A gritty, efficient movie… hit man Vince Edwards is sent by his unseen boss to knock off a guy at the barber, a guy at hospital, then one of his own associates Mr. Moon. Vince gets a big head about being good at his job, suddenly making self-important speeches to everyone and being shitty to waiters. Then he loses his composure upon finding out his next target is a woman. He wires her TV knobs to a high voltage line but she defeats him by using the remote control, and the whole criminal conspiracy starts to fall apart.

“The only type of killing that’s safe is when a stranger kills a stranger… now why would a stranger kill a stranger? Because somebody’s willing to pay.”

Vince the Barber:

Kathie:

Vince’s hired hand, Herschel Bernardi of TV’s Peter Gunn and Arnie, gets a side plot where he learns to shoot a bow and arrow for one of their attempted hits. Their loud annoying partner Phillip Pine was in a sci-fi apocalypse movie the same year, later directed a 1972 anti-drug movie which potheads watch to laugh at. The girl, Caprice Toriel, was never seen before or since, but Kathie Browne, the hard-drinking party girl who lets Vince know that his second attempted hit killed a cop instead of the intended target, appeared in the late Howard Hawks comedy Man’s Favorite Sport?

Vince, almost getting away with it before falling into a police trap:

First movie watched on the new Criterion Channel! Irving Lerner would not go on to direct The Empire Strike Back – that’s Irvin Kershner, and I get them confused. Lerner also edited films for Scorsese, Kubrick and Vic Morrow and made two other crime dramas in the late 1950’s. Lead killer Vince Edwards was in Too Late Blues and played the wife’s boyfriend who gets everyone dead in The Killing. Composer Perry Botkin must’ve recently watched The Third Man.

Ah shit, this is one of those movies I had to write up twenty seconds after watching because once I get outside its particular headspace it is impossible to remember – and it’s been a month. Anyway, this sounds like an action-grime classic: a hammer-wielding hitman on the edge of sanity is sent to rescue a senator’s daughter. Joaquin Phoenix and the director and editor and the incredible sound design keep things from becoming as generic as that sounds.

Phoenix is given a job by his boss (Major Rawls from The Wire), pops some pills, grabs a hammer and rescues the girl. She’s taken back from him by cops (!), then his contacts and his mom are killed, and he has a touching moment with a dying rival hitman before rescuing her again from the governor, who was part of the pedophile ring she’d been handed into in the first place. I think that’s what happened, but the movie is all nerves and makes you feel crazy for watching it, so I can’t be sure. I’m happy to see Ramsay redeemed after We Need To Talk About Kevin.

Unfortunately, I’d already heard that Isaach is a hitman. So when he has a quizzical conversation (opening with “You don’t speak Spanish, right?” “No.”) is given a matchbox with a coded message on it then flies to Madrid, I knew this was the first step in his assignment to kill someone. Then this happens again, and again, a train ride, and again and again, a guitar changes hands, and again and again before reaching his assignment. Along the way I forgot the comparisons I’d read (Dead Man, Le Samourai and Point Blank) and let my mind synch with the rhythm of the film, occasionally wondering if Isaach gets enough to eat or if he has taken a shower. The main interruption/alteration is the naked girl who lives with him for three days, even sleeping at his side while he remains fully clothed. Her presence (and subsequent death and imagined reappearance), the repetition of story elements, the paintings and music, black helicopters and abductions, the foreboding background score (by Boris) and the continual spoken and written phrases about life being meaningless began to build until, during a flamenco dancing scene, I wondered if this all wasn’t some kind of Lynchian nightmare. Maybe it’s Dead Man taken a step further; Isaach is dead, having some kind of hallucination (peyote is mentioned in dialogue), reliving the day-to-day life of his profession and of Jarmusch’s profession: the broken flowers on the street, pigeons on the rooftop. But then he reaches the end of his journey, finds a powerful American in a bunker, gets himself inside (the movie’s biggest joke: after all that workaday buildup it doesn’t show us how he gets inside – “I used my imagination”), strangles him, escapes, changes out of the suit and re-enters the world.

The other day I thought about telling Katy that Jarmusch is a feminist in order to get her to watch the movie with me, but I couldn’t come up with any evidence for that… in fact, all I could think of was evidence against. The only woman in Dead Man is a dead prostitute… the only one in Ghost Dog is a troublesome slut who indirectly causes the hero’s death… and I think the title of Broken Flowers refers to Murray’s damaged ex-girlfriends, who get progressively more depressing as the movie progresses. So I thought about that during this movie, figuring the very presence of Tilda Swinton should change things, but then there’s the nude girl, and Tilda is cool but gets kidnapped, which leaves the driver and a bunch of men.

A day later I’m more forgiving. It’s hard to fault any movie for artistic indulgence when you’re thrilling to the latest Takashi Miike mind-fuck. The civilized, art-loving europeans vs. shadowy, violent americans plot isn’t subtle but the movie is also too pleasurable to write off.

Isaach De Bankolé is a wonder to behold. The guy is an obvious movie star, and watching his impassive face for two hours is no problem at all. I admit I was excited that the ice cream man in Ghost Dog is starring in a film, but he was better in this role than I could’ve imagined. Black guy speaking French at an airport in the first scene was Alex Descas, a Claire Denis and Olivier Assayas regular. Girl on the train was Youki Kudoh, one of the Japanese leads in Mystery Train. Everyone else I was either already familiar with (white-wigged Tilda, foul-mouthed Bill Murray, guitar bearer John Hurt, guitar appreciator and inexpert spy Gael Garcia Bernal) or I’ve at least seen before and don’t recognize, like the naked girl was in Cider House Rules a decade ago but nobody can be expected to remember that.

When Isaach is given a new assignment, he’ll go to the art museum and study an appropriate painting. So the instruction “wait for the violin” had him studying a painting featuring a violin, etc. At the end he’s given a black piece of paper and no instructions so he visits the museum and studies an artwork featuring a large white sheet, maybe to clear his mind and ease himself out of his mission.

Kaurismäki’s La vie de bohème is pointedly mentioned. Anything in this movie that is mentioned is done so pointedly. I misunderstood the constant pointed warning “he who tries to be bigger than all the others should go to the cemetery to understand a little bit better what life is: a handful of dust” to be directed at Isaach, but they were talking about Murray

“I hope your midget doesn’t kill himself. Your dream sequence will be fucked.”

Kinda darker than I thought it would be, even knowing it’s about hitmen. Lotta killing of kids, midgets and likeable main characters. Funny dialogue… can’t compare to Hot Fuzz, but what can?

Gleeson and Farrell are hit men hiding out (cuz Farrell accidentally shot a kid while killing a priest), sent to Bruges by boss man Raifffiennes, who it turns out wants Gleeson to kill Farrell. Gleeson decides to let him go and face the consequences, which are death by shooting then falling off a bell tower. A Raifff/Farrell shootout results in four bullets in C.F., one dead dwarf, one Raifff suicide, and a parting shot by Farrell guessing that if hell is like Bruges, he wants to live.

Along the way Farrell meets a pretty girl, wounds her skinhead boyfriend (star of L’Enfant, didn’t recognize him without all the blond), offends the landlady, and befriends the dwarf (rad, it’s the guy who played Howard The Duck). Dwarf is appearing in a local film with lots of dream sequences, Raifff has buncha dialogue about Bruges being a fairy-tale place, there’s some afterlife/purgatory business, and apparently it’s all a homage to Don’t Look Now, which I haven’t seen. Anyway, very enjoyable flick.

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