I sat up front, enjoyed the opening drum, sax, and knob-twiddling from BSA Gold, and prepared to enjoy the film, which starts strong in sharp black and white then gradually lets me down. A worthwhile story framed as a protracted podcast mystery, withholding information so it can introduce twists, the interviewees frustratingly vague. Lot of archive footage including TV appearances by our participants on alien report shows. Ultimately when unknotted, it seems that Ernesto, who ran sound and acted for Ruiz in 1970, became a Pinochet supporter involved in the disappearance/murder of government critics. In the 1980s he gets into radio and invents a Friendship Island story, maybe playing different roles to expand the conspiracy, becomes friendly with some other radio people who’d planned to travel to the island but who turned back on the day of the Challenger explosion. The alien cult stories spread locally but nobody seems to have found (looked for?) the island. We see Ernesto in person, belatedly, and his funeral. The director previously made an art theft doc.

Either the pre-credits scene was filmed by the Manos second unit or this is gonna be a baaaad movie. Chris has been hit in the face by a molten meteorite and isn’t feeling too well… meanwhile, Dr. Q is mad that the money men won’t fund his moon base, so he goes driving and just finds a moon base out in the desert (this influenced everything from Contact to Moonbase 8). After watching this guy grouse through the first Quatermass movie, I’m perversely following his adventures in order to get to the higher-rated third one. Val Guest, who is still not Val Lewton, somehow made four other films in the under-two years between Quatermasses, including They Can’t Hang Me (which is not The Man They Could Not Hang).

Sub-assistant Marsh (Stepford Wives director Bryan Forbes) gets face-impregnated by a meteor-egg, and everyone scoops up the deadly meteorites with their bare hands to investigate. Inspector John Longden (an early Hitchcock regular) pawns them off on a senator, then they bounce to a reporter (Sid James of The Lavender Hill Mob) – most of the movie is watching an impassioned person trying to convince a skeptical Brit about a crazy alien conspiracy. Finally they start blowing up domes and a giant blobby beast (it means to win Wimbledon) lumbers after them, until they blow it up, too.

AKA Kimmy Schmidt’s War of the Worlds. Aliens invade Earth in search of the prettiest, perkiest girl with the most terrible trauma, and they find Kaitlyn Dever (the one who isn’t Beanie in Booksmart). A typical grey (but with fingers for toes, like Sophie Okonedo in Aeon Flux) poltergeists her house, attacking her with doors and freaking out the electricity, until she manages to stab it in the head with one of her Beetlejuice-town model buildings.

The gimmick, a good one, is that Kaitlyn never speaks – she has no friends, and doesn’t constantly talk to herself or her birds like I do – but the aliens chatter in their own language (so saying the movie has no dialogue is inaccurate). She tries to escape the town but is chased off the bus by bodysnatched humans, so returns to deal with a variety pack of aliens (the short mean one, the one with absurdly long limbs, etc) on her own turf, happily ending up the sole unbrainwashed person in town.

Duffield made the exploding-teens movie Spontaneous, and his DP did a bunch of Black Mirror and one of the Evil Dead remakes. Critics raved: “would have absolutely slayed in theaters if not for Disney’s choice to dump it straight to Hulu.”

Somehow this is already Junior Stargazer Woodrow’s third Wes Anderson movie.

Good movie, need to see again.

Bilge Ebiri:

We’re told that what we’re watching is really a theater piece written by the legendary American playwright Conrad Earp (Edward Norton). The film actually begins on a black-and-white television stage with the story narrated by a Rod Serling–like Host, played by Bryan Cranston. (So, really, it’s a play within a play within a TV production within a movie.) The Host reminds us that “Asteroid City does not exist. It is an imaginary drama created expressly for the purposes of this broadcast. The characters are fictional, the text hypothetical, the events an apocryphal fabrication.” In other words, the story itself is a phantom, unknowable … Late in the movie, Jones steps away from playing Augie and runs into the actress (Margot Robbie) who was to play the part of his wife but was reportedly cut from the finished piece. As the two recall the scene they would have had together, the Andersonian whimsy slips away to reveal a perfect moment: two people communing with the messiness of life through their memory of a scene that doesn’t exist, from a play that never happened, presented within a theatrical-cinematic fiction pretending to be a TV show.

Sam Adams [after making some connections to method acting]

Anderson’s not aiming for pointed or even coherent critique of the method, so much as to contextualize it as one style among many—perhaps a road to the truth, but not the only one … Fiction often seeks to explain the human condition, to offer answers to questions that elude us in our own lives, but Asteroid City refuses that mandate. Toward the end of the movie, we see the actors in the play attending a lecture by the teacher Saltzburg Keitel (Willem Dafoe), who instructs them to approach their characters from “the outside in”—the practical opposite of the method approach. Dafoe has worked with Anderson before, but he’s particularly apt for this part as a longtime member of the Wooster Group, the experimental theater troupe that rejected method acting in favor of having the actors “simply do things on stage.”

Vadim Rizov:

Asteroid City‘s closest relationship to the immediate present comes from its intricate echoes of Anderson’s own work, especially Rushmore: Augie’s wife is dead when the film opens, just like Max Fischer’s mom, as Schwartzman has aged from playing a single father’s child to the solo parent himself … What’s definitely new, for Anderson and for all of us, is the look of the widescreen narrative that makes up the bulk of film. Shot in Spain, Asteroid City‘s fully constructed American Southwest looks like Looney Tunes meets Red Desert, an unlikely and fairly breathtaking synthesis; I couldn’t even initially tell if I was looking at live-action, cardboard cutouts or some kind of weird and imperceptible layering of the two.

David Ehrlich:

Royal Tenenbaum only needed a narrator, but Augie Steenbeck requires such an elaborate framing device that it ultimately becomes impossible to parse where he ends and the next person begins. And so it goes with many of the characters in a movie that never lets you forget that Scarlett Johansson is an actress playing an actress who’s playing an actress. But if the interstitial scenes in Asteroid City are destabilizing by design (in a why is Augie suddenly making out with a Kentucky fried Edward Norton? sort of way), you don’t need an airtight grasp on the mechanics of how everything fits together in order to be knocked flat by the effect of feeling it all click into place.

Vikram Murthi:

Anderson eventually collapses the film’s dual characters and settings via Schwartzman’s performance. Schwartzman-as-Augie leaves the Asteroid City set during its physical climax to return backstage where, as Jones Hall, he asks Schubert, the director, whether he’s playing the character right. Schubert assures him that he is, despite some “actorly business,” and to just read the story if he doesn’t understand the play. Immediately afterwards, he heads to a fire escape to smoke a cigarette where he speaks with the actress (Margot Robbie) who once played Augie’s late wife, standing on the opposite fire escape of a neighboring theater. Together, they perform their cut scene — a dream sequence between Augie and his wife that occurs on a moon of the alien’s planet — for themselves across a chasm of darkness. It’s difficult to put into words the complicated magic that arises from these two successive scenes. As a child, Schwartzman starred in Rushmore as the precocious teenage playwright/director Max Fischer, arguably the most autobiographical Anderson character; the conversation between him and Brody feels a lot like an older Schwartzman (or a grown-up Max) asking an older Anderson for guidance and being assured that he’s still doing okay, despite all the loss and confusion. (It’s also as if Anderson is using his once-younger surrogate to assure himself of the same thing.) Meanwhile, the scene between Schwartzman and Robbie speaks to Anderson’s late-era project, which testifies that authentic candor, about grief or real-world concerns, can arise from the stagiest settings: two “real” people perform a scene for no one but themselves, and in the process, transcend the confines of fiction and reach profound understanding.

I didn’t mean to watch another crazy movie involving pedophilia so soon after The Scary of Sixty-First, but that’s what I get for not reading plot descriptions. It’s more of a twist ending in this movie, anyway. Jose Manuel is apparently helping out his sister whose daughter has been abducted, but really J.M. has helped abduct the girl and is now working on her twin sister. This is because he’s joined a minor UFO cult (half of whose members are named Raúl) whose leader asks for spiritual child sacrifices but is actually a child pornographer, illegal organ harvester, and probable murderer.

Made in Spain, played Locarno’s main section with Zeros and Ones and After Blue. It’s a likable, low-key absurdist movie with fun visual design and cool music, and you think you’re following a group of harmless kooks until the ending revelation. I take this as a critique on so-called harmless cults in general, that escape into conspiracy theory leads to ignorance of a darker reality. The Cinema Scope review isn’t online and I’ve misplaced half my issues in the move, damn, but in Cineuropa, Ibarra talks of working with nonprofessionals: “I look for that kind of natural spontaneity: I try to avoid them memorizing the text and have them read it only a few times … Nacho Fernández, the protagonist, is a guy from Alicante who works as a night watchman in a car park.”

A sorry follow-up to Shin Godzilla – the editing and camera angles all wacky, dialogue too overtalky. SG was talky too, but it felt like a developing story, while this is more a season of television condensed into a feature. Ultraman saves the day, disappears, turns evil, fights himself… the girl who likes him disappears, turns giant… undersea kaiju are joined by two different scheming extraterrestrials… despite all this, the movie and its kaiju-defense-team characters are mainly concerned with Kaminaga, the handsome guy who uses a wiimote to transform into Ultraman. Can’t say I wasn’t entertained, though.

Unlike in the Godzilla movie, the human team does nothing useful here:

Higuchi is a Hideaki Anno associate, who directed the Attack on Titan movies and did effects for the 1990’s Gamera series. Anno wrote this as the start of a trilogy, is also working on a Shin Kamen Rider, and I didn’t realize the Evangelion theatrical reboot is part of the Shin project. Kaminaga played the rival lawyer in Ace Attorney, his coworker/love interest starred in Before We Vanish and Our Little Sister, and the Drive My Car dude is their boss.

Just a couple of aliens on the swings:

A new horror anthology, with a bunch of directors and actors I like. For those of us who still miss Masters of Horror and won’t watch American Horror Story.


Lot 36 (Guillermo Navarro)

Aaaand it’s not starting out too great. Series producer Guillermo Del Toro wrote this for his longtime cinematographer to direct. Tim Blake Nelson is a bitter, racist veteran, in debt to some dangerous dudes, buying abandoned storage units in hopes of turning a profit off the junk inside. He finds some rare German books in a dead nazi’s unit, and cult expert Sebastian Roché offers to buy them for 10k, or 300k if Tim can find the missing book. They return to the unit together, find the hidden passage behind the false wall, and CG Cthulhu eats Sebastian Roché.

Tim finding the book in less than mint condition:


Graveyard Rats (Vincenzo Natali)

Hmmm, another gross guy in debt trying to make quick cash off the dead… two episodes, and the series is already in a rut. Much more silly dialogue in this one, as David Hewlett (of Natali’s Cube and Splice) robs graves (and other grave robbers). Afraid of rats and confined spaces, of course he becomes buried alive in a rat tunnel, and wouldn’t you know it, he finds another Cthulhu down there. He smooshes the giant blind mama rat, evades a zombie chanting “mine mine mine” like a Nemo seagull or a Jon Spencer song, does not make it out, and gets the Creepshow roach ending.


The Autopsy (David Prior)

More dead bodies, another tentacle creature, and going from a rat cave to a mine. This one is much more complex and original, with elegant camerawork tying the night sky to underground rock to a spiderweb. Sheriff Glynn Turman investigates a bombing that killed some miners, and the stolen identity of late miner Luke Roberts (Batman’s dad in the latest reboot) while Dr. F. Murray Abraham digs through the bodies. One body comes alive, knocks out Dr. Abraham and self-autopsies while meticulously explaining his evil plan (“we have inhabited men for millennia” – it’s a Hidden situation). Given the extra time to plan, and seeing as how he’s dying from cancer anyway, Abraham sabotages his own body to trap the alien when it takes over.


The Outside (Ana Lily Amirpour)

Stacey works at a bank where she doesn’t fit in, shoots and taxidermies ducks in her spare time, is married to cop Martin Starr (blinded in Infinity Baby). She gets addicted to a pricey lotion (with TV spokesman Dan Stevens) that turns everyone else beautiful but only gives her a bad rash, so she uses more and more of it, until she meets her The Stuff doppelganger and they re-enact the end of Annihilation, then she kills her husband and goes to work. Excellent performance by Kate Micucci (Garfunkel and Oates) trapped in a grueling, overlong episode.

Cool opening as everyone in town passes out, and all the women wake up pregnant. But – oh no, it’s British – so we cannot say the word “pregnant,” it wouldn’t be proper. The men are understandably upset since nobody in Britain has had sex in years, but life must go on, all the babies are born heavy with strange eyes, growing fast and blonde, and the grown-ups make the best of it.

Alan (Michael Gwynn, a priest in Scars of Dracula) visits town to see what’s up, checks in with his friends George Sanders (All About Eve narrator, Voyage to Italy husband) and Barbara Shelley (Quatermass and the Pit) and their new alien son David. The kids are psychic, resistant to authority, and tend to make adults who threaten them commit suicide. As an unexpected tie-in to our Hellraiser-themed month, their intelligence is tested using a complex puzzle box. The angry drunks at the bar think mob violence is the solution, but it’s not – it’s sending George Sanders to the schoolhouse with a bomb, trying to guard his thoughts from psychic intrusion until it goes off. In the Defining Movies book, Chris Fujiwara praises the ending, the crumbling wall superimposed over Sanders’ eyes “shows the process of thought – the gradual erosion of the man’s concentration.”

The author’s Day of the Triffids was filmed the year before with Howard Keel, and more recently with Eddie Izzard, while this was remade a few times, the latest coming out just a few months ago (and now I need to check out the John Carpenter version). Rilla is mainly known for this – looks like he made some naughty indies in the 1970’s.

Sanders, matching the curtains:

Very satisfying twist surrounded by a bunch of strangeness I’m still figuring out. Daniel Kaluuya underplaying as the stoic cowboy, while sister Keke Palmer and everyone else around him is so animated. Keith David (The Thing) is their dad who dies from a quarter in the brain. Brandon Perea is the Fry’s Guy who’s somehow allowed to keep coming over. Steven Yuen the neighboring child-star monkey-survivor who accidentally turns his amusement park into a suicide cult. Michael Wincott (talkative bounty hunter in Dead Man) the cinematographer they hire to document the alien. Nobody knows who played the TMZ Guy, or why he’s in the movie at all. The main hope is this starts a trend of movie characters wearing vintage 1990’s alt-rock t-shirts.

Favorite article: Walter Chaw in Film Freak Central, locating each Jordan Peele movie along “the Shyamalan self-delusion timeline.”