Joy (J. Lawrence) dreams of being an inventor, but then her life gets sidetracked with a husband (E. Ramirez), two kids, a divorce, a lazy mom (V. Madsen), an erratic dad (De Niro) and a spiteful sister. One day she hits on a new idea for a miracle mop, and sets to producing and marketing it, bringing the whole family along with dad’s rich girlfriend (I. Rossellini) and Joy’s supportive grandma (D. Ladd) and best friend. Then there are pricing and patent disputes. Then after everything has been pretty lousy and hopeless for Joy for an hour and fifty-eight minutes, she wins a major victory against a crooked business partner then becomes wildly successful in postscript.

It feels like Russell builds overcomplicated situations in American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook, shoots the scenes with his trusted cast, and figures out how it’ll all work in the editing room, relying on energy and instinct to carry him through – and this time, he didn’t have it. The scenes and sporadic voiceover and transitions and characters often felt half-assed, and if I hadn’t known a distinguished filmmaker was behind the whole thing, I rarely would’ve guessed.

The cast gathers ’round to watch NAILED on cable:

T. Robinson:

Every character feels like a half-sketched first draft, awaiting development that never comes … The excruciatingly literal dialogue also feels like first draft material. “I feel like I’m in a prison,” Joy sighs about her house. Later, she and her supportive best friend Jackie reminisce about “all the things we used to dream about,” and Jackie introduces a flashback with “Remember the party where it all started?” Exposition inevitably comes either via Mimi’s gushing voiceover, or “As everyone here already knows…” speeches. Joy’s own emotional development consists of a recurring nightmare in which her childhood self scolds her for abandoning her ambitions.

M. Singer:

Lawrence is too good of an actress not to be watchable in the part, but she’s totally miscast as a divorced mother of two who’s been repeatedly beaten down by life’s disappointments. This part was meant for the Jennifer Lawrence of 2025, not the one of 2015.

A Wish For Wings That Work (1991, Skip Jones)

First time I’ve watched this since its highly anticipated TV premiere. It’s like Rudolph but with Opus – he helps Santa with a problem and is rewarded with a fly-around by the ducks that used to laugh and call him names. Highlight is when Opus is injected into a scene from Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon after an ad break.

Opus was Michael Bell (Duke in G.I. Joe), neighborhood pig and ducks were Joe Alaskey (Plucky in Tiny Toons, Bugs and Daffy in Looney Tunes: Back in Action), and uncredited appearances by Robin Williams (botching a NZ accent) and Dustin Hoffman (goofing on Tootsie). Director Skip Jones was a Don Bluth animator.

Breathed was not happy with the final result, and I can see his point. Still the only appearance of Bloom County characters on TV – technically Outland characters at this point – though Breathed’s Mars Need Moms book was adapted as a crappy-looking flop feature film, and his story Edwurd Fudwupper Fibbed Big was adapted into a short the author called “an unmitigated technical disaster – unfinished and unwatchable.”

Isabella Rossellini’s Green Porno Live (2015, Jody Shapiro)

A weird hour-long mash-up of scenes from Rossellini’s Green Porno live tour, behind-the-scenes tour footage, coverage of the book tour, the original short films, and related stuff, like following a scientist to observe mating seals. “It is essential that what I say is scientifically correct. Otherwise I’m a nut – and who needs another nut?” I didn’t realize she’s done two other series called Seduce Me and Mammas, and an hourlong documentary called Animals Distract Me. Jody Shapiro also shoots and produces Guy Maddin films.

A Very Murray Christmas (2015, Sofia Coppola)

In which a bunch of our favorite actors who cannot sing very well, and a handful of actual singers, congregate in Coppola’s underlit Lost In Translation hotel to act sad, goof around and gradually cheer up. The band Phoenix was the best part, with Chris Rock’s off-time backing vocals a close second.

Chris Isaak Christmas (2004)

Watched in hotel while getting ready for the family Christmas. A million times more festive than the Bill Murray one, with more upbeat music.

Charlie Brooker’s 2015 Wipe

Funny look at a depressing year. Good bit on the media’s changing attitudes on the humanity of refugees, and Brooker finally got to address his spooky Black Mirror PM pig-sex prediction on the air. Stanhope got cut for being too controversial… hope his segment turns up sometime.

Shaun The Sheep: The Farmer’s Llamas (2015, Jay Grace)

Like the movie, but shorter, and with troublemaking nihilist llamas which are even worse than the pigs.

“I’m only a ghost, but a ghost isn’t nothing.”

Always great to see a new Maddin work, and this exceeded expectations. Exciting yet familiar, new with firmly recognizable bits of the old, and filmed in a different medium than usual (digital!), like Maddin’s Moonrise Kingdom. “I know a lot of people who follow me probably figured I’d be the last person in the world to switch to digital, and that I also sort of ride a penny-farthing with a bowler hat, but I don’t. I want to be a normal guy. I’m just an artist trying to make stuff that matters to me.” (AV Club)

In this post I quoted Maddin saying that his next feature would have footage from his shorts, “a Frankenstein feature film built together from a bunch of dead short commissions,” and there are two shorts since My Winnipeg that resurface in Keyhole: Glorious (Louis Negin as a ghost, penises growing through walls) and Send Me to the ‘Lectric Chair (Isabella and a homemade electric chair).

Nice, clear images, with relatively restrained editing, apparently because Guy could afford an art department so didn’t have to hide the cheapness of his sets. Great, unusual, moody music, and crazy amounts of lightning flashing from outside. But it’s not Maddin Lite by any means – he hasn’t grown up and made a normal movie. He and George Toles have come up with a haunted-house gangster flick/family psychodrama (it’s like The Six Hundredth Sense) full of enough insane details to rival any previous Maddin feature.

Ulysses (Jason Patric of Sleepers, The Lost Boys) appears late to the party, after his men have shot their way into a house surrounded by the cops. The movie pronounces its disdain for reality from the start, when he lines all the men against the wall, telling the still-living ones to face him, then sends the others outside. “Cops’ll make sure you get to the morgue.” There’s no glowing aura or translucency – the dead look and behave like the rest of us.

B/W Rossellini behind a colored curtain:

Ulysses seeks his wife Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini), who is locked in her bedroom at the top of the house with a lover named Chang, while her father Louis Negin is chained to her bed. Negin also acts as part-time narrator: “I am a part of the house you’re looking at. It would be misleading to say I LIVE here.” As Ulysses stalks the house, he gradually unlocks doors and begins to regain his memories.

“Something’s wrong. I can’t hear my own thoughts.”

The Men: Big Ed was in charge of the group before Ulysses arrives, wants to be in charge again, Heatly is Ulysses’ adopted son, sometimes-nude Rochelle (Ulysses’ mistress) only speaks French, Denton (Brent Neale, Renfield in Maddin’s Dracula) wears a hat, Milo has a scarf, Belview (Claude Dorge of The Saddest Music) is a deliciously overacting dapper dude in a tie, Denny is a wet drowned girl, and Ogilbe is Kevin McDonald.

Ulysses, who keeps changing the clocks in the house, warns everyone to stay away from the ghosts, but Kevin McDonald attempts sex with a floor-scrubbing woman in the hallway, sparks fly, and he continues riding her in death, whipped by Negin from behind, as she appears not to notice him.

Ulysses gathers all the guns and drops ’em down the trash chute, but when they’re heated by the furnace, one shoots Heatly dead. Someone drowns in the house’s indoor bottomless bog, and Big Ed fries in the makeshift bicycle-powered electric chair he built to trap Ulysses. “You can’t electrocute a man twice,” says Ulysses as he turns the tables, so perhaps he’s returned from death row. Meanwhile, the cops are still outside…

Big Ed strapped into his own invention:

Ulysses attends to Heatly:

Ulysses is sad when Heatly dies, but doesn’t seem to recognize that the hostage he drags all around the house is his real son Manners, supposedly his only surviving child, though we see the others in the house, Ulysses not recognizing any of them at first. Ned (Darcy Fehr, star of Cowards Bend the Knee) is drinking milk, the head of daughter Lota is in a flowerpot, and youngest son Brucie is masturbating (“playing Yahtzee”) under the stairs.

Manners:

Also, Udo Kier gets one scene (not enough!) as a doctor paying a housecall to examine the drowned Denny, despite the fact that his own child died that night in the hospital. Lots of family death in this movie.

More details of the house: furniture placement is important (Ulysses makes his men undo their arrangement alterations), and there’s a stuffed wolverine named Crispy and a pneumatic tube delivery system in the walls. Manners, who has fallen for Denny, is finally released, as is Louis Negin. Ulysses makes it to his wife’s chambers and shoots Chang, and at dawn all ghosts and signs of the police shootout quietly vanish.

Young lovers, one of them dead:

NYTimes:

Like his Homeric namesake Ulysses is seeking a way back to his wife, though there is not much evidence of love or loyalty between them. Nor is Keyhole, narratively speaking, a reimagined Odyssey any more than it is a ’30s crime drama. It’s more like a dusty attic full of battered, evocative cultural references.

Maddin again:

We just live in a space that’s just thronged with ghosts and I honestly think I’m even a ghost sometimes. I often wonder if when I die, and I don’t believe in ghosts, but if I’m going to haunt any place, it’s that childhood home that I keep falsely remembering. In my dreams now I very rarely dream of people. I just dream of that space. I’m walking around and I’m the only person in it. I’m actually haunting in the future, in my dreams anyway.

The dialogue George [Toles] and I write isn’t naturalism, but [Patric] knows how to give it a reading that makes it adhere to a character. If no one likes the movie, they should at least watch Jason, just to see how he’s taken lines that would be impossible to read naturalistically and how he puts them into his processor and spews them out. It’s kind of amazing.

For a while there, I dismissed all Italian movies. Their horror is badly acted and makes no sense, 98% of their movies have awful lipsync and among the higher-quality pics I’ve seen are The Leopard (which I hate) and flicks starring Roberto Benigni. Sure, I admit Antonioni and Fellini can be great, and I liked Suspiria a whole lot, so I figured I’d give the country another shot this year via poster-boy Rossellini. Rome, Open City was wonderful, but before moving on to Paisan I took a pit stop with L’Amore, wanting more Anna Magnani – and what a pit it was.

L’Amore is actually a film and a half, or an hour-long feature preceded by a short. First off is The Human Voice, a one-woman play written in 1930 by Jean Cocteau. I’d heard it performed before, on an LP by Ingrid Bergman recorded sometime after her divorce from Rossellini and return to Hollywood. So two Rossellini lovers recorded the same French monologue – coincidence? The play is pretty straightforward, a woman who’s been dumped awaits a call from her ex-guy, talks to him through a failing connection, going through various levels of grief. Should be a showy actresses’s dream role. The Bergman LP sold it better, as far as I’m concerned, sounding more like an actual phone call, all the visuals imagined. Rossellini’s version adds straightforward visuals – an unkempt Magnani on the phone in her room, with no fancy editing or showy camerawork. The biggest problem is the sound, distractingly out of sync (distracting even for me, who was busily reading subtitles), harsh and shrill, Magnani’s whining getting on my nerves until I finally turned the volume waaay down. You’d suppose a one-person movie in a single room would have been a good chance for the Italians to try recording synchronized sound for the first time ever, but even the pioneering Rossellini didn’t think to try that.

In the second part, The Miracle, from a story by Fellini, simple Nanni has a religious mania. While up in the mountains herding goats, she meets a lone dude, whom she welcomes as Saint Joseph (as in the stepfather of Jesus). They share some wine and she wakes up later, wanders back to work. A few months later she’s pregnant. Neighbors taunt and joke with her, a devilish midget throws her from her “home,” which looked like a pile of clothes in a plaza, then literally the entire town comes out to throw her a fake parade then throw stuff at her. So she flees up the mountain, delivers the baby herself.

G. Moliterno: “… largely made, as Rossellini himself acknowledges in the film’s epigraph, to showcase the consummate acting talents of Anna Magnani.”

He also mentions that the Human Voice segment was shot in Paris during prep for Germany Year Zero. “A clear indication of Rossellini’s greater than usual attention to visual style here is given by the pronounced presence of mirrors throughout the film in order to underscore the ongoing fragmentation of the self.”

And if I may overquote from the same source:

[Nanni] clearly anticipates the characters of Gelsomina and Cabiria in Fellini’s La Strada and Nights of Cabiria, but Magnani channels an animistic vitality into the role that makes the poetry of Fellini’s two later creatures appear wan in comparison. And in fact, despite Fellini’s own appearance in the film as the silent and mysterious vagabond who prompts Nanni’s religious delirium… Nannì brings to mind the “durochka” or holy fool, of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev. … [Appeals against the film’s banning in the States] also overturned the Court’s own decision in 1915 which had for decades denied films the status of self-expression and thus protection under the First Amendment. Part of the miracle of Il miracolo, then, turned out to be its role in initiating the beginning of the demise of film censorship in the United States.

The producers (Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott) chose an interesting script (written by Stanley Tucci and his cousin) then hand-picked directors Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott, who cast Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Minnie Driver and Campbell Scott.

So a vanity project, and an obvious one (for everyone other than Ian Holm, who is too shouty and shifty and will hopefully not use this on his actor’s reel).

Italian brothers Tucci and Shalhoub (who is actually Lebanese via Wisconsin) have a restaurant that is failing because the food is too authentic for the locals and the atmosphere is dead. They have time for one final feast, their “big night” if you will, with special guest of honor Louis Prima (so movie is maybe set in the late 40’s), invited by their across-the-street rival Ian Holm who is suddenly all buddy-buddy with them. But Holm lied (to get the restaurant to fold, so the brothers will come work for him) and the bank will be foreclosing soon. Before that though, we must have a raging party with the best food anyone has ever tasted, and the brothers must fight then make up in the end, their futures still unwritten.

Such a typical 90’s indie movie. Really nothing to complain about, we enjoyed it pretty well, but it’s also no more groundbreaking or artistically exciting than Shalhoub’s directorial debut (written/starring his sister-in-law) eight years later Made-Up.

Isabella is here, but with too small a part to liven up the movie… it’s really all about the men.
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Cinematographer Ken Kelsch (an Abel Ferrara regular) here tries to emphasize the fact that Ian Holm has a mustache, without actually showing the mustache. A risky artistic move that pays off. Holm does, it is later revealed, have a mustache.
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The anticlimactic ending (all serious indie movies have anticlimactic endings):
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About what I’d expected, really. Maddin slowed down the pace of his editing to accomodate Isabella’s writing style I guess. Not much to it – She plays herself, her mom (Ingrid Bergman), David Selznick, Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin. Talks to her dad’s giant belly. Short, good. “My dad was a genius. I think.”