Like a much improved Ready Player One, stupider but better in every other way. Or it could be this year’s Valerian, but in that movie you felt the hugeness of its universe, and this one feels like a video-game future city full of NPCs, with only ten real people who keep bumping into each other. Anyway, I heard Rodriguez made a campy, awesome sci-fi comic action flick with producer James Cameron and his Avatar effects team, rushed out to watch this in 3D, and was greatly rewarded.
Sam Adams in Slate:
There are moments so purely ingenuous they make you laugh with a mixture of disbelief and glee, like when Jeff Fahey shows up as a redneck bounty hunter who keeps a pack of cybernetic hounds on hand. It’s goofy as hell and borderline inexcusable at times, but it’s also kind of glorious.
Nick Cage has one last chance to find the enemy who once held Cage captive and messed up his ear (Benir – sounds like “bent ear” – is played by Alexander Karim, actually a Swede). The first problem is that Benir is presumed dead (actually sick, in seclusion), and the second is that Cage has been diagnosed with rapidly-advancing dementia – so both men are dying of health issues aside from the revenge drama.
Cage gets help from his spy buddies Anton Yelchin (between Only Lovers Left Alive and Experimenter) and Irène Jacob (The Double Life of Véronique), and impersonates a doctor (Serban Celea of Retro Puppet Master) to gain access to his nemesis. But this is where the movie finally gets interesting. After the studio recut the movie and released it as Dying of the Light, Schrader recreated his preferred version using unconventional means, with Lynchian overlays, quivering closeups, reversed shots, and scenes rephotographed off a TV. Finally, after the typical spy-movie plot and dialogue, Cage and Benir’s confrontation breaks down into experimental sounds and colors, then cuts to Cage’s tombstone.
A very long, bizarre movie, feels like the script was written by a distracted conspiracy theorist then it was was filmed completely straightfaced by dedicated (but low-budget) actors and craftsmen armed with heavy giallo lighting.
Opens with a massive fake rant about yuppie culture on 60 Minutes, then our man Trent sees himself inside the TV preview for The Hand That Rocks The Cradle. Outside, a maniac in a hairpiece is wrapping a dead woman in foil. I think this is Trent’s brother, but Trent complains to his wife about “your brother-in-law,” which is a strange way to refer to your own brother. After the brother(-in-law) sexually harasses a woman whose Secret Service ex-boyfriend then runs him over repeatedly in an alley while a lumpy pink alien look on, I realized I needed to let go of basic things like the characters’ identities and relationships.
“Get her some coffee, some cocaine, anything left over from the 80’s.” If the Mr. Robot guy can win an oscar for portraying Freddie Mercury, then Damon Packard can fill his movie with sub-cable actors and claim they’re major celebrities. Julia Roberts crashes on Trent’s couch for six months, Sade rehearses next to Rush, a hitman is sent after Bono, Dick Cheney takes orders from Johnny Carson’s band leader Doc Severinsen, William Friedkin gets mad that nobody wants to see his movie The Guardian, and Janet Jackson is married to one of Trent’s fellow Illuminati members.
This is all aimed at people slightly older than me, who saw Sleeping With the Enemy in theaters and got upset when Rush rapped on a 1991 single. Have I mentioned that it’s long? Every scene goes on for a small eternity, with repetitive dialogue, though sometimes the sound mixer will amuse himself by randomly pitch-shifting an actor, or blatantly dubbing in completely different lines, or an actor’s face will get Black Hole Sunned. The song Ice Ice Baby is being used for mind control, the movie New Jack City sparks riots (the rioters simply chanting “new jack city!”)… even this movie has multiple titles. The whole vibe is cool and unusual, chase scenes through empty Hollywood streets in the middle of the night with 1991 movie posters photoshopped onto the billboards, cheap direct-to-video effects combined with creative production design and an indecipherable story. I’ve long been tempted to rent Packard’s Reflections of Evil, which sounds similarly demented (but is very, very long); there’s also the 1982-set sci-fi feature Foxfur, the hour-long SpaceDisco One, and the twenty minute fake-trailer Dawn of an Evil Millennium, and I should watch all of these – even if they’re “bad,” they’re also exactly the kinds of movies I always aspired to make.
“The world has become more Wellesian… things seem exaggerated.” The narration is written as a letter to the late Orson, and I thought this might get too cutesy, then I recalled that I never get tired of listening to Mark Cousins. He emulates Welles’ camera moves as he did in The Story of Film. Welles took a trip to Ireland to paint in the early 1930’s, then Morocco, and Cousins shows the evolution of his sketches, travels to these places himself and films them in the present day. He ties the films to the radio plays, to the paintings, to international politics. It’s a cradle-to-grave career bio-doc like I’ve never seen, integrating the life with the art, half a rich analysis and half a love poem.
A UFO called The Wild Boys made my top-ten list of 2018, so I tracked down some shorts by the same director to see what he’s on about.
Any Virgin Left Alive (2015)
A rude reimagining of the death of Joan of Arc (Elina Löwensohn). Only her eyes are burned, and she roams the battlefields in a metal mask, capturing and tormenting a young woman.
Our Lady of Hormones (2014)
Two women come across a hairy, fleshy creature with a penile protuberance, squabble over its ownership and care. Löwensohn is eventually murdered with a sickle by Nathalie Richard (the great dancer from Up, Down, Fragile). These shorts have the Argento-Maddin coloring of The Wild Boys, and are similarly perverse fun. Narration by Michel Piccoli (currently his most recent credit), making this the Mandico film with the highest percentage of Rivette actors.
Living Still Life (2012)
A woman finds dead animals and poses them obsessively in stop-motion scenarios, stalked by a grieving man. Great sound and music and color, a perfect short, docked a couple points since I’ve recently seen A Zed and Two Noughts.
Ultra Pulpe (2018)
“I am the most hated filmmaker of my generation, the tribal pornographer, the scavenger of the genre. Who will remember me?” Absolute madness involving women and other creatures on a film set. Pascale Granel shot everything else I’ve seen by Mandico, now Sylvain Verdet takes over… I don’t know either of them from anything else, just trying to keep up. Löwensohn and Richard are joined by Lola Créton (Bastards), two of the Wild Boys, and (as actors) the costume designer of Knife+Heart and Michael Haneke’s casting director.
This was about as good as I’d heard. If you’re gonna film a story about broke sadsacks who slide into crime out of desperation, get caught, turn on each other and end up worse off than ever, it helps to cast charismatic comedians in the lead roles so it’s a breeze to watch and the awfulness doesn’t hit you until the end. People are saying Richard E. Grant should win the oscar for this, but I disagree – he should win the oscar for playing Jessa’s coked-out rehab buddy on Girls season 3. The first Melissa McCarthy movie I’ve seen since Go twenty years ago, though I’ve liked her on Gilmore Girls. I had a chuckle when Melissa McCarthy’s lawyer turned out to be an actual demon (Shawn from The Good Place). Heller’s follow-up to Diary of a Teenage Girl, cowritten by The Land of Steady Habits director Nicole Holofcener.
The second half reveals that Bradley Cooper’s washed-up drunk suicidal 1970’s jam-dude was the lead character all along, bumming out a movie that we thought would be more about the giddy excitement of Lady Gaga’s rise to stardom. She’s an amateur from nowhere with a golden voice, but being a pop singer in 2018 requires choreography and shitty beats, so Cooper loves and marries her but still gets to be the guy who keeps it real, commenting on her false costumes and dance moves, then goes back to barking indecipherable lyrics over Neilyoungian jams (backed by Neil’s band Promise of the Real).
Despite the Cooper obsession, it’s a well-paced beauty of a movie that seems to exist for that one song/scene, Gaga revealed to be far more talented than her work in Machete Kills hinted at. The camera dives and swoops through the rock concert scenes, Sam Elliott is cool as ever, and it’s not until the closing credits that we stop to wonder what Andrew Dice Clay and Dave Chappelle were doing in a movie together.
I was watching movies from last year’s Rotterdam and Sundance festivals, and now for a week on True/False movies. This is a transition film, premiering in last year’s True/False and showing up in this year’s Rotterdam (in Bright Future, with Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Manta Ray, Dead Horse Nebula). Opens with street scenes, talking with prostitutes, a squarish frame with v-hold issues and no sync sound, and I thought this might be a tough watch, then the editing sets it free – jumping around Jamaica meeting all sorts of people, beautiful photography and a vague structure around birth and death. It’s a poem of a movie, even less narrative than Hale County was, and at least as good.
The 16mm film full of light flares is interspersed with gliding HD. No subtitles and I can’t make out half the words, and zero sync sound, though sometimes we seem to be hearing the person we’re seeing speak, so it’s being shifted on purpose. So much Christianity – then an explanation for why that is, then an intro to rastafarianism and discussion of weed. I am an uncultured dummy who knows nothing about Jamaica or its culture, but there’s an echo effect on the end of sound clips and I wondered if this was dub-influenced. When the movie ended I was trying to remember how it started, watched the first half again before realizing that I was just going to keep playing it forever on a loop. Vikram Murthi saw it at T/F and notes that “the film is in direct conversation with the work by the Black Audio Film Collective.”
Opens with a boy named Niki playing with his school chums then coming home to bother his older sister Mila, who studies piano. This is Bulgaria, and she announces she’s going to Germany for school, so the rest of the movie feels like a countdown of the days she has left. The movie keeps focusing on something other than where the action or dialogue is, splintering conversations, not bringing the family (Niki, Mila and their dad – mom is mentioned but never seen) together visually until a nature hike at the end. Played in Rotterdam’s Bright Future section with Cocote.
Jordan Cronk in Cinema Scope:
The film’s musically inflected title seems to nod as much to three-quarter time as it does a fractured family unit … There’s … an effortless sense of family dynamics that feels organic and speaks fully to Metev and co-writer Betina Ip’s command of character and commitment to the quotidian moments that shape everyday life. There are no antagonists in 3/4, let alone villains––no dark or sadistic undercurrents meant to reflect contemporary Europe’s fraught sociopolitical temperament. By almost every conceivable tonal and stylistic metric, the film feels utterly removed from whatever continues to pass for serious international art cinema.