The Sea of Trees (2015, Gus Van Sant)

Just for a change of pace, let’s start with something that played in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, by a director I’ve often loved. McConaughey is searching for his missing friend Ken Watanabe, to no avail. He limps into the Japanese forest, leaving a trail of objects, while the music soars (and soars! and soars!), finally discovering not Ken but an orchid. The orchid gives him flashbacks, and he opens a package he’s been carrying for years I think, finding a children’s book, which he reads on the plane ride home to his old life in a gorgeous house, teaching undergrads about “forces of attraction” whilst remembering his dead wife. So I think Ken was a ghost in a haunted forest. Writer Chris Sparling also did Buried, which I’ve been low-key wanting to watch for six years.


Captain Fantastic (2016, Matt Ross)

This won a directing prize at Cannes and lead actor Viggo got an oscar nomination, but the Guardian says it’s terrible, so who to believe? Viggo has already lost his beard from the movie poster, has gathered his clan for the viking funeral of his wife. That’s two dead wife movies in a row! The kids play a hippie “Sweet Child o’ Mine” while their mom burns up, then her ashes are flushed down a toilet. Really glad I didn’t watch this one – thanks, The Guardian. The director is better known as an actor, in American Psycho and The Aviator.


Anthropoid (2016, Sean Ellis)

I thought Inglorious Basterds would’ve halted the nazi assassination attempt movies for a while, but nope, here’s another one based on another extraordinary true story. Looks like it’s all gone to hell and our heroes are being shot at. Well-directed scene of Jamie Dornan’s last stand. A captured ally tries to convince Cillian Murphy and his remaining buddies to surrender from their church basement hideout, but they finally get flooded and blasted, shooting themselves when all hope is lost, but not before Cillian sees the ghost of his dead wife (so that’s three in a row). At least the closing titles say they killed their target nazi, though 5000 civilians were murdered in response. Whatever the Czech Lion awards are, this movie got nominated for a hundred of them.


Equals (2015, Drake Doremus)

The movies are getting less respectable now, though this won an award in Venice for its many-layered scratch-roar music, as Nicholas Hoult pretends to wanna jump off a building. That’s four suicide-referencing movies in a row… this is what I get for watching serious festival shit instead of the usual dumb horror. Hoult has a tearful reunion with Kristen Stewart in their dark blue apartment, the whispered dialogue buried under the yelling of my suddenly-active birds. I think the idea is these are the only two people in a future universe who have emotions, and I guess at the end they get separated and she is sad – or he loses his emotions and she is sad. It depends whether this guy in the final scene is Hoult or not. I cannot ever recognize the guy. Doremus previously made Like Crazy with Anton Yenchin and Jennifer Lawrence, which Katy has probably seen.


Terminator 5: Genisys (2015, Alan Taylor)

I missed the future-set Salvation but it costs four bucks to rent, so let’s see if this alternate-timeline sequel makes any sense without it (or at all). Out of respect for a formerly-beloved series, I’m gonna give it twelve minutes. Ol’ one-eyed Arnold is back from part two, fighting another liquid metal thing. I guess Genisys is a virtual baddie with a dramatic countdown clock before he becomes Lawnmower Man all over the internet, and John Conner has turned evil. “You are nothing but a relic from a deleted timeline.” Arnold stolidly sacrifices himself yet again, and yet another big building blows up, as Jai Courtney and some fake Sarah Conner make their escape into a hopeful future, aided by new T-1000 liquid Arnold. The director did Thor 2 and lots of television, the writers did Alexander and Dracula 2000, and I can’t believe that Terminator was handed over to these bozos.


Yoga Hosers (2016, Kevin Smith)

This feels like an SNL movie or an Austin Powers sequel, since it’s all painful jokes extended past their breaking points. Hey, miniaturized nazis inside a Friday The 13thAlien costume, so maybe this is an Austin Powers sequel after all. The bad guy wants to kill art critics – that’s the only Kevin Smith-sounding thing I’m hearing. Johnny Depp’s makeup is excellent since I only realized that’s him after looking up the character name – but then, why cast Johnny Depp at all? I don’t get how terrible this looks, since I thought Red State was good. An important precedent has been set – I couldn’t bear this any longer and didn’t watch the full ten minutes. I guess the extra couple minutes for Genisys evens things out.


Antibirth (2016, Danny Perez)

AV Club gave this a C- but I almost watched it anyway because of the sweet blacklight poster. Chloe Sevigny tells Natasha Lyonne that she knew about the horror experiment from the start, so Natasha escapes with Meg “sister of Jennifer” Tilly. None of the dialogue or camerawork is good, and now villain Stephen Stills from Scott Pilgrim is driving Chloe somewhere while Natasha gives birth to a rubber demon head (which I guess is better than a CG demon head), then in some of the most incompetent strobe-light flailing I’ve seen in a movie, she gives birth to a full-size demon body that pummels Stephen Stills to death. Danny Perez also made Oddsac, which I rather loved.


Sinister (2012, Scott Derrickson)

Ethan Hawke finds the director’s cut of some ghost home movies in the attic of his haunted house, and a thrilling, poison-coffee-fueled film-splicing scene follows. Deputy James Ransone calls to say a serial killer will probably kill Ethan tonight, then Ethan calmly returns to his film screening, learning that the missing children of the murdered families did all the murders. Then I guess his own missing daughter chops him up with an axe. I think they hoped to do for small-gauge film what The Ring and V/H/S did for videotape. Derrickson made previous LTM entry Hellraiser: Inferno, and I don’t have high hopes for his Doctor Strange.


Hush (2016, Mike Flanagan)

The one about a deaf woman being stalked at home, not the one that premiered the exact same day about a blind man being stalked at home. Scared Kate Siegel emails her family a physical description of her attacker, says “died fighting,” and waits for the inevitable. But the attacker is super dumb, and tries sneaking up behind her as if she has no other senses, gets stabbed. Fight ensues and he chokes her to death. But wait no, she is alive and corkscrews him in the throat. Seems like your standard-issue murder thriller. Director and star also made Oculus and a Ouija sequel together, are working on Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game.

What a disappointment after the great Lords of Salem. All I can think is that Zombie was contractually obligated to deliver another full-length movie by the end of 2016, and after touring his band nonstop he ran out of time, so threw some actors and makeup artists in an abandoned factory and said “go nuts, we’ll film it and add some Malcolm McDowell scenes later to explain what’s happening.”

Sheri Moon and beardy Jeff Phillips and Meg Foster return from Salem, minus Ken Foree and Dee Wallace, plus two new black guys to be killed first (to be fair, Lawrence lasts quite a while). Malcolm in foppish powdered wig gambles on annual deathmatch with Jane Carr and Judy Geeson, sending waves of killers into the factory after our abducted carnival gang until only Sheri and “Doom-Head” (Richard Brake of Halloween II, whose makeup keeps changing in the opening scene) remain. Dialogue is mostly “fuck, fuuuuck” and camerawork is handheld garbage. Insultingly, the movie only got a single showtime and was billed as a “special event” with higher ticket fees, but joke’s on the theater since only six people showed up.

AV Club:

31 is set almost entirely within a smoky, leaky, dimly lit factory, like something out of a bad hair-metal video, and it has the structure of an especially half-assed video game, as the survivors creep from one boss battle to the next, confronted by assassins of escalating formidability: a little person done up like Hitler, slinging insults in unsubtitled Spanish; two clowns with chainsaws, cackling about “fucking all your holes”; a flirtatious Harley Quinn clone with a giant European partner … a messy mishmash of shit he’s done better before.

Oh this was awful! The worst, slowest, MST3K-worthy British (“made in Hollywood USA,” the end titles promise, but trust me) “horror” movie, back when horror meant anything out of the ordinary. And yeah the movie turns out to be about a 200-year-old frog who is lord of a castle, and that ain’t a bad concept, but nobody dies except the frog (one old woman is frightened, and a younger woman screams!) and nothing happens for the first 75 minutes except rich British people speak slowly and properly and act put out by things. Oh, and someone is menaced by an even worse rubber bat than the one in Black Sunday.

Also: the maze isn’t even really important.

Giant frog suicide:

Unwelcome houseguests:

Richard Carlson (of The Ghost Breakers and It Came From Outer Space) is to marry Veronica Hurst (a small part in Peeping Tom) but his uncle dies and Carlson disappears to tend to the family castle. Hurst arrives with her insufferable relative Katherine Emery (Isle of the Dead), and they worry for over an hour then invite some friends who worry more, then Hurst gets out of her room and sees the frog and it jumps to its death and the couple who’ve shown no affection for each other can finally get married. The second-to-last feature by Menzies, who made Things to Come in better days, adapted from a novel by Daniel Ullman (writer of a hundred westerns). I was surprised to see that a 3D version exists, since dull people worrying aloud in 3D is no more thrilling than in 2D.

Carlson conspicuously reading his teratology guide:

Narrator Emery begins the movie centered in-frame but her chair slowly sinks. Here she is at her lowest, pleased as punch after the giant frog suicide:

A real stinker of a bland-looking generic 1980’s movie, starring Natasha Richardson (Mary Shelley in Gothic) as a “handmaid” in the future whose job is to get pregnant for rich barren women (Faye Dunaway, two years before Arizona Dream) by their husbands (Robert Duvall, between Colors and Newsies). But of course she falls for house servant Aidan Quinn (who’d play evil twins the following year in an Isabella Rossellini movie) and gets involved with a troublemaking friend (Elizabeth McGovern, the mom of Downton Abbey). So it’s surprising that with all this star power around, the only good scene was with a doctor played by Rawhead Rex star David Dukes.

As Nathan Rabin might say, this film is quite poor.

But look who co-stars:

It opens, as all respectable horror films do, with a tribal ritual sacrifice. Maverick tough guy journalist Michael Moriarty (star of Q: The Winged Serpent) is called back to the States and saddled with his neglected son Jeremy. They head to the country where Mike has inherited a family home in a town full of vampires led by Judge Andrew Duggan (Merrill’s Marauders). Jeremy falls in with the vampires, is sweet on a very young Tara Reid (Bunny Lebowski). The movie’s specific vampire mythology seems unclear, especially where it concerns Jeremy and Tara, even though the Judge tries to explain it to us. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention cuz I was wondering where the blue rubber-mask demon had gone, when Sam Fuller would appear, and what was going on with Moriarty. Mostly he and the movie seem resigned to their crappiness, the straightforward genre plot, but occasionally there’s a spark of life, some Cohen attitude in the dialogue, some fire out of Mike.

Finally, Fuller arrives as a nazi hunter turned game vampire killer. The two guys pretty quickly and easily start slaughtering the townsfolk, killing bunches as they sleep before getting cornered. Fuller fakes suicide – I wouldn’t have advised laying bloody and prone in a room full of vampires, but it seems to work out for him. The kid awakens from his pre-vamp haze and stakes the judge with an American flag.

Bunny:

Shooting the judge in the head does not work:

A Horrible Movie To Watch

Okay, I’ll try a little harder. Sarah (Amy Seimetz of Joe Swanberg’s Silver Bullets and Alexander the Last) meets a nice guy (Joe Swanberg himself) at an AA meeting. Turns out he’s in a group of serial killer super-fans, and they want revenge on Sarah for turning in her serial killer boyfriend (AJ Bowen from Marietta, murderous son in House of the Devil) – who I think kills them all, having just been released from prison. I dunno, slept through the middle third, sick with the flu and angry at the movie for looking so terrible. At the end of certain shots and scenes, the cameraman appears to get confused then pass out, adding the only stylistically unique element to the movie. I actually came to enjoy those moments, to look forward to them, wondering if one of the two cameramen is narcoleptic or if this is an effect anyone would plan. Wingard (from Alabama) contributed to recent horror anthologies The ABCs of Death and V/H/S.

Joe:

NY Times liked it, calling it “commentary on our willingness to tune out evil for the sake of emotional connection.”

It is my dad’s fault that I’ve wanted to see this for so long, since he mentioned it years ago. I figured it’d be pretty bad, but I didn’t count on it being a self-conscious bit of low-budget camp horror-comedy. So it’s a stupid, terrible movie but still impossible to hate (I have more of a savage dislike for it).

The fateful barrel:

“The South’s gonna rise again,” says the corny-ass song over the introduction, and that’s just what the movie’s about. Some lost travelers on their way to Atlanta get redirected to a rural town and crowned the guests of honor in a Civil War revenge ceremony, killed in various inventive ways, usually in broad daylight before a crowd of cheering townies. One is crushed by a giant rock in a carnival game, another is ripped apart by horses, and in the most famous scene (to my dad, anyway) a guy is put inside a barrel full of nails and rolled down a hill. Twist ending: the couple who escapes returns with law enforcement, but the town has vanished, leaving only a plaque saying that the whole place was leveled by the Union army during the war (apparently inspired by Brigadoon, if “inspired” is the word).

Oh and one girl’s arm is just chopped off:

Lots of banjo music, obviously. The cameraman is zoom-happy and everything looks cheap, but at least it was shot with direct sound, which you can tell since the background hum changes dramatically with every edit. This likely puts it technologically above such contemporaries as Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew and Germi’s Seduced and Abandoned and Antonioni’s Red Desert. I distracted myself with the horrible accents (shot in Florida but somehow devoid of authentic Southerners) and character names (Terry Adams! David Wells!).

One detail about the South the filmmakers got right:

An advertising man, Lewis also made The Wizard of Gore and Blood Feast, and producer David Friedman oversaw two Maniacs sequels in the 2000’s.

This is the fifth post-’68 Godard movie to put me to sleep, after Letter to Jane, Histoire(s) du Cinema (in installments), In Praise of Love and Notre Musique (in a theater). In this case, I was tired and angry at the movie and fell asleep on purpose, to make the movie feel bad about itself (assuming Godard doesn’t take it as a compliment when you sleep through his movies, like Guy Maddin does).

techno-rasta godard:

Tried to watch it without paying heed to the stories surrounding its production, which turn out to be more interesting than the film itself. Godard signed the “contract” on a bar napkin, over a year later got calls from the “producer” asking where’s our film?, JLG read the first few pages of King Lear and got bored with it, hired a bunch of overqualified actors and pissed them off. Writer/actor Norman Mailer walked out after one day, and Godard put this and his voicemails from the producer into the final cut. Something like that, anyway – I can’t be arsed to look it up.

Shakespeare Jr. or whatever:

Burgess Meredith (in his follow-up to a Dudley Moore Santa Claus movie) is apparently the King, talking some nonsense with Molly Ringwald (her inexplicable follow-up to Pretty In Pink) in a hotel room. Downstairs in the restaurant, a wiry, spike-haired Peter Sellars (dir of something called The Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez) is real interested in what everyone else is doing. As I drifted awake again later, Godard (with RCA cables wound through his hair and indecipherable English speech) and Woody Allen caught my attention for a few moments each. Might be a nice-looking movie – the DP had shot the last couple of Eric Rohmer movies – but you can’t tell from my VHS copy. And I doubt it, anyway.

Molly:

from Canby’s original NYTimes review: “a late Godardian practical joke . . . as sad and embarrassing as the spectacle of a great, dignified man wearing a fishbowl over his head to get a laugh. . . . After making what is possibly the most lyrical film on language in the history of the cinema (Le Gai Savoir), Mr. Godard has now made the silliest.”

Rosenbaum would disagree: “It may drive you nuts, but it is probably the most inventive and original Godard film since Passion,” and he talks about the complex surround-sound mix, which again, I’m sadly missing on my VHS version.

Typically, JR has put more thought into the film than anyone else, his analysis revealing the film’s fundamental link to the spirit of the play.

Excerpts:

Sellars “introduces himself offscreen as William Shakespeare Jr. the Fifth, and roughly describes his job as restoring what he can of his ancestor’s plays after a massive cultural memory loss was brought about by Chernobyl.”

As the film proceeds . . . we get snatches of Shakespeare’s Lear, snatches of what appears to be Mailer’s Don Learo, and snatches of what appears to be an earlier, unrealized Godard project, The Story, about Jewish gangsters Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky in Las Vegas. (Three Journeys Into King Lear, as one printed title puts it. But does “King Lear” in this case refer to the play, the character, or the Cannon Films project?)

For Godard, it’s a legitimate source of pride that he won’t film anything to illustrate a scriptwriter’s point or provide continuity; his disdain for ordinary filmmaking practice becomes a creative challenge, and, in terms of his limited capacities for story telling, a calculated risk. . . . This originality often seems to be driven by hatred and anger, emotions that are undervalued in more cowardly periods such as the present, just as they were probably overvalued 20 years ago. It is a source of energy that remains crucial to much of the avant-garde.

Just like the book, plus a bunch of good actors (hello, Jennifer Lawrence and Woody Harrelson), minus all depth or feeling, and with the worst camerawork I’ve seen in years. Ross made Pleasantville and his DP shot all the latter-day Clint Eastwood pictures, so what happened here? The soundtrack is nice, anyway.