Nick Cage has one last chance to find the enemy who once held Cage captive and messed up his ear (Benir – sounds like “bent ear” – is played by Alexander Karim, actually a Swede). The first problem is that Benir is presumed dead (actually sick, in seclusion), and the second is that Cage has been diagnosed with rapidly-advancing dementia – so both men are dying of health issues aside from the revenge drama.

Cage gets help from his spy buddies Anton Yelchin (between Only Lovers Left Alive and Experimenter) and Irène Jacob (The Double Life of Véronique), and impersonates a doctor (Serban Celea of Retro Puppet Master) to gain access to his nemesis. But this is where the movie finally gets interesting. After the studio recut the movie and released it as Dying of the Light, Schrader recreated his preferred version using unconventional means, with Lynchian overlays, quivering closeups, reversed shots, and scenes rephotographed off a TV. Finally, after the typical spy-movie plot and dialogue, Cage and Benir’s confrontation breaks down into experimental sounds and colors, then cuts to Cage’s tombstone.

The Venice Film Festival posted 70-ish short films online to commemorate their 70th anniversary. I watched them gradually over the past year. These are the ones I especially liked. Least favorites are here and the rest here.

Shinya TsukamotoAbandoned Monster

A giant robot vs giant monster film that handily beats Pacific Rim, co-directed by a kid (his son?)

Athina Rachel Tsangari24 Frames Per Century

Two film projectors on an island aim picture over the ocean, running only a frame per few seconds, and as the reel runs out a woman appears to insert the new one and switch over.

Paul Schrader

Paul wears a harness of cameras pointing at himself, walks the city giving a monologue about cinema which is worth transcribing in full.

Paul Schrader on the High Line, May 29th, 2013. When I first came into the film business it was a time of crisis. Society was in upheaval. There was a drug revolution, sex revolution, gay rights, women’s rights, civil rights, anti-establishment, and the times required new heroes, new themes for movies, and we had about fifteen years of interesting film. Motion pictures are again in a time of crisis – only today it is a crisis of form, not a crisis of content. We don’t know quite what movies are. We don’t know how long they are. We don’t know how you see them, where you see them, how you pay for them. Feels more like 1913 than 2013. Everything is being made up on the fly. The idea of filmed entertainment is undergoing a systematic change. Every week brings another change. No one knows for sure what it’ll be like. It won’t be a projected image in a dark room in front of an audience – that’s 20th century. I also know that content is character, story, theme. Form is delivery systems. Content is the wine and form is the bottle. There is no content without form. There is no wine without the bottle. When the form is changing, content can’t stabilize. You can’t make a revolutionary film in the middle of a revolution. My concern is that this period of transition we’re going through may not in fact be a transition at all, but a new status of permanent technological change, which never stabilizes, will never resolve itself to the point where content can again reign supreme.

Yorgos Lanthimos

A proper drama with full credits. Two girls have a pistol duel.

Yonfan

Costume dance!

Salvatore Mereu

Young goat herder is watching movie on his phone that starred older goat herder many years ago – presumably something by Vittorio De Seta, since the short was dedicated to him.

Catherine Breillat

Hilariously self-deprecating – a café monologue about cinema’s ties to money and power is interrupted by some kids on their way to see a movie, but not the new Breillat because “I want something light, not to have to think.”

Walter Salles

Two photographs taken minutes before new popes were announced, while a woman tells a story of her absent mother who sent her a letter. “I keep you inside of me, like a film I watch and watch without ever tiring.”

Abbas Kiarostami

Laughing kid directs a remake of The Sprinkler Sprinkled.

Samuel Maoz

Hilarious digital representation of “the death of cinema”

Milcho Manchevski

Ironic piece about people engrossed in their portable devices – one girl watches a video about people on the street failing to notice some tragedy, ponders the video while walking right past another tragedy everyone is failing to notice.

Franco MarescoThe Last Lion

Hammy gangster type sings happy birthday to the festival in front of a giant cake and two silent twins, then devours the golden lion cake topper.

Aleksei Fedorchenko

Close-up split-screen faces of people dreaming movies (with sfx)

Ulrich SeidlHakuna Matata

Three guys say “Hakuna Matata” mantra-like, four times. Then three guys in a different setting, standing together in the same way, same action. Finally two of the original guys sweeping the floor. I have no idea what it means but I liked it.

Cast a Deadly Spell (1991, Martin Campbell)

“Los Angeles, 1948. Everybody used magic.”

Nice enough TV-movie with some good performances and a great premise: a noir detective story in a world where magic exists. Our hardboiled hero Lovecraft (Fred Ward, the year after starring in Henry & June) who doesn’t use magic due to an incident that killed his partner is hired by a rich guy (David Warner, an HP Lovecraft fan judging from his IMDB resume) to retrieve his Necronomicon. Ward runs into ex-flame Julianne Moore (this might count as her first starring movie role), tries to avoid thug Raymond O’Connor and his zombie, and finally protects Warner’s unicorn-hunting daughter from Warner’s own convoluted world-dooming scheme.

Clearly influenced by Who Framed Roger Rabbit with a lower budget, magic creatures and spells popping up in every scene (accompanied by overdone cartoon sound effects). Campbell went on to make some James Bond movies


Witch Hunt (1994, Paul Schrader)

“For some of hollywood’s biggest stars and studio moguls, it’s time to name names.”

When I heard Schrader had made a sequel starring Dennis Hopper, I couldn’t get a copy fast enough. Unfortunately it’s such a bad movie, it makes me wonder if I didn’t severely overrate the previous one by calling it “nice enough”. This one has fewer puppets, more early (too early) digital effects. And I love Hopper, but he doesn’t seem right for the role, speaking too slowly, looking out of his depth.

Shakespeare is summoned as script doctor:

Eric Bogosian (writer/star of Talk Radio) is a slimy anti-magic senator, starts a literal witch hunt by arresting and arranging to burn Hopper’s witch neighbor (now played by Sheryl Lee Ralph of To Sleep With Anger) for defying “the unnatural activities act”. I don’t know if this is a prequel or what – Hopper has different reasons to avoiding magic than Fred Ward did, and Raymond O’Connor’s zombie is back from the other movie. Penelope Ann Miller (Edna Purviance in Chaplin) is love interest fatale “Kim Hudson”, there’s a movie-star lookalike whorehouse a la L.A. Confidential run by a transvestite lipsync artist, more characters with obvious names (a cop called Bradbury), and Julian Sands with a heavy fake accent. And morphing – remember morphing?

Mouseover to see Hopper vomit a crow:
image

The first couple minute are nice though, with clips from 1950’s industrial films recognizable from MST3K and a reference clip of Reagan testifying before HUAC.

The movie is divided into sections. Three are adaptations of Mishima novels with autobiographical elements, and they’re tied together with interspersed b/w newsreel-like reenactment of Mishima’s final day (starring Ken Ogata, lead killer in Vengeance Is Mine), with some flashback footage of his youth. It’s an excellent approach to cinematic biography, though I suppose it wouldn’t work on everybody. Philip Glass, who introduced the film at Emory, provides a varied score (less driving lock-grooved than his others).

This would seem like a weird choice for Schrader to follow American Gigolo and Cat People, but he’s apparently a longtime fan of Mishima and of Japanese cinema. His sister-in-law is Japanese and wrote the dialogue. I’m sure he explains all on the Criterion commentary – that DVD has got hours of fab-looking extras.

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion: clubfoot student Koichi Sato pals with stutterer Yasosuke Bando, teaches him to exploit his disability in order to score with chicks. It works, and Miss Universe contestant Hisako Manda gets nude, but this is not to the stutterer’s liking, and he decides to destroy everything that is beautiful.

Kyoko’s House: Young man (Kenji Sawada) becomes obsessed with bulking up through weight training. He finds out his mom is deeply indebted to a dangerous loanshark, so he sells himself to pay his mom’s debts, and the two become locked in a spiraling sadomasochistic relationship ending in double suicide.

Runaway Horses: Pro-Emperor militant cult leader Isao (Toshiyuki Nagashima) plans an attack on the government but they’re arrested before they can carry it out. Isao escapes, kills one of the targets (Jun Negami, who appeared in the Mishima-starring Afraid to Die) on his own, then performs seppuku before the rising sun.

Mishima’s actual words are used as narration, in Japanese by Ken Ogata in the restored version, which is what we saw. English-release narrator Roy Scheider later appeared in Naked Lunch, another movie that mixes a novelist’s biographical details into his work.