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.

Thriller, part 2

Part one, featuring Richard Kiel, a Scooby-Doo mystery, a rooster-beast, Ida Lupino, Barré Lyndon (not Barry Lyndon), a mannequin museum, John Ireland and a voodoo cult can be found here. I watched those four years ago, so at this rate I’ll be through season one in the year 2054. Thriller paired well with Black Sabbath, which also had three episodes hosted by Boris Karloff.

The Twisted Image

First episode of the show started off with a bang. Leslie Nielsen (post-Forbidden Planet and Tammy and the Bachelor) plays bland but successful executive and family man Alan, and not one but two people are insanely obsessed with him. Secretary Lily (Natalie Trundy of the Planet of the Apes series) wants to marry him and Mailroom Merle (George Grizzard of Happy Birthday, Wanda June) wants to be him. Lily stalks Alan and writes letters to his wife (Dianne Foster of Drive a Crooked Road). Merle is more dangerous, steals Alan’s watch, wallet, car and daughter, and murders Lily when she says he’s no Alan.

Typical plot-contrivance follows. Alan goes to Lily’s apartment (because if your wife suspects you’re having an affair, you should definitely go to the girl’s apartment alone at night), finds her dead, is spotted at the scene, then goes looking for Merle alone.

Wife: “Why can’t you call the police?”
Alan: “Judy, you don’t understand. I can’t go into details now, just take it easy.”

Happy ending, family values are upheld, etc. Lot of good close-ups of Lily with confident, creepy eyes. Also featuring Constance Ford (the 1962 The Cabinet of Caligari) as Merle’s abusive sister and Virginia Christine (Becky’s cousin in Invasion of the Body Snatchers) as his annoyed boss. Arthur Hiller later made See No Evil, Hear No Evil, which is not a horror movie, though quite horrible in its own way.

Pigeons From Hell

“Those were no ordinary pigeons – they were the pigeons from hell” says Karloff without even smiling. Maybe Thriller was trying to distance itself from the smartass introductions on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Too bad the intro proved to be the most amusing part of this talky, boring episode.

Two doofus college-age brothers get stuck in a swamp, immediately blame it on the South, then camp out in an abandoned house, where one brother appears from upstairs all bloody attempting to axe-murder the other. Survivor Tim (Brandon De Wilde of Hud and Shane) flees, interrupts a redneck sheriff (Crahan Denton, a huge racist in Bunuel’s The Young One) who was drinking with his buddies, tells the crazy story and is accused of killing his brother, the end.

But wait, it’s not the end! The most fantastic part of this episode isn’t the house full of haunted pigeons or the zombie remnants of the family that owned it, but the rural cop deciding to investigate this city kid’s story, consider the evidence and finally believe him and try to discover what really happened. From a story by Robert Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian.

Rose’s Last Summer

Drunken nuisance ex-movie star Rose French (played by actual movie star Mary Astor, princess in The Palm Beach Story) goes on a trip, is found dead in a random suburb. Her friend Frank and ex-husband Haley (Jack “brother of Roger” Livesey) are more suspicious than the cops were, investigate the family whose yard Rose died in.

Mary!

Turns out Rose has been hired by the family to be their dying mother, who needs to stay alive a few more weeks to claim inheritance from eccentric relative (a genius doll inventor!), after which they’d planned to dispose of Rose to protect their secret before Frank rescued her.

Real mom, fake mom:

Crimson Peak (2015, Guillermo del Toro)

Can’t figure out why this was made – straightforward haunted-house murder story with predictable twists, feeling at times like a remake of The Devil’s Backbone minus the evocative wartime setting. One character sees ghosts that lead her to the truth behind some murders, ghosts have similar look to the earlier film, phantom blood emanating from cracked-china holes in their translucent faces. But it’s undeniably a beautiful film, sumptuously designed with gorgeous candlelight and shadows and snowy mist, falling leaves, costumes, big creepy crumbling house, and so on. Nice iris-out effects complete the period look. Definitely good to see Guillermo returning to his gothic-horror roots – an enjoyable film to soak in, leaving me satisfied without that post-Martian malaise.

Mia Wasikowska has become a fave of scary/creepy movies (Stoker, The Double), plays a bookish New Yorker with rich dad Jim Beaver (TV’s Deadwood and Supernatural). Incestuous baron siblings Loki (Mia’s Only Lovers Left Alive costar) and Jessica Chastain (Take Shelter, Interstellar) are in town raising funds for their clay-excavation machine. Loki marries Mia and takes her home to England where she discovers he does this a lot, and the bodies/ghosts of his previous rich-girl wives are buried in red clay pools in the basement. Pacific Rim star Charlie Hunnam is Mia’s friend from home who comes to her rescue. Did I mention that Jessica Chastain is an axe murderer? That’s something you don’t expect.

It Follows (2014, David Robert Mitchell)

That’s not all it does – it kills your ass if it catches you, sometimes in weird sexual ways while appearing to be one of your parents. Also, it creeps you the hell out, though the huge, in-your-face dread organ music adds immeasurably to that creepy atmosphere. It lingers in your imagination so clearly afterwards that it seems destined to be remembered forever. First horror movie I’ve seen in theaters since Lords of Salem (unless The World’s End or Under The Skin count), and it’s a great one.

Screencrush calls it “a sexually-transmitted ghost.” S. Tobias in Dissolve mentions “a visual strategy that combines distance with surveillance, a sense of something ominous happening elsewhere, independent of the action.” This applies to main characters and plot elements too – we’re not sure who’s having sex with whom off-camera, between the edits, in order to forestall the creature, maybe send it on a promiscuous path forever.

Stars Maika Monroe of The Guest. Her platonic friend Paul is Keir Gilchrist, star of It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Toni Collette’s son in United States of Tara. Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis shot John Dies at the End, and editor Julio Perez worked on Mitchell’s debut The Myth of the American Sleepover.

The director, on how his movie-teens don’t exactly look/talk like the youth of today:
“The ground rules of the film world don’t have to be how we understand the world. And something doesn’t have to be fantasy to take some elements from fantasy. Movies are very much dreams, in a way, and you can use that to your advantage.” He also says he was thinking about Cat People during the pool scene.

MacGruber (2010, Jorma Taccone)

Spoof of bad action movies (all of which I’ve seen) and of Macgyver – the twist being that the hero has no actual skills (turns out he’s good at ripping baddies throats out). Movie plays it totally straight – so straight that there aren’t enough jokes for my liking, just an extended spot-on impression of a Rambo sequel with pauses for gay jokes and talking about butts. Disappointed that The Dissolve suggested this.

Most of MacGruber’s plans involve disguising friends as himself:

Will Forte (Jenna’s cross-dressing lover Paul in 30 Rock), assisted by Ryan Phillippe (last seen in Flags of Our Fathers) and Kristin Wiig (Whip It, Knocked Up), who was the only person I thought managed to be funny. Baddie Val Kilmer (the year after Bad Lieutenant 2) definitely has the ability to play a fun villain – look at his Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang performance – but again, the movie wants him to downplay the comedy. Directed by Booth Jonathan from Girls, aka part of The Lonely Island.

“If you change your mind…”

I did enjoy the part where MacGruber has sex with the ghost of Maya Rudolph, at least.