Man has accident. Needs new face.

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Fortunately he’s friends with a brilliant tissue-replacement surgeon who wants to test his theories that facially-scarred people can reintegrate into society if their faces could appear normal again.

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They find someone with a good face to copy (note: it’s the miner from Pitfall)

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The doctor works hard in his all-glass laboratory.

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The procedure is a success!

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But the doctor’s psychological theories were wrong – the burnt man uses his new face to create a sociopath alternate personality, kind of like Hollow Man but not at all like Darkman.

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Meanwhile, a young woman with a similarly deformed face has an unhealthy relationship with her brother.

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Completely beautiful movie, obviously.

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If Pitfall was a weird movie, this one just dives off a steep cliff of weirdness.

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And it doesn’t end well. For anyone.

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A surprisingly great movie. I mean, it’s Cronenberg so I oughtta like it, but at the same time it’s a late 90’s virtual reality thriller… not the kind of thing you can easily recommend to people, after the blitz that was Dark City, The Cell, The 13th Floor, The Matrix, and to a lesser extent, 1995’s Strange Days / Virtuosity / Johnny Mnemonic. But Cronie has been comfy working with virtually unreal worlds for decades, after Naked Lunch and Videodrome, and his movie easily stands above those others (not to knock Dark City).

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It’s not the story, which is fine, or the is-it-real-or-not bits, which are well played and not overdone or inexplicable, it’s the look of the thing, the sleek style and great lighting… the compositions, which are uniformly attractive without calling attention to themselves or drowning the film in stylistic tricks. It’s genre sci-fi filmmaking that is so good it looks effortless. It won a silver bear in Berlin for outstanding artistic achievement, but was understandably ignored everywhere else.

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Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh (spoiler alert: last 90 seconds) are underground realists out to destroy the creators of virtual-reality video games. They play the premiere of a new game with its creator (Don McKellar)’s participation, along with gamers Ian Holm, Willem Dafoe and others.

Next level: JJL is premiering her new game to a crowd of excited gamers, but when an underground realist tries to assassinate her, security guard JL comes somewhat to the rescue and they go on the run together. Along the way they meet Willem Dafoe, Ian Holm and Don McKellar, but it’s never clear who’s on their side.

Various sub-levels back and forth. The “game pods” are organic, and plug into bio-ports in your spine, but on some levels it’s a mini gamepod that merges with your spine directly. There’s spy business at a chinese restaurant, acknowledged fake accents, CGI insects, a few killings and close calls, and the deadly spoooores.

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Has the game-life analogies you’d expect from the genre and the body-horror, sexuality and organic technology mix you’d expect from Cronenberg. Seeing the movie for a second (third?) time, it’s nice to see that the movie really doesn’t trick you, that the ending makes sense. Whether the ending is the really real “real world” or if we’re still within a simulation doesn’t matter, since of course the movie itself is a simulated reality.

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OCT 2019: Watched with Dana, who said “ewwww” a hundred times, so I think it was a hit.

The missing link between Bonfire of the Vanities and Carlito’s Way.

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Movie’s chugging along fine for a half hour, then helloooo awkward voiceover. Something must’ve gone wrong in the editing process, or maybe test screening audiences were confused.

John Lithgow:
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I love how De Palma keeps trying to make artful tributes to Psycho, then Gus Van Sant just up and remakes Psycho, the dummy. Killing the female lead 40 minutes in… check. Same shot in the police station from Dressed To Kill, also in a police station. Characters named Dante and Cain, heh. With the knife to the hand, the wig/dress costume, the elevator scene and the multiple personalities, this thing has Dressed To Kill written all over it. De P. is referencing himself more than Hitch this time around.

John Lithgow:
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The fun is to figure out which characters are John Lithgow and which aren’t (spoilers: his twin brother and the kid at the restrooms are, his dad is not). Whole movie is worth it for the awesomely choreographed long-shot slow-motion finale at a hotel.

John Lithgow:
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DVD box says: “When Jenny cheated on her husband, he didn’t just leave… he split”. But he was split from the start, and the cheating only got him to try to blame her new guy for one of Lithgow’s murders (it only stuck for about 10 minutes).

John Lithgow:
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Looked for a second opinion but it’s (the only one?) missing from Reverse Shot’s De Palma discussion page. Maybe I’m alone, but I think it’s a real cool movie.

aaaaand John Lithgow:
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Ah, Preston Sturges movies… always worth watching over and over.

You’d think I’d really know who Henry Fonda is, but you’d be wrong. Anyway, now after this and Return of Frank James, I could probably pick him out of a lineup. Terrific, funny cast between him, Barbara Stanwyck, Charles Coburn as the card shark and William Demarest (the dad in Morgan’s Creek) as Muggsy. Writing is at least as good as the acting… was beaten for an oscar by a Robert Montgomery / Claude Rains comedy.

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Henry’s been up the amazon collecting snakes and meets Stanwyck on the ship back home. They fall in love while she’s conning him out of some money with partner Coburn, and when he finds out about the con he leaves her wanting payback. She reinvents herself as The Lady Eve and gets invited to his family estate via mutual monocled friend Eric Blore (played a valet in Sullivan’s Travels). They get married then she runs off and reappears as her card-playing self to have an “affair” with Henry… the end. Overcomplicated, but a proper comedy should be.

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Did Katy like it? Don’t know for sure but I’d think so.

Update Jan 2015: Katy definitely likes it.

Yay!

A purely textural, immersive experience, defies all description or explanation. The actors in a film become their characters, teleporting to Poland, psychics and unknowns, and of course, Rabbits.

Sam writes: “most impressive to me was its function as a purely visceral machine. The sound in the theater was booming, giving his shock-moments of menacing narrative intrusion a physical as well as mental impact. The endless distorted close-ups, his use of darkness and blinding brightness, and the excellently interpolated sequences of abstraction (and those verging on it) contribute at least as much to this effect. Perhaps this is what has been missing in his films since Eraserhead: his attempts at messing with our imagination were only interesting inasmuch as we were interested in his, while in these two very medium-specific movies he ropes our physiological responses into the mix, and cuts far deeper in every way. In an era when the loudest and flashiest action films can actually seem boring (even when combined with artistic pretention as in Children of Men), the emergence of a truly shaking cinematic experience is good news indeed.”

Katy didn’t go.

First movie of my Rivette Fest, to get acquainted with his work before seeing Out 1 in March. But Sam just told me that his late movies, like this one, have little in common with the early batch. So maybe my efforts are misdirected, but whatever the case, I enjoyed this one.

Lab rat Sandrine Bonnaire (Rivette’s Joan of Arc, also starred in Vagabond, East/West, Intimate Strangers, and Chabrol’s The Ceremony) hears from her brother Paul (Grégoire Colin, young star of The Intruder and Dreamlife of Angels) that old family friend Walser (Jerzy Radziwilowicz: Rivette’s Julien, Godard’s director in Passion, star of Man of Iron and Man of Marble) may have killed their father.

it all starts with a photo:
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angry brother:
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Rounding out a star-studded cast is their mom Francoise Fabian (of 5×2, Belle de Jour, and the title role in My Night at Maud’s) and Walser’s girlfriend Laure Marsac (of nothing in particular).

Sandrine confronts Walser and accidentally kills the girlfriend. Later, the gf’s twin sister (also Laure Marsac) shows up. Everyone is sleeping with Walser except for the brother, who’s still all hopping mad. Eventually the twin sister accidentally kills Sandrine (both deaths were caused by someone jumping in front of Walser).

dig the mobile:
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dig the sexy girl:
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Movie is usually captivating, but every time Sandrine rides the train in the first half, it shows us the entire train ride. Goes beyond “setting the mood” and starts to get boring. Much improved in the second half (unlike most movies). A twisty little mystery movie… liked it.

a long train ride:
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final shot:
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Huge Ackman is a simian surgeon/scientist in a secluded snowy setting. Rachel Weisz (the superbitch from “the shape of things”) is his cancerous fantasy-author wife. Ellen Diet-Pills Burstyn runs the lab that Huge works at, and Ethan “you dumb bastard- it’s not a schooner, it’s a sailboat” Suplee is some guy who works there too. Huge needs to cure the monkeys of their cancer in order that he may cure his wife of hers.

BUT, Huge is also a Spanish conquistador looking for the tree of life in the New World in order that he may save Spain’s Queen Weisz from the invading forces. AND, Huge is a bald futureman in a futuresphere floating towards an enchanted nebula in order that he may save The Weisz Tree Of Life from its impending death. These two things aren’t actually happening, but are being imagined by our present-day Huge & Weisz in their books and dreams and imaginations.

In all three realities, Huge is obsessed with saving Weisz, needs her, but as Paul said, thrives on her illness(es) so that he’ll be able to keep saving her. He literally feeds off her in futureworld and fetishizes the ring she gives him in Spain, which he loses down a drain in the present and tattooes onto himself in futureworld.

Movie is beautiful almost all of the time, with good music swelling up at the end, some fab fantasy segments (plants sprouting out of Huge’s body after he first tastes the tree’s sap), some wacky effects (apparently stuff was composited onto microscopic cells to create futureworld instead of the whole thing being a CG creation), lots of closeups on our heroes, some total distractions by the schooner guy, and neat connections between the three planes.

Those connections are what keep the movie interesting. It’s such a complete story, circular and self-referencing, going back over itself and leaping way ahead of itself. A well-built movie, obviously so clearly thought out, more than just a straightforward story (though it is that too: Huge tries to save wife, she dies anyway, game over). Imaginatively detailed, every scene a necessary part of the whole. Deserves a better shake than it’s getting.

Katy may have liked this (she liked Pi). Paul at least didn’t hate it and everyone else is incredulous that I bothered to see it.

A movie I definitely need (and want) to see again. Completely beautiful, more striking than any of the three colors movies. It was late and I enjoyed getting swept up in the whole thing, didn’t worry too much about which Veronique was which (I think it was one for a while, then the other), making comparisons to Jean-Pierre Jeunet films, and watching for reflections and refractions in glass(es) a la the Criterion cover art.

Star Irene Jacob was also in Red and Beyond The Clouds, won best actress at Cannes for this one. Cinematographer did Blue, The Scar, Gattaca, Black Hawk Down (hello oscar nom) and the next Harry Potter.

Veronika (Poland) drops dead during her first big singing performance, and her unknowing double Véronique (Paris) feels the loss and quits her singing lessons to be a teacher. Véronique sees a puppeteer who later summons her via a series of mailed clues. Some kind of fate theme, which would tie it to the Decalogue I guess. Storyline seems so unimportant compared to the visuals, the sensation while watching.

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Katy said she liked it but then never mentioned it again.

Interesting from the Criterion essay by Jonathan Romney:
“Kieslowski denied that there were any metaphors in his films… Yet he also confessed that he aspired to those moments when a film manages to escape from literalism. If Véronique spurs us to search for meaning in a maze of fragmentary significations, it is perhaps because Kieslowski made the film in just such a spirit of pursuit, quite simply in the sense of teasing out narrative shape. By Kieslowski’s estimation, he and editor Jacques Witta prepared some twenty rough cuts of Véronique, some more narratively transparent, others considerably more opaque. … Finally, the Véronique we have is one among a multitude of possible versions. It is this incompleteness, this sense of the provisional and arbitrary, that finally ensures the film’s sense of mystery and saves it from the sometimes oppressive weight of narrative authority that finally overburdens Three Colors.”

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One day, OCD number-freak IRS auditor Will Ferrell hears Emma Thompson narrating his life. He seeks help from English professor Dustin Hoffman, and spends his days auditing free-spirited baker Maggie Gyllenhaal. Queen Latifah is also there but I’m not sure why.

Lively Spoon soundtrack keeps me happy while I stare at Maggie and wonder about Will’s mostly non-acting. Guess he learned from the Truman Show and tried the less-is-more thing instead. Dustin Hoffman spends more time lifeguarding the pool than teaching classes. No really stupid parts, some funny bits, some clever writing. Somehow Emma’s novel is the greatest piece of American Literature in years but only if Will gets killed, and somehow Maggie falls in love with Will because he sings a Wreckless Eric song. Spoon’s new one “The Book I Write” is pretty good. Katy liked it too.