AV Club: “The script comes from Eric Roth, who would probably by accused of borrowing too liberally from Forrest Gump if he hadn’t written that too.” Wow, dude also wrote that Eric Bana gambler love story I was just mocking yesterday, and my favorite film to hate, The Postman. No wonder writing seemed to be the weakness in this would-be-spectacular movie. Huge issues (hello, racism) were ignored, episodes (hello, Tilda Swinton) weren’t well integrated with the rest of the film, and Button ended up seeming like an unambitious blank who doesn’t do much with his so-called remarkable life.

Katy suggested the unambitious-blank part and some Forrest Gump comparisons, but I wonder if that wasn’t the point, to show a regular guy with parental issues who meets a girl, goes to war, has a kid, rambles around and never quite finds his place in the world, the whole aging-backwards thing being the only remarkable thing about him. That and the movie’s obsession with mortality make it a meaningful story about life and how to live it. Maybe we unrealistically expected Button to be some kinda sci-fi superhero, while the movie was trying to speak to us about life and death, love and loss, or maybe on Christmas day we weren’t in the mood for an extended monologue about mortality, but this came out feeling like a pretty alright movie, a tearjerker to be sure but maybe not the acclaimed masterpiece to which we’d been looking forward.

Pretty nice music by Alexandre Desplat was loud and fuckin’ clear, since 45 minutes before the end of the film our dialogue track almost entirely cut out leaving us with whispered words under a huge score… thanks heaps, Regal. At least we could still hear when we tried hard, since most of the audience was either heavily concentrating or fast asleep by then. Shot NOT by Fincher’s Zodiac guy, and boy am I relieved, cuz in the parking lot I was bemoaning the lack of surprise or interest in the camera setups (figuring the CG effects left no room for surprise), comparing it negatively to the immaculately-shot Milk, which we’d snuck into before our feature started… forgetting that the Zodiac guy actually shot Milk, and some nobody (the D.P. of the last M. McConaughey romance flick) shot The Ben Buttons, thus preserving my aesthetic intuitions.

So right, Ben kills his mom being born in New Orleans on the day WWI ends, is abandoned Penguin-style by his dad, discovered and raised by Queenie and (boyfriend?) Tizzy in an old folks’ home, where unsurprisingly, people die from time to time. Ben meets a girl who is not yet Cate Blanchett but one day will be. Ben, BTW, is incredibly old, confined to a wheelchair, then learns to walk with canes as he grows ever younger. He gets a job on a tugboat, has regular sex with married Tilda Swinton in a hotel, and helps in the WWII effort while Cate becomes a dancer with hip bohemian friends & spontaneous lovers. The time is not right for those two to get together, but one day after Cate’s career-destroying car accident the time is right and they do and are very happy and have a kid. Ben finds out that his real dad is Mr. Buttons, who dies and leaves Ben the button factory he ran. Also dying: war friends, Tizzy then Queenie. Ben is afraid when he grows too young he’ll be a burden (he is) so he leaves Cate and bums around the world instead. Interesting how as his brain becomes less developed and he gets smaller, it’s effectively alzheimer’s disease – he forgets more and reverts to childish behavior living in his childhood home. Cate’s daughter grows up, her “dad” dies, and while caring for her dying mom (still played by Cate, unrecognizably) the day before Hurricane Katrina hits, she learns the whole story in a huge framing device.

Brad Pitt, after a brief spell of manic energy in Burn After Reading, is back to his brooding-as-acting style, which should work just fine in next year’s Terence Malick picture with appropriate wistful voiceover. Cate is wonderful as fucking always – the acting highlight of the movie, she can do no wrong. Brad’s Coen-costar Tilda Swinton is fine with the tiny role she gets.

People I Thought I Should Have Recognized But Actually Shouldn’t Have include TV’s M. Etc. Ali as Tizzy, an otherwise uncredited actor as the African fella who takes young Ben to a brothel, Cap’n Mike: Jared Harris (Lady in the Water), and adoptive mom Taraji Henson (Talk To Me). People I Recognized But Didn’t Know From Where include Guy Ritchie action star Jason Flemyng as Mr. Button. People I Did Not Recognize At All include framing-story secret Button daughter Julia Ormond (Inland Empire), and People I Should Have Recognized But Somehow Missed include Elias Koteas as the blind clockmaker who kicks off the story.

OMG I totally forgot I watched this until Katy mentioned it today at dinner. Had Shocktober on the mind, I guess. So yeah, there were two new movies playing that I badly wanted to see, couldn’t decide between them, so Katy decided we’d see this instead. A harmless flick about being super-fuckin-cool kids in New York City. See, they don’t seem cool – the Michael-Cera-talkin’ nervous kid (aptly played by Michael Cera) and the shy girl who everyone uses because of her famous dad – but they are cool because they’ve got their own scene and they totally dig each other and they like the same music.

Music: the movie’s got music on the brain. Nick’s in a band and makes killer mix CDs, Norah (Kat Dennings, principal’s daughter in Charlie Bartlett) likes his band, and her dad owns Electric Lady Studios… but we see about a minute of live rock ‘n’ roll, and all the other music we hear is way in the background. Juno showcased music much better than this movie did. So we turn instead to plot, and it’s alright, a long night in the city during which N&N get together, part, then get together again. And there’s a drunk friend, two gay dudes with a van, an awful ex-girlfriend (Lolita from Broken Flowers!), an ex-boyfriend, a very drunk friend who gets lost (she was in Game 6 – anyone remember Game 6?) and a cameo by John Cho (and I didn’t recognize Devendra Banhart). Katy liked it despite the vomiting and the long-lasting chewing-gum running joke.

I was hoping for another inventive cult-classic a la Brain Damage or writer Larry Cohen’s The Stuff, but I got your standard, straightforward, low-budget horror-thriller with no invention or visual flair whatsoever.

There’s even nothing special about the performances, which is a real crime considering it stars Bruce Campbell (between Evil Deads 2 and 3), Tom Atkins (the cop in Night of the Creeps!), Richard Roundtree (Shaft!) and, um, Laurene Landon (It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive). Robert (“oh, z’no!”) Z’Dar is the titular cop and Sheree North (starred in Frank Tashlin’s The Lieutenant Wore Skirts 30 years earlier) is his crazy caretaker.

A maniac cop is terrorizing the city! Cop Bruce Campbell is cheating on his wife with a fellow cop, but surprisingly this is okay with the movie and Bruce’s wife is killed instead, the killer (actually his smarter mother-figure who works at police headquarters and tells him what to do) attempting to pin the murders on Bruce. There’s a making-of-the-monster backstory, lots more people are killed, then Bruce busts out of jail and chases the maniac cop, who accidentally kills himself… but is he really dead??? Spoiler alert: no.

Bruce Campbell didn’t do it, nobody saw him do it, you can’t prove anything
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Tom Atkins’ gun is a tiny film projector
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Sam Raimi, reporter
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The only novelty death: man’s face shoved in wet concrete
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This was huge-faced Z’Dar’s big break, landing him the highly desirable role of Joe Estevez’s sidekick in Soultaker two years later
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Bahrani has Iranian heritage but was born in North Carolina, and this movie was clearly made in the USA so it sadly doesn’t count as part of Iranian Month.

I liked it a lot. It’s got the realist approach, child protagonist and hopeful ending of Where Is The Friend’s Home, but set in the auto junkyards in the shadow of Shea Stadium in Queens. Ale(jandro) and older sister Isamar live and work in an auto garage. He hustles cars into the shop and helps the mechanics by day, and sells bootleg DVDs by night; she works a food stand by day and dabbles in prostitution by night. Together they hope to afford a $4500 food-service truck of their own, but after they buy it the dream comes crashing down. The vehicle can be fixed and painted but the kitchen is unusable so they scrap their just-bought truck for $1000 in parts. Meanwhile, Ale finds out his sister is sucking dicks in the parking lot and wonders what to do/think about that.

Whole movie I’m thinking “indie dramas about poor people in poor neighborhoods always ends in tragedy”, but this one didn’t. The truck is a setback, and nobody wants their sister to be a prostitute, but at the end the kids are still together, making money, with friends and a place to live. They’re making plenty, really… doesn’t seem like it took that long to afford the truck. Nobody is physically hurt or killed, Ale’s secret cash stash is never found/stolen, they’re not kicked out of the garage and back on the street, drugs are never mentioned. Not that big a deal, but jeez do movies love to pile on the tragedy when it comes to poor people, so it was refreshing.

Camerawork is nice, all handheld, nothing that stands out except the awesome final shot (Isamar scares pigeons, camera follows pigeons quickly up, lingers on white frame of the sky, then cut to black). I don’t know if everyone read this in the same place or if they’re all just having the same idea, but every time I hear about this movie it’s compared to Italian Neorealism (fair enough) and they say if it wasn’t for the stadium it would be easy to believe it was set in some foreign country. I don’t know what country they’re talking about, and it seems neither do they. Felt pretty American to me. The kids are very good. My favorite part of the movie was Isamar’s voice, actually. Predictably this kid-salesman movie won the “someone to watch” independent spirit award over Munyurangabo (kid movie) and Frownland (salesman movie).

As Katy said, it’s like a whole new season packed into 2.5 hours. I liked the mexican vacation / food poisoning episode, and the Christmas one where Carrie watches Meet Me In St. Louis, but the others were ehhh. Not any better or worse than sitting down with the series for that long. Of course this means that the S&TC Movie is less damaging to the S&TC legacy than the new Indiana Jones movie is to its own series legacy. Jennifer Hudson was shoehorned into the plot, so now I’ve seen half of her movies.

“This life came so close to never happening.”

A movie about sadness and mourning, loss and bad decisions, real friends and sham friends. Picked this as the first of my Seven Favorite Movies To Show Katy but forgot to mention to her that it’s my favorite heartbreakingly sad movie and that I can start crying at work just by thinking too hard about it. Oops! Still, a little sadness can be good for you and once she stopped crying Katy said it was a good movie.

Came out late 2002 and proceeded to be pretty much ignored. Won two awards for best music score and some film festival in Barcelona gave Edward Norton “best foreign actor”. I guess it was nominated for a golden bear in Berlin, beaten out by Michael Winterbottom.

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D. Edelstein doesn’t think the 9/11-WTC connections belong in the film: “The story of 25th Hour is fueled by the threat of anal rape: It’s what preoccupies Monty, and it’s the heart of the sexual-panic motif that runs (subtly, mischievously) through the screenplay.”

Where Are They Now: writer David Benioff put an X-Men reference into his “25th Hour” script (which starred two X-Men movie vets) and is now writing the Wolverine movie. Good job. Spike’s doing a TV movie with Amy Ryan and a WWII movie set in Italy, and I still feel bad for never watching When The Levees Broke. The “sheeeeeeeeeit” detective was on The Wire, Rosario Dawson may or may not be in Sin City 2 or 3, Anna Paquin’s starring in a TV show and Ed Norton is HULK.

Cowritten by Lawrence Block, longtime mystery writer once adapted by Oliver Stone for a film directed by Hal Ashby! This is his first screenwriting credit. Cinematography by Iranian Darius Khondji, who shot a lot of other visually-distinctive stuff like the Caro/Jeunet films, The Beach and Panic Room.

Norah Jones is dumped by her boyfriend, leaves her keys at the cafe for him in the hands of Jude Law. Talks to JL every night over blueberry pie, starts to like him, one night she takes “the long way” across the street to his cafe and goes on a year-long trip across the country, getting waitressing and bartending jobs, saving up for a car and writing poor Jude Law lots of postcards but never giving a return address.

First major stop is in a Memphis bar where cop David Strathairn (Good Luck and Good Night, Mother Night) pines for his separated wife Rachel Weisz (The Fountain) and drinks and drinks. Violence escalates, he dies in a car crash, Rachel is sad and Norah is outta there. Then somewhere in Nevada, a casino where Norah gives all her money to Natalie Portman with NP’s nice car as collateral. NP tries to teach a convoluted lesson about mistrust by faking that she lost all the money, giving up her car and having Norah drive them both to Vegas to see NP’s dying (oops, dead) father, but the lesson doesn’t come off very well.

With both of her extended stays in foreign cities and attempts to make new friends having ended in death and sadness, Norah comes home to NYC, where Jude has decided to let go of his ex-girlfriend Cat Power (on account of her being an unconvincing actress in her only scene) and the two are free to fall in love in their own distinctive way (bonding over security-cam videos, eating too much pie, Norah falling asleep and Jude kissing her without permission). A sweet ending.

So the story is kinda muddled, though the characters are all pretty strong (if a bit unbelievable and cliched) but the movie flows more or less like a WKW film, with slow-motion and emotional edit/flashbacks, a dreamy pop soundtrack (Ry Cooder, Otis Redding, “The Greatest” played three times, and a touch of Yumeji’s theme when Jude first falls for Norah). Strong colors, close-ups without establishing shots, the camera like a hazy memory lingering behind glass and slowly creeping behind obstructions, but focus always sharp. Glad I was warned not to expect too much, but I ended up liking it a whole lot.

“Help me. Rats are eating me.”

Rose (not shown here because I didn’t think to get screenshots until after she’d died) lives in a spooky “New York” apartment building above a rare book store run by cat-hater Kazanian. She reads his book about The Three Mothers (which is not such a rare book since he has a few copies in stock). Bumbles around the basement, drops her keys into an underwater room with a portrait of a Mother and some floaty dead bodies, then recovers from that only to be stabbed in the neck.

Kazanian hating on some cats:
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How to die in this movie, in three steps:
1. a hand injury
2. (optional) animal attack
3. stabbed in the neck

Rose’s mustachioed brother Mark is in Rome studying music with his buddy Sara, when he gets a mysterious letter from Rose referencing the Three Mothers book.

Mustachioed Mark, seen here whispering into a hole:
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Mark runs off, freaked out by a cat lady who appears in class, so snooping Sara reads the letter.

Cat Lady, seen here in music class:
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Sara picks up a copy of the not-at-all-rare book in Rome, and stumbles immediately upon another of the three evil buildings that the book mentions. She runs away from an evil alchemist and befriends a man in the elevator who soon gets stabbed in the neck.

Sara’s elevator buddy, seen here under a heavy blue filter:
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A monster catches Sara and dispatches her with a broken window to the neck. I am not kidding.

Snooping Sara shortly before getting her stupid self stabbed:
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Mark goes to “New York” to find his sister, meets her hot neighbor Elise. Elise helps get him caught up on the mystery, then she gets tormented by having stagehands throw cats at her from off-camera, and stabbed to death.

Elise on the set of INFERNO:
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Also in the apartment are an evil nurse who wheels around an evil old man, a nondescript woman (not shown), and a loyal butler.

Mark hassles poor Kazanian, who is later tormented by cats in his bookstore. Kazanian loads the cats into a bag, takes it to the river to drown them, falls down and is nibbled by rats before being stabbed in the neck. His own fault, really.

Back at the mysterious apartment building, the butler is probably evil (aren’t they always?) but I don’t remember for sure… anyway, his eyes are gouged out, breaking the knife-to-the-neck rule set forth by INFERNO in order to keep the “an eye must always be gouged out” general law of Italian horror.

Butler near a birdcage:
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If the butler isn’t the mastermind behind all this evil, it must be the old man, who lives like Phantom of the Paradise in the cellar with his listening devices and his robot microphone.

Phantom of “New York”:
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Wrong again! It’s the nurse who wheels him about! I think the movie is saying that she’s one of the Three Mothers and that she is very evil, but I’m not sure how far her evil extends, or if it’s even dangerous to people who don’t live in this apartment or attend music class or hate cats. But oh my god, when Mark goes downstairs to face her, the movie’s theme song plays with lyrics sung in Latin, and that is great.

One Evil Mother:
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The nondescript woman sets the place accidentally on fire (it’s an “inferno”, if you will), and the Mother is either delighted or horrified by this, hard to tell since at this point she is wearing a rubber skeleton mask, but anyway she throws her hands in the air and Mustache Mark escapes, the end.

My favorite part of the whole affair is the interview on the DVD, where a weary-looking Argento talks about what a difficult and personal film this was, and how he and assistant director Lamberto Bava (dir. DEMONS and DEVIL FISH) and his father Mario Bava (dir. Black Sunday and Diabolik) struggled over this effects shot where a woman dramatically crashes through a mirror and comes out wearing a fakey skeleton costume. Yep, it took the three greatest minds of Italian horror to come up with that one. If only they could’ve got Lucio Fulci (Zombi 2, The Beyond) and Umberto Lenzi (Cannibal Ferox) to make her a better rubber suit.

The underwater bit isn’t bad, which is the same thing I said about Zombi 2. Maybe the Italians should make a whole horror movie underwater.

At least I was so busy marvelling at the silliness of the whole thing that I didn’t notice the dubbing.

Implications of this movie:
– women (or maybe actors in general) are just set dressings to be put in pretty poses and then threatened and stabbed.
– there is something evil, and it’s been around forever, and it is easily defeated by unknowing incompetents, though honestly it’s better off being left alone since it’s not much of a threat to anyone.
– alchemists are scary, cats are evil, architecture is evil

I think Eyes Wide Shut was based on this movie. The atmosphere and pacing, the camera zooms, the drowsily agitated characters, the fake New York, the singing in Latin… it all adds up.

Total Film mag and the They Shoot Pictures List call this one of the best horror movies of the ’80’s, but those people are tripping.

This is a semi-sequel to Suspiria, and Dario Argento’s brand new film Mother of Tears is a sequel to this one starring his daughter Asia (as a woman in trouble) and Udo Kier. Mustache Mark never amounted to much… Rose appeared in Puppet Master and Watchers II… Sara was in something with Marcello Mastroianni and Tom Berenger… Elise has been in all the big Italian horrors and will appear in Mother of Tears… the nurse was in The Beyond… Sara’s blue-tinted friend dubbed the title character in the Italian release of V For Vendetta… the old wheelchair man appeared in The Seventh Victim in 1943… and Kazanian was the husband in Last Year at Marienbad!