Tao catches up with his old buddy Dong, a former photographer who’s figuring out what to do next while being needled by his family, wishing he could just stay drunk and hang out with his friends and listen to punk rock, dreaming of returning to his pastoral home town far to the north. Dong’s mom works with fabric, dad sells flutes, and Dong is coerced into starting a jade business. This doesn’t work out – Tao films Dong listening to a jade dealer explain what kinds of stones to buy and how to convince customers into spending more than a piece is worth, then venting into the camera later about this business being an elaborate scam, and that’s the end of the jade story. Dong has lived his whole life in Post-Mao China but still can’t adjust to capitalism.

I’m not always clear on chronology or location. We’re in Kunming in 2011 on Dong’s 30th birthday talking about taking a trip to Hailar, then “Spring arrived in 2013,” and Dong is on a train, pointing to cities on the schedule, talking about his parents and his childhood in Hailar. So, we assumed it’s 2013 and the trip has begun, before realizing a few scenes later that it’s still Dong’s 30th birthday and they’ve gone nowhere, will go nowhere (except for the jade expo) until the final minutes of the movie.

Watched because of a specific interest in China this year, to be further explored soon. Kunming is in the far (central) south of the country, and Guangdong (the jade expo, and the beach where the promo stills were shot) is far to the east, on the south side near Hong Kong. Beijing is in the northeast of the country, but Hailar is even further northeast, around the eastern tip of Mongolia, a stone’s throw from Russia. According to the description of his previous film, post-earthquake survival semi-doc On the Way to the Sea, Tao Gu and his family are from Wenchuan, just northwest of Chengdu and not near any of his Taming the Horse locations. I haven’t figured out the part where drunk, crying Dong says he wants to kill himself in Yanjiang where he first saw the sea, since Yanjiang appears to be just on the other side of Chengdu from Gu’s hometown, 15 hours from the nearest ocean.

Punk Rock tells the Truth:

A good pick to follow up Beale Street and Leave No Trace – another movie full of loveliness. Of the three, this will be the endlessly rewatchable one – extremely sharp dialogue, editing and performances – especially from Regina Hall as a restaurant manager having a complicated day. I love this movie so much, but don’t want to write about it now, will instead link to Mike D’Angelo in AV Club.

Having a hard time figuring how the same filmmaker made the unwatchably mumblecore Mutual Appreciation, the playfully bizarre Computer Chess, and this much slicker, almost mainstream comedy.

Slimeball Donnie Darko is introduced stealing wire and chainlink fence then beating up a security guard, but he’s not your ordinary lowlife – he wants to be an entrepreneur, learns everything he knows from online courses and speeches and always speaks formally to others, like a corporate simulacrum of a person. Good movie about ruthless capitalism, with amoral, manipulative Donnie destroying some lives and ending up on top.

Donnie watches a comedy on TV:

Donnie watches his coworker dying on TV:

“Our viewers are more interested in urban crime creeping into the suburbs.” After running into freelance videographer Bill Paxton at an auto accident, Donnie cuddles up to news anchor Rene Russo, hires flunky Riz Ahmed, and gets rich partly through calculated plotting and partly by being at the right crime scenes at the right time.

Stupid Matt Damon has money problems (you can tell because he stays up late at a cluttered desk frowning at an adding machine) so he decides to get small. His wife Kristen Wiig decides against the idea at the last minute, then he loses his palacial house in the divorce, moves into an apartment below hard-partying Christoph Waltz whose housecleaner is Vietnamese dissident Ngoc Lan (Hong Chau of Treme, Inherent Vice). These three hitch a ride with Udo Kier to the original small colony led by Dr. Rolf Lassgård (A Man Called Ove), which is retreating into a mountain to wait out the impending human-caused global catastrophes. Stupid Matt Damon decides to go with them, then decides not to, then convinces Ngoc Lan he’s in love with her.

Katy says it’s like they asked each actor what they’d like to play (“a sea captain!” “a hard-partying smuggler” “a one-legged humanitarian”) then wrote a script around it. It tries to be a bunch of things at once, not so successfully, and there are awkward and obvious bits, but I appreciate the ambition, and Christoph Waltz looks like he’s having the best time. Second movie we watched theatrically in a row to feature Laura Dern.

Woman who lost her son receives cash from local corrupt politician, goes to the city where she is mistreated and eventually locked up for suspected forgery. Maybe it’s a subtitle thing, but they keep mentioning the “rupee note” when she actually got four. Anyway, she and her neighbor are finally released, and she throws away the cursed money. Slick-looking movie, which I had the extreme bad fortune to watch right after L’Argent.

A process movie, which shows you what is happening, letting you guess about the why. Extremely precise in framing and editing, focusing as much on objects as people. I’m generally sympathetic to Bresson films, having loved A Man Escaped and Pickpocket, and have been underwhelmed or confused by some of his others, so wasn’t sure how this one would hit me… and it’s a masterpiece.

Schoolboy Norbert owes money, so his buddy Martial pulls out some counterfeit cash, which they change at a picture frame store. Later, the frame shop owners get pissed at their employee Lucien for accepting the phony bill, and conspire to pass it off to a workman Yvon Targe (Christian Patey, later of Adieu Bonaparte).

Yvon is caught passing the fake bill at a restaurant, unaware, starts a fight and gets in trouble. The frame shop owners pay off Lucien to lie in court, and Yvon loses his job. Lucien loses his job as well when he’s discovered to be pocketing money, then robs the shop and starts stealing ATM cards, is eventually caught. Norbert is also caught, and his mom pays off the frame shop to hush the scandal.

Yvon takes a darker turn, gets hired as a getaway driver and caught during a bank robbery, his daughter dies while he’s in prison, he attempts suicide, rejects help from Lucien (who is caught trying to escape) and is eventually released. Yvon immediately steals from the hotel where he’s staying, then apparently follows a woman home, is allowed to stay with her and her father, and kills them both with an axe, then turns himself in.

Adrian Martin for Criterion:

Bresson told his stories in astoundingly matter-of-fact ellipses or leaps in time; only the most significant moments of information and sensation counted for him. He fragmented the spatial relations of each location and incident, making the world both a fiercely angular labyrinth and an abiding, disorienting mystery.

Based on a Tolstoy story. Bresson tied with Tarkovsky for best director at Cannes, the palme going to Imamura. Great Cannes interview on the disc – Bresson always gives the best answers. “The question is null and void” … “I can’t explain a film. It explains itself.”

Leo starts out a naive stockbroker under the wing of weirdo drunk Matthew McConaughey (having a big year), eventually starts his own business (with a terrific Jonah Hill) using hard-sell techniques to trade junk stocks to rich people, until finally his nonstop cheating, drug-taking, money-laundering (Jean Dujardin is wonderful as a Swiss banker) and FBI agent Kyle Chandler (of Zero Dark and Super 8) take him down. Internet says Leo, Jonah and Matthew spent a few years in prison each (The movie sadly doesn’t portray Leo’s prison friendship with Tommy Chong), but Leo’s out selling his sales techniques at seminars, still a controversial mofo.

Written by Terence Winter, creator of Boardwalk Empire, who says: “You are being sold the Jordan Belfort story by Jordan Belfort, and he is a very unreliable narrator.”

G. Kenny: “There is a certain irony that Scorsese’s particular critique of capital is such an expensive one, and don’t believe for a minute that he is not unaware of it. We all, or most of us, do what we can with the resources made available to us. ”

MZ Seitz:

“Wolf” starts with a Fellini-like party on the floor of Belfort’s firm, then freeze-frames on Belfort tossing a dwarf at a huge velcro target, literally and figuratively abusing the Little Guy. The traders get away with their abuse because most people don’t see themselves as little guys, but as little guys who might some day become the big guy doing the tossing. “Socialism never took root in America,” John Steinbeck wrote, “because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

R. Brody on the final shot:

Scorsese’s camera rises over their heads to scan the yearning, vacant faces of the aspirants in the rows behind them. It’s a moment with a terrifying, Olympian blend of compassion, disdain, and anguish; it shows a fatal lack of imagination combined with a desperate range of unfulfilled desires. The shot shows not just an audience, but the audience: Scorsese puts the film’s viewers face to face with themselves, charges us with compensating for our lack of imagination and fatal ambition through contact with the wiles of a master manipulator. Just as the fictionalized Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is presented at the seminar by a host (who, in a diabolical cameo, is played by the real-life Belfort), so we, the movie audience, have been introduced to Belfort by another enthusiastic impresario, namely Martin Scorsese, who knows perfectly well that he is giving us something that we want, something that we need, and something that taps into dreams and ambitions that are both central to life and completely suspect.

I wasn’t completely crazy about it, but gotta agree with Ben Wheatley, who says:

I saw Wolf Of Wall Street, and that was a fantastic experience, just going, “God, this is a proper film.”

Already showed up in someone’s top-ten-ever list in Sight & Sound. Completely odd and exceptional movie, everyone acting like they’re in another dimension, standing outside the film. Sleek and cool, starring a blank Robert Pattinson as self-destructive billionaire Packer, Sarah Gadon (Mrs. Jung in A Dangerous Method) as his new wife, Paul Giamatti as his stalker, and a bunch of people who get a single scene each.

Starts with business partners talking shop, health (he gets a prolonged rectal exam while talking with an employee), paintings (he has sex with art dealer Juliette Binoche) and relationships in his silent limousine, but things start to go downhill. It becomes clear that Packer has sunk his fortune into a dying currency, rat-wielding economic protesters fill the streets and attack the car, Packer’s wife is breaking up with him, and his favorite hip-hop musician has died – this is in decreasing order of how much these things seem to matter to him.

Packer’s quest to get a haircut in his old neighborhood is nearly complete when a celebrity-pranker (Mathieu Amalric) hits him with a pie – then, probably unrelated to that, he asks to see his bodyguard Torval’s gun, and shoots Torval to death with it. Down to just Packer and his driver, they have dinner with the barber, who cuts half of Packer’s hair before he wanders off again to confront violent stalker Paul Giamatti, trying to talk reason to him.

The movie is wall-to-wall talk, so to summarize all the conversations, as if I remember them, would take pages and pages. Best to just watch it again. Cinema Scope 51 has a good few pages, with input from Cronenberg and Pattinson, and discussion of what makes this faithful adaptation of a Don DeLillo novel uniquely Cronenbergian.