A key document of pandemic-era people being shitty to each other. Last week’s viewing of Happy Valley was well timed, since Jude also roams the streets here, filming construction and advertising billboards and plant life. Altogether too academic, despite all the sex. Chapter two is didactic social horrors. Mostly exasperating – give me Social Hygiene over this any day. At least this had better color than most movies – surprising, since it’s mostly a parent-teacher conference interrupted by documentary street scenes. My first by Radu Jude, whose previous six films have been on my radar.
Somehow the most delightful and enjoyable of the Cote movies I’ve seen, even though this one is just people standing still in fields, and the others were kinda a thriller and kinda a nature doc. He’s an unusual filmmaker – per AS Hamrah “Côté has made over a dozen low-budget, semi-conceptual films in Canada since 2005 and shows no sign of letting up. Each of his movies is a bracing delight designed to perk up an audience by asking it to see and listen in some new way.”
Early-Villeneuve star Maxim Gaudette is our lead, facing off vs. a different woman in every scene – first his sister, then both wife and girlfriend. He’s a thief, living in his car, dodging taxes, giving circuitous answers. Scenes are connected by whip pans, or pillow shots, or a girl named Aurora walking around the wilderness – turns out she’s following him, since he smashed her car windows and stole her laptop. At the end, his wife says something like “it’s a simple question and I forbid you from complicating it” – I could use that line.
with sister, Ghost Town Anthology’s Larissa Corriveau
with girlfriend Eve Duranceau (and chaperone)
There’s something odd to the frames, a mild Sokurov light-bending effect, and there seems to be a smear on the lens in a different spot in each shot. Then again, nothing falls apart faster in streaming video than wide shots of trees on a breezy day, so this looked pretty bad, that might be the problem. “I’m going to the cinema. I’ll sit in the first row. That way I’ll see the movie before anyone else.”
with victim, Éléonore Loiselle
We don’t wanna sit around watching covid docs, but after her last movie, we trusted Nanfu Wang to make a good one. The initial hook is her Chinese/American family getting caught a world apart when lockdowns begin, but the family-reunion adventure-film doesn’t play out. Instead, she sends Chinese reporters into hospitals and on other missions, spends all day and night sifting through their footage and various social media posts, piercing the censorship veil to locate real stories of the virus’s initial spread, its early damage and the government’s control over the media, before flipping back to the U.S. to discuss the same kind of political spin doctoring and poor decisions here.
I bailed on this after a couple scenes at Sundance, but only because I had work in the morning, not because I didn’t want to watch the rest. Still bugged by the new guy (Joel Fry of Paddington 2) being allowed into the lab unmasked before passing his array of pandemic-virus tests. He’s assigned a guide (folk-horror vet Ellora Torchia of Midsommar) and heads into the woods to do something or other, despite being bad at the outdoors, and hopefully run into his boss Dr. Wendell. There’s talk of underground network “like a brain” between trees, and later we’ll get a nice spore-releasing montage (the earth breathing) and ritual mushroom water – after A Field in England, it’s Wheatley’s second piece of mushroom art.
First they find Wendell’s ex Reece Shearsmith (The League of Gentlemen), who kidnaps them, then Wendell herself (Hayley Squires of Colin Burstead), who blasts the movie’s Clint Mansell score through tree-mounted speakers with accompanying strobe lights, and each tries to convince the newcomers that their ex is the crazy one. There’s a powerful ancient stone with a hole through it, and arguments over everyone’s intentions. Dr. Wendell claims both of the men were drawn towards her experiment when they contracted ringworm (a fungal infection: more mushrooms). When they finally enter the spore cloud, the movie goes psychedelic. Good pandemic movie – besides the plague in the cities, it is kinda about people going nuts in isolation.
Who’s crazy – mum?
And that’s it for SHOCKtober 2021. Final ranking:
1. Mad God
2. The Empty Man
4. The Devil’s Candy
6. Office Killer
7. Final Destination
My first feature at Sundance was one of the ones with uncomfortable covid-pandemic resonances. But first, it’s the neighbors griping at Sebastian (played by the director’s brother) that his dog cries too loudly while he’s at work… then work telling him that he can’t bring the dog into the office. We never hear the dog at all, until it cries out one time then is dead and buried, represented by drawings. In general the movie is crisp b/w, the cameraperson setting up still frames but stubbornly refusing to use a tripod.
Some unquarantine behavior as Seb scarfs a sandwich left behind on the train. He can’t find work, stays with his mom, and now he’s shaven and tending an old man who’s on morphine, and I’m not sure how fast time is passing. He joins a co-op farmer’s market truck that flees from cops (illicit veggie delivery), later dances with a hot girl at his mom’s wedding, then they’re having a kid together… and then the near-apocalypse comes. Cool scene, out in the field and everyone who stands up passes out… illustrations of a meteorite hitting, and we’re told that due to atmospheric changes, nobody can lift their head more than a couple feet off the ground without wearing a diver’s helmet. “In less than a year we’ll go back to normal, god willing.” A short movie that feels both slow-paced and full of incident.
On the surface this was terrific, an expertly plotted thriller, more tensely captivating than any of the Ocean’s movies, with terrific music and excellent editing. But after giving it some thought and pitting it against Super 8, Contagion is starting to feel like slimy propaganda. The bad guy in the movie is Jude Law’s blogger, supposedly a whistleblowing, truth-seeking outsider but actually a treasonous scam-artist, eager to sell out. Government agents working for the CDC (headed by Laurence Fishburne) and some local labs (headed by Elliott Gould) are the good guys – not just good but angelic. They sacrifice themselves, working extremely hard and always putting others ahead – Fishburne gives his own dose of the long-awaited vaccine to the child of poor CDC janitor John Hawkes (because in Atlanta all our janitors are white guys), Jennier Ehle uses herself as a vaccine test subject to speed the process, and Kate Winslet dies trying to discover the virus’s source. So most of the way through the movie when some anti-government protesters appear outside the CDC, the viewer has automatic hatred for them. What sort of mindless malcontents would protest against these selfless public servants?
Heroes behind the scenes, Ehle and Martin:
Hero Fishburne with regular non-hero Hawkes:
The emotional Minnesota civilian center of the movie is Matt Damon, whose dead cheatin’ wife Gwynyth Paltrow was patient zero (as amusingly illustrated at the end of the movie). Marion Cotillard is a CDC researcher gently kidnapped in China by Chin Han, held for (fake) vaccine ransom. Bryan “Malcolm’s Dad” Cranston works for FBI I think. Demetri Martin, strangely, is Jennifer Ehle’s coworker. Soderbergh and writer Scott Burns (The Informant, Bourne Ultimatum) should’ve been hired for those 9/11 movies, or some kind of corporate response film to the Occupy movement (if anyone in power felt that Occupy required a response).
Jude Law in puffy suit: