“To die so that the god may live is a privilege, Kevin”

British dude casually finds some 1700-year-old coins in the backyard, and an elongated skull – I thought this was Hugh Grant for a while until the real Hugh Grant appears a couple minutes later and I realized I had no idea what Peter Capaldi looked like prior to The Thick of It. They meet at a white worm party – with a white worm costume and a band playing a rowdy white worm folk song – along with the Trent sisters. Grant is out with Sammi Davis of Hope and Glory, and her sister Eve is Catherine Oxenberg of the Yugoslavian royal family, who started her career playing princess Diana on a TV movie, and most recently appeared in Ratpocalypse and Sharktopus vs. Whalewolf.

Our fearless foursome:

Everyone is talking like they’re on a sitcom, but a few short minutes later, Lady Sylvia Marsh is introduced sucking on the leg of constable Ernie (Return of the Jedi‘s rancor keeper) and the movie gets good ‘n’ crazy, and stays that way. It’s cool that Grant and Capaldi are here, but Amanda Donohoe is the movie. Looks like I can see her with Sammi Davis and Glenda Jackson in Russell’s The Rainbow, and I probably should.

Lady Marsh takes a boy scout home and feeds him to the worm-god in her basement, and Eve is taken captive next. Sylvia is excessively horny during these scenes, while the others are eating damp sandwiches, searching for signs of the long-missing Trent parents. Grant gets the Stendhal Syndrome and climbs inside a painting. Snake imagery abounds, the script is all entendres, and the visuals flit between ace makeup/lighting and insane greenscreen dream-mayhem. Most horror filmmakers are content to make normal-looking movies with a few crazy visual bits – Russell isn’t happy unless the crazy bits completely overwhelm the normal stuff.

After my second reference this month to a christian order building atop pagan grounds, Grant steps up to his destiny, and plays snake-charming music on a PA system while the team attacks the castle with help from a worm-hunting mongoose. Mary is accosted by her undead mum, then by the possessed cop, but Capaldi saves the day with snake-luring bagpipes and drops a hand grenade down the worm-god’s throat. This plan obviously took some prep, but it’s also an emergency rescue mission, so was it necessary to change into the kilt?

There’s an Oscar Wilde quote – Russell made a Wilde movie the same year. Grant appears here the year after starring in a James Ivory film, Capaldi five years after Local Hero. Partly based on a Bram Stoker novel, partly on the legend of the Lambton Worm, and I guess largely made up by Russell.

Set in a makeshift hospital across from a construction site. I see Jen, there’s talk of past lives, and little happens for a long time so we’re in comfortable A.W. territory, but we also get a catheter bag and a guy shitting in the woods in the first 20 minutes.

Jen spends time in the hospital as a volunteer, where young soldiers sleep in beds because, as we learn when Jen is visited by two shrine princesses, ancient kings buried beneath the hospital grounds are drawing energy from the sleeping men to fight their posthumous wars. This all sounds crazier than it feels while watching it, since the actions and dialogue are so understated. The men do wake up occasionally, and Jen hangs out with one named Itt.

Out on the town with real Itt (Banlop Lomnoi, whose character was named Keng in Tropical Malady):

Out on the grounds with Keng-as-Itt:

Some other things: Jen and Itt can see each other’s dreams… Jen is married to an American named Richard who she met online… she remembers a lake animal from her past, which now floats inside her… a silent game of musical chairs… talk of massive floods… an amoeba-spaceship floats through the water-sky… Itt possesses a psychic woman named Keng, gives Jen a tour of the grounds pointing out the ancient structures that used to exist there, pours gingko water on Jen’s bad leg and kisses it… and a meditation lesson, which may be key to understanding this, A.W.’s most somnambulist feature.

Stop-motion Quay Bros. hair-braid title card, then opening shot of a toilet with blood in it, and already I’m conflicted. There’s more bleeding and vomiting and bathrooms than seems strictly necessary (M. D’Angelo: “in many ways this is a film about the effect of passion on the gastrointestinal tract, which to my knowledge is a subject previously unexplored”), and I’m always a fan of injecting stop-motion and monsters into a movie, but somehow it didn’t work here. But the vast bulk of the runtime is a fucking lovely story about two girls, the actresses giving perfect performances, and I want to buy the movie’s poster and stare at it forever. And I don’t usually wish for sequels, but I’d like to see this movie’s Before Sunset. Good opening night pick for LNKarno.

Jack and Diane meet, make out, seem really good for each other, but Diane is going off to London in a week, so neither knows how to handle this. Each girl is kinda a mess in her own way… Jack (Riley Keough, the boss in American Honey, also this year’s The Discovery and Logan Lucky and It Comes at Night… and Elvis’s granddaughter) is mourning her late brother, gets hit by a cab and spends most of the movie with a scraped-up face, is mean to almost everybody. I don’t know what’s going with Diane (Juno Temple of Killer Joe, Kaboom) at the beginning, with no phone or ID, throwing up and bleeding. They do seem more collected when together, though Diane manages to transfer her nosebleed to Jack.

Diane’s poor Aunt Linda (Cara Seymour of The Knick, An Education, Gangs of New York) gets daily abuse. Kylie Minogue (same year as Holy Motors) plays a Jack ex-lover. Amazing character detail: Jack, wearing a Ministry t-shirt, says sushi is “good with ketchup.” Good texture to the movie thanks to the Múm score, the soundtrack (first time I’ve heard Shellac in a movie?), bursts of Quay visuals, richly colored cinematography. First I’ve seen by either Gray or his collaborator So Yong Kim.

Mike again:

Another thing I cherished: Has there ever been a movie that introduced an identical twin and then deliberately made so little of it? The scene in which Karen calls Jack pretending to be Diane, while terrific for its own sake, seems to exist primarily to raise the possibility that it’s actually Diane in the porn video, using her sister’s name in an unfamiliar situation. Karen is otherwise never seen; one might fairly conclude that she’s never seen at all. Indeed, if not for the fact that Diane’s aunt mentions her, it would be easy to conclude that Karen doesn’t really exist, so blatantly symbolic is her function. (See also: Jack’s dead brother, Jack’s facial bruise.) Like the monster metaphor, this would threaten to capsize the movie were it not so unemphatic; unlike the monster metaphor, its import is so glancing (there’s no overt suggestion that Jack suspects anything, and the subject never comes up again) that it doesn’t seem superfluous.

Rewatched this in less-than-optimal conditions (not on my fucking telephone, at least), but I’ve seen it so many times already. It’s hard to watch without the fan theories I read online in 2002 popping into my head… can’t let the mystery of it all wash over me when my mind keeps fitting the pieces into a puzzle. Granted, the theories work pretty well. And each scene is fantastic whether it makes narrative sense or not.

Classic Hollywood: landlady Coco is Ann Miller of Kiss Me Kate and On The Town, and the ranting woman wandering the apartment halls is Lee Grant of Detective Story and Shampoo. Betty’s new friend at the airport is Mary’s mom in Eraserhead. Since this came out I’ve seen Naomi Watts in a few things (none of them very good except Eastern Promises), Laura Harring in nothing, and Justin Theroux in Wanderlust and Charlie’s Angels 2. Most upsetting is when Patrick Fischler, the scared guy in the diner, shows up in a movie or TV show, as he does more regularly than his Mulholland costars.

Learned from the interview extras: Lynch says the title Mulholland Dr. was originally for a cancelled Twin Peaks spinoff, and The Cowboy is wearing Tom Mix’s original clothes.

2500th post!

Entrancing from the start, with striking images and a very mobile camera, almost in the mode of Mikhail Kalatozov’s recent The Cranes Are Flying. It’s always interesting when one of my favorite modes of filmmaking – immaculately composed frames, visual beauty in sharp black-and-white – is the early work of a filmmaker who progresses to more diffuse color photography (see also: Leos Carax, Pedro Costa, Ingmar Bergman). Cowritten with Andrey Konchalovsky, already a director himself, and half the cast would return in Andrei Rublev.

Ivan is a spy kid for the Russian army, trying to stay with his military family as long as possible, though they keep trying to ship him to military school and get him out of active combat. Story is told with flashbacks and sidetracks, and crazy great photography. Obviously, being a Russian war movie, it doesn’t end well.

D. Iordanova:

Nearly every scene in Ivan’s Childhood is handled in a manner out of the ordinary, suggesting heightened consciousness of style, point of view, framing, and fluid camera. … Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds seems to have had an artistic impact on the film, with its deep interiors lit by rays of light squeezing through cracks, its moments of veering consciousness, and especially its dislodged religious symbols placed amidst smoking ruins. Buñuel’s Los Olvidados, a critical realist film interweaving dream sequences, is a likely influence as well.

It is in connection with this film that [Tarkovsky] first spoke against the logic of “linear sequentiality” and in favor of heightening feeling through poetic connections, of using “poetic links” to join together film material in an alternative way that “works above all to lay open the logic of a person’s thought” and that is best suited for revealing cinema’s potential “as the most truthful and poetic of art forms.”

I watched this ages ago, taped off TCM with the English title My Name Is Ivan, so now I think of it as My Name Is Ivan’s Childhood. Won the top award at Venice vs. Vivre Sa Vie, The Trial, Lolita and Mamma Roma.

Stop-motion cut-out animation of psychoanalytic dream-imagery.

Yes there’s a story – a married man attempts to carry on an affair with a woman in his dreams – but it’s the imagery and editing tricks and invention and sidetracks (eggs, fruit, flowers, suit-wearing coworker with dog head, fighting Freud and Jung portraits, reptiles, tongues, doppelgangers) that kept us endlessly entertained. Svankmajer’s features tend to feel overlong with their obsessions and repetitions but this one (though it opens with an extended apology from the director) was completely wonderful.

“When I say the word Antwerp, you are going to have an effective dream about overpopulation.”

Opens with skinny Bruce Davison (xenophobic senator in X-Men, the original Willard) as George Orr, dreaming an atomic bomb. Takes himself into a psychotherapy clinic because he keeps having “effective” dreams which change reality – and history, so that nobody else remembers the original reality. Instead of focusing on the bomb, he tells them (via b/w flashback) how when he was a kid he kissed his Aunt Ethel, then out of embarrassment, wished her into the cornfield. No, he actually dreamed that she had never lived with him, and died far off in a car crash.

Orr’s case draws the attention of Dr. Haber (Kevin Conway, reminiscent of Oliver Reed), who hooks him up to dream-monitoring machines. It’s not clear if Haber can remember the shifting realities but he seems to believe in Orr’s effective dreams, and starts suggesting topics for him to dream about. He starts with just about the most dangerous subject you can suggest to someone with massive powers to alter reality: overpopulation.

Unsurprisingly, when Orr wakes up, there are considerably fewer people on earth thanks to the plague he dreamed up. Further experiments result in war with aliens, then peace with aliens (earth being colonized), all races being turned gray (no more racism!), not to mention Haber moving from a small office into the massive “Haber Institute”.

Not a bad alien, considering this was PBS’s first original movie:

Davison is nervous and unhappy for most of the movie, but adopts this carefree stance around the psychiatrist, making the exciteable Haber seem like the crazy one by proximity. And Davison turns out happier, hooks up with his lawyer (Margaret Avery, oscar-winning for The Color Purple) while Haber loses his mind trying to fix the world’s problems.

Haber with Avery:

Ursula says in interview that she was skeptical of the book’s filmic possibilities because “nothing happens in it”. On Haber: “He’s not evil. He means well all the way through the book. But he’s doing it wrong.” … “Of course this was a daoist book … Daoism says you do things by not doing things, and all attempt to do and to set things right and make things happen eventually backfires”

Remade with James Caan in the 2000’s. Not many of Le Guin’s stories have made it to the screen – just this and a couple recent adaptations of her dragons-and-sorcerors Earthsea stories. One of the screenwriters went on to create the celebrated hit series Murphy Brown; the other created Porky’s II. The co-directors had previously collaborated on a version of Vonnegut’s Between Time and Timbuktu.

The two stars of Big Bang Love: Juvenile A are back – Ryuhei Matsuda (the weak hero) as the titular Nightmare Detective and Masanobu Ando (tattooed superdude) as a curly-haired regular detective. It would seem like an inversion of their roles in the other film, except amazingly it’s not – the title character is weaker than everyone else in this movie. He has the power (at great personal risk) to enter the nightmares of others, but not to do anything else, so once inside he’s just bitter and afraid. It’d be kind of hilarious but there were always too many terrifying blurs of action to laugh.

your (very upset) nightmare detective:
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I suppose our main character is Keiko (played by singularly-named Hitomi). That’s her at the bottom warming her hands on a giant plastic brain-looking creature. Keiko works with rookie Wakamiya (Masanobu Ando) under chief Sekiya (Ren Osugi of MPD Psycho and Achilles and the Tortoise). Initially Keiko has a strained relationship with the others, since she formerly worked a desk job and doesn’t handle crime scenes well but all that’s forgotten when the shit goes down.

Ando and Osugi:
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Movie has a very video look, a la Haze or MPD Psycho. The horror action is never seen – pieces of blades or the color red may be glimpsed, but mostly you know that a fast, screaming blur is approaching the character, something unstoppable and terrifying (Tetsuo-like).

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The screaming blur is actually nightmare terrorist/suicide-assistance provider Zero (played by our director), who takes phone calls from depressed people then comes to slaughter them in their dreams, causing them to kill themselves (all with stabbing implements, I believe) in reality while still sleeping. He’s sort of a Freddy Krueger for hire. After a couple of people die, Wakamiya dials Zero (ha) as part of the investigation and ends up suffering the same fate, telling Keiko as he awakens “I didn’t even realize that I wanted to die.”

Zero/Shinya Tsukamoto:
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So Kagenuma, the nightmare detective, is drawn quite unwillingly into the investigation, more than halfway through the movie. He turns out to be juuust enough of a hero to get the job done, actually rushing the villain in a fit of bravery. Keiko, having dialed up Zero herself leading to a three-way battle inside her head, decides to live after all.

Tsukamoto: “The killer appears to be revealing the true terror of death to the willing.”

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Much of the online writing on this movie mentions the crappy performance of Hitomi in the lead role. I guess I just figured she was your typical buttoned-up brainiac movie detective and wasn’t supposed to emote. Or I was spending all my energy thinking “where is the nightmare detective? why is he barely in the movie?” From the look of the trailer, the upcoming sequel looks quieter, more contemplative, with less violent stabbing. This was great – Tsukamoto’s movies seem to get better and better – so I’m looking forward to it.

The Freshman (1925, Newmeyer & Taylor)
The sad truth about Harold Lloyd is that I loved him when I first saw him, but every time I rewatch a movie I like it less. So far I’ve seen Safety Last! and The Freshman twice, and each dropped from “great” down to around “pretty good”. I’m afraid to rewatch the ones I thought were pretty good to begin with.

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Young Harold (he was actually 32) watches imaginary film The College Hero over and over to prepare himself for college, filling his head with stupid ideas about college life. I would’ve loved it if they’d done more movie-vs.-reality comparisons, but it seems the only thing he took away from the film was the hero’s nickname (“Speedy”), catchphrase (“I’m just a regular guy”) and silly jig, which everyone at college mocks until Harold manages to win the big football game, then the jig becomes the coolest thing. It’s a wonder that nobody else at school had seen this movie and figured out Harold wasn’t even an original nut, just a nerdy guy ripping off a bad movie joke. But my biggest surprise was finding that the silly hat Harold wears wasn’t an invention of his silly movie – college kids (according to this silly movie anyway) actually wore those hats!

Below: Harold and “the college cad” in silly hats. The cad, Brooks Benedict, later appeared in Leo McCarey’s not-sequel The Sophomore.
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In the scene below, Harold’s tailor hides behind a curtain, ready to patch Harold’s unfinished suit should the need arise, but the two get their signals crossed because of a dude at a table ringing a bell. Supposedly the bell ringer is Charles Farrell, star of Street Angel, but he sure doesn’t look like he does in my screengrabs from that movie.

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The girl who likes Harold, cutie Jobyna Ralston, was in The Kid Brother and Wings, didn’t make it in the sound era.

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The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (1916, Christy Cabanne & John Emerson)
Written by DW Griffith and Tod Browning, the same year they did Intolerance, and co-produced by Keystone. Douglas Fairbanks was apparently famous enough to play himself in a framing scene – I think he plays himself, and the rest of the film (starring himself) is his rejected pitch to a producer for a film to star himself. That’d already be plenty to wrap one’s head around for a 1916 short, but that’s before we even get to the main story, which involves incompetent and extremely drug-addicted hero Coke Ennyday trying to stop criminals from smuggling contraband via one-man inflatable toy rafts, and stop the criminal mastermind from forcing the lovely Fish Blower to marry him. Coke gets the drugs and the girl, and I didn’t know I could have my mind blown by Douglas Fairbanks. Bessie Love, the Fish Blower, appeared in three major films in the early 1980’s, sixty-five years after this one. I wonder if anyone on those sets asked her about her cult druggie silent short.

The Play House (1921, Buster Keaton & Eddie Cline)
I’d seen almost all of Keaton’s solo silent shorts, but I’d missed this major one, in which he plays all the characters in a trippy dream sequence that lasts the first half of the film. Reliable heavy Joe Roberts finally wakes Buster from his funhouse-mirrored delusion and he goes to work as a stagehand, where he’s spooked by a pair of identical twins with mirrors. A sheer delight of visual invention only grudgingly held together by a plot.

That’s two of Virginia Fox, daughter of William Fox:
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Buster Keaton’s minstrels:
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Cops (1922, Buster Keaton & Eddie Cline)
The Freshman was a movie about a boy whose ideas about life have been warped by the movies, Leaping Fish had Douglas Fairbanks the actor playing Douglas Fairbanks the aspiring screenwriter, and The Playhouse featured Buster Keaton playing a hundred of himself in a stage performance viewed by even more of himself. Cops has no self-conscious reflection that I can think of. It’s just a damn fine heist/love/chase flick with great invention in props and situations. However it does fit in with the outrageousness of last two films in its ending: snubbed by his intended love, Buster effectively commits suicide by running back into the police station where he has just locked up hundreds of angry cops.