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.

A Bigger Splash (2015, Luca Guadagnino)

Rock goddess Tilda Swinton is relaxing at a Mediterranean island paradise with boyfriend photographer Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust and Bone) when her ex, music producer Ralph Fiennes (an overpowering, charismatic performance) shows up with his newly-discovered daughter Dakota Johnson (Black Mass). Sexual and other tensions get extremely high, and the movie, which has an otherwise excellent soundtrack, tries in vain to get me to appreciate the Rolling Stones song “Emotional Rescue.”

I was disappointed when the story twists into murder-investigation territory after Matthias drowns a belligerent drunk Ralph in the pool, but this ends up justified. After initial interviews the chief investigator reveals himself to be a trembling Tilda superfan, gets her autograph and lets them all go. Tilda had previously, not at all convincingly, suggested to him that one of the immigrants flooding onto the island (many dying at sea) could have snuck onto the property, drowned Ralph, stolen nothing and run off. We didn’t realize that Tilda or her friends, in their wealthy bubble, even noticed the immigration crisis in the background noise around them – until it becomes useful to get themselves out of trouble.

Based on a story previously filmed by Jacques Deray with Alain Delon, and by Francois Ozon with Charlotte Rampling. Played in Venice with Anomalisa, Francofonia, Blood of My Blood and 11 Minutes. I finally warmed up to “Emotional Rescue” during the St. Vincent cover over the closing credits.

D. Ehrlich:

There are few better metaphors for the myopia of hedonism than a swimming pool on an island paradise surrounded by the sea … In lesser hands, this could’ve been a Woody Allen movie, but Guadagnino — always with his chef’s hat on — takes the ingredients for a sunbaked creampuff and slowly stirs them into a three-course meal. Working with regular cinematographer Yorick Le Saux, Guadagnino shoots in a sensual register where every shot feels just a hair too perfect to exist anywhere outside the movies. Snap zooms playfully focus on emotions that burst like firecrackers, rhythmic cuts throw you back on style whenever things risk becoming too realistic, and Marianne’s aviator shades reflect every character against their true intentions. Best of all, the soundtrack is wild and true, running the gamut from Harry Nilsson to Popol Vuh.

Tom at the Farm (2013, Xavier Dolan)

Psychodrama following young Tom (Dolan), whose boyfriend has just died, visiting the departed’s mother and brother for the funeral. Brother Francis threatens Tom to shut up about his late brother’s sexuality around their mother Agathe, first insists Tom leave and then prevents Tom from leaving… meanwhile Tom alternates between wanting to flee and to stay, while bonding with Agathe and getting into a twisted hate/need relationship with Francis.

Cannes Month is all about becoming familiar with the fest-regular directors whose work I’ve never seen before, so now that Dolan has won Cannes prizes with five of his six features, and starred in the best Cannes GIF of the year, he’s top of the list, despite my favorite critics’ aversion to his movies. I chose maximalist Dolan’s most pared-down work, also his only movie that didn’t go to Cannes (it opened in Venice instead, winning a critics prize).

In the second half, as part of Tom’s flip-flopping allegiances, he recruits coworker Sarah (Evelyne Brochu of Orphan Black), who played the dead lover’s girlfriend in photographs sent to the family, to join him at the farm. Maybe the invitation is meant to cheer up the mother, though Tom forget to tell coworker-Sarah details about girlfriend-Sarah’s fictional life, or maybe to rescue Tom, though once she arrives he informs her he’s staying. Just after her visit, Tom finally gets spooked enough by Francis’s past behavior to make his escape. Dolan makes all this indecision and ambiguity work for the movie, maintaining tension by never giving away exactly what the characters are thinking. Actors are shot largely in closeup, but outside dialogue scenes there’s enough shot variety that it doesn’t become Blue Is The Warmest Color-oppressive.

Full cast:

D. Ehrlich: “If Tom at the Farm is occasionally impenetrable as a drama, it’s seldom less than gripping as an exercise in suspense.”

A. Muredda in Cinema Scope disagrees:

One detects Dolan’s yearnings to transcend his wunderkind origins in the thematic heaviness of the push-pull almost-romance between Tom and his abuser, the kind of charged dynamic that lends itself to critical think pieces on the twin horrors of homophobia and conformism. This pretense to seriousness aside, Tom à la ferme feels like a mild regression: too artfully manicured to work entirely as a thriller, and not florid enough to be a pure melodrama.

Call Me Lucky (2015, Bobcat Goldthwait)

After Love & Friendship in the early afternoon, I was gearing up for a night of comedy. Checked out the first episode of Maria Bamford’s Lady Dynamite (featuring Patton Oswalt), then watched Patton Oswalt’s great new standup special Talking For Clapping. Patton is super funny, but whenever he mentioned his (recently deceased) wife or their daughter I got a little sad. Deciding to follow that up with something lighter, I put on the great Bobcat Goldthwait’s documentary on his comedian friend Barry (which of course also ended up featuring Patton), forgetting that Bobcat movies are never light, unchallenging fun. So when Cindy Sheehan showed up, and Barry appeared at a Senate hearing shutting down an AOL lawyer, and none of this is funny (but it’s a hugely better film than I imagined it’d be), I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Barry Crimmins goes way back with the director. Barry used to call himself “Bear Cat,” so as a spoof, some of the young comedians who frequented his club nicknamed themselves “Tomcat” Kenny and “Bobcat” Goldthwait, and one of these names stuck. For a comedian I’d never heard of, he has some powerful fans: Marc Maron, David Cross, Steven Wright, Louis CK. But you don’t think of comedians and artists as literal heroes… sure, Lenny Bruce went to jail and George Carlin and Frank Zappa went to court to protect freedom of speech, but Crimmins made a different sort of legal impact, getting the ball rolling on prosecution of online child pornographers, a pet issue of his since surviving child abuse. So the movie goes to very dark places and comes out cathartically on the other side. I loved it.

I looked up whether Barry’s got any stand-up specials, and there’s one being taped three hours away a few days after I watched this movie… hopefully I won’t regret skipping that (couldn’t get anyone to come along, can’t spend the night because of birds, and that’s a long way to drive alone) but I’ll buy the video version the minute it hits Louis’s site.

Back to straight comedy the next day, I watched Hannibal Takes Edinburgh. I was more listening than watching, but I kept looking up to see if Buress visited any locations I recognized, distractedly forgetting until halfway through the special that I’ve never been to Edinburgh.

Li’l Quinquin (2014, Bruno Dumont)

Dumont sure has a great sense of picture composition. The last movie of his I watched was in a familiar mode: long-take elliptical arthouse cinema. But what is this? A comedy with no jokes, a miniseries detective story with no resolution. On the basis of Hors Satan alone, if you told me Dumont made a comedy miniseries, this is pretty much what I would’ve imagined, but the reality of it still comes as a surprise.

All the actors are unknowns, and at least the casting director deserves a mighty round of applause for the interesting new faces on display. I did kinda tire of the extremely twitchy Inspector, who is visiting a coastal town with his dim assistant Lt. Carpentier to solve a murder – then a new murder occurs every episode, all spiraling around the family of P’tit Quinquin, who is generally more interested in hanging out with his racist buddies and bike-riding with his girlfriend Eve.

Premiered at Cannes, watched here during Cannes Month two years later. Film of the year according to Cahiers, so there must be more to it than I noticed… or maybe it’s just their ideal situation of a sharp-eyed arthouse auteur joining the Peak TV revolution.

“All the suspects have been murdered.”

Mike D’A:

Would have preferred an ending that feels less like a resigned shrug, personally, and fewer antics involving Quinquin’s brother … and I wish I could get that fucking “Cause I Knew” song out of my head for even ten minutes.

M. Sicinski:

Dumont shows us a world bigoted and illiberal enough that most anyone would harbour sentiments similar to those that prompted the murderer to kill … by the time we have reached the final episode, and the fourth murder, there is no hope for identification, and certainly no hope for resolution, much less justice.

Gotta read his great Cinema Scope article again after watching Dumont’s L’humanité.

Love & Friendship (2016, Whit Stillman)

A comedy about how easily manipulable men can be. I think Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) ends up getting everything she wants, though her American friend Mrs. Johnson (Chloë Sevigny) helps her figure out exactly what that is. Susan knows she wants to be married to someone rich, knows her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark of the Mia Wasikowska Madame Bodary) needs to be set up as well, and Susan doesn’t exactly want to break off her affair with the married Mr. Manwaring.

Susan is lodging with her dead husband’s sister in the country: the suspicious (but not unfriendly) Catherine (Emma Greenwell of TV’s The Path), and her brother, eligible bachelor Reginald (Xavier Samuel of The Loved Ones). The daughter is being pursued by doltish Sir James (Tom Bennett of TV’s Family Tree). Sevigny is back in London, strictly prohibited from associating with Lady Susan by her older husband Stephen Fry, so there’s some running around.

Fun movie with great dialogue and performances, and a few stylistic flourishes (opening titles set to music, character introductions, text onscreen when letters are read). This is the only Kate Beckinsale movie I’ve seen except her very first movie, Much Ado About Nothing. Makes me wanna watch Last Days of Disco right now, but I’ve already watched one Whit Stillman movie without Katy so I should wait.

M. D’Angelo:

Whit Stillman adapting Jane Austen is almost too perfect—and that’s especially true of Lady Susan, whose title character is orders of magnitude more duplicitous and destructive than any of the heroines in Austen’s proper novels … It’s fun to watch Lady Susan bulldoze her way through 18th-century propriety, but an entire film of wry breeziness is a bit like a seven-course meal that’s all sumptuous desserts … still, it’s not as if movies today offer such a surfeit of wit and sophistication that one as purely pleasurable as Stillman’s Love & Friendship can be dismissed.

The Editor (2014, Adam Brooks & Matthew Kennedy)

In the vein of recent self-consciously faux-grindhouse movies like Machete and Hobo With a Shotgun, but this one’s a giallo imitation. Obviously brings to mind Berberian Sound Studio and Amer as well, but aiming for parody through extended reference instead of jokes. I smirked at the obvious dubbing and the Udo Kier cameo, but it comes off as a bad movie parodying bad movies. Writer/directors Brooks and Kennedy also star as the editor and the inspector, respectively, with giant mustaches, and Kennedy’s inspector throws off the balance of the acting. Most everyone plays it straight – or slightly-winking parody-straight – but the Inspector goes big, a dead ringer for Matt Berry’s cocky explorer Dixon Bainbridge on The Mighty Boosh.

Film director Francesco and the inspector:

Lot of straight razors (everybody in the movie has one) and black leather gloves and woman-slapping and flashbacks. Favorite plot point: the inspector’s wife Margarit is the first to discover the bodies of movie-in-the-movie actors Claudio and Veronica, and goes blind from the sight. Everyone makes fun of the editor all the time – he was formerly a renowned editor (there is such a thing?) but sliced off his own fingers in a rage, and now works on shitty movies with his fawning assistant Bella. Either of them would be a prime suspect for the murder spree, which soon claims substitute leading man Cesare. But could top-billed Paz de la Huerta (The Nude Woman in The Limits of Control) as the editor’s wife who is barely in the first half of the movie possibly be involved? Yes!

Didn’t play the pile of extras, just gonna appreciate the surface pleasures of the movie, like the editor beginning to see reel-change marks bleed into real life, and UDO KIER (less awesome than he was in The Forbidden Room but hey, it’s still Udo Kier).

The codirectors previously collaborated on Father’s Day, a Troma movie about a revenge-seeking man named Ahab.

The Meddler (2015, Lorene Scafaria)

You never know if a feature-length movie about an annoying character is gonna be a good idea, but this one erred on the side of delight. Not a very strong storyline, more a character study of Sarandon’s meddling mom, who has to find new people to interfere with after daughter Rose Byrne (Sunshine, Marie Antoinette) goes off to New York for work. Sarandon and her new friend J.K. Simmons (“playing a Sam Elliott twin with a stellar mustache” per April Wolfe) are more than charismatic enough to carry the movie.

Writer/director Scafaria also made Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, wrote Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Before I forget who everyone was… stand-up comic Jerrod Carmichael as an Apple Genius who Sarandon tries to help get back into school… Cecily Strong (The Boss, The Bronze) as a friend whose wedding Sarandon pays for… Michael McKean as a pushy single guy who’s into Sarandon… Jason Ritter (Gravity Falls, Freddy vs. Jason) as Rose’s movie-star ex.

MZ Seitz’s rave review nails the emotional center:

The Meddler is a diminutive and misleading title for such an affecting, often profound film … In its heart, it’s a story about the lived experience of grief. Marnie is still dealing with the death of her husband, and Lori with her father. This dear man, Joe, is seen only in photographs, but he is the absent presence looming over both women and driving many of their choices. The script is filled with details so expertly observed and so rarely seen in Hollywood films that you suspect they came from experience. And they did. Writer-director Lorene Scafaria based the film on her and her mother’s experience after her father died.