Dumont goes even wackier than Lil Quinquin, though this one seemed more coherent, story-wise. I thought it’d be hard to top Quinquin‘s twitchy detective and dullard assistant, but now he’s dressed his lead detectives like Laurel & Hardy, the head cop (the fat one) rolling himself down hills when he’s too tired to walk, and simply inflating and floating away at the end.

Just like Quinquin was named after the lead rapscallion from a poor, possibly criminal family, the French title of this movie was Ma Loute – the nickname of the young man from the only family that seems to live in this picturesque rural town. I suppose they fish, though when a wealthy family arrives at their palatial summer home, we discover what else they do; they kidnap, murder, and eat the rich. The richies are so ludicrously over-the-top (and inbred, it turns out) that it’s tempting to root for the local brutes, except the richies also have ringers in Juliette Binoche and a beautiful/mysterious transgender girl who has a short-lived romance with Ma Loute. Also they’re just too damned silly to wish death upon.

Sicinski describes the richies:

Descending upon the bay for the summer are upper-class cityfolk, bizarre caricatures of humanity sprung from some Gallic division of Monty Python. The Van Peteghems are “led” by spastic, bumbling André (Fabrice Luchini), his prim, lachrymose wife Isabelle (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), brother / cousin Christian (Jean-Luc Vincent), a sort of lacquered descendent of brain-addled mystic Johannes from Dreyer’s Ordet; and eventually, Aunt Aude (Juliette Binoche), a wailing, flailing hysteric whose behavior resembles that of a regional dinner theatre actress on nitrous oxide.

I never would’ve guessed that the richie paterfamilias had been in Rohmer films, but there you go: he played the lead in Perceval. Tedeschi is lately known as a director, was also in Nenette & Boni and Saint Laurent. Vincent and Binoche costarred in Dumont’s much more serious Camille Claudel 1915. Ma Loute, his dad The Eternal, his mom, his almost-girlfriend Raph and the two cops just came out of nowhere.

It turns out that it wasn’t watching the movie The Lost City of Z that satisfied me, so much as the quest to watch the movie The Lost City of Z, the confident hope that The Lost City of Z would be a great movie, based on the reviews of my James Gray-obsessed film critics. The movie itself – it’s okay, a quest picture where a determined Charlie Hunnam neglects his family to search repeatedly for Z, stopping only for WWI and to raise funds to return to his quest, eventually aging to the point where his oldest son can join him – then they both disappear forever, having either found their destination or been murdered by cannibals.

D. Kasman:

Fawcett … insists that this city, which he dubs “Zed,” not only exists, but that it represents a corrective to the very society whose recognition and acclaim he had once so passionately sought … Because Gray shows only the barest traces of what his protagonist discovers in the jungle, one is unable to precisely define how Z comes to assume such majestic proportions in Fawcett’s mind. Originating as a self-interested means to escape from the restrictive prejudices of English society, his search for Z increasingly comes to seem like a quixotic attempt to discover a greater, purer form of human dignity…

Rob Pattinson is very good as Hunnam’s loyal co-adventurer, Angus Macfadyen is irritating as an awful man who joins one mission then quits and sues, and barely in the movie are Hunnam wife Sienna Miller (upper-floor temptress of High-Rise) and son Tom Holland (the latest Spider-Man). The forest and the river and the light are all lovely, and I loved a match-cut from colored liquid seeping in a line to a train moving in the same direction… and the final shot of Miller leaving the National Geographic Society having received mixed news about her lost husband and walking out into the jungle.

Gray: “How do you take the classical form and do something with it? The last twenty minutes, something starts to break down in the film.”

N. Bahadur:

Where Lost City of Z becomes truly special for me … is within its final thirty minutes, where he starts to free himself from narratological function and let his formal syntax do the work – it’s a big step for him I think, because I believe it allows him to drive even closer to something idiosyncratic and distinctive – for most of the runtime it is a decent film, with some ok ideas, just like any other film… but suddenly, if just for a few minutes, we enter the realm of a visionary.

Feels like it wants to be Mulholland Drive-ish, as young beautiful Elle Fanning arrives in the L.A. fashion business and experiences nightmarish visions before she’s eaten alive by her competitors. Dialogue delivered in weirdly silent rooms – I was expecting more keyboardy soundscapes, and maybe that would’ve helped get me on the wavelength of cool horror and deep mystery the movie seemed to think we were on together.

Elle is the Fanning from Super 8 and The Boxtrolls (older sister Dakota is the Fanning from Night Moves, War of the Worlds and Coraline). She arrives in town with her photographer friend, Karl Glusman from Love – another lethargic, sex-minded movie I had to struggle to keep from turning off. Elle meets makeup artist Jena Malone (the girl Donnie Darko likes) and a couple of evil models, gets work with famous photog Jack, and avoids her awful landlord (a miscast Keanu Reeves).

M. Sicinski:

Neon Demon is an inert object, mostly comprised of color-saturated tableaux and walking-dead, anti-psychological “performances” … Much like Matthew Barney’s films, The Neon Demon delivers in chunks and slabs, but never seems cognizant of cinema as a time-based art.

Opens with violence and chatty criminals and I’m suspicious because Tarantino-influenced movies are never good. But hey, there’s Sid Haig, and the dialogue is really quite good, so I sat back and enjoyed.

Blackhat baddies:

Sid is killed straight away, then his fellow cannibal-graveyard-defiler David Arquette (also of cannibal western Ravenous) is taken from the nearby town along with the doctor (Lili Simmons, star of TV’s Banshee, which is somehow not X-Men-related) and young Deputy Nick. So a four-man team heads out to track and rescue them from evil. It’s a variation on a John Ford-type story, with a few modern twists (woman doctor, cave-dwelling troglodytes distinct from the more reasonable natives).

D. Ehrlich:

It adds up to approximately nothing, and never seems to make the most of its accomplishments (the business of dealing with the bad guys is more than a little shrugged off), but 4 men — the right 4 men — shuffling through the frontier in search of god knows what… works for me.

3 of the right 4 men:

The four men: Sheriff Kurt Russell (this makes a nice Hateful Eight companion), the doctor’s injured but determined husband Patrick Wilson, pro Indian-killer Matthew “Racer X” Fox, and the primary reason to keep watching, Assistant Deputy Richard Jenkins as Stumpy. They don’t seem especially optimistic about their chances, and this is justified when they reach the caves – Fox is killed but takes down a handful of cannibals with him, and the others are imprisoned, where they witness this movie’s big gory reason to exist: Deputy Nick being split clear in half by the titular tomahawk. Fortunately they’ve left Wilson behind, and he mounts a last-minute rescue.

M. D’Angelo:

Zahler does reasonably well by the genre visually, given his budget, but flavorful Old West dialogue (“You been squirtin’ lemon juice in my eye since I came in here” — this in response to Kurt Russell’s priceless delivery of the line “You’re pretty angry for a guy named Buddy”) and amusing riffs on stock characters are the main attraction here.

Rebellious young Judy (Marta Alicia of Body Chemistry 4: Full Exposure) is rebelling against Infinisynth, the mind-control company that provides her family with virtual-reality escapism via a data port in the back of their necks. She’s chastised by the Systems Operator for invading her mom’s dreams and soon expelled into the wastelands outside their cushy VR-fueled apartment building, where she’s discovered and protected by post-apocalyptic survivalist Bruce Campbell and threatened by a cult of underground mutants led by Angus Scrimm.

Angus displays his ID card:

Bruce displays a possum:

So it’s Ash vs. The Tall Man in a post-apocalyptic virtual-reality sci-fi/horror… in HD. But it’s poorly made, dingy looking and dull, all those promising ideas and cast members wasted on a movie that doesn’t quite work. At least it continues to get weirder, Angus having his mutants comb through the ruins of civilization for useful junk, occasionally sacrificing a mutant via his person-juicing-machine. He reveals that he’s Judy’s father and reveals his plan to repopulate the earth with her in the same scene. Bruce proves an ineffective protector, is fed to pirahnas. Then Angus says it was all a test, that he’s the SysOp of the VR universe and he wants his daughter to take over. Then that was all a dream – then that was all a dream. The Matrix and Existenz would use similar ideas with improved cinematography.

Judy’s mutant army:

Sleep pods from Je t’aime, je t’aime:

SysOp Guy Fieri:

Produced by the short-lived Fangoria Films, who at least attracted good casts, with Oliver Reed and Karen Black in their other early-90’s movies. From the director of Scanner Cop II and Hollywood Boulevard II (no way), written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris (Terminator 3 and 4, The Net). At least something good came out of this movie – Bruce Campbell married the costume designer. Also, it appears to have invented the roomba.

Oh whoops, I thought I heard this was really good, but now I see all C-ratings from criticwire. Maybe I heard that about the gender-reversed remake by the Cold In July guy. Anyway, when a remake is available it’s usually a sure bet to watch the original first, and I thought a Jorge Michael Grau horror would be a nice tie-in with the Jorge Grau horror (no apparent relation) I just watched – a GRAUsome double-feature to go with SCOTtober.

A man dies at the mall, and his family pretty much falls apart, immediately losing their watch-selling business, starting fights and calling attention to themselves. Older Alfredo (Francisco Barreiro, the dad from Here Comes The Devil) is supposed to be the new leader, which violent, impulsive brother Julian resents. Dad used to bring fresh bodies to his cannibal wife and kids, and he apparently never trained the rest of them in the art of not being noticed, so the two boys perform some blatant attacks and end up bringing home a prostitute, but mom doesn’t approve of prostitutes and brings the body back to her vindictive friends. The movie also follows Let Sleeping Corpses Lie‘s lesson that cops are absolutely the worst – corrupt and terrible at their jobs.

A few interesting shots and good performances but mostly the movie is being purposely obscure and no fun, as if actng weird about its cannibal violence can turn it into Dogtooth. Played at Cannes alongside The Silent House, Sound of Noise and Bedevilled. Grau made Ingrown in the first ABCs of Death, has a new agoraphobia thriller called Big Sky.

Part two of my Wes Craven tribute, because when a horror giant dies just before SHOCKtober, memorial screenings are in order. I used to have this movie’s sequel on VHS (bought at a garage sale), and saw the awesome remake in theaters, but have probably never watched the original until now.

Stupid family taking cross-country trailer trip breaks down in the desert at the foot of cannibal-infested mountains, send a few guys in different directions looking for help. But first we set up the Harbinger hillbilly gas-station attendant (and incidentally the grandfather of the cannibals) who tells them not to go poking around, and mountain thief Ruby, who’s looking for help escaping her murderous family.

Ruby:

Bobby (Robert Houston, later an oscar-winning documentary filmmaker) runs after his escaped dogs, discovers one of them murdered but doesn’t tell anybody. Mustache Doug (Martin Speer of Killer’s Delight) finds nothing and comes back. And Big Bob (Russ Grieve of dog-horror Dogs) returns to the old man in time to see him get slaughtered, then Bob is captured, crucified and set on fire, distracting the family into leaving their trailer unguarded, in what’s probably one of the most intense sequences of the 1970’s. Bald Pluto (Michael Berryman of too many horrors to list, also One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and curly Mars invade, shoot Mustache’s wife Dee Wallace (star of The Howling and The Frighteners) and her now-insane mom (Virginia Vincent of The Return of Dracula and Craven’s Invitation to Hell), eat the parakeet, steal the baby and flee.

Family portrait, pre-invasion:

The next morning it’s payback time. Young Carolyn Jones (Eaten Alive) and Bobby plot to use their dead mom as bait and blow up cannibals who return to the trailer. Not sure how head mutant Papa Jupiter escapes that explosion, but they kill him good, with gun and hatchet. Mustache Doug climbs the mountain and attacks head-on to rescue his baby, unexpectedly aided by a rattlesnake-wielding Ruby. I can’t recall if Bald Pluto dies (think Bobby’s other dog gets him), but he’s definitely on the VHS box cover of part two.

Papa Jupiter:

Craven did interesting things to the horror genre with New Nightmare and Scream, and made some great thrillers with A Nightmare on Elm Street and Red Eye. One of the movie sites pointed out he’d been interviewed by Audobon, and had lately been writing short stories for Martha’s Vineyard Magazine about local birds, which include a strong pro-bird environmental message as well as time travel, the ghosts of passenger pigeons, and an osprey using a shotgun.

“It’s hard convincing a bird of anything in words. They’re musicians.”

Rest in peace, Wes. The birds have lost a friend.

I read in the Ruiz book that Wim Wenders movie The State of Things was inspired by witnessing Ruiz’s difficulty making The Territory, having to stop production because they’d run out of film stock, and that Wenders borrowed The Territory’s cast and crew, so I knew I had a perfect double-feature.

Based on a true-ish story, The Territory follows lost campers who resorted to weird religious-fanatic cannibalism. Ruiz doesn’t seem like a based-on-a-true-story kind of director. Ruiz seems to agree: “When we finished, we realised it was an art film.” M. Goddard: “…clearly Ruiz was hoping that the film would also succeed in suspending the distinctions between commercial and artistic cinema, by being at once a Roger Corman exploitation film and a philosophical parable about the origins of human society.”

Some of the behavior and dialogue is what you could call realistic (though the dubbing is not), but the overall atmosphere has a surreal edge. For instance, the way the campers always end up traveling in circles when they insist they’re going straight seems more out of The Blair Witch Project than historical fiction.

Their wild-haired guide Gilbert (Paul Getty Jr.) acts unhinged from the start, cares little for the campers, just for the journey and the strict rules of the forest. He finally leaves them, but they find his dead body while wandering and drag him around for a while before deciding to eat him.

Early bit of Ruiz weirdness, Gilbert slowly rises while speaking:

French girl Francoise (Isabelle Weingarten, star of Bresson’s Four Nights of a Dreamer), mother of young Ron, is disgusted by meat eating in general, so doesn’t join in the feast – and becomes the next victim.

Francoise, shot by Henri Alekan (before La Belle Captive):

Later a crazy stick fight, Peter (Geoffrey Carey of Kings & Queen) attacking Jim (Jeffrey Kime, later in Ruiz’s Treasure Island) while screaming “what should I do, Barbara,” presumably about to kill Jim when Peter has a heart attack instead. Randomly at the end, a guy they’d previously passed in the forest and never noticed shows up again, kills Jim with a rock and is rescued along with Barbara and Ron.

from Michael Goddard’s great The Cinema of Raul Ruiz: Impossible Cartographies:

A key moment comes when they encounter a map of the park in which its nature as an impossible labyrinth is made clear; the map inverts, in a series of concentric figures, the park’s situation of being within the province, within the country, and within Europe, so that the park contains first the province, then the country and finally Europe, a clear example of a Ruizian impossible cartography.

Another key example comes when they encounter two men having a picnic of bread and cheese at an abandoned dam. While at first seizing upon this as their salvation, the characters soon discover that it is useless to try to talk to these men as they not only lack a common language but the men seem to be inhabiting a different space; certainly they seem unable to comprehend in any way the ‘plight’ of the trapped tourists and are no more useful when questioned later in the house of their friend by those searching for the missing visitors.

One of the two men on the dam is João Bénard da Costa, also in Past and Present. He’s filmed with a table of food in the foreground, just like he is in City of Pirates.

Survivors:

Adrian Martin:

The human body is the true territory of the film, its borders and functions ambiguously defined in relation to acts of eating, violence and sexuality. It ends in the type of sardonic twist we find frequently in Ruiz’s films: after the horror, one of the characters writes it all down and scores a best seller.

I think if Cloud Atlas took itself and its themes and lessons super-seriously it could have been tragically awful. The nursing home segment, genre thrills and obviously silly makeup help keep things on the amusing side. Another way to make the movie awful would be to present it as an anthology, separating the stories and letting each play through, since the main interesting thing about the film is its cross-cutting and the tentative connections between segments, previous events echoing into later ones, sometimes misinterpreted.

Clown Atlas:

Movie is full of “oh who is that guy, I’ve seen him before” moments, but mostly it’s because the same actor played a different role in the previous scene. I kept getting Ben Whishaw (of Bright Star and I’m Not There, playing the young composer/amanuensis) mixed up with Jim Sturgess, and wrongly imagined one or both of them might be Benedict Cumberbatch.

Pacific Islands, 1849: Mad doctor Tom Hanks poisons Jim Sturgess for his money aboard a slave ship.

Cambridge, 1936: Two guys in love – Ben Whishaw goes to work for composer Jim Broadbent (the second movie I’ve seen with an amanuensis after Delius – suppose it’s a cinematic way of showing the artistic creation process) and later kills himself.

San Francisco, 1973: Halle Berry is a reporter onto a murderous secret over some nuclear files provided by the guy from 1936 who didn’t kill himself (a Ralph Fiennes-looking James D’Arcy).

London, 2012: Gangsta author Hanks kills a literary critic, story follows his agent Jim Broadbent to a prison-like old folks home (governed by evil nurse Hugo Weaving) from which he plots to escape.

Neo Seoul, 2144: Doona Bae is a “fabricant”, a robot slave, freed in mind and body by militant freedom fighter Jim Sturgess – very Matrix-meets-V-for-Vendetta.

Big Isle, 106 Winters After The Fall: Hanks is tribal type haunted by an evil clown, rescues space-travelin’ Berry from cannibal warriors led by Hugh Grant.

Susan Sarandon also appears, and Wachowski favorite Hugo Weaving is everywhere. I never recognized Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) as the poisoned lawyer on the ship and lead revolutionary of Neo Seoul, Doona Bae (sister/archer in The Host) as the escaped fabricant, nor Keith David (The Thing, They Live) as the cop who helps reporter Berry in the 70’s. Also lost track of what the comet birthmark shared by some characters signified.