Checked out Tony Scott’s The Hunger for the first time in lovely HD, then watched his brother Ridley’s Alien on blu-ray the same night for a SCOTtober double-feature.


The Hunger (1983)

Cool looking movie with Nic Roegian editing – and I noticed this before listening to Tony Scott’s commentary, where he admits to being Roeg-obsessed. Scott worked in commercials, and brings their slick-as-snails visuals to a noirish vampire flick, opening with a Bahuaus video intercut with agitated lab monkeys. If that sounds like something that might not fly with the public, it apparently didn’t.

The eternally-youthful Catherine Deneuve is a centuries-old vampire living with true love David Bowie. Bowie seems like perfect casting for a vampire movie, but something goes wrong and he starts rapidly growing older (it’s perverse to hide Bowie under age-makeup), trying at the last minute to get help from blood specialist Susan Sarandon, and eating a neighbor kid (soap star Beth Ehlers) in a panic.

Aged Bowie:

Master vampire Deneuve is used to this sort of thing, stashes Bowie in the attic with the other aged corpses of former lovers, and begins seducing Sarandon. But Dr. Susan is too self-aware for vampire life, kills herself, and the zombie lovers rise up to destroy Catherine.

No fangs – our vampires use ankh-shaped knives to bleed their victims. A bit too many slow-motion doves flying but mostly the style works in the movie’s favor. Not according to Ebert, who called it “agonizingly bad” but enjoyed the sex scene. Played out-of-competition at Cannes, where Bowie’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence was competing with L’Argent, The King of Comedy and Nostalghia.

Scott later directed two episodes of the 1990’s anthology horror series The Hunger, hosted by Bowie. Enjoyed seeing Dan Hedaya as a cop but I missed Willem Dafoe’s cameo. Sarandon’s lab coworker Rufus Collins had previous vampire-film experience in Warhol’s Batman Dracula, and her other coworker Cliff De Young starred in Pulse and Dr. Giggles. Writer Whitley Streiber explored werewolves in Wolfen and aliens in Communion.


Alien (1979)

Has that Star Trek: The Motion Picture tendency to slowly bask in its models and space effects. The creature puppets weren’t as dodgy-looking as I remember them (though there’s such a bad edit right before Ian Holm’s disembodied head starts talking).

Spaceship control room looks like a sound booth with Christmas lights:

After watching this and Prometheus on blu-ray within a couple months of each other, I don’t get why people think there needs to be more connection between the two – one seems to be referencing the other pretty clearly to me.

There’s this thing:

And this guy:

And dudes who touch things they should not be touching:

And an android who does not appear to have everyone’s best interests at heart (his orders end with “crew expendable”).

You don’t think of Tom Skerritt as being the first-billed star of Alien, but I guess Weaver was an unknown at the time (or they didn’t want to telegraph who will survive from the opening credits). Veronica Cartwright had been in Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake the year before. Harry Dean Stanton doesn’t do much horror but Wise Blood and Fire Walk With Me might count. Yaphet Kotto starred in Larry Cohen’s Bone and lived through Freddy’s Dead. And John Hurt has appeared in Hellboy, Only Lovers Left Alive, and something called The Ghoul.

Kind of a dark movie, as Depp moves west towards nothing good, becoming a killer of white men before/after being killed by one. But it’s also possibly Jarmusch’s funniest and most beautiful movie, with great music.

Nobody: Gary Farmer (how did I miss him in Adaptation?)

Thel: Mili Avital, whose film career didn’t take off after Stargate

This was possibly Robert Mitchum’s final film:

Two Marshalls named Lee and Marvin:

The Kid: Eugene Byrd, a regular on Bones
Conway: Michael Wincott of Alien Resurrection and Basquiat

Benmont Tench (at right): Andy Warhol in I Shot Andy Warhol

Crispin Glover played Andy Warhol in The Doors. This movie has two Andy Warhols!

Whahappan:

“I know what people taste like. I know that babies taste best.”

My hopes were too high for Bong’s English-language debut – I found it talky and clunky and obvious. Good ending, though. Revolution within class-stratified humanity-protecting perpetual-motion train is led by Steve “Captain America” Rogers. He’s backed by wise old train architect John Hurt, loyal-to-the-death Jamie Bell, pissed-off mom Octavia Spencer and tech whiz Kang-ho Song. After dealing with company mouthpiece Tilda Swinton through various levels, final confrontation with engineer Ed Harris, who claims to have planned the revolution and wants the Captain to replace him at head of the train. Meanwhile it’s rumored that the frozen Earth has been warming, and might sustain human life again, which will be tested after Song’s daughter Ah-sung Ko (the monster-abducted girl of The Host) is the only one of these people who survives a train crash.

Things: the workers in back are fed “protein blocks” which turn out to be gelatinized cockroach. The two Koreans are addicted to a drug called chrono which doubles as an explosive. Harris claims John Hurt was secretly working with him (for the good of the train/humanity, of course). A cool bit near the end looks like 2001: A Space Odyssey.

M. Sicinski:

Snowpiercer’s mental motor, its driving intelligence, is its obviousness, which allows the film to be misperceived as something silly. .. Bong, however, seems to understand something many others don’t, both about broad entertainment and the state of successful political action. Big action demands broad strokes; nuances emerge later. In fact, this is to a large degree the political subtext of Snowpiercer itself. .. it doesn’t matter who’s running the train. Bong is not telling us anything we don’t already know, but Snowpiercer’s power is precisely in its capacity to boldly visualize this shared awareness: the futility of liberal revolt, the buffoonery of our betters, the hidden human kindling that is always the tiger in our tank. .. Bong shows us that there’s only one track, and so you can’t flip the switch. You can only light the fuse, and embrace the inevitable destruction as the last picture show.

If Jarmusch set out to film the coolest vampire movie ever made, he may have succeeded. It helps that it’s about stuff like immortality and eternal love without speaking philosophically about those things, just making wisecracks around the edge of the topics. It does speak directly to human society’s tendency to destroy itself, though.

Tilda Swinton and Loki play the lead couple, with Mia “Stoker” Wasikowska as Tilda’s unwelcome sister, who kills Loki’s only human kinda-friend, Anton “Charlie Bartlett” Yelchin. There’s also old family friend John Hurt, and briefly, blood-supplying doctor Jeffrey Wright, plus a Lebanese singer and an indie rock band. For a couple who’ve lived so long, they don’t seem to have a very reliable blood supply, so when John Hurt dies drinking diseased blood, the others slump around looking hopeless before finding a young couple to pounce on.

A. Tracy picks the film apart in Cinema Scope and argues that it didn’t live up to his potential. I see his point and it’s fair criticism (not too sure about his attack on The Limits of Control though), but I found very much to enjoy in the movie. It helps that the music was on my wavelength, from the introductory slowed-down cover of Funnel of Love to the score by Jarmusch and Jozef van Wissem which I played daily for my first couple weeks at work.

Tracy:

As good old George A. Romero’s use of [zombies] for a leftist critique of rampaging capitalism and middle-class apathy has evolved, in this fast-zombie era, into a stealth right-wing vision of the revolt of the underclass hordes, the less overtly political vampire genre has more and more made vampirism a marker of cultural elitism . . . This, of course, is the central—and, conceptually if not in execution, very funny—joke of Only Lovers’ premise: vampires as the ultimate in world-weary hipsters, immortality granting them the ability to quite literally be there for and have seen everything before you did.

On one, very prominent, level, this is what Only Lovers boils down to: a lament by the culturally and cultishly cool about the injustices visited upon the great (themselves included, perhaps) at the hands of the philistine “zombies” who have snuffed out the brightest lights of their culture while poisoning the planet.

Cool adaptation, with fine visuals by Radford (Il Postino) and the great Roger Deakins (pre-Coens), and a wonderful John Hurt performance. Hurt is not killed at the end (at least not explicitly), and the phrase “Big Brother is watching” never appears. Surprisingly good/subtle musical score by Eurythmics, which the director hated. Hmmm, or is it subtle because we heard the Dominic Muldowney score instead? Watched on netflix, so it’s hard to tell.

Hurt (in The Hit the same year), a government newspaper revisionist, falls for Suzanna Hamilton (of the Sting version of Brimstone & Treacle), dreams of escaping control of the party and finding a place where love is still possible. Richard Burton (of Exorcist II, argh) is on to their plan, and subjects Hurt to torture until he comes to truly love Big Brother. Katy didn’t much like it, putting a damper on the beginning of Dystopia Month.

Excited by Essential Killing, I thought I’d check out Skolimowski’s only horror film for SHOCKtober. But calling it horror is like calling Essential Killing a political drama, inadequately simple labels for such weird and complex movies. The bulk of this one is a flashback/story told by Alan Bates to Tim Curry while scorekeeping a cricket game at some kind of asylum. Bates admits that he’s changing parts of the story to keep it interesting for himself – and we’re never sure if he’s a patient or what, so the narrator is unreliable to say the least. And as the commentary notes, “casting Tim Curry as your sanity figure suggests that the world is fairly skewed.”

Alan Bates lurks:

A cowed-looking John Hurt (the year before Alien, so the earliest film I’ve seen of his – though I must find Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs from ’74), a church organist by day and electronic composer in his spare time, is happily married to Susannah York (star of Altman’s Images). But one day Alan Bates (Chabrol’s Dr. M, Julie Christie’s illicit lover in The Go-Between) appears, tampers with Hurt’s bicycle tire, then invites himself over. He stalks the couple causing minor mischief then starts not-so-subtly taking over the family.

John Hurt rocks out in his home studio:

Alan Bates, head of household:

To prove his power to Hurt, they go off to the dunes and Bates demonstrates “the terror shout,” taught to him by an aboriginal magician. Somehow Hurt isn’t killed by this, but has a weird experience where he’s holding a stone, believing himself to be the town shoemaker. When he returns home, his wife is under Bates’s spell, and Hurt is the interloper. But he recalls the identity stones, goes off and smashes them to regain control of his household. Back at the house, Bates is arrested for the murder of his children (to which he confessed to Hurt and York earlier). Strange that Bates would be anxious to tell a tale which ends in his own defeat.

You can’t understand the extreme greatness of this shot without watching the whole film:

The police foolishly come for Alan Bates:

Meanwhile back in the framing story, a thunderstorm wrecks the cricket game. Jim Broadbent, in his first film role as “fielder in cowpat,” runs around half-naked smeared in mud or worse. Lightning strikes the scoring box, Bates is killed, and in another odd scene which also played over the opening credits, York comes tearing into the room where the dead lay, distraught.

Fielder in cowpat:

Reminded me of The Last Wave in its aboriginal magic and weirdly apocalyptic feel. Commentary brings up Caligari, which I should’ve thought of. The wife isn’t much of a character, just passed between the two men, but she definitely shows her acting chops in one intense sexual scene. Mostly minimal music by “the two guys from Genesis you probably have forgotten.”

What was initially announced as Auteur Completion Month is now the longer-term Auteur Completion Project (because it can’t be “completion” if I give up when the month changes). I don’t especially aim to watch everything Mel Brooks has been involved with (never saw Dracula: Dead and Loving It because his previous two were so bad) but I noticed that his one classic-era comedy feature (oops, besides The Twelve Chairs) I’d never seen was the one Jonathan Rosenbaum placed on his 1000 favorite movies list. And now that I’ve seen it, I must conclude that it was a half-remembered nostalgic favorite for JR, not one that received much recent, critical thought.

Starts off unpromisingly, with a jokey Orson Welles voiceover (the year before Slapstick; maybe the great man should’ve hired an agent) and a hokey caveman sketch starring 50’s comedian Sid Caesar (whose last movie to date was Stuart Gordon’s The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit). Catalog of human innovation (“the first artist… the first art critic!”) like one of those punny water-treading late Tex Avery shorts, or a sub-Mr. Show sketch (“man’s greatest achievement: the wheelbarrow”).

Some biblical business follows (including my favorite gag, the 15… 10 Commandments). Next: waaay too much time (over half the movie?) spent in Rome running away from Emperor Dom DeLuise, Empress Madeline Khan and 50’s comedian Shecky Greene.

L-R: possibly Ron Carey (Silent Movie, High Anxiety), maybe Mary-Margaret Humes (of an upcoming Michael Madsen/Roddy Piper horror film), definitely Gregory Hines (in his first film), and grimacingly Mel Brooks. I didn’t take very good notes.

Making up for the overlong Roman piece is an extended, extravagant musical version of the Spanish Inquisition, which could’ve stood on its own as a great short film. By now, narrator Welles has wandered away from the movie, off to film some Moby Dick closeups of himself.

Then Brooks is King Louis XVI of France, and also the piss-bucket boy chosen to replace him in event of a revolution. He helps the daughter of a deranged, imprisoned Spike Milligan free her father and… hell, I can’t remember the storyline, but it involves Harvey Korman (Lord Love a Duck, voice of the Great Gazoo on The Flintstones) as a character named Count De Monet, and in my second favorite joke of the movie, Brooks tries to run down a forced-perspective hallway.

Bunuel did it first:

“Coming attractions” finale features a cute Jews In Space trailer, a premonition of Spaceballs.

Cameos by Moon Over Parador director Paul Mazursky, Diner director Barry Levinson, Hugh Hefner as himself, freshly Oscar-nominated John Hurt as Jesus, Jackie Mason, and an uncredited Bea Arthur.

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