Black-and-white static camera setups of tourists browsing a former concentration camp. Some are on organized tours, some use personal listening devices, and some are just reading the signs. Lots of photos, some selfie sticks, some chatty groups and solo lingering. I won’t catalog all the terrible t-shirts people wear to the site, since someone on Letterboxd has already done that. At first I thought “these people are simply awful,” but they’re not – it’s just that those few bad t-shirts stand out, and it’s not clear why they so badly want photos of each other in front of the “arbeit macht frei” sign, but at least they’ve made the effort to come to this place and maybe learn about history instead of getting drunk at the beach. Anyway, the movie is exactly as simple as I’d heard, while the thoughts it provoked were much more conflicted than I expected.

I was in a strange mood one night during Cannes Month, and thus became the first person to ever double-feature Austerlitz with Death Proof. This didn’t actually play Cannes, but Death Proof did, because life is strange.

Sicinski:

Exhibiting a simplicity and intellectual acuity that is far too rare in the field of documentary, Loznitsa has created a film whose cumulative impact will stay with you long after you watch it, tinting and shading the way that you experience a multitude of previously ordinary cultural practices … Austerlitz is about the disconnection between the greatest horror of the 20th century and our inability to adequately convey it to the 21st. Loznitsa captures this tragedy in the form of a young dude bopping through the gates of Sachsenhausen, his t-shirt emblazoned with last year’s meme: “COOL STORY BRO.”

J. Kuehner:

The deep-focus photography of DP Jesse Mazuch accentuates the choreographic shuffle of the crowds en masse, their collective amble posing an unsavoury contrast to the bodies once confined here. The connotation is that grief has been repressed or is altogether absent, the free bodies hemmed in by social etiquette but not too hard put-upon by the gravity of the place. It’s hard to tell if this is the look of an aggregate vigil, several generations removed, or that of an amnesiac drift.

“Full Moon Pictures presents”

Oh God, it’s happening. I delayed for seven years, watching the occasional Dollman or Demonic Toys movie, but there are still Puppet Master sequels to watch, and eventually I must watch them.

“A Charles Band Production”

Don’t be too impressed – IMDB says Band produced 30 movies that year.

“A Joseph Tennent Film”

Since his previous Puppet Master sequel only a year earlier, director David DeCoteau had made about seven movies under various aliases.

Retro Puppetmaster

It’s so retro that Puppetmaster is one word again – a throwback to the first movie, or a misspelling due to overall franchise confusion and underpaid titles writers?

Flashbacking from 1944 to “long ago” Cairo, a sorcerer is stealing the secrets of the gods, and everyone in this temple is repeating their lines of dialogue in order to pad the scene.

Vincent Price-ish sorcerer holding scroll of forbidden secrets:

To Paris 1902, and enter flamboyant Ilsa, who is acting her heart out, and uptight Marguerite, who seems to be appearing in this movie at gunpoint and reading her lines phonetically. “Don’t go into any opium dens,” Ilsa is advised as she heads for a puppet show. She meets Young Toulon (now played by Greg Sestero, soon to become infamous in The Room) backstage when sewer-dwelling Dark City fellows hire hit men to take out a hobo after the show.

Sestero is not strangling this hobo, he’s checking for signs of life:

The prop and costume budget on this movie seems higher than the talent budget. “I understand. You’re a 3000-year-old sorcerer from Egypt and you want to teach me the secret of life.” Afzel (Jack Donner, DiCaprio’s dad in J. Edgar) shows Young Toulon how to resurrect the soul of his dead hobo friend into a mute wooden puppet with oversized arms, telling him this is the most precious power in the history of the world, which I dunno. The new wooden puppets are cool: I call them Skeletal Surgeon, Primitive Screwhead, Sergeant Cyclops and Hobo Hulk.

“It is time to act,” say the Dark City Goons, and not a moment too soon… oh, but that’s not what they meant. While Toulon is off being arrested and beaten by Ilsa’s ambassador father’s soldiers, the DCGs head to the theater and psychically murder all the puppeteers by blurring the film over their faces. Cornered, Afzel proactively blurs himself to death.

Blur-attack:

Self-blur suicide:

After all this plot and dreadful dialogue delivery, Toulon only has 30 minutes left in the movie to transfer the souls of his dead friends into the wood puppets and direct them to murder the DCGs. “We shall be avengers.” It’s actually not bad as far as origin stories go.

They set out to search the country for the Dark City Goons, but they’re standing right in the other room, so we get our first showdown straight away: the DCGs’ film-blurring powers vs. a bunch of stabby, strangley little puppets. The DCGs are dispatched by a falling chandelier, then the voice of Sutek shouts “live again,” and two of them do, with newly green-glowing hands. The remaining DCGs (their leader, the appropriately-named Stephen Blackehart, was later in Super and both Guardians of the Galaxy) decide to get to Toulon by kidnapping his girl.

Lovely Ilsa: Brigitta Dau, a voice on My Little Pony in its least-popular era:

Blackehart, probably:

Second showdown, on a train this time, where everyone talks real slow to allow the puppets time to get into position. It’s all kinda underlit and non-dramatic, so DeCoteau tries tilting the camera around to build some energy. The puppets team up on one guy and Toulon punches the other out the window. As with the rest of the Puppet Master movies, it feels like they’re desperately stretching out scenes to make a contractually-obligated runtime.

In 1944 postscript, properly aged Toulon (series fave Guy Rolfe) builds anticipation for another movie by telling his puppets that he’ll tell them what happened to the original puppets “at another time” – but it would be four long years before the clip-show Puppet Master: The Legacy, a cheap and shitty move even by this series’s standards, then came the Demonic Toys faceoff, and in the 2010s a new nazi-themed trilogy began, so I guess we’ll never know.

Dramatisation of when totalitarianism expert Arendt was sent by The New Yorker to cover Israel’s trial of nazi controller Eichmann and she returned with a different story than everyone was expecting, bringing up the complicity of certain Jews in the holocaust and Eichmann’s non-evil ordinariness. Besides the social problems this causes, Arendt (Barbara Sukowa, Fassbinder’s Lola, also Europa and M. Butterfly) appears to be in constant, low-burning inner crisis. It’s well-acted, but I’m not sure the movie does a great job of visualizing philosophical thought by showing Arendt looking pained and distant for two hours. Katy was distracted by her “open marriage” which her generally supportive husband Heinrich took advantage of while Hannah dreamed of days past with Heidegger, and what it had to do with anything. The use of actual Eichmann footage instead of hiring an actor was a nice touch.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

“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.