“Try to keep up with the plot.”
“There’s a plot?”

Sure it’s been a while since I watched The Fisher King, but this seems like a semi-remake. Disillusioned former artist comes across a man whose life he’d inadvertedly destroyed some years ago, follows that man on adventures into a dream life inspired by ancient literature and legend? Fisher King was from the writer of The Ref, and this one by Gilliam with his Tideland cowriter Tony Grisoni. Dedicated to two late Quixotes, Jean Rochefort and John Hurt.

Adam Driver is an arty director on a chaotic ad shoot, having an affair with Olga Kurylenko, wife of his boss Stellan Skarsgård, but once he was an idealistic young filmmaker, in fact he made his Don Quixote student film over there, right over that hill, with local Spanish shoemaker townsperson Jonathan Pryce, wonder what happened to that guy. Turns out Pryce still believes he’s Quixote, and when he sees Adam again, he dubs him Sancho and they go on Adventures.

“A good host looks after his hostages. Is that the right word?” The movie has some good writing, and unbelievably, in 2018, Terry Gilliam made a feature film in which the Spanish Inquisition arrives unexpectedly, and this didn’t blow up the heads of every Python-quoting 50-year-old in the English-speaking world. Maybe that was Gilliam’s intention, but alas, the movie remains underwatched. It will age well, as Star Wars fans discover Adam Driver’s peerless pronunciations of swear words, and they will gravitate, one by one, towards this unrated cornucopia of profanity.

Okay, the last hour is weird and didn’t work for me, but that leaves a solid 75-minute movie, and also Rossy de Palma is in there.

“I hope this will be good for us… but especially for me.”

Watched during Sundance Week! During Sundance 2015, I managed to watch three movies from Sundance 2014. There are lots of movies from last year that I mean to catch up with, and this seems as good a scheme as any.

Seems like a hard movie to enjoy, a non-comedy with a total asshole lead character (played by Jason Schwartzman, a puppy dog with a severe hairstyle). But the movie only occasionally seems to sympathize with him, and it takes sidetracks into the lives of the people he knows: his long-time girlfriend Ashley (Elisabeth Moss, star of Top of the Lake and Mad Men), his novelist mentor Ike (Jonathan Pryce), and that novelist’s daughter Melanie (new Marvel superhero Krysten Ritter). After the finale, which is particularly harsh towards Philip, allaying my fears that the movie expected me to care about a terrible person’s sense of well-being, I decided maybe Perry set out to make a movie centered on the selfish prick who shows up in minor roles in other movies, usually to make the sympathetic lead characters look good in comparison or to motivate some kind of action on their part. Philip and Ike become friends but can’t seem to motivate each other, because they’re both the selfish prick.

“I want you to contextualize my sadness.”

I didn’t much enjoy Perry’s The Color Wheel, and don’t care for his handheld camera work (although it seemed better here, in color), but can’t ignore a critical mass of critical acclaim – don’t want to sleep on a masterpiece. This wasn’t, but it’s got good acting and some hilarious/horrible moments, like Philip’s response to a student asking for a recommendation: “Here’s a piece of paper with some staples in it. Wish I could be of more help.” Casting Jason Schwartzman and making a movie about white middle-class sadsacks and father issues, decorated with 1970’s book jackets and omniscient narration, Perry might want to hang with Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson.

Josephine de la Baume, lead vampire of Kiss of the Damned, plays Philip’s fellow English teacher, who poisons the department against him. The Color Wheel’s Kate Lyn Sheil played one of Philip’s exes, and Eric Bogosian (Joe McCarthy stand-in of Witch Hunt) narrated. Edited by Robert Greene, who made a splash last year with his own Actress.

“Tonite only”, that’d be Friday the 13th, Sept. 2013.

My favorite prickly response to the movie comes from M. D’Angelo, who finds the narrator’s grammatical errors and misuse of words “entirely typical of [Perry’s] approach to filmmaking in general. Everything here feels like the work of someone inexpertly trying to synthesize challenging elements of books he’s read and movies he’s seen… which is what ambitious young artists do, to be sure, but they’re generally not celebrated this fervently until after they exit the blatant juvenilia phase.”

A.R.P. on not making “calling card films” to get hired in Hollywood:

There is an ineffable “do not hire” quality to Listen Up Philip, apparently, that shows experienced manufacturers of entertainment that whomever made this film is most likely hard to work with.

Great to see this again, although maybe I should’ve sprung for the high-def version to see if it looks much better than my old letterboxed DVD. Katy agreed that the movie seems long, and opted not to teach it in her dystopian fiction course.

I’ve seen people call Brazil the centerpiece of Gilliam’s dream trilogy – Time Bandits being the dreams of youth, Brazil of adulthood, and Baron Munchhausen an old man telling dream-stories to children. It’s a lovely thought, but then what is the rest of Gilliam’s career full of dreams and visions?

Don’t think I knew who Jim Broadbent was the last time I watched this. He plays Sam’s mom’s plastic surgeon: “Snip snip, slice slice, can you believe it?” Jack Purvis of Time Bandits is rival doctor “the acid man”. Sam’s mom’s friend getting acid treatments (“my complication had a little complication”) is Barbara Hicks of Britannia Hospital, and her daughter is Kathryn Pogson, recently of The Arbor. Mrs. Buttle (I’d forgotten how good she is) was Sheila Reid (Felicia’s Journey, Lady Rawlinson in Sir Henry at Rawlinson End). I haven’t recognized Kim Griest in anything else but I see she was in Manhunter and CHUD. Mr. Helpmann (‘ere I am, JH) was in some Ken Russell films and Mountains of the Moon. Sam’s useless first boss was Ian Holm and his decisive, always-walking boss in Information Retrieval was Ian Richardson (later Mr. Book in Dark City).

Happily, we went to watch the vibrator movie at the Tara. But unhappily, it’s not a vibrator movie at all. The invention of the vibrator surely figures into the plot, but it’s mainly about a medically progressive but socially uptight early-1900’s doctor (Hugh Dancy, the sister’s husband in Marcy May) who learns to loosen up and fall in love with the free-spirited sister (Maggie Gyllenhaal) of his boring betrothed (Felicity Jones of Taymor’s Tempest). The movie could’ve learned its own lesson and had more fun with its premise, though I did appreciate the addition of duck sex.

There’s some fun in the supporting cast – Jonathan Pryce is Hugh’s boss, who cures “hysteria” in his female patients by masturbating them, and Rupert Everett is Hugh’s idle-rich inventor friend. It’s based somewhat on a true story, and maybe the whole heavy-handed plot (have I mentioned that Gyllenhaal runs a sanctuary for poor people, and that it ends with her on trial for hysteria?) actually happened in such an obvious way and this is a perfectly faithful retelling and I should learn to be nicer.

Pryce:

Wexler is the niece of oscar-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler – funny since I kept noticing shots that were out-of-focus. Also funny that the D.P. of this film was Sean Bobbitt, who shot the undeniably great-looking Hunger. So why the camera trouble?

Not gonna say too much except that I was hella impressed by this movie. It’s the sort of high-society period piece I usually stay away from, but with balls-out film technique and beautiful cinematography.

Swell, stringy music by Elmer Bernstein (Sweet Smell of Success, every 80’s comedy, Far From Heaven). Beautiful opening titles by Saul Bass. Shot by Michael Ballhaus (The Departed, Quiz Show, tons of Fassbinder) and edited by Powell’s widow. Production designer worked with Fellini and Pasolini, costumer (who won the film’s only oscar) worked with Ruiz, Gilliam, Leone and Fellini, and the set decorator worked on RoboCop 3 and The Lathe of Heaven.

Glad to see macaws and peacocks. Noticed a Samuel Morse painting that I’ve seen at the High. Spent a whole scene staring at the actors’ clothes and the surrounding paintings, thinking about the color combinations. Distracting but very brief cameo by Scorsese as a wedding photographer. Playful transitions, irises, fades to color, rear projection and some super matte work.

The story, okay I might not have given it my full attention because of the colors and the irises, but fully modern man Daniel Day-Lewis is paired with innocent traditional girl Winona Ryder, but then he falls for fiery scandalous Michelle Pfeiffer instead. Eventually DDL is so widely suspected of having an affair with Pfeiffer that he may as well have – but never did. Lots of unspoken thoughts going on, DDL/Ryder’s marriage in the 20-years-later epilogue seems like the Crane Wife, like society would fly apart if they ever spoke what’s on their minds. All the actors very good – I thought Pfeiffer stood out, but the academy preferred Ryder. Great to see Geraldine Chaplin, looking good a decade after Love on the Ground, though she had very little to say or do. Richard Grant played as much of a villain as the film had, a sideways-smiling scandal-slinger, and Jonathan Pryce showed up towards the end as a Frenchman (dunno why, with all the opulence on display, Scorsese couldn’t afford an actual Frenchman).

Appropriate to watch this right after the Michael Powell movies, given Scorsese’s love for Powell’s films. I wouldn’t have guessed the fight scenes in Raging Bull were influenced by The Red Shoes ballet before I heard it in the DVD commentary. Also appropriate to watch this soon after Orlando and soon before The Piano, a sort of 1993 oscar-campaign review.

2020 Edit: watched again on Criterion Channel, noticed two separate things that might’ve been stolen by A Very Long Engagement, and wondered if the narration is from the novel. Wicked line: “but what if all her calm, her niceness, were just a negation – a curtain dropped in front of an emptiness?”