certainly an interesting element; here Huppert’s various roles acting as the exotic figure as if a twist on the usual Western perspective of exotic women.

Feature film directors (and Meryl Streep) tell the tales of American feature film directors in the 1930’s and 40’s who were sent to war to make documentaries for the homefront… with one of the best motion-graphics-meets-stock-footage opening title sequences. If you’re interested in filmmakers and/or war, the whole thing’s just fascinating.

William Wyler, fresh off the inspirational Mrs. Miniver, rages against racism while Frank Capra is producing Private Snafu cartoons. Working (mostly) under Capra, John Ford and George Stevens are sent to film D-Day. John Huston makes the gritty San Pietro, using mostly reenacted fight footage but real dead bodies. And Citizen Kane cinematographer Gregg Toland proves himself a poor director. Stevens went on to film the liberation of concentration camps, while Wyler snuck a trip home and found the holocaust had killed his family and all their neighbors. In the end, Huston’s final work about emotionally wounded soldiers was censored for decades, Ford returned to make They Were Expendable, and Capra/Wyler/Stevens founded their own Liberty Studio, which immediately went broke on the flop It’s a Wonderful Life.

I’d love to watch a bunch of the original documentaries themselves, all available on netflix: Battle of Midway, Report from the Aleutians, San Pietro, Let There Be Light, The Negro Soldier, The Battle of Russia, Nazi Concentration Camps and Memphis Belle. But that’s six hours of WWII docs, and it’s Cannes Month now, and six movies I want to see opened in theaters this week, and a new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 just came out, and it’s baseball season…

Kicking off Cannes Month with last year’s jury prize-winning tale of misfit youth, shot in the People’s Aspect Ratio of 4:3. After finding love in a hopeless place (wal-mart), Sasha Lane dumps two kids onto a woman line-dancing to Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road” (“they ARE yours”), sneaks away from her boyfriend (husband? stepdad?) and joins hottie Jake (Shia LaBeouf, last seen in Nymphomaniac) on the road, selling magazines for group leader Krystal (one-note villainous Riley Keough, of Fury Road).

The characters are all useless, but as far as capturing a certain vibe/mood and creating visual energy with the camerawork, it’s a pretty swell movie, keeping me going for all three (!) hours despite some groanworthy choices (“Dream Baby Dream” when they talk about their dreams – later the new girl in Sasha’s place is named Drema).

Time Out:

There are so many extraordinary moments, beautiful shots and intoxicating rushes of pure teenage adrenalin, that it’s all the more frustrating when … American Honey stops short of being more than a fitfully exciting, occasionally trying and undoubtedly overlong experiment.

M. D’Angelo:

It works best as a rowdy ensemble piece — sort of a co-ed, mobile, present-day version of Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some, examining the frayed bonds created among newly formed adults with few responsibilities and a dynamic torn between loyalty and rivalry.