We followed up Bisbee with another great one, the story of an indie film shot in Singapore in Summer 1992 that disappeared without a trace, taking a few friendships along with it. Creative punk kids Sandi and Jasmine and their friend Sophie got the support of a French New Wave enthusiast professor/mentor named George, spent the whole summer shooting their would-be classic, then George vanished with the film, which only resurfaced after his death twenty years later, the sound reels having been lost or destroyed along the way. So Sandi uses scenes from the original Shirkers (with added sound effects) to illustrate her story, reassessing the original drive to make this film, what they accomplished, and the aftermath. Sophie is now chair of a film department, Jasmine still holds a huge grudge, and Sandi claims in the Q&A that she doesn’t blame George, which sounds crazy after he ruined their young dreams. There’s some owning up to past misdeeds and betrayals, some exploration of George’s life and his other creative partners (he stole their work, too) but Sandi still respects the guy, and she’s the one in charge of the Shirkers saga now, so perhaps this movie lets him off easy. This was a blast to see from the balcony of a sold-out theater, but we might have been its final proper audience, since it’s been bought by netflix.
Tim Grierson in Paste:
In Shirkers, novelist Sandi Tan accomplishes that trickiest of endeavors, making a documentary about herself that isn’t cloying or cringe-worthy. Quite the contrary, her movie is refreshingly candid and self-critical: She may be the star of the show, but she has a story to tell and the right perspective to frame it properly … the documentary ends up being less about tracking down the film canisters than being an exploration of nostalgia, friendship and the allure of mentors. Tan is lively, self-effacing company throughout — her voice has just the right sardonic tinge — but her visits with Jasmine and Sophia are particularly lovely and illuminating, suggesting how lifelong pals can see us in ways that we cannot.
“What is line?” Took a while to realize that this isn’t actually a comedy – it’s a dramatization of Greg Sestero’s book, and so the adventures of Good Guy Greg who gets pulled into this madcap craziness by his nutty friend. Having seen Retro Puppet Master, I would never choose to watch a Greg Sestero biopic… James Franco’s hilarious Tommy Wiseau impression and the bewildered professionals played by Seth Rogen and Paul Scheer kept me from turning it off, and the closing titles sequence reveals this film’s reason for existing, as they split-screen the original film with perfectly timed re-enactment scenes. They’re all big goofy fans of The Room and wanted to feel what it’s like to make their own Room.
A different kind of love triangle movie – only one of the two guys is alive and present at any part of the story, but each one’s spirit affects possible relationships with the other. Heartbroken, drunken movie star Louis Koo (lead cop in Three, paperman in Don’t Go Breaking My Heart) hides out at a country lodge run by Sammi Cheng (Blind Detective, Infernal Affairs) and he makes a mess of things, then gradually cleans up and starts helping out. This goes on for a very long time, until he discovers that Sammi, who has always acted indifferently towards him, used to be a huge fan and has posters and props from all his films.
Sammi with movie star on motorcycle:
Finally we get the backstory of her husband, who first got her attention by imitating Louis’s movies, and later disappeared in the woods looking for a lost child. Louis loses her when he goes back to the city and she becomes refocused on her husband after his body is finally recovered, so Louis reaches out the only way he knows how: by making a movie about this entire story starring himself as himself and bringing her husband back to life in his version.
Sammi with husband-as-movie-star on motorcycle:
The first fifteen minutes of this ninety-minute movie was one long story about when Hampton Fancher was out of work, dating Teri Garr and getting into trouble. I was worried, but I’m here because of Experimenter, and don’t know who Fancher is, really, and I’m home alone on a snowy day, so let’s see where this leads. This segment is heavily illustrated with clips of performances by Garr (who I recognized) and Fancher (who I didn’t, because we don’t see him until part three).
Part two is text on screen and still photographs, covering Fancher’s family life, running away at 15 to become a flamenco dancer, marriage to Lolita star Sue Lyon, and acting career. Next, we see him in the present, and it’s another fifteen-minute, barely-relevant story, ending with his cheating death because he felt bad about dumping a girl while on a press tour.
“Actually, this story is so terrible I’m not gonna tell it.” Fancher’s best friend Brian Kelly (star of Flipper) is paralyzed while out with Fancher and has to quit acting. Then a short segment about Fancher’s attempted screenwriting career, a failed meeting with Phil Dick. All of this finally comes together majestically in the final segment, as a series of coincidences, friendships, bizarre interests and weird life choices culminates in Fancher writing Blade Runner. In the end, this doc was better than Blade Runner 2049 (which Fancher also wrote!)
A treasure trove of film prints, largely of silent movies thought long-lost, were discovered buried in Dawson City, but the films weren’t any good – dramas so generic that Morrison has fun editing together scenes from them, changing the source film with every shot and showing how it still coheres. So rather than spotlight the films on their own merit, we follow the fascinating story of Dawson City, its famous former residents and unfamous locals, illustrating this history lesson with clips from the discovered films and others, and showcasing some astounding glass-plate photography from the era under discussion. And of course we’re not limited to the most well-preserved films – different kinds of decay and destruction are discussed and displayed. Dawson City was a primary Canadian gold rush town, so it’s full of sordid and enterprising stories, and he sidetracks into any exciting bit for as long as it takes. Exciting is relative, though – Bill’s into drawing things out, slowing them down to the wavelength of the great Alex Somers (Sigur Rós) score, my favorite yet in a Morrison movie. What could’ve been a one-hour informational PBS special becomes a two-hour feature, and Katy wanted things to move more quickly.
In-depth into the shower scene in Psycho, how it was done, why it was important, context and reactions. Entertaining, and full of film clips from Psycho and others, celebrity and critic talking heads, and even some fun reenactments. Definite highlights are Marli Renfro (Janet Leigh’s body double), and Elijah Wood and his buddies having a great time. The director previously made docs about zombie culture, Star Wars fans’ opinions of George Lucas, and the soccer-prediction octopus.
There are nine days left in the year and I only finished my SHOCKtober posts yesterday, so I’m gonna have to rush some entries… not that I had an awful lot to say about this movie either way.
I assumed this movie about a kidnapped bunker boy trying to remake the TV show his fake-dad created to educate/protect him would be more fun and absurd, but it was flat and quiet, like Lars and the Real Bear, mostly people chatting in medium shots. Any episode of fellow bunker comedy Kimmy Schmidt has more laughs… even the mostly underwhelming serial-remake comedy Be Kind Rewind was funnier. At least this one has a sweet scene with Kate Lyn Sheil in a diner.
James is Kyle Mooney from SNL. A sad Matt Walsh plays James’s real dad, Mark Hamill his bunker dad, Greg Kinnear the cop who ends up working with him on the show. Even a Lonely Island comedy draws the same scattered retirees to the Ross. We stood outside after, watching the hundreds of kids streaming past from an It screening at the multiplex.
The followcam gets shaky, but not the worst I’ve seen, and I stopped noticing it as the movie got stranger. Leo, a dude with serious eyebrows who is supposed to be writing a screenplay, is instead wandering some roads and fields, failing to pick up a young guy named Yoan, then succeeding in picking up a female sheepherd – and his success is signaled by a completely unexpected cut from them talking about moving in together to a close-up birthing scene.
Leo (Damien Bonnard – I think he drowned in Dunkirk) continues to hit on the dude Yoan, who lives with the muuuch older Marcel (Christian Bouillette, in movies since 1970). And one day Leo’s girl (India Hair of Camille Rewinds) leaves forever, and Leo is stuck living with their baby and her Bluto-looking dad (Raphaël Thierry). Bluto doesn’t take this well, steals the baby and tries to leave it outside for the wolves. And Leo goes on some Ornithologist-like journey along a river to visit a new-agey friend – I didn’t really follow this part.
Soon the movie loses its marbles: everyone is attracted to Leo, his girl is shacked up with Yoan, a panicked Leo flees into the river to escape his movie’s producers, he is beaten and stripped by a homeless gang, and finally Leo makes local headlines for having sex with Old Man Marcel while assisting his suicide. A flash-forward shows everyone living semi-normally, but the movie leaves us with Leo and Bluto surrounded by wolves.
Whatever it all meant, it’s a huge step up from Stranger by the Lake, and all the partner-swapping and unusual desires and wolf-lust felt fresh and enticing. Some scenes were too dark to be legible on my TV. The 13th I’ve seen of the 21 films in Cannes competition last year, and like Paterson and Slack Bay it never played theaters here.
The camera prowls a nice house full of artworks and memorabilia, two visitors conversing on the soundtrack, their footsteps clomping through the halls, but never seen, as a piece of music comes and go in scraps.
Then Manoel de Oliveira introduces himself (“Cinema is my passion”), speaking directly to us. He walks to a new room, the color of his sweater changing and a small picture of the Mona Lisa following him into every camera angle, then shows us home movies with loud projector noise.
Back to the visitors, who were supposed to be meeting someone at the house and feel self-conscious about their intrusion, but not enough to leave… back to Manuel, and so on. Manuel’s deliberately-paced stories of the past in plain language feel like a school report, conflicting strangely with the poetry and superstition of the visitor segments. He eventually tells us that he’s a visitor here himself, having sold his childhood home to pay for his films.
Halfway through, we interview Manuel’s wife Maria Isabel, only the second person we’ve seen in the film. Manuel gets less narrative and more philosophical after this break. He talks about his recent films (and the one he was writing: Non), and we head unexpectedly into reenactment territory with the story of his arrest by the fascist government soon after the premiere of Acto de Primavera.
Oliveira spoke like he was at the end of his life, not realizing that another 22 years and half his body of work was still ahead of him. His final narration, “and I disappear,” then a quick slideshow from the family album until the film runs out of the projector. This was withheld from public release until after the maestro’s death, a fitting finale.