ParaNorman (2012, Laika)

Finally watched this Laika movie. I love love loved the look, beautiful stop-motion with ghostly effects. A total visual triumph, and I wish we’d caught it in theaters. Didn’t expect the screenplay to suck, though. Overall story is fine, weird kid in town can see ghosts, has to use his powers to save the town from a vindictive witch, but most of the plot points and dialogue were boring and obvious, led by a veritable who-cares of voice acting. Maybe it’s just because we watched it on Halloween (Katy’s sole SHOCKtober film) and treaters interrupted the movie every five minutes so I couldn’t get sucked into its particular atmosphere.

The cast:

The crew:

The Wailing (2016, Na Hong-jin)

Bloody mess (in both bad ways and good) of an occult horror movie. I missed Na Hong-jin’s The Chaser and The Yellow Sea – finally checking him out for SHOCKtober this year. Lead policeman Jong-Gu (Kwak Do-won) is round-faced and dim and quite bad at his job, like Song Kang-ho’s character in The Host crossing over into Memories of Murder. He investigates a local family murder which is eventually blamed on “some fucked-up mushrooms,” and it seems like his incompetence is gonna be played for laughs until another family is killed and then his own daughter Hyo-jin starts showing the signs of possession that the other murderers displayed.

Jong-gu and his partner torment a Japanese man who recently moved in (Jun Kunimura of Chaos, Audition and Kill Bill), illegally searching and destroying his property. When the Japanese man’s dog is killed and he’s chased almost to death through the woods I started to feel bad for him, but then again he’s got a photo wall of the recent killers and victims at home, and turns out to be an evil ghost. There’s a mysterious woman who may also be a ghost, a showy shaman (Hwang Jung-min of A Bittersweet Life), naked cannibals and blood-eyed zombies, and the police all seem outmatched. Oh, and someone gets struck by lightning. I’m not always sure which parts were plot twists, and which parts were just me not being able to follow where the horror is supposed to be coming from now.

D. Ehrlich:

Demented occult nonsense that gradually begins to feel less like a linear scary story than that it does a ritualistic invocation of the antichrist … The Wailing boasts all the tenets and tropes of a traditional horror movie, but it doesn’t bend them to the same, stifling ends that define Hollywood’s recent contributions to the genre . The film doesn’t use sound to telegraph its frights a mile away (there are no jump scares, here… well, maybe one), nor does it build its scenes around a single cheap thrill. On the contrary, this is horror filmmaking that’s designed to work on you like a virus, slowly incapacitating your defenses so it can build up and do some real damage.

Tales of Terror (1962, Roger Corman)

I was going to watch this right after Southbound then realized they were both anthology horrors, so spaced it out by a few days. My second Corman / Poe / Price movie this month after Pit and the Pendulum


Morella

“It’s Lenora, father.” Maggie Pierce (The Fastest Guitar Alive) hasn’t seen her dad Vincent Price in 26 years, and is visiting now because her marriage has failed and she has a mild cough (and therefore, since this is a movie, only a few months to live). Price still blames her for the death of his beloved wife Morella, is wasting away in his Miss Havisham house. Poor Lenora doesn’t even know how her mom died since she was an infant at the time, so Price explains that she collapsed at a party while yelling “it was the baby.” Hardly seems fair, but apparently Morella (Leona Gage of Scream of the Butterfly) still blames the baby, rises in the night to murder Lenora and burn the place to the ground.


The Black Cat

Montresor Herringbone is a hopeless drunk who steals from his working wife Annabel (Joyce Jameson, who’d costar with Lorre and Price again the following year in Comedy of Terrors) to get enough wine to stop the hallucinations. He’d be a hateful fellow if he wasn’t being played by Peter Lorre in comic mode… and speaking of comic mode, Price plays Fortunato Luchresi, a foppish wine expert whom Lorre challenges to a tasting competition in order to get free wine. Surprised by Lorre’s knowledge and (lack of) technique, Price follows him home and falls for Annabel. When Lorre finds out he chains them in his cellar and walls them in – the perfect crime if not for the black cat he accidentally bricks up, whose howls alert the police.

Loved the acting, the reptile hallucinations and dreams (Fortunato and Annabel playing catch with Lorre’s severed head, the picture smeared and distorted). Each scene ends with a 400 Blows zoom. Price calls the wife “my treasure,” but isn’t that what Lorre’s name “Montresor” means?


The Case of M. Valdemar

Valdemar (Price) is dying of an incurable disease, and mesmerist Carmichael (Basil Rathbone, Sherlock Holmes of the 1930’s and 40’s) agrees to relieve his pain for free in exchange for participation in an experiment – to mesmerise Price at the moment of death to see if they can extend it. Medical Doctor James (David Frankham, who worked with Price in Return of The Fly) is against all this, of course, but Price insists, and also wishes his devoted wife Debra Paget (the dancer in Fritz Lang’s Indian Epic) to marry Dr. James when he dies. But the hypnotist has other plans, and when he successfully has the dead Price’s soul trapped in mesmeric limbo, he holds it hostage until Paget will marry him instead. Price solves this problem himself, rising from his death bed and melting all over the amoral Carmichael.

The Good Doctor and Good Wife:

When Marnie Was There (2014, Hiromasa Yonebayashi)

Young Anna is sent to live with relatives in the country for a summer (as are the protagonists of all Japanese movies), where she solves family mysteries by befriending the ghost of her grandmother.

Sometimes the mystery aspects seem slow-moving since Anna is oblivious to details we pick up right away, but the movie is pure pleasure, beautifully animated, with lovely details. Her dreams and fantasies mix with reality, she forgets things within and without them, seems to sleepwalk and lose track of time, and it all makes for a more emotionally complex experience than a plot summary would imply.

T. Robinson for The Dissolve last year:

It’s still possible there will eventually be more Ghibli features. It’s just hard to imagine that a reduced studio staff could keep up the lavish, loving quality of When Marnie Was There, the last movie on Ghibli’s animation docket. Like so many Ghibli features, Marnie is an accomplished animated showcase. But this time, the images seem particularly lustrous, the colors especially rich. If the studio has to cut back from here, at least it’s set yet another high-water mark before the tides recede.

in spite of the third-act reveal, Marnie isn’t really a movie about surprises. Like so many Ghibli films, it’s about the power of emotion. Anna’s transformation from faint-hearted and miserable to enthusiastic and engaged with the world closely mirrors the transformations other Ghibli heroines have gone through, from Chihiro in Spirited Away to Kiki in Kiki’s Delivery Service to Sofî in Howl’s Moving Castle. Her change in attitude changes her ability to perceive truths about the world she’s been unable to accept.

The Forbidden Room (2015, Guy Maddin & Evan Johnson)

Stories don’t just lead into each other like in The Saragossa Manuscript – they melt and morph into each other, thanks to codirector Evan Johnson’s digital manipulations, which don’t replace Maddin’s usual bag of tricks, but join the choppy editing and texture fetish and everything else. Some of his early movies had somnambulist rhythms, but this one is ecstatic from start to finish.

Had to watch this a couple times before I could report in.

Second time through, I noted the order of stories:

How to Take a Bath, with Louis Negin

Submarine: Blasting Jelly and Flapjacks

Starring Negin again with Ukranian Greg Hlady, panicky Alex Bisping, Andre the Giant-reminiscent Kent McQuaid, and mysteriously-appearing woodsman Cesare (Roy Dupuis of Mesrine and Screamers).

M. Sicinski:

Like the men in the submarine, The Forbidden Room has an overall mood of anxiety and despair, in the sense that we are asked to grapple with its heady delirium of character trajectories and stunted arcs, all the while searching in vain for some absent center, the organizing “captain” who is supposed to pull it all together. In its endless ruptures and disconnections, The Forbidden Room brings us up short, placing us back in that capsule where the image is a form of confinement, a shortness of breath.

Cowardly Saplingjacks

Cesare sets out to rescue the kidnapped Margo (Clara Furey)

Cave of the Red Wolves

with lead wolf Noel Burton, bladder slapping and boggling puzzlements!

Amnesiac Singing Flowergirl

Margo again, with mysterious necklace woman Marie Brassard (sinister Jackie from Vic + Flo Saw a Bear) and patient Pancho (Victor Andres Trelles Turgeon)

The Final Derriere

with Sparks, Udo Kier (returning from Keyhole) as a man plagued by bottoms, Master Passion Geraldine Chaplin, and the Lust Specialist (Le Havre star Andre Wilms)

Red Wolves / Woodsmen / Submarine / Bath / Submarine

Quick return.

Squid Theft / Volcano Sacrifice

With Margo, squid thief Romano Orzari and Lost Generation attorney Céline Bonnier (The Far Side of the Moon)

D. Ehrlich:

The Forbidden Room may (or may not) be inventing narratives from thin air, but whatever history these abandoned projects might have had is completely supplanted by the present Maddin (and co-director Evan Johnson) invents for them. These stories belong to him now. The Forbidden Room may forego the hypnotically autobiographical thrust of recent efforts like My Winnipeg and Brand Upon the Brain!, but it feels no less personal for it.

Mill Seeks Gardener

With shed-sleeper Slimane Dazi and unpredictable runaway Jacques Nolot

Injured Motorcyclist at Bone Hospital

Caroline Dhavernas and Paul Ahmarani

Doctor kidnapped by skeleton insurance defrauders

Lewis Furey (Margo’s father IRL) as The Skull-Faced Man, and Eric Robidoux as the bone doctor’s long-lost brother who is also a bone doctor.

Psychiatrist and madman aboard train

Gregory Hlady again, Romano Orzari again, and Karine Vanasse (Polytechnique) as Florence LaBadie

Florence’s Inner Child

Sienna Mazzone as young Florence with crazy mother Kathia Rock

Parental Neglect / Madness / Murder / Amnesia

Bone Hospital / Insurance Defrauders
Mill / Criminal / Doctor
Volcanic Island / Squid Theft / Submarine / Bath

“I haven’t finished telling you: the forest… the snow… the convict… the birthday”

Woodsman Gathers New Allies

Kyle Gatehouse as Man With Upturned Face, Neil Napier as Man With Stones On His Feet and Victor Turgeon again as Listening Man – these are the same actors who played the Saplingjacks earlier, and again they don’t enter the cave with Cesare.

Margo and Aswang The Vampire

M. D’Angelo:

The Forbidden Room was shot mostly at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, piecemeal, in front of a live audience, following which Maddin and Johnson artfully distressed the digital footage and added priceless intertitles. The project took advantage of whichever actors were available to it on a given day.

Elevator Man Unprepared For Wife’s Birthday Kills His Butler

All-star segment with Mathieu Amalric, Udo Kier and Amira Casar (Anatomy of Hell, Piano Tuner of Earthquakes).

D. Ehrlich:

[Amalric] gleefully indulges in Maddin’s pure and peerlessly florid sense of melodrama, which here becomes a mechanism for foolhardy and paranoid men to ruin their lives as they attempt to rescue, love, or murder the beautiful women who didn’t ask for their help.

Dead Butler Oedipal Mustache Flashback

Maybe my favorite segment, with Maria de Medeiros (Saddest Music in the World) as the Blind Mother and more mentions of flapjacks.

Ukranian Radio War Drama

With Stranger by the Lake star Christophe Paou as the prisoner

Mustache / Return of the Dead Father

Diplomat Memoirs of Cursed Janus-Head

M. Peranson:

Together, Maddin and Johnson have crafted a formal masterwork jolted by digital after effects, recreating the look of decaying nitrate stock, shape-shifting the image with multiple superimpositions and variegated colour fields (the general look resembling decayed two-strip Technicolor), and compositing swirling transitions that connect (or bury) one film within the other (and the other, and the other). To try and describe “what happens” in The Forbidden Room is both forbidding and beside the point, for the 130-minute film stands more as an interminable, (in)completed object on its own, like the work of one of its main influences, the French poet, novelist and playwright Raymond Roussel (from whom Maddin and Johnson borrow their technique of parenthetical asides); one comes to understand this object, and what it’s trying to accomplish, only while watching it.

Peranson’s writeup is from the Toronto Film Festival, after which nine minutes got removed from the movie. Since nobody at the festivals was able to exhaustively account for all the stories within stories, it’s impossible to track down what got lost. It seems, though, that any lost footage (and more) can be seen in the Seances.

Andreas Apergis and his fiancee Sophia Desmarais (Curling)

Night Auction Doppelganger

featuring LUG-LUG, hideous impulse incarnate!

Stealing Mother’s Laudanum

Charlotte Rampling as Amalric’s Mother, Ariane Labed (Attenberg, Alps) as his girlfriend.

Maddin (in an essential Cinema Scope interview) on the film’s 2+ hour length:

We could have easily had a 75-minute version … but viewers that like it, we wanted to feel like we’d broken their brains, really left a physical impression on them, left them exhausted. Hopefully exhilarated and exhausted, in a good way. We wanted “too much” to still be insufficient … it would be nice if it came out in one endless ribbon, that, like John Ashbery’s poetry, you just snip off for a beginning and an end, and just ask the audience how much they want.

Dead Father / Elevator Birthday Murder Plot / Margo and Aswang / Woodsmen
Red Wolves are Dead, Rescue is Cancelled
Submarine / The Forbidden Room / Book of Climaxes

Bath.

A Prophet (2009, Jacques Audiard)

Malik (Tahar Rahim) goes to prison, seems way out of his league, becomes a lackey for Italian mobsters led by Cesar (Niels Arestrup), eventually gains knowledge and power, turning on his masters and starting his own drug business. Along the way, the movie illustrated some things I would’ve been better off not knowing, like how to slash a guy’s throat using a mouth-concealed razor.

Strong acting, kinda complicated plot with murders and trips outside and ghosts. I’m bad with names so I liked the movie’s trick of putting new characters’ names on the screen. Ends with the welcome and unexpected sound of Jimmie Dale Gilmore. The last crime movie I watched had Willie Nelson in it – I guess country music works well in prison settings.

Cannes Month continues. This is the first I’ve seen by Audiard, who has been Cannes-nominated four times. He won best screenplay in 1996 for A Self-Made Hero, second place to The White Ribbon with this movie, and finally won the palme last year with Dheepan. This also won nine Césars and was nominated for everything in the world.

Cowritten with Thomas Bidegain (Les Cowboys), Abdel Raouf Dafri (Mesrine) and Nicolas Peufaillit (Les Revenants remake). Tahar Rahim won a ton of awards for this, later played Samir (Berenice’s fiancee with the wife in the coma) in The Past, starred in Day of the Falcon and The Cut, and will apparently costar with Mathieu Amalric in a Kiyoshi Kurosawa movie but I’ll believe that when I see it. Neils Arestrup also played the father-figure in Audiard’s The Beat That My Heart Skipped and played “Il” in Akerman’s Je Tu Il Elle.

R. Porton in Cinema Scope wasn’t a big fan:

Numerous critics have pondered whether the film’s conclusion, which ends with Malik’s release from prison and the promise of life with a new family, is “redemptive.” Yet this prospect ultimately carries little weight in a film that is sabotaged by its own contradictions – contradictions that are the product of authorial sketchiness instead of salutory complexity. Audiard does not have the courage (or the talent) to be either straightforwardly pulpy or an unabashed social realist. Consequently, Un prophète, despite near-universal critical acclaim, languishes in an aesthetic no man’s land.

Horse Money (2014, Pedro Costa)

Can’t believe this is on netflix streaming… at least it has an absurdly low rating, so some things still make sense. Of course I expected to like it more myself, having enjoyed Colossal Youth, but maybe after The Assassin two hours of murky stasis wasn’t the best choice. It’s difficult to watch, but unlike The Assassin and Hors Satan, the more I think and read about it afterwards, the more fascinating it becomes.

Ventura moves slowly, his hands shaking, talking to ghosts. His nephew spends years at an abandoned factory, waiting to get paid. Vitalina reads aloud from letters and government documents. Finally, a stone-faced ghost-of-christmas-past revolutionary soldier locks Ventura in an elevator until the movie mercifully ends.

Maybe I need to surrender my Cinema Scope subscription and go back to watching Puppet Master sequels? Whether that’s true, I definitely need to not watch streaming movies anymore. It killed me that I messed up the audio track when transferring The Assassin to the downstairs TV so the ever-present wind noise sounded staticky, but that’s nothing compared to the horrors netflix wreaked upon the inky black images of Horse Money.

M. Sicinski:

The Fontainhas films have become progressively forward and discursive about certain aspects of their intellectual make-up (especially the colonial histories between Portugal and Cape Verde) that were largely submerged in Bones, and wholly implicit in In Vanda’s Room. These social and political questions, particularly as they intersect with race, rebellion, and personal trauma, emerged in fairly evident ways in Colossal Youth, although some viewers may still have been confused (or merely put off) by Costa’s choice to expound these issues through poetry and incantation rather than conventional dialogue … Much of Horse Money consists of Ventura navigating a hospital stay, and his depressive, somnambulistic behavior connotes several things at once: traumatized memory, historical burden, as well as the creep of disorientation or dementia. But above all, Costa stages Ventura’s performance and “presence” as being fundamentally out of joint with contemporary lived time. This is a man who hovers between present and past, serving as an avatar for events and experiences that (as per Faulkner’s infamous dictum) are not even past.

Costa’s interview in Cinema Scope is fantastic:

It was a very difficult film to make, very devastating. [Ventura] shook a lot. He really is sick and ill and he really tries to remember, and trying to remember is not the best thing. So I think we did this film to forget, actually. Some people say they make films to remember, I think we make films to forget. This is really to forget, to be over with, and I hope the next film will be a good thing.

Costa on his digital camera:

It’s much more difficult to get anything that looks interesting at all because you have to fight against so much stupid stuff that’s put inside the cameras, and you feel it when you go inside the cinema, if it’s not Lav Diaz or Béla Tarr or Godard or Straub or something, everything’s the same. And it’s not their fault, but at the same time you should fight a little bit against that.

Life During Wartime (2009, Todd Solondz)

“Are you seeing anyone?”
“No, I’m more focused on China. Everything else is history. It’s just a question of time.”

I don’t remember Happiness very well, but saw it twice and gave it an 8 on IMDB so I suppose I liked it. Things I recall: pervy Philip Seymour Hoffman and pervy child-rapist Dylan Baker and Dylan’s unhappy sister-in-law ironically named Joy. Things internet plot summaries are helping me with: Dylan’s wife is named Trish (Cynthia Stevenson), acts superior to Joy. Their writer sister Helen (Lara Flynn Boyle) meets Hoffman then backs out, after which Hoffman meets Kristina, who confesses to murdering their doorman. Ben Gazzara and Louise Lasser are Joy’s also-unhappy separated parents. Joy’s ex-boyfriend Jon Lovitz kills himself.

Okay, a decade later… Shirley Henderson as Joy… Paul Reubens as suicidal Jon Lovitz… Michael Kenneth “Omar” Williams as Philip Seymour Hoffman… Ciaran Hinds as the pedophile… Allison Janney as his wife… Ally Sheedy as the writer sister… now I should be caught up and ready to watch.

Shot by Morristown NJ’s own Ed Lachman, following his great work on The Limey, Far From Heaven, A Prairie Home Companion and I’m Not There, the cinematography alone almost makes the movie worth watching. The actors are excellent too… the plot, not so much. More Solondzist miserablism. He must attract Emil Jannings acolytes who think it’ll be a great acting exercise to humiliate themselves onscreen.

Joy is now married to Omar Seymour Hoffman, which I wasn’t expecting, and is still tormented by her ex. I assumed since his character (now Paul Reubens) was in the movie that it wasn’t a straight sequel, but no, turns out he’s a ghost, and is annoyed with Joy for driving him to suicide (“I miss my room, my laserdisc collection”), suggesting that she join him.

Joy with Reubens, moments before she threatens him with one of those awards:

Joy joins her mom in Florida, where she catches up with the writer sister, now a huge horrible celebrity (Sheedy, below). Dylan/Ciaran is just out of prison but can’t visit his family, because his wife has told the kids for the last decade that their father is dead. After sleeping with a cynical Charlotte Rampling (I watched this the day after she was all over the news for making an unwise remark about racism and the oscars), he does track down his oldest son Billy in college, having an awkward reunion which is admittedly still less awkward than most of Happiness.

Ciaran’s wife/Joy’s sister Trish, now Allison Janney, is beginning to date Michael Lerner and things are moving quickly and going well, until her youngest son Timmy misinterprets something he’s been told about not letting adults touch him, and breaks up the relationship. I think the final scene was him apologizing to Lerner’s son Mark. Overall the movie is singlemindedly concerned with forgiveness.

Billy’s wall posters brought to you by Merge Records. I spotted Spoon, Neutral Milk Hotel, Imperial Teen, The Broken West, Oakley Hall, Daniel Johnston, and I’m Not There – another movie casting multiple actors in the same role.

The Uninvited (1944, Lewis Allen)

Apparently-wealthy London music critic Ray Milland (with The X-Ray Eyes) and his sister Pamela (Ruth Hussey, photographer in The Philadelphia Story) spontaneously buy a haunted house on the cliffs of Ireland from Commander Donald Crisp (a DW Griffith silent actor). The commander’s granddaughter Stella (Gail Russell, who’d drink herself to death at age 36) has a ghostly obsession with the house, keeps wanting to visit and then almost committing suicide on the cliffs. Ray’s got a thing for the girl, who is way too young for him (he even mentions this once) so they keep allowing her to come over, and Pamela tries to figure out the ghostly presence in the house, but the commander is unhelpful with family history.

Stella and Ray – lot of nice candlelight in this movie:

Turns out he had reason to be unhelpful, since Stella’s real mom isn’t his dead daughter but a model named Carmel hired by Stella’s philandering dad. Ghost-mom is trying to murder the girl, while ghost-bio-mom Carmel wants her protected. The ghosts are mostly conveyed by Pamela looking intense and commenting on some odor or sound in the room, but we get some light visuals at the end when Ray sees them with his x-ray eyes.

The whole mystery gang:

A seance is faked with the help of old doctor Scott (Alan Napier, also appearing with Ray in Ministry of Fear), who I suspect isn’t the best doctor, in order to convince Stella to stay away from the house (or something). This doesn’t work, and Stella keeps running towards the cliff (maybe they should build a guard rail). The Commander takes drastic action, has the girl committed to a nuthouse run by ghost-mom’s nut friend Holloway (famed writer Cornelia Skinner, with Ray again in Girl in the Red Velvet Swing). Escapes and rescues ensue, Ray ends up with Stella, and Pamela with the doctor (I didn’t see that coming).

L-R: Stella, her dead mom, her dead mom’s obsessive girlfriend:

“From the Most Popular Mystery Romance since Rebecca” – the book must have been racier than the movie since there was hardly any romance to be found here. IMDB says it reused sets from I Married a Witch, and F.S. Nehme says the censorship boards and decency leagues of the time decried the implied romantic affair between evil-ghost-mom and her evil madhouse friend.