X-Men 6: Apocalypse (2016, Bryan Singer)

At a time when movies are dominated by comics, Bryan Singer’s got a franchise all to himself. He directed parts 1 and 2, cowrote and produced part 4, directed parts 5 and 6… and had nothing to do with part 3. “At least we can all agree: the third one‘s always the worst,” says Jean Grey leaving a Return of the Jedi screening, establishing our mid-1980’s setting while letting us know Singer’s thoughts on the Brett Ratner entry. Soon after, Quicksilver tells someone that Magneto is his father, and I can’t tell if we’re still making Star Wars references.

Quicksilver:

Quicksilver and Nightcrawler in the same movie is a dream come true – every time they warp through time and space it’s thrilling. The Professor X vs. Magneto thing is old hat by now, nobody cares about Agent Rose Byrne, Beast is okay and Mystique is blah. Oscar Isaac appears as his unconscious self for ten seconds before becoming Apocalypse and ceasing to be Oscar Isaac completely – it’s either an immersive performance or a total waste of a promising young actor in a role that could’ve been played by a CG-enhanced mannequin. As always, the ending hinges on whether Magneto is truly evil or can be convinced to compromise.

Apocalypse and his Horsemen: Storm, Angel, and this lightsaber girl, the fourth horseman being Magneto, who becomes evil again out of rage when his perfect wife and kid are murdered by some doomed motherfuckers in Poland where he’s hiding out after whatever happened in part four.

Since I don’t rewatch the movies and the first one was nearly two decades ago, it’s hard to keep track of all the characters and timelines and paradoxes, but I assume the writers have this stuff taken care of, and the fact that Angel dies in 1984 but is back in part three (?) makes sense to someone. Also, I keep seeing Jubilee in the credits for X-Men movies – who the hell is Jubilee?

Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones) is Young Jean Grey, seen here with Young Cyclops (Tye Sheridan of Mud) and Beast:

I notice Days of Future Past and this movie bringing back Stryker (Brian Cox’s character in part two) as a minor baddie, and I assume he’s the tie-in to the solo Wolverine films, none of which I’ve seen. And coincidentally, the week after watching this movie I saw a trailer for the third one of those, Logan, which looks awful.

Some uncomfortable politics as usual, bringing up Auschwitz yet again, and having a middle-eastern villain watching American news footage of 1980’s decadence and decrying our false idols and weak leaders. Also Professor X’s chamber where he can spy on the thoughts of anyone in the world hasn’t aged so well. Better to focus on the series’ overall focus on acceptance of difference, but even that has taken a back seat to the action scenes since part two.

31 (2016, Rob Zombie)

What a disappointment after the great Lords of Salem. All I can think is that Zombie was contractually obligated to deliver another full-length movie by the end of 2016, and after touring his band nonstop he ran out of time, so threw some actors and makeup artists in an abandoned factory and said “go nuts, we’ll film it and add some Malcolm McDowell scenes later to explain what’s happening.”

Sheri Moon and beardy Jeff Phillips and Meg Foster return from Salem, minus Ken Foree and Dee Wallace, plus two new black guys to be killed first (to be fair, Lawrence lasts quite a while). Malcolm in foppish powdered wig gambles on annual deathmatch with Jane Carr and Judy Geeson, sending waves of killers into the factory after our abducted carnival gang until only Sheri and “Doom-Head” (Richard Brake of Halloween II, whose makeup keeps changing in the opening scene) remain. Dialogue is mostly “fuck, fuuuuck” and camerawork is handheld garbage. Insultingly, the movie only got a single showtime and was billed as a “special event” with higher ticket fees, but joke’s on the theater since only six people showed up.

AV Club:

31 is set almost entirely within a smoky, leaky, dimly lit factory, like something out of a bad hair-metal video, and it has the structure of an especially half-assed video game, as the survivors creep from one boss battle to the next, confronted by assassins of escalating formidability: a little person done up like Hitler, slinging insults in unsubtitled Spanish; two clowns with chainsaws, cackling about “fucking all your holes”; a flirtatious Harley Quinn clone with a giant European partner … a messy mishmash of shit he’s done better before.

Green Room (2015, Jeremy Saulnier)

Punk band witnesses the aftermath of a murder when playing a hastily-booked gig at a nazi skinhead joint, is locked in the green room while the Patrick Stewart-led thugs arrange the band members’ “accidental” deaths, band members decide to fight back.

Good use of “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” and brilliant use of Creedence over the closing titles. The band members’ position (fighting for survival) is clear, but I liked how the movie doesn’t portray everyone else as pure evil. Some younger dudes will gladly slay for their master, but there’s also hesitation and horror and betrayal. Blue Ruin‘s Dwight as the club manager represents the morally-torn middle ground. Anton Yelchin (Ian in Only Lovers Left Alive – shouldn’t I be able to recognize him by now?) and Imogen Poots (She’s Funny That Way) are survivors, Arrested Development‘s Alia Shawkat and the others not so lucky.

Remake of a Truffaut film. Played Cannes last year in the “Director’s Fortnight” with Embrace of the Serpent and Arabian Nights.

Matt Singer:

The brilliance is all in the execution, which is just about perfect … More importantly, Saulnier’s screenplay puts a premium on logically sound decisions; this is not one of those movies where you sit in your seat moaning at the characters for going up the stairs when they should be heading for the exit. Every choice is reasonable. Every action makes sense, up to and including some of the second and third act twists. That makes the escalating body count that much sadder.

Experimenter (2015, Michael Almereyda)

First half hour covers Stanley Milgram’s (Peter Sarsgaard of Night Moves, Black Mass) obedience experiments, which I knew a fair bit about, but in school we covered their problematic ethics, not their much more problematic results, nor the connections Milgram made with nazi Germany – the elephant in the room. “The results are terrifying and depressing. They suggest that the kind of character produced in American society can’t be counted on to insulate its citizens from brutality and inhumane treatment in response to a malevolent authority.”

Jim Gaffigan as the confederate:

Winona Ryder plays his wife, and this is the second movie I’ve seen in two months with its emotional peak a shot of a distraught Ryder. Katy is actually annoyed at how much of a Winona fan I’ve become this year, but I’m sure if Beetlejuice 2 becomes a reality I’ll calm down.

Mike D’Angelo wasn’t a fan of the second half, when the movie follows Milgram’s post-obedience academic career: “Facts of the enemy of art.” Interesting though to see his other work (he came up with “six degrees of separation”) while the movie plays around with reality, using rear-projected photographs as sets, and having Saarsgard-Milgram visit the set of a TV movie starring William-Shatner-Milgram (played by Kellan Lutz of Twilight). “There are times when your life resembles a bad movie, but nothing prepares you for when your life actually becomes a bad movie.”

Also Dennis Haysbert as Ossie Davis:

Matt Singer:

Provocative stuff, much of which is tied together in the final scenes about Stanley Milgram’s philosophy that men are puppets who can be made conscious of their strings. Experimenter is almost a test to see if the same can be said of film audiences.

Shoah (1985, Claude Lanzmann)

Don’t know how Lanzmann did these interviews with such an even temper and tone. Must have taken a great deal of restraint in the town where locals joyfully admitted making throat-slitting gestures at passing trains full of camp-bound Jews, or when interviewing a German doctor in charge of the starving Polish ghetto. My most recent cinematic response to nazis was Inglorious Basterds, and it’s hard to focus on the facts and details here without imagining escape/revenge fantasies.

Auschwitz-Birkenau:

Lanzmann rarely edits an interview, doesn’t use tricks to seamlessly cut out pauses or repetitions. I didn’t deal with the enormity of the film all at once – instead, having just finished Show Me a Hero, I treated this like another miniseries, watching in 60 to 120-minute increments, which made its relentless death-camp horrors easier to take – or maybe not, since I spent more consecutive days thinking about them. The length and focus of the movie seemed on point, but by the time we got to hour eight, talking to people who scheduled the “special” trains who claimed no knowledge of what made them special, I thought okay, this is a bit long.

A phrase caught my attention, upsettingly familiar-sounding this year: the Jews of the ghetto were “forced not only to build a wall, but to pay for it.”

I haven’t got enough documentary history (or holocaust scholarship) to know how this movie changed things, but I noticed a few unique details. In some documentaries the interview subject will get emotional, tear up, and the camera will zoom into to their faces and I’ll think “this is a bit crass.” The same thing happens here, the camera zooming in, Lanzmann patiently urging his crying subject to continue, and it never seems exploitative – interviewer and subject are on the same moral side, and when Lanzmann tells them that it’s important to continue, you’re with him.

Some interviews are recorded with covert videocameras (which, in the late 1970s, were not very covert) broadcasting to a van outside. Per wiki, “during one interview, the covert recording was discovered and Lanzmann was physically attacked. He was hospitalized for a month and charged by the authorities with unauthorized use of the German airwaves.”

Lanzmann shot hundreds of hours of footage and has edited four more feature-length films from them so far. Filmed in part by William Lubtchansky, who was doing great work with Rivette and Godard and Varda and de Gregorio and Straub/Huillet and Truffaut around the same time. Won lots of raves and awards – no oscar nomination, but Lanzmann is now an academy member and was apparently a fan of Son of Saul last year.

Per Kent Jones, Shoah was “the Hebrew word for catastrophe or destruction, which had been in use among some Jews since the early forties.”

Jones on the structure:

The film would consist only of testimonies and new footage shot at the sites where organized killing had taken place, and of images shot where the people on camera were living at the time of filming; there would be no experts making grand theoretical summations; … with two exceptions, the people on camera would be either perpetrators, victims, or bystanders (to borrow the categories established by Hilberg); the film would restrict its focus to the systematic annihilation of the European Jews; and it would be a work of cinema as opposed to an audiovisual historical summation.

By situating his film in the present and creating conditions that allowed us to see that it was coexistent with the past, by questioning his subjects about concrete details only, by creating an atmosphere of quietly urgent attention, by constructing a form that left the impression of multiple possible beginnings and endings, Lanzmann achieved something that was not only unprecedented but was, and is, an astonishment: he returned the Shoah to the civilized world that had disowned it.

Gilda (1946, Charles Vidor)

“I would destroy myself to take you down with me”

Glenn Ford (this is the anonymous-looking 1940’s Glenn Ford, not the superior 1950’s version from the Fritz Lang movies) is a grifter turned semi-respectable once hired by illegal casino owner George Macready (Paths of Glory, The Big Clock) with the unlikely character name of Ballin Mundson. Buncha noir-lite character development and plot setup ensues, while I’m on seat’s edge waiting for someone – anyone – to ask Gilda if she’s decent, then finally it happens and the movie comes to life.

So I guess Glenn and Gilda dated for years before it all fell apart, and now Glenn’s hiding out in Buenos Aires and his boss goes on vacation and comes back married to Gilda. Because of this movie’s noir reputation I assumed there’d be some femme fatale reveal in which she’s plotting a convoluted revenge scenario, but nope, just a massive movie coincidence – not to say the movie isn’t still convoluted. Glenn and George take turns toying with Gilda and she marries Glenn after George fakes his own death via plane crash. George briefly returns, only to be dispatched by bathroom attendant “Uncle Pio” (actor Steven Geray was Hungarian but hey, any foreigner will do), and we get an anti-Casablanca ending as Glenn belatedly decides he still likes Gilda.

Gilda serenades Uncle Pio:

All this plot is diverting, but Rita Hayworth’s beauty and attitude are the main attraction. I wonder if Gilda’s the only 1940’s female character to marry two men, cheat on both of them repeatedly, and still get a happy ending. Her hit song from the movie “Put the Blame on Mame” (which was pried into the tagline for this movie, confusing those of us who’d never heard the song and thought it a stupid catchphrase) is about a hot-kissin’ hard-dancin’ woman, and Dave Kehr notes it “has been known to provoke impure thoughts”. Maybe Rita even charmed the censors… or maybe they demanded different kinds of changes. Buenos Aires is crowded with corrupt officials, murderous businessmen and sinister Germans – I can’t tell if the fact that nazis and their collaborators hid out in Argentina after WWII was well-known when this film was written. Of course nazis are never mentioned, and in typical Hollywood style, Mundson controls a “tungsten cartel” instead of anything unsavory.

Played the first Cannes Film Festival alongside Brief Encounter, Rome Open City, Notorious, The Lost Weekend and Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. I mainly knew this film as the inspiration for Laura Harring’s character’s name in Mulholland Dr and the excerpt in Shawshank Redemption. Vidor had recently made the not-as-good Rita movie Cover Girl. Shot by Rudoplh Maté (The Passion of Joan of Arc, Foreign Correspondent), one of his last before retiring.

Devil is a Woman masked carnival:

S. O’Malley:

Gilda is a pawn between two men who seem more interested in each other than her … There’s Ballin’s phallic cane/sword named his “little friend”; at one point, Ballin says, “Wait for me here, Johnny. I’ll need both my little friends tonight” … The ending, with Johnny and Gilda exiting together, is a holdover from the days of the cathartic “The End” of musicals, but it leaves an uneasy impression, similar to the final scene in Notorious. In neither ending does it feel like “love has triumphed.” It’s more like a criminal getaway.

The Last Ten Minutes vol. 15

The Cobbler (2014, Tom McCarthy)

Just morbidly curious about The Station Agent director’s latest. Did anyone realize while making this that shoe “soles” and human “souls” are homophones? Wonder if that might be useful. Melonie Diaz (Fruitvale Station) is asking Adam Sandler out, then hey it’s Steve Buscemi! “Pickles preserve you… they give you strength” – I’ve been saying this for years. Wait, Buscemi transformed into Dustin Hoffman, am I getting this right? Sandler is not a good dramatic actor, hasn’t anyone realized? Oh, “walk in another man’s shoes,” I get it now.

Saw IV (2007, Darren Lynn Bousman)

Checking my notes, I believe everyone except maybe Orson Macfadyen was dead at the end of part 3. And here’s Orson, one of many dudes running with guns down dark corridors, while some other dudes die in a trap room. I think Donnie Wahlberg and Orson just died, then a victim turns out to be the mastermind (a la the original Saw) and leaves some dying guys locked up in a factory, and Dead Jigsaw promises more sequels – but not by Bousman, who moved on to New Year’s Day and Repo! The Genetic Opera after this. From the writers of Feast, the Piranha remake-sequel, and possibly the next Halloween.

Saw V (2008, David Hackl)

How does Dead Jigsaw continue to star in these movies? Prequel? A couple’s hands are being sawed up while Scott Patterson (a Scott Bakula type from the last sequel) plays a tape and dudes with guns walk through dark corridors to the same copy-and-paste drumbeat music and metallic sound effects as the last movie’s last ten minutes. Bland-looking Costas Mandylor escapes a trap room while Bakula Type gets crushed inside and a Matt Walsh type triggers a full-movie flashback, lucky for me. Hackl worked on all of Bousman’s Saw sequels and did production design on Lexx.

You’re Next (2011, Adam Wingard)

I hated Wingard’s A Horrible Way to Die but heard last year’s The Guest was good, so catching up with the one that came in between. Soap star Sharni Vinson is looking all beat up, stumbling around till someone shoots her with a crossbow. Enter a couple of assailants, killed with knife and blender. Sharni’s boyfriend AJ Bowen was in on the home invasion plot, arranged to have his family killed so he’d inherit, but the girlfriend’s not buying his boring story, haha then she’s shot by the cops.

Cabin Fever 3: Patient Zero (2014, Kaare Andrews)

Skinless girlfight, hurting each other in ways this underlit beach scene can’t quite afford to explain. Then one guy has a gun and it’s boring, and Dr. Sean Samwise Astin kills that guy just slowly enough to give him a dying monologue, and I think maybe Samwise escapes with the virus. Good work interweaving explanatory scenes through the closing credits to make viewers stay through ’em. The director made “V” in The ABCs of Death, which was also boring, and the writer did a Hitcher remake and a When a Stranger Calls remake.

Man With The Iron Fists 2 (2015, Roel Reine)

Came across this while searching for Iron Sky, had no idea there was a sequel to that middling action film. It sure enough stars RZA and his iron fists, but instead of Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu, this one’s got a lotta Thai actors, poor CG effects, and more than one guy screaming “noooooooo!” Climactic fight has RZA fighting a bad guy with iron legs. The director made a couple Death Race sequels and a Scorpion King sequel.

Iron Sky (2012, Timo Vuorensola)

Blonde woman stops a nazi from blowing up the earth, electrocuting him in an absurd way then stabbing his head with a shoe. Meanwhile a buncha Star Wars stuff is happening outside, after which a woman in a feather suit accurately says “well that was disappointing” and the Star Spangled Banner plays ironically as world leaders tussle, then LOL nuclear war. Damn, missed Udo Kier. Glad to see there will be a sequel featuring him and Tom Green.

Renaissance (2006, Christian Volckman)

That Sin City cartoon with Daniel Craig. Wow, it’s a disaster – nice frames, but the motion and editing and acting (cheers, Romola Garai of Amazing Grace) are slow and weird. Very few shades of gray, mostly pure black and white. Trying to figure out what went wrong, so I forgot to pay attention to plot. Two of the writers did a Jean Reno thing called 22 Bullets. Volckman doesn’t have lots of credits, has forgotten to make any more movies since this one.

Cabaret (1972, Bob Fosse)

Oscar for best actress, obviously, and also seven more (director, cinematography, supporting for Joel Grey) but picture went to The Godfather. I don’t know Liza Minnelli from much – just this and Arrested Development – but she’s perfect in both. The movie though, eh, not my favorite nazi musical. Could’ve stood to be more musical, blurrier and more insane a la All That Jazz (I guess Fosse hadn’t had his drug-addled breakdown yet).

Brash dancer Minnelli gets a new roommate, closeted scholar Michael York. Both roomies have affairs with wealthy Max (Helmut Griem of The Damned and Les rendez-vous d’Anna) and help to hook up two of York’s English students (Fritz Wepper of The Bridge and Marisa Berenson, wife of Barry Lyndon). The nazi stuff is less foregrounded than I would’ve thought – they’re slowly going from a violent street cult to the dominant political party in the background of a story full of sympathetic gays and Jews. Fun times while they lasted, though. Interesting to watch this right before Phoenix, eliding the whole war in between.

Rocks In My Pockets (2014, Signe Baumane)

A good night, with the energetic director in attendance, introducing then discussing her film. It’s an impressive feat too, an animated feature made by a very small team, 2D animation composited onto paper mache backgrounds. Not completely crazy about the movie since it felt like a wearying illustrated audiobook after a while with her relentless narration, but it’s a mostly charming work about her family history of depression and suicide.

Grandma is well educated but runs off with her nationalist entrepeneur boss and bears eight children in a secluded forest, as Latvia is fought over by Russians and nazis and nationalism becomes irrelevant. She raises the kids, tends the animals, carries buckets of water up the hill all day while the entrepeneur works for years on his anti-Russian manifesto, which is burned when discovered by the kids years later. It’s said that grandma would have drowned herself but she kept floating because she didn’t know to put rocks in her pockets. Signe explores her family history while dealing with her own periodic depression, learning about strange and suicidal cousins, before returning to her own feelings and the way she deals with them through art.