Steve Coogan’s possibly-ex-girlfriend is in the States, so he gets fellow TV comic Rob Brydon to join him for a would-be-romantic road trip to high-end northern England restaurants. Along the way, Steve makes anxious calls to his girl, to his agent (an American cable series is offered, with a seven-year commitment) and to his ex-wife and son. Rob’s only phone usage is for a nightly phone-sex appointment with his wife. Steve fusses over his career, wonders why he’s not the star he considers himself to be, and constantly puts down and one-ups Rob.

The fun of the six-episode series (which I watched since the movie version isn’t out yet) is in the often hilarious, somewhat bitter but always ultimately comic conversations between Steve and Rob, plus the great scenery and food. The movie aspires to more, though, and it’s more successful with its portrayal of a complicated friendship than with the time given to Steve’s personal and professional unhappiness. Each episode ends with him sighing heavily after an unpleasant phone call, looking unhappily into the distance, trying to make himself look younger in the mirror, and imitating Rob’s TV characters which he derides in public. I get the intent, to make Coogan a deep, sad character, but it comes off as repetitive and slightly self-indulgent. Brydon is given less depth, just a satisfied family man who loves doing the celebrity impressions that made his TV career. Coogan has a point that Rob gets annoying in large doses, but Rob confidently holds his own against Steve’s constant jabs.

The AV Club reviewers liked the film version in general, had some complaints I can’t disagree with. N. Murray: “While I liked the movie, there’s no reason why this couldn’t have been something I loved.” S. Tobias: “The choices [Winterbottom] makes in the editing room (and perhaps on set, too) seem off here … there are scenes that are allowed to go on too long or repeat a scene earlier in the film.”

Slant: “Its wry pricking of supercilious egos suggests a more self-aware version of Sideways.”

A gangster movie without any music or drama or fun – just a series of straightforward, low-key backstabbings and double-crossings, dry as can be. Its like Kitano, after being ignored for his previous trilogy (which I loved), is saying “you all want me to make violent gangster movies, fine” and making one without any excitement, like when fame-weary rock bands play self-mocking versions of the hit single they’ve grown to hate. Or maybe Kitano’s style has always been like this, and since it’s been a decade since I’ve watched Fireworks or Sonatine, I just can’t remember what they were like.

Takeshi, back in his element:

The plot just barely matters anyway. The yakuza chairman oversees families Ikemoto/Otomo, Murase and Sano-kai, all of whom want to advance their stations, but the chairman pits them against each other instead. In the end, simply everyone is dead except for Beat’s cop acquaintance and Kato (Tomukazu Miura of M/Other), former assistant to the head boss, now presumably the new boss himself. Makes me laugh that a sequel has been announced.

guy on the right is Ryo Kase of the new Gus Van Sant movie:

Supposedly Kitano’s character has a girlfriend or wife (Yuka Itaya of Sad Vacation), but really, women barely exist in this movie. As far as creatively violent attacks go, I had to look away when Kitano (on orders from his boss, Jun Kunimura of Kill Bill and Audition) performed amateur dental surgery on Murase (Renji Ishibashi, the gangster in Bird People In China, also town mayor in Sukiyaki Western Django) but I liked Murase’s subsequent scenes, looking silently enraged behind a face mask. My least favorite sidetrack was a wide-eyed African diplomat blackmailed to turn his embassy into a gambling hall.

Murase:

Despite the cinemascope ratio, rarely do more than two people appear in the same frame. Maybe that’s an every-man-for-himself visual metaphor. These gangsters are certainly more solitary than, for instance, the ones in Johnny To’s Exiled.

Every year I look forward to the Atlanta Film Festival, getting increasingly excited until some offensive act causes me to sit out the second half. This time I was thrilled to see Ruiz’s five-hour Mysteries of Lisbon on the program, but pissed once it started that they were projecting it from DVD. What kind of rinky-dink festival thinks that is an acceptable practice, and without even an apology or excuse? Picture was muddy and macro-blocky, the color desaturated compared even to DVD screenshots I found online. When I complained about the same issue two years ago after a screening of Beket, an AFF official left a comment counterintuitively stating “screening 35mm prints is cheaper for us to do than any other format we use.” I hope he returns this year to explain the Lisbon situation. Also, the dude from Turner who introduced the film called Ruiz, the seventy year old director of over a hundred films “up and coming,” with no knowing wink or chuckle to imply he wasn’t serious.

The movie was very good, worth taking the time off at 1:00pm on a weekday to see in its entirety, but not my favorite Ruiz movie by a long shot, lacking the anarchist humor of That Day and the shorts I’ve seen. If not for a well-placed deep focus shot here, an anamorphic lens-twisting there, I could’ve believe that any of a handful of dedicated European art directors had adapted the 150-year-old novel into this massive period costume miniseries.

Young Joao is having a fit, deathly ill, dreams he sees his mother, whom he’s never met. When he awakens, Father Dinis of the orphanage begins to tell him about his mother, Countess Angela who lives nearby, forbidden by her domineering husband from even seeing her illicit son. The movie takes on a flashback structure that reminds me slightly of The Saragossa Manuscript, even with the storytellers interrupting themselves to go to sleep, then resuming the next day. It seems Angela was in love with a young man (Don Pedro) whom her father wouldn’t let her marry, she got pregnant, and the baby was to be killed – but the assassin (Knife Eater) cut a deal with a passing gypsy (the priest in disguise) and sold the child.

Mysterious gypsy, left, with Knife Eater:

Back in the present, an outspoken Brazilian (Alberto de Magalhaes, formerly known as Knife Eater) is entering high society. Awesome scene when some guy demands a duel and Alberto straight kicks his ass, the fight shot through the window of the priest’s passing carriage. Angela’s husband, who’d married her despite the priest’s ghostly warning that he would be marrying “a dead slave” since her heart was lost to the murdered father of her stolen child, had become a tyrant who openly carried on an affair with Eugenia the maid and locked Angela in a single room. But the husband gets sick and dies, repenting first to the priest. Oh, and priest, while you’re here, an old monk named Alvaro wants to talk to you, reveal that he’s your father and give you the skull of his wife Silvina, your mother, to take home with you. Flashing back to a scene of the priest’s birth (and mother’s death), we get an excellent long take, following the nervous father from room to room. Knife Eater, in an unexplained coincidence (probably detailed in the miniseries version), marries the housekeeper who once tormented Angela.

I can’t remember who this is – found the screenshots online:

Another sidetrack story, as Elise de Montfort (Clotilde Hesme of Regular Lovers and Love Songs) arrives, and the meddling priest visits to tell her about her mother Blanche, who was adored by the priest, and also Benoit (son of the nobleman who watched over the priest) and a colonel whose life the other two men had saved, Ernest Lacroze (Ruiz regular Melvil Poupaud) – Benoit wins, marries the girl and they have two kids – Elise and her brother who died recently in a duel. A grown Joao, now called Pedro da Silva, loves Elise, but she says to earn her love he needs to avenge her brother’s death, caused by the wicked Alberto de Magalhaes. He returns to Lisbon from France after hearing of his mother’s death in the convent where she’d been living since her husband died. Joao/Pedro challenges Alberto, who won’t fight, tells Pedro that Alberto was the would-be assassin the day Pedro was born, who reformed and turned the money the gypsy/priest had paid for the boy’s life into a fortune, says Elise is always sending infatuated young men to kill him.

Poor Joao’s mother, with priest in the background:

Anyway, probably some other stuff happens, and Pedro gives up and sets sail for Tangiers – seems to be dying at the end, dictating his life story, the movie looping back to his illness at the beginning, making me think perhaps he died in the orphanage never meeting his mother, imagining the whole rest of the movie in a five-hour fever dream. Also in both bookend scenes is his puppet theater, which the movie uses to illustrate the scenes or to set up new ones, and a painting that comes to life in a weird Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting tableau moment.

One of my favorite recurring events in the movie is that during many of the major scenes, the lead characters’ servants are shown blatantly listening in, sometimes in the foreground while the conversations are distant from the camera. I’m not sure what it added up to, all the shifting identities and vendettas and love affairs and parental secrets, besides being an entertaining bunch of stories. And for a movie with Mysteries in the title, everything is pretty well explained by the end.

Lots of writing on this online. More than one mention of Great Expectations, which occurred to me too. M. Koresky’s article is my favorite:

The nun who was a countess. The priest who was a soldier. The nobleman who was a thief. The poet who was a bastard. Ruiz’s Mysteries of Lisbon is a costume drama in more ways than one. … Though it may seem daunting, the size of the film is its chief pleasure. There’s so much room to parry and maneuver, so many doors (some literal) to unlock, secrets and coincidences to be in thrall to. … Whether we’re seeing a death or a regeneration, a dream or a remembrance, the final images of Mysteries of Lisbon, filtered through an amber haze of memory, unites all of the film’s disparate strands in one delirious, cinematic consciousness.

A charming little comedy that never lives up to the expectations set by a marvelous opening scene: a drummer in the back of a van playing to a metronome up front, with the driver revving the car to form a bass line, ending in a police chase. The driver will later lead a group of misanthrope drummers through a four-part city symphony, first chased then led by a tone-deaf cop who is strangely affected by their works.

It’s an idea from a short film (Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers, which I didn’t watch beforehand because the AFF website wrongly said they were gonna show it before the feature) extended into a feature – and it feels that way. The first half of the four musical numbers (1. played on a hospital patient’s body, 2. bank “robbery” where money is shredded instead of stolen, 3. clanking construction equipment outside the orchestral hall, 4. massive electrical wires are played like a giant guitar by the rappelling musicians) were fun, but as the movie starts to follow the cop, his relationship with his celebrated musician brother and his infatuation with the leader of the noise group, it starts to lose me.

Nerdy Cyril, with his Dante Hicks-looking friend and his vampire-looking other friend, visit a somewhat classy whorehouse. Cyril is cheap (or poor) and socially awkward and ends up sitting by himself railing against society until he meets an intriguing girl named Lisiska.

Meanwhile, Eleanor Malchus talks with the owner of the establishment, trying to locate her housekeeper’s daughter Lisiska, whom Eleanor suspects is working here. The owner (Casti-Piani) dodges the issue of the young girl, wants to engage Eleanor in philosophical debate instead, each relishing the idea of presenting his/her own moral values in a way that makes the other seem worthless.

The two threads turn violent then collide, or at least get to watch each other through a small window. Cyril loses his shit when Lisiska turns out to be not the woman he expected, but then he turns out to be not the man he expected, either, beating her half to death. I’m not sure exactly why the owner shoots himself to death – he’d earlier threatened to kill himself if he ever lost his convictions or pleasure in his job or something like that, but he doesn’t seem to have been overly affected by Eleanor’s arguments or the fight next door when he pulls the trigger.

Lisiska and the brothel owner appeared in Wood’s Psychopathia Sexualis. I think the lead actors were found in the local theater community, and they were all super. Movie was shot on a low budget in a remarkable eight days – everyone involved thinks it came out much better than Psychopathia Sexualis, which I have yet to watch. Based (loosely?) on a couple short stories by Frank Wedekind (“an elegant story of temptation and accusation in life … pessimistic about sex”) and Anton Chekov (original ending: “His friends, among whom is a medical student, are concerned only with his health; they take him to a psychiatrist who cures Vasilyev with bromide and morphine”). The director calls it a “Victorian sex tragedy.”

played with a short:

The Strange Ones (2011, Christopher Radcliff & Lauren Wolkstein)

I can’t comment whether it deserved its best-short prize at the Atlanta Film Festival since it’s the only one I saw this year, but I sure liked it. Two guys (maybe college age and middle school) have car problems, hike up the highway, stop at a motel pool to cool off. Older guy talks to the young woman on duty, she offers them a ride after her shift. The kid tells her in private that his so-called older brother is a dangerous kidnapper. The boys walk off, their true identity remaining ambiguous. Very nice looking, except for the ill-advised unsteady-cam walking shots. “Man” David Call and “Girl” Merritt Wever also worked together in Tiny Furniture, and “Boy” Tobias Campbell played Sam Rockwell’s younger self in Conviction.

Robert Patterson’s Polish immigrant parents die “at the very moment his final exam begins. His professors couldn’t have waited a mere two hours to tell him the bad news, thus allowing him to graduate? Not in a story this devoted to broad strokes and contrived barriers.” (AV Club)

So RP, looking remarkably more like a real person with normal hair than he does in those Twilight trailers, hops a train and joins the circus, meets ringmaster Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds, barely recognized him until he started talking with his bad-guy voice, and come to think of it, he should participate in a bad-guy voice-off contest with John Malkovich) with beautiful performing wife Reese Witherspoon (highlight of the movie was that my dream of having someone grab Witherspoon by her pointy chin was finally realized).

Anyway, Robert and Reese fall for each other but Waltz is crazy jealous and likes to murder his workers and hurt the poor, Polish-speaking elephant who comes along halfway through the movie and was the reason I agreed to go see it. Reese’s elephant tricks were nifty indeed, but maybe didn’t make up for all the dour, overwrought period drama surrounding them.

And look, Ken Foree of From Beyond plays one of Waltz’s enforcers – but not the one who’s so evil that he has to be killed off-camera at the end. Also, the whole movie is narrated by Hal Holbrook to Mark Brendanawicz. And it’s the second movie I’ve seen so far this year where somebody runs away from a circus after a traumatic event, only to return just as the circus is on the verge of failing. Rivette’s film had more clown acts and tightrope walking, and therefore wins. From the director of I Am Legend and Constantine, screenwriter of Fisher King and Freedom Writers and DP of 25th Hour and Brokeback Mountain.

War doc, watched with Katy because co-director Tim was just killed. Less explanation than usual in these sorts of things, and more combat than usual. The cameraman likes to be right there in the action during firing and bombing – which makes for good footage, but is probably why he’s dead now. Movie makes a good argument for the futility of war, pointing out that another unit failed because it didn’t build a forward outpost like these guys do (named after killed comrade Restrepo), then dealing obliquely with civilian deaths and disappearances, finally noting that this outpost was abandoned soon after filming. More impressive than the movie was a gallery of Tim’s still photographs which the NY Times showed online this week.

Juliette Binoche takes her impatient son to a reading by an author (opera singer William Shimell), though she doesn’t seem to like his book much. Then she goes out with the author, just a couple of strangers on a tour of historic Tuscany for a couple hours. A shop keeper talks to Binoche as if the author was her husband, and Binoche plays along and then – in a disturbing Lynchian shift – he is her husband. It’s a bit of playful make-believe between them at first, but it quickly turns real.

A perfect story for Kiarostami, who loves to blend fact with fiction. I’m glad that I read a little bit about this beforehand, had been told about the movie’s many “copies”, so I knew to look for them from the beginning – for instance, when Shimell first appears at the reading he tells the crowd a variation on the same lame joke that the man introducing him had just told. And there’s a breathtaking edit towards the end of the movie, a shot of the couple leaving a church, a copy of the shot preceding it. Funny that Kiarostami’s first feature outside his home country (was Tickets also shot in Italy?) is a copy of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s first foreign feature – a mixture of playful fantasy and domestic drama starring Binoche as a mother. Even though he’s making a marketable narrative film for the first time in a decade or so, Kiarostami still has some recognizable signature elements. The most comfortable conversation between our characters takes place in a moving car (below) and there are some good shots of trees, hills, roads, just enough to be recognizable if you’re looking for them, maybe even inserted slyly as a self-conscious trademark for the auteurists to hang onto.

Some of the writings online seem to think that the two were actually married, that the author may in fact be Binoche’s son’s father, and that it’s not as mysterious as all that… suppose I need to watch again.

New Yorker:

It’s … a tribute to the freedoms that Kiarostami considers essential yet also a warning to those who might consider political and social freedom to be a self-fulfilling and self-sufficient liberation. The film breathes the air of freedom from outer constraints … suggests a range of romantic and erotic options that can’t be depicted in Iran. Yet other constraints are at the core of the film—there’s the bond of marriage, which the couple may or may not have undertaken, and which a host of other newlywed couples seen in the village (famed for bringing good luck) hopefully choose. And there’s the bond of the self, the inescapable and apparently immutable force of character, which seems to compel the free-spirited, unconstrained man, out on a spree, to choose as a mistress the same woman as the one he was, or is, married to.

NY Times:

… such a conspicuous leap from neo-Realism to European modernism, it sometimes feels like a dry comic parody. As the movie goes along, it begins to deconstruct itself by posing as a cinematic homage, or copy, if you will, of European art films of the 1950s and ’60s, with contemporary echoes. Roberto Rossellini’s Journey to Italy, in which a couple played by George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman travel to Naples to sell a house, is the most obvious forerunner. Also alluded to are Michelangelo Antonioni’s Avventura, with its stark juxtapositions of ancient and modern images, and Alain Resnais’s elegant, memory-obsessed mind bender, Last Year at Marienbad. It has also been suggested that more recent antecedents like Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love and Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are role models. In any case, Certified Copy virtually announces itself as a deliberate stylistic composite.

Watched again with Katy in September. She thought I was showing it as a comment on the state of our relationship, which doesn’t even make sense. Anyway, movies about couples fighting make Katy sad, so she didn’t enjoy it much. Second time through I was thinking about the two ellipses in the movie. The opening sequence during the author’s reading is real-time, as is the entire rest of the movie beginning when he visits her shop, and an unknown amount of time passes between those segments (probably no more than a few hours). Then there’s the character ellipsis, when suddenly they change from a couple who has just met into one who has been married fifteen years.

This post has been released under the Movie Journal Amnesty Act of March 2011, which states that blog entries may be short and crappy, since I am too busy to write up proper ones.

Machete (2010, Robert Rodriguez)

I loved the Machete fake trailer in Grindhouse, but felt R.R. was stretching the joke too far by making this. It didn’t get stellar reviews, so I skipped it in theaters. Oops. So wonderful, probably better than Planet Terror. Baddies Robert De Niro, Steven Seagal and Jeff Fahey all get brutally killed, along with Cheech Marin and about two hundred others. I don’t know how Rodriguez stays on the cool/fun side of the campy comic-action tightrope, instead of stumbling like Sukiyaki Western Django or falling clear off like Tokyo Gore Police. Dude is good.

Hatchet 2 (2010, Adam Green)

Ugh, a boring waste of time. Good for you if you make a self-aware, post-Scream horror movie full of fun references, movie veterans and tons of humor and gore. But boo on you for throwing away all accumulated goodwill on an obvious rehash sequel. Boooooo.

Frozen (2010, Adam Green)

Watched to give Green another chance after Hatchet II. Full of “why don’t they try…” and “why wouldn’t they just…” moments, and I thought the cinematography was boring, but the story and acting are undeniable… quite a good little horror flick.

In the Mouth of Madness (1994, John Carpenter)

When bad horror gets me down, I like to watch this again. It’s clunky at times and likes to montage itself (each cool shot is shown three times or more) but Sam Neill is great, and it’s one of few horrors I’ve seen that takes its Lovecraftian apocalyptic premise all the way to a satisfying conclusion.

Barres (1984, Luc Moullet)

A whole movie about dodging payment in the Paris subway – only 15 minutes long with no spoken dialogue. Cute and instructive. Told myself I’d finally check out Moullet but this is all I’ve gotten to so far.

Barres:

Beauty and the Beast (1991, Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise)

Watched with Katy. What’s this new cleaning song doing in here? Must all Disney movies have a cleaning/work song?

The Clash: Westway to the World (2000, Don Letts)

A member of Big Audio Dynamite makes an interview film with some concert footage about The Clash. Very conventional, would’ve rather read The Clash’s wikipedia page and watched a full concert DVD.

Marty (1953, Delbert Mann)

The TV version from that rad Criterion DVD. I enjoyed Mann’s smooth Jimmy Stewart voice on the DVD commentary. He died two years before the DVD came out. A big shot in television through the early 50’s, he started working in cinema beginning with the film version of Marty, reaching the heights of a Cary Grant/Doris Day rom-com in ’62, then by the early 80’s he came back full-time to TV. Written by Paddy Chayefsky, acclaimed for this and Network, and also surprisingly the author of Altered States.

I’m still not clear on the kinescope process – so it was a camera aimed at a TV screen during broadcast? And this was done by the network, not by some enthusiast at home with a proto-VCR setup? And it was set up for time-shifting to the west coast? How did they get the film developed and send it to LA in an hour? Is the kinescope the reason why lateral camera moves make the movie suddenly looks like I’m watching it inside a cylinder?

“Girls: Dance with the man who asks you. Remember men have feelings too.” Marty is bored, has no luck with ladies, finally meets one who is his own speed. Meanwhile his mother is worrying over him and his aunt is moving in and his friends are telling him to forget the girl. Will love conquer all? Yes. A very small-scale but wonderful movie.

Rod Steiger would go on to star in Run of the Arrow and In The Heat of the Night, and more importantly, as the warmongering general of Mars Attacks!. He was recast as Borgnine in the feature film, but his mother and aunt made the cinema transition – the mother (Esther Minciotti) also played mother to Cornel Wilde and Henry Fonda in Shockproof and The Wrong Man, respectively. I had to subtitle her thick accent at times on the DVD here.

Parks & Recreation season 1

Now maybe I’ll be able to remember who Amy Poehler is, even though I’ve seen her in four movies. Also good to see Aziz again after Human Giant, but this was surprisingly not too funny/brilliant a season. Things have already picked up at the start of s2, so hopes are high.

Lars/Real Girl’s well-meaning brother Paul Schneider is low-key ladies’ man Mark. Nick Offerman of The Men Who Stare at Goats is mustachioed manager Ron. Bored receptionist April is Aubrey Plaza, a minor hostile character in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Poehler’s new friend Ann is Rashida Jones, the lawyer (?) who talks to Mark Zuckerberg after-hours in The Social Network, and her boyfriend Andy is Chris Pratt of nothing I’ve seen yet.

Saxondale season 1

Steve Coogan plays less of a buffoon than usual, actually kind of a bright and capable guy. He’s not super classy though, an ex-roadie for various rock groups turned independent exterminator with anger management issues, with a new young assistant whom he and his wife Mags (Ruth Jones of Little Britain and Nighty Night) somewhat adopt. Not a masterpiece of a show, but a happy diversion with some sharp comic bits.

Stella (2005)

The only season of Michael & Michael & David Wain’s show. Once I learned to tolerate how awful and stupid it is, I started to appreciate its stupid, awful, brilliant sense of humor. Or maybe I’m just stupid. Still to see: Michael & Michael Have Issues and rival series Wainy Days. Plus I never watched Reno 911, and maybe Viva Variety will come out on DVD some day.

Flight of the Conchords season 2
The Mighty Boosh season 2

These two are currently competing for best musical comedy series of the decade. Metalocalypse doesn’t stand a chance. Conchords may have the edge, because the music in Boosh season 2 was less prominent and awesome than in its first season.