Opens unpromisingly despite Ethan Hawke… actors laboriously declaiming portentous dialogue in fake accents. It does start to get trippy, with more CG than expected (incl. cartoon-ass animals), and at the “years later” jump the tedious-to-thrilling ratio is 50/50. Subwoofer cinema, a sonically unpleasant movie – I should’ve played the Harriet Tubman album again. Alexander Skarsgård (Florence Pugh’s fake bf in Little Drummer Girl) swears revenge, loses his way, meets Björk, swears revenge again, kills Fjölnir’s son and refuses to say where he’s hidden the heart. Lotta people get chopped up with swords. Three good performances in this: Björk > Skarsgård > Dafoe

Willow Maclay argues there are four good performances:

Nicole Kidman also gives one of her best performances in some time as an incestual madwoman, driven berserk by the times, and dripping with salacious fury in her scene of revelation. This contrasts with her elegant work as a Queen and mother, and suggests that a proper feminine presentation can be hiding a cannibalistic fury behind doors.

Michael Sicinski:

Virtually every landscape is CGI’ed to the point of absurdity. The Northman strives for the painterly but more closely resembles those 4K test images they show on the TVs at Costco.

Ethan Hawke appears in none of these movies, rather he was interviewed on Criterion to chat about movies in general and about each of these picks, so I watched every minute of that and then went on a Hawke-approved viewing spree.


The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (1968, Les Blank)

Blank is one of my faves because the photography is grainy but good, the songs and stories play out in full, and he cuts the picture to whatever catches his interest. Hopkins is a versatile player. I see Hawke’s point about watching this to really understand the blues. It kinda worked but I’m still not past the “all the songs sound the same” phase. I’ll get back to those Bear Family comps, maybe.


The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972, John Huston)

That makes two in a row set in Texas. Paul Newman goes to the lawless part of the state, brags about being a bank robber, is robbed and nearly killed… Victoria Principal (TV’s Dallas) brings him a gun, he returns to the bar and kills all the men, then instates himself as sheriff and hires the next group of guys to wander in (five failed outlaws) as marshals.

I love that the story is partly narrated by dead men who passed through. Grizzly Adams (our director) isn’t permitted to die in town so he moves on, leaving his bear behind. The ensuing musical montage to an Andy Williams song is better than the Raindrops Keep Falling scene, because it’s about Newman and Principal playing with a bear. The only threat to Newman’s authority is Bad Bob The Albino (Stacy Keach) who is killed immediately, until attorney Roddy McDowall turns out to have been playing the long game, getting elected mayor and turning the tables on the power structure. After 20 years in exile, Bean returns to round up the gang (and grown daughter Jacqueline Bisset who doesn’t seem to mind having been abandoned for two decades) and stage a fight to the death between the wild west old-timers and modern society’s highly flammable oil-well town. Ethan says that everyone now admits the postscript ending is bad, in which Bean’s actress idol Ava Gardner arrives in town too late and only gets to meet Ned Beatty. Roy Bean was a real guy who often shows up fictionalized on screen – he’s been played by Walter Brennan, Andy Griffith, Tom Skerritt, and returning to the legend with a casting promotion, Ned Beatty.


Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (1976, Robert Altman)

Judge Roy Bean was mostly set in 1890’s, we’re in 1880’s now, with a nightmare font on the opening titles. Sadly, for our second revisionist comedy western we’ve left Texas (set in Wyoming, filmed in Canada) but we’ve still got Paul Newman, now with an aged Dude appearance as a famed cowboy running a wild west show. Major Kevin McCarthy delivers Sitting Bull to the show (interpreter Will Sampson of Cuckoo’s Nest does all the talking) but his role and attitude are mysterious. Meanwhile it’s the usual Altmanny bustle of activity (I’ve missed it), featuring sharpshooter Geraldine Chaplin taking aim at living target John Considine, producer Joel Grey handling a visit by President Cleveland and his new wife (Shelley Duvall!) and I’m afraid I didn’t buy Harvey Keitel, the same year as Taxi Driver, playing a meek flunky. Everyone gets uptight and embarrassed in turn, and in the end, the president refuses to hear Sitting Bull’s requests, and Newman roams his oversized quarters talking to ghosts (predating Secret Honor by eight years). This won (?!) the golden bear in Berlin, against Canoa and Small Change and The Man Who Fell to Earth.

A different, more personal take on the Blaze Foley story than the (also great) Tales from the Tour Bus episode – this one duct-tapes the opening title and some clothing along the way but never tells duct tape stories or even directly acknowledges it. It’s a different approach for a biopic, taking a not-so-famous subject and refusing to tell the memorably quirky stories about him. Loosely structured around a concert (which was recorded, available on CD!) a month before he was killed defending a friend, and a radio interview with Townes Van Zandt regaling a clueless DJ with Blaze stories.

I watched this half for the country music stories and half for Alia Shawkat as Blaze’s wife Sybil. At least I think they got married, I forget, maybe not, but I might’ve found clarification at the Landmark Q&A with the real Sybil had I known it was happening. The other biopic-unusual thing here is telling the life story out of order, editing scenes more for emotional flow than narrative structure. I learned my lesson about watching movies about real-life musicians (this week I’m skipping Bohemian Rhapsody in theaters), but this sounded good from reviews, and dammit, it was real good.

With musicians Ben Dickey and Charlie Sexton as Blaze and Townes, plus Kris Kristofferson, Gurf Morlix, and Steve Zahn as an oilman-turned-record executive. This movie’s gonna end up like Blaze’s music, never well-known but passed around and talked about by fans, used (with Bird) as a counter-example when someone tells us all musician dramas are bad.

It’s neat that Netflix is buying up genre movies from the directors of Moon and Gattaca and, um, Suicide Squad, but I keep reading online that they are very bad. Obviously after watching the end of Cloverfield then the entire sequel, I’m gonna check out part three, so afterwards I let the mighty algorithm tell me where to go next, then threw in a Star Wars.


The Cloverfield Paradox (2018, Julius Onah)

The astronauts are stalking each other with guns after accidentally opening a portal to a dark alternate universe. I guess Liz Debicki is the baddie, and Gugu pulls the usual defense, grabbing onto something and blasting a hole in the wall so her assailant gets sucked into space. She sends the plans for the universe-generator to alternate-herself, then hyperdrives back home with a wounded Daniel Brühl – but something is amiss on earth and a Cloverfield appears in literally the last five seconds of the movie. Guess I’ll have to trust the reviews that nothing interesting happened in the first ninety minutes. Onah is Nigerian, is making a Naomi Watts/Octavia Spencer feature next, and the sequel-centric writers worked on Star Trek Beyond and 22 Jump Street.


Tau (2018, Federico D’Alessandro)

Maika Monroe (It Follows) is trapped in a chair, convinces a robot to untie her before the nerdy guy can give her the evil injection, kicks his ass then chops off his hand to get through the security doors, evades Tau (a Decepticon in a fancy living room), initiates the self-destruct sequence then duck-n-covers under a desk as everything very slowly blows up. Supposedly the computer is the voice of Gary Oldman but I’m not hearing it. This looks generic and I feel bad for everyone involved. The director has been doing storyboards for Major Motion Pictures for the last decade and the writer works on a Harry Potter ripoff series for Syfy.


Anon (2018, Andrew Niccol)

Clive Owen is kicked out of his detective agency, goes home and sulks while his former coworkers watch his every move through surveillance gear. “Anon” is Amanda Seyfried, who interrupts a Proxy Dude after he shoots Clive – people can see through each others’ eyes through some Black Mirror tech, so I think Proxy watches himself die. Seyfried just wants privacy in an all-seeing world, knows “the algorithm” to glitch everyone’s eyeball-computers into not seeing her, I guess, but I was more focused on the weird eyelines in the final scene so I may have missed something. Niccol made Gattaca, of course, and I hear his In Time is good.


Mute (2018, Duncan Jones)

Apparently Paul Rudd is dead already, and Rudd’s friend (a moppy blonde Justin Theroux) wants voiceless Alexander Skarsgard (the new husband in part one of Melancholia) to apologize for killing him, drives them to the docks and talks way too much before Skarsgard uses his mute-ant breath-holding powers to dunk them both in the river and drown Justin, then he Finds His Voice to yell at a child. Too bad I didn’t get to see any of the neon Blade Runner stuff from the posters.


The Outsider (2018, Martin Zandvliet)

Oh no, Jared Leto gets shot in the leg after a business deal seems to have gone badly wrong, then the cops bust up his gang’s headquarters, so Jared collects his Japanese girlfriend to blow town, but for some reason he stalks into his rival’s gang meeting instead, challenges a guy to a duel, cuts him down when he refuses, and is allowed to leave, then is recognized as the new boss by his surviving buddies. Movie looks dreary and unfun. This was Zandvliet’s followup to Land of Mine, which played the Ross so I’ve seen its preview a hundred times.


Bright (2017, David Ayer)

Joel Edgerton is an orc, Will Smith his mouthy partner cop who grabs a magic dagger and blowtorches Noomi Rapace to save some girl. I think the orc is gonna die saving Smith from a fire, oh no they’re both fine, but the next day Police Chief Legolas wants to cover the thing up. As far as movies where Will Smith is partnered with a gruff-voiced dude in a dangerous world of magic aliens, it’s not as funny as Men In Black.


The Titan (2018, Lennart Ruff)

Ah, another movie where Sam Worthington gets experimental treatment to transform into an alien (is that what happened in Avatar? I can’t remember). Soldiers led by Tom Wilkinson are trying to shoot him while I guess Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black) and Agyness Deyn (Sunset Song) are trying to help. So many pointless military guys… Sam has a splashy dream-vision and everyone’s suddenly on a plane. “That crazy bastard did it,” says some dude, and I’d like to think Sam used his Titan Powers to teleport them onto the plane but it was probably just editing. Later, Taylor is doing science stuff unbothered by the military, and she gazes at the sky, where her husband lives on another planet, looking like he’s about to start the Prometheus civilization. The director is German, worked on a Daniel Brühl movie called Krabat and The Legend of the Satanic Mill, and one of the writers did Grace of Monaco.


24 Hours to Live (2017, Brian Smrz)

The day after watching First Reformed, I guess if I’m gonna check out the end of the bad Amanda Seyfried movie, I’ll check out the bad Ethan Hawke action flick too. It’s Pushing Daisies meets D.O.A., as dead Ethan Hawke is resurrected for a day as a revenge-zombie to kill the guys who killed him. He comes fucking tearing into a room full of armed dudes and just destroys everyone, while two main baddies sit passively because they’re too damn cool to flinch from danger. The Sam Neill-ish super-confident guy (wow, is that Rutger Hauer?) isn’t quite killed by zombie-Hawke, so Hawke’s friend Paul (not that one or that one) Anderson takes care of it. Hawke is pretty cool-looking in this, anyway. Smrz has been a stunt guy forever, and his other film as director was also about a nearly-dead guy seeking bloody revenge,


Desolation (2017, Sam Patton)

Damn, I thought this might be a Stephen King movie but I was thinking of Desperation. This is the one where a mom and son are stalked through the woods by a psycho, and we’re at the point where they decide to turn the tables. I think they lure the stalker to their camp and have a stick fight, but the camera and editing go all to hell, so who knows. She knocks the dude over with a backpack full of rocks, then the boy kills the hell out of him with stone and pocketknife, which is probably traumatizing. LOL as they finally reach their car and the battery is dead – it’s hard to tell if this movie had any point, and everyone involved is pretty much best known for this.


Rogue One (2016, Gareth Edwards)

It’s not an “original” but I’d better check this out before it disappears. Oh shit, Wen Jiang got blown up already. A little ship rams a star destroyer into another star destroyer and nobody seems to notice until it’s too late. Felicity Jones thrillingly aligns an antenna, is nearly thwarted by an overly talky cape-wearing British soldier until Diego Luna shows up, and the frog/fish pilots receive the Death Star plans, then the baddies blow up the planet so none of these actors had to sign multi-year contracts. It ends with a Vader slaughter and a creepy Carrie Fisher impersonation, and this only brings to mind Sarah Jeong’s Rat Film essay, which was more interesting than any stop-gap prequel-bridging Star Wars movie. Edwards was following up the Godzilla movie I didn’t like, the writers are Chris Weitz (that Cinderella movie I didn’t like) and… Tony Gilroy!

A John Carter-like attempt to film an influential comic which many sci-fi movies (including Besson’s own Fifth Element) have been ripping off for decades. I’ll bet this was better in 3D. The movie seems to want to be in VR, having Valerian put on special glasses when he wants to see into other dimensions (recalling Freddy’s Dead).

The Pearls, a peaceful race of white Na’vi, live on Shell Beach with their pets who can shit dark matter, until their planet is destroyed as collateral damage in a space war led by Commander Clive Owen. Survivors have invaded the International Space Station (now a massive free-floating city of a thousand alien races) and learned all the alien techs to built themselves a supership Shell Beach simulator. Commander Clive sees all this as a threat, and sends soldiers to stop them, or something.

But first, Major Tom Valerian (Dane DeHaan: Lawless, A Cure for Wellness) is sexually harassing his coworker Laureline (Cara Delevingne: London Fields, Paper Towns). According to my Alamo Drafthouse waiter, their relationship made some kind of sense in the original comics, but human behavior isn’t Besson’s strong suit, so he’s botched it. These two are sent to interrupt a trade between Pearls and a Hutt unmistakably voiced by John Goodman, and during their escape a bulletproof rhinobeast wipes out their team.

Valerian’s boss, the General, looks like a Weasley but is actually Sam Spruell of Snow White and the Huntsman… then there are a series of higher-ups played by Rutger Hauer and Herbie Hancock who we barely see. Our team is eventually separated, and Laureline goes underwater with a beardy submariner named Bob (Alain Chabat of The Science of Sleep) while Valerian gets help from a shapeshifting Rihanna (after murdering her pimp Ethan Hawke), who does a dance which will be my most-watched scene on netflix once it comes out.

Some effects shots are very cartoony, not fooling anyone, and the action choreography is quite bad when viewed the day after Atomic Blonde. The very long info-dump ending is bad, the plot is mostly bad, the teaching Valerian about the meaning of love is bad, so I spaced out in the last half hour and tried to figure who Dane DeHaan reminds me of – is it Nicolas Cage? He’s fine, don’t get me wrong – all the acting and filmmaking is generally spot-on, just in service of a poor script. There is one great bit in the ending: Laureline is left alone with Commander Clive and just keeps punching him.

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.

We watched these on Mondays (“Before Mondays”) in January.

Before Sunrise (1995)

Celine and Jesse meet on a train, talk for a while, and he convinces her to disembark in Vienna and spend the day with him before his flight out. They ride the trains and buses, go record shopping, visit a cemetery, church and carnival (feat. The Third Man ferris wheel), talk to fortune teller, poet and theater guys, hang out in bars, cafes and plazas then end up in the park with a bottle of wine. Next morning at the train station, plans to meet again in six months. Standard, unadorned romance-movie setup. Nothing new here. But so, so perfect in the dialogue and details. Linklater won best director in Berlin.

Before Sunset (2004)

Carefully maintained real-time structure – only about one edit where I felt time might’ve elapsed, and then no more than a minute. It also shuts out all side characters once the main couple meets again at Jesse’s book event (right after readers succeed in getting him to admit that the girl he’s written about really exists). Conversation starts with reminiscing and explaining why they didn’t meet six months after last time, gradually turns more personal, revealing their dissatisfaction with current relationships, leading to one of my favorite-ever movie endings: Jesse, who parted with Celine last time to catch a plane, not making that mistake again.

Before Midnight (2013)

No more happy reunions – they’ve been together since the last movie and now have twin girls. Jesse is concerned about his son growing up with his mom a continent away and feels out Celine on the idea of moving there, which sparks a massive, movie-length argument that felt almost too real for Katy to handle. At least they’re in a new country, at the end of a writing retreat in Greece, but there’s little time for sightseeing. The first section of the movie has them in conversation with friends (including Athina Rachel Tsangari), a nice way of bouncing our main couple’s middle-aged ideas on love and romance off other couples of different ages.

EDIT NOV 2020: Watched the first movie again. Forgot that it ends with a L’Eclisse slideshow of places they’d been, the settings looking ordinary without Hawke/Delpy in frame. JAN 2021: Watched the second again :) MAR 2021: Watched the third again, more impressed with it this time. They’re repositioned as parents instead of lovers from the start, opening scene with Hawke and his son then the twin girls sleeping between them in frame in the next scene, Delpy conspiring with her husband to skip a tourist attraction the kids want to see. The rest is trying to return to the conversational tone of the earlier movies, laboriously pulling the two back together amidst conflict over parental responsibility.