Katy and I were surprised that the movie had a happy ending. Then again, the happy ending consists of the lead character finding her dead father and sawing off his hands. She spends the previous ninety minutes in an atmosphere of such threat and menace, surrounded by hostile neighbors and relatives, all with guns in their hands, that we’re just stunned she’s alive, and with some money to boot.

Katy picked this because lead actress Jennifer Lawrence will star in The Hunger Games (having played Mystique in the X-Men prequel along the way). I was also glad to see Sheryl “Laura Palmer” Lee, first movie I’ve watched of hers since the great Mother Night. Lawrence is a dirt-poor girl with a messed-up mom and missing dad (this is all good Hunger Games practice) in a town full of angry meth dealers, some of which are her relatives but I can’t always tell which. What’s for sure is that this is a town which values shutting-the-fuck-up above all else, and even though she has damn good reason to go asking after her father (she’ll lose her house if he skips bail), all these questions are making people nervous, so they resolve to deal with her. Fortunately she makes a sorta friend in Uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes of Me and You and Everyone We Know) who helps her out, probably dooming himself.

Nominated for oscars but beaten by The King’s Speech, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale and Aaron Sorkin.

“You are not a witness to the ruin. You are the ruin. You are to be witnessed.”

The quote made me space out for a while, since people near me in the theater had been mentioning Collapse before this one started.

A slideshow of a movie, like a PBS version of The Tree of Life. It alternately seems to be a prayer, a history lesson, and a curse against the city of Atlanta. The movie never feels like explaining its ideas in depth, preferring to crossfade into the next evenly-spaced slide, having the unhurried narrator repeat something he said a half hour ago, valuing experience and images over explanation.

I was pleased that shots of N. Dekalb Mall were used as signifiers of the big corrupt city, since I’ve been angry at that place since I left a screening of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World covered in ants. Less pleased by the rumbly drone of the music, which only seemed to brighten once in a while.

Ebiri liked it.

“This isn’t a lament for the Old South, or even really for The Way Things Used To Be. There’s an abstractness to the imagery and to the discourse that suggests Persons is talking about a symbolic passing. … The film’s tendency to avoid humans comes across as an attempt not to seal itself off from experience, but to make its imagery even more subjective. … Persons’s lament – his surrender – doesn’t feel like a search. Perhaps because he understands the thing he seeks might never have been there in the first place.”

Cheers to Carros and Fearon for the sweet map graphics.

“The weathervane is the center of it all.”

A making-of-itself filmmaking rabbit-hole containing mysteries with no answers. It’s hilarious to me that I leave my movie-filled laptop and go to the theater to see a movie that opens with a DVD-R entitled Road to Nowhere inserted into a laptop, with a looong slooow zoom into the screen – a zoom that will be repeated into a digital photograph over the closing credits, and which reminds me that one of the last times I was at this particular theater was to watch Wavelength. Very pleasing countryish music by Tom Russell over key scenes. All shot digital, I assume. Strange, intriguing movie in many ways.

Mitchell Haven (Tygh Runyan, Methyl from Little Dizzle) is directing the within-film, also called Road to Nowhere and also shot digitally, with local gossip and other details provided by blogger Natalie (Dominique Swain, title character in the Jeremy Irons Lolita) and carpenter Bruno (Waylon Payne, Jerry Lee Lewis in Walk the Line). Their movie stars Cary (Cliff De Young of movies I remember from cable like F/X and Dr. Giggles and Pulse – the one where the house’s electricity comes to life and wants you dead, not the one where Japanese ghosts come to life and want you dead) as Tachen together with Laurel (Shannyn Sossamon, the cute pink haired girl in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) as the doomed amour-fou couple of a small town.

But are they doomed? And is Laurel in fact Velma Duran, the very girl she’s portraying in the movie? And is Bruno in fact an insurance investigator who’s on to Velma’s scheme, trying to retrieve the hundred million dollars that she and the real Tachen stole when they died/disappeared? And is Mitchell, as the dialogue and the dialogue-within-the-dialogue both proclaim, in over his head? The movie doesn’t directly say, but rather shuttles between present filmmaking reality, the scenes being shot, and flashbacks which could be real or imagined. I was surprised then, given all the mystery, that the road doesn’t lead to nowhere like Lost Highway but to a definite ending, the girl shot to death by Bruno and Mitchell in jail. I guess all the noir elements and the in-too-deep stuff had to explode eventually, but I enjoyed the ride more than the conclusion.

Written by Steven Gaydos, a longtime Hellman collaborator who cowrote Iguana and helped produce Cockfighter.

NY Times:

Road may also be as significant to the indie feature as Avatar is to the popcorn movie: the entire film was shot on what is essentially a still camera (the Canon 5D Mark II), while looking like a mega-million Hollywood production. “The great thing about this camera is you don’t need permits because no one knows you’re shooting, said Mr. Hellman. … They shot in the streets of London, in Verona, in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, in Rome, in front of Michelangelo’s Moses and the tomb of Pope Julius II – permitless. “They thought we were tourists,” Mr. Hellman said.

The trailer and the IMDB plot summary are both slightly misleading – one gives the movie a narrator, an explicit theme of rebirth and the other gives it a human lead character and a story setup. The movie itself has none of these things, and requires none. The advertising was all for naught anyway – it was just me and one other guy on opening night at the plaza.

The trailer narration is useful – explains that the movie is illustrating the reincarnation theory of Pythagoras (a native of the area where the film was shot) which claims that each person has lived before as a mineral, a plant, an animal. The film is full of births and deaths – quiet, no dialogue or narration at all, but I found it beautiful and interesting, and meditative without being boring.

In order, as far as I remember it. Guy is on a steaming rock pile, slapping it with a shovel. A shepherd is taking his goats out to pasture, seems to have trouble walking home. That night he mixes some powder with water and drinks it before bed. Next day, collects snails in a pail, tries to fashion a lid so they won’t escape. Goes to church where he trades a bottle of milk to a woman for a packet of dust, which she has swept up from the floor. That day in the field he loses the packet, and is distressed about it when he gets home, goes to church but nobody answers. Next morning is the most impressive long-take I’ve seen all year. The camera is across the street from the man’s house, facing it, above the fenced-in pen where the goats are kept. A passion play is coming down the street, and some late-arriving centurions park across the street, propping their car tire with a rock. After the parade goes by, a boy lagging behind is threatened by the shepherd’s dog, distracts the dog by throwing rocks, dog grabs the one under the car, car rolls into the fence freeing all the goats. I can’t imagine wanting to coordinate a ten-minute shot with a cast of sixty townspeople in which the lead actors are a young child and a dog. Anyway, the shepherd is discovered dead, the goats rampaging through his house. A couple of new guys are taking care of the goats, but the movie doesn’t linger on them, takes the goats’ point of view for a while. We see a goat give birth (this is why Katy didn’t want to see the movie), the small goats play inside while the grown ones go to pasture, and finally when they’re old enough the small ones tag along – but one gets lost, presumably freezes to death under a tree. The tree is cut down, dragged into town and lifted up for some kind of festival, then taken down, chopped to bits and given to the coal man. He arranges the wood in a very orderly pile, covers it and sets alight, tamping it down from above to make coal. And that’s where we came in.

“The only professional used in the film, claims Frammartino, was the dog.”

Frammartino also made a movie called The Gift, which I must find sometime.

full title:
Emma Stone-starring Soulmate-seeking Rom-com Drive-In Double-Feature

Crazy Stupid Love (2011)

From the co-writers of Cats & Dogs and Bad Santa, and also the writer of Tangled. Emma Stone has big eyes, and we didn’t know what she’s doing in the movie, but figured we missed that while in traffic on Moreland for the first 15 minutes of the film. Turns out it’s the surprise ending that she’s Steve Carell’s grown daughter, and the joke’s on poor Steve since his sweet daughter is dating Ryan Gosling, the sex machine who irrationally befriends Steve and gives him dating advice. Steve needs this since he’s divorcing Julianne Moore for sleeping with coworker Kevin Bacon. Steve’s son Bobo is infatuated with a 17-year-old Analeigh Tipton. Thanks to twitter, I know that the night Katy and I were watching this movie, Analeigh was reading Ender’s Game and watching Oliver & Company while sick in bed. But in the movie she takes nude photos of herself, prompting Zodiac killer John Carroll Lynch to attack Steve, starting a big comedy fight, after which Steve and Julianne are perhaps hopeful that they can maybe be friends again or something, because they are soulmates, just like Gosling and Stone, Bobo and Tipton, and everyone has exactly one soulmate, whom they will definitely meet and have a chance to date, and if you let that person go you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.

Friends With Benefits (2011, Will Gluck)

Emma Stone was in this too, but who was she? Let’s see… it was past midnight and Katy and I bought pops. Ended up not raining, which is good, but too humid and lethargic to do anything but watch the stupid movie. So Emma Stone, not positive who she was, but Justin Timberlake (who has alzheimerin’ dad Richard Jenkins) is wooed to New York City by hottie headhunter Mila Kunis (who has drunkie undependable mom Patricia Clarkson). Justie and Mila become best buds, then no-strings-attached fuck-buds (Katy says this beat the actual No Strings Attached, which starred Ashton Kutcher, so duh). They both have huge commitment phobias because of their wacky parents but it turns out they are soulmates, and they know if they let each other go they’ll regret it for the rest of their lives. Shaun White appears in a would-be-funny cameo if anyone gave a shit about Shaun White (Tony Hawk is way cooler).

More interesting than the romance and the carefully-positioned cameras and sheets to conceal nudity was the movie’s subversive commentary about the pretty young idle rich. A spate of recent documentaries make out fashion and magazine/newspaper businesses to be unforgivingly high-pressure, but Justin is the art director of GQ and seems to have plenty of time off, as does Mila, who’s the kind of person who places high executives at GQ and Amazon. The only “work” we see Justin do (besides discussing typefaces with homosexual sports editor Woody Harrelson – times new roman?!) is deciding between two things presented before him – this cover or that cover? This article or that article? Both times his decision is reversed by someone who is not his boss, and a photo shoot is turned into a gay dance party by homosexual sports editor Woody Harrelson, making Justin seem increasingly like Tim Robbins in the Hudsucker Proxy, a highly-paid poster boy, grinning and pursuing his soulmate while the real work is being done elsewhere.

From the director of Emma Stone’s breakthrough Easy A (though it was Crazy Stupid Love that was full of Scarlet Letter references) and the cowriters of an upcoming film about “a relationship expert who cannot keep his own love life in order.”

full title:
Animated, Machinery-Themed, John Turturro-starring Sequel Double Feature at the Drive-In

Cars 2 (2011, John Lasseter)

In the first movie, Turturro plays a hotshot open-wheel race car named Bumblebee, I think. Larry the Cable Guy gets mixed up in a Man Who Knew Too Little super-spy plot with Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer, while Owen Wilson is off having a biggest-dick contest with Turturro. The guy who developed the so-called green alternative fuel turns out to be the bad guy, because green fuels are fake and ultimately cause more environmental harm than fossil fuels. As Ruppert says in Collapse: corn! don’t make me laugh. Katy and I loved the Barbie & Ken short. This sequel was more exciting than the predictable first movie.

Transformers 3 (2011, Michael Bay)

Then Turturro, having learned humility and the value of friendship in the first movie, uses his money and influence to help Shia The Beouf fight Megatron and Shockwave and revive Roddimus Prime, whose ship crash-landed on the moon (Katy says there is no “dark side” since the moon rotates, and that the man in the moon is a myth). Frances McDormand was an army guy, I think, and John Malkovich was his usual Malkovichy self. Patrick O’Dreamy from Katy’s shows played the evil human who’d stop at nothing to defeat Turturro’s and The Beouf’s schemes because the Decapitrons have promised that he’ll be king of the humans after they win using some Fifth Element columns to bring an entire planet into Earth’s orbit, or something along those lines. More comprehensible than part one, with the masturbation/embarrassment jokes easier to take since I saw them coming this time. Oh, and the Spanish teacher from Community.

Mark was badly beaten, and after therapy, becomes a different person, with little memory of his previous self (a drunk, an artist, a navy officer). Almost the only thing that remains is his penchant for cross-dressing (shoes and stockings). He creates a world of action figures for therapy, puts himself and his friends (plus crushes, fictional characters, his attackers, the filmmaker) in there, and takes gorgeous photographs which become celebrated in the art world.

That’s definitely an interesting subject, worthy of a documentary, and the movie lives up to its potential. Malmberg befriended Mark over the four year shoot, got him to open up about his feelings, his life and his little town, so it feels much deeper than a tabloid news story. And Mark is aware of what he’s doing, conscious that he’s a grown man playing with dolls, that he suffers from anxiety since the attack and that he’s created his own therapy through his Marwencol, but still able to lose himself in the stories he creates, then to step back and stage these photographs.

Unbelievable ending – Mark’s character inside Marwencol (I thought he looked like Daniel Craig, but the internet suggests Nicolas Cage), having been savagely beaten by nazi S.S. soldiers, creates a tiny model town of his own.

Won a whole pile of awards. Shot over four years on DV and super-8. The director and producer had previously worked together on Paris Hilton’s Razzie-award-winning The Hottie and the Nottie.

Vincent Gallo was amazing in this, won an acting award in Venice. He plays a soldier captured by U.S. forces after blowing up three guys with a rocket launcher – at least that’s what I thought. A couple things I read online suggest that he lifted the launcher off another soldier in the cave, or found it there when he was just stumbling by, but that wasn’t how it looked to me. Anyway, he kills enough people over the course of the movie – and is antagonized and tortured enough – that it’s clear (even from the title) that the movie isn’t making him out to be evil nor especially sympathetic. He is trying to stay alive in the midst of social and military conflict. He doesn’t manage, but not for lack of trying. The movie’s many action scenes are tense and powerful, the images are often poetic, and with Gallo’s great performance on top of that, this has become one of my favorite recent films.

After the initial attack, Gallo is pursued by helicopters and deafened by a rocket strike. He’s interrogated and waterboarded, then escapes when a prisoner transport truck tumbles off-road in what turns out to be Poland. He tries to surrender and make himself known to his captors, but sees a chance and kills a couple of guys instead, escaping into the wilderness – later pursued by dogs and falling into a river to escape. Now he’s in the snow on unfamiliar ground, eating insects and berries to survive, starving, having delusions. He hitches a ride on a logging truck and kills a logger, then in the movie’s weirdest scene, assaults a nursing mother to get milk. He ends up at a sympathetic mute woman’s house (Emmanuelle Seigner of The Ninth Gate and Bitter Moon), for one night of rest and recovery. But by now he’s mortally wounded, escapes on a white horse but doesn’t last long.

M. Atkinson:

As a filmmaker with a puzzling half-century of peculiar projects and long silences and catholic passions behind him, Skolimowski has always been a marginal figure, erratically appearing and helming films so disparate he’s a living disputation to the auteur theory. His work defines him as a searcher, a road movie antihero still looking for his mythical home on the horizon. One of the most interesting nomads in a film culture filthy with them, Skolimowski was cut loose from the Eastern Bloc in the late ’60s and has been roaming the plains of the global industries ever since, coming full circle in his new film, lost in the icy Carpathian wilderness.

It’s a film designed to be noticed, a film about the Afghanistan war that doggedly, even perversely, resists overt politics; an on-location survival saga shot with a recognizable American-indie star (Vincent Gallo) who has not a word of dialogue; a physically rough ordeal that’s meticulously staged and framed on the razor’s edge between pulp excitement and arty poeticism but never quite tumbles into either camp.

I was so glad to see a high-quality big-budget comic movie for once, enjoying the story and the evil Russian with a whip and Sam Rockwell trying to outdo Tony Stark as a self-obsessed showman (the movie never lets us forget that Tony, despite his braggadocio, has humanity’s best interests at heart). Then Samuel L. Exposition came along and ruined it. Nothing against Mr. Jackson – he can be awesome – but why cast him in a momentum-killing non-awesome long dialogue scene in a donut shop? After this, the movie wastes a lot of time on Scarlett Johansson’s Avengers character, as if we know or care who the hell she is, plus gives Rourke a go-nowhere back-story, doesn’t punish Cheadle for stealing an Iron Man suit and giving it to the transparently evil Rockwell, and provides Downey with a happy-meal redemption from his so-called dark days (ooh, he’s drunk on his birthday) and a permanent cure for the illness that’s supposedly afflicting him (Katy and I forget some origin-story details from part one). It falls into fragments and never reattains its pre-Samuel-L innocence. Anyway, I liked Mickey Rourke’s electric whip and parts of the final fight scene. And the cockatoo. Katy likes Gwyneth Paltrow, but not as much as in the first movie.

Weirdness: this was written by Justin Theroux of Mulholland Dr. He and Favreau (who cast himself as comic relief) must not have a thing for comic superhero names, since I didn’t know that Mickey Rourke was supposed to be called Whiplash (or Don Cheadle “War Machine” or Scarlett Johansson “Black Widow”) until IMDB told me. A post-credits scene sets up THOR, which we’ll watch some weekday night as soon as it’s free.