“Your daughter’s screaming. The house is burning.”

This movie has been back in the national consciousness, for reasons similar to The Manchurian Candidate, and I had great fun rewatching Cronenberg’s The Fly last SHOCKtober, so let’s keep it going. Starts out shaky, asking us to accept the weird, nervy Christopher Walken as a wholesome young teacher named Johnny taking his sweetheart to the fair. After a car crash and five-year coma, Johnny wakes up to an upturned life and inexplicable psychic powers which make him an outcast – this is a more suitable Walken role, and he’s perfect in it.

Brooke Adams (of the good 1978 Body Snatchers) was his sweetie, now married to another man with a kid, and Tom Skerritt is the local sheriff who resorts to asking the psychic Walken for help catching the Castle Rock Killer (the Stephen King connected universe wasn’t as annoying 35 years ago), who turns out to be Tom’s own deputy. Walken meets politician Martin Sheen through a rich dad who hires him for private lessons, and having seen the future of the country under Sheen’s evil reign, Walken takes drastic action, surviving just long enough to see that he’s fixed the future.

It’s presumed that the accident/coma gives Walken his powers, but the movie pointedly shows him having one of his headaches that accompany psychic episodes before the crash happens, so I dunno. This came out just eight months after Videodrome, which it’s probably time to watch again soon.

A series of episodes of Juliette Binoche at various stages of breaking up and getting together with different men, trying to find something that works – mostly conversations shot in longish takes, with one musical exception in the middle. It feels strangely plotted for a conventional movie, and strangely conventional for a Claire Denis movie.

Juliette is breaking up with a banker who wants to continue having an affair and won’t leave his wife – the movie opens with a sex scene between them, and a few scenes later she’s kicking him out of her studio, telling him to never come back. Then there’s a false start with an actor (Denis film veteran Nicolas Duvauchelle), the relationship ending before it really kicked off. Her ex-husband comes over for afternoon sex, then later she tries (and fails) to get back his keys to her apartment (they have a daughter together whom we barely see).

Juliette and the banker:

I think we get an increase in the quality of men as the movie goes on. In the second half, mysterious stranger Sylvain appears at a party, they dance to “At Last” by Etta James and start dating. Juliette is an artist who works with art gallery people – she stands out from them at times, curses their snobbery when on a walk in the country, but they’re still her people and she listens to their bad advice. Terrible wavy-haired Fabrice says she needs to dump Sylvain and date “within her milieu,” she takes this to heart and the lovers argue. She finds out Alex Descas is interested in her (though we’ve seen him with Maxine from the art gallery), and finally there are too many guys with unclear statuses, so she visits a psychic for advice.

Juliette and Sylvain:

Alex and Maxine:

The psychic is Gérard Depardieu, shown in the previous scene breaking up with a girl in a car. Juliette shows him pictures, describes her current possibilities, asks Gérard with whom she can find happiness – and he hilariously adds himself into the mix, describing the kind of man she truly needs with all his own traits. In maybe the movie’s most unusual stylistic quirk, the entire closing credits roll over this scene, so it can cut to black and end after Juliette’s final smile.

Denis fills the supporting cast with fellow filmmakers. The banker from the opening scene is Xavier Beauvois (Of Gods and Men, and before this movie we saw a preview for his The Guardians). Maxine is Josiane Balasko, who has directed movies starring Isaach de Bankolé, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Isabelle Huppert, Michael Lonsdale, and so on. Bruno Podalydès is the guy who insists Binoche date within her milieu, has directed nine or ten movies including a remake of The Mystery of the Yellow Room. And Valeria Bruni Tedeschi (who got dumped by Gerard Depardieu) was in Cannes five years ago having written/directed/starred in A Castle in Italy.

Of our original trio, Han Solo has died in part 7, Leia now leads the resistance with second-in-command Laura Dern and Han-like hotshot flyboy Poe (Oscar Isaac), and Luke is secluded on an island refusing to help would-be protege Rey (Daisy Ridley) because he lost control of his last protege Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). John Boyega (Attack the Block) apparently had a larger role jumpstarting the narrative in part 7 – here he’s paired with engineer/love interest Rose (Kelly Tran) trying to help the rickety remains of the resistance escape from Kylo and howling ham sandwich Domhnall Gleeson in their attack fleet. Benicio Del Toro is a smooth traitor to both sides, there are computer-animated characters who don’t quite work, appearances by Yoda, Chewbacca and the robots. I appreciated Rian Johnson’s commitment to filming it all in well-designed visual frames, and this would probably rival the Guardians of the Galaxy movies in rewatchability, but that doesn’t make me happy that Rian is committed to a decade of Star Wars instead of original stories.

In memory of two recently-departed horror directors, who made some of the best horror films in history, I caught up with two of their worst pictures…

To begin with, a bullshit voiceover lets us know that this spaceship, created with colored lights and 1980’s computer graphics, has some inexplicable gravity technology – just trust us, we’re on a spaceship but there’s gravity. I don’t recall Star Trek worrying themselves with explaining the ship’s artificial gravity, except when it broke in the sixth movie.

Discovering nude-vampire crystals inside the space anus:

Fallada, looking like an apocalyptic preacher:

“I almost have the feeling I’ve been here before” as they fly into a giant vaginal-looking tunnel. Astronauts discover nude, crystal-encased space vampires and bring them home via a badly failed first mission plus a second rescue mission. The sole survivor of the first mission is Steve Railsback (later of Scissors and Alligator II: The Mutation), who couldn’t help but sexually harass the female alien (Mathilda May, later of some Chabrol and Demy films) and becomes psychically connected to her. Railsback works with Peter Firth (Tess, Equus) and alien-invaded doctor Patrick Stewart to track down the vampire girl, while dapper white-haired Professor Fallada (Frank Finlay, one of Richard Lester’s Musketeers) and barely-competent Dr. Bukovsky (Michael Gothard, Oliver Reed’s executor in The Devils) try to contain the evil – and fail utterly, as most of London falls to the vampire-zombie plague.

Patrick Stewart Replica:

Return of the Living Dead Zombie Phantom Alien Vampires:

More perverted and apocalyptic than most 1980’s horror movies, at least. The movie’s pretty okay, but the concept is cool as hell, so it’s got my respect. Tobe’s follow-up to Poltergeist, produced by Cannon Films, cowritten by Dan O’Bannon, who made Return of the Living Dead the same year, which ties into our next filmmaker

Set in a makeshift hospital across from a construction site. I see Jen, there’s talk of past lives, and little happens for a long time so we’re in comfortable A.W. territory, but we also get a catheter bag and a guy shitting in the woods in the first 20 minutes.

Jen spends time in the hospital as a volunteer, where young soldiers sleep in beds because, as we learn when Jen is visited by two shrine princesses, ancient kings buried beneath the hospital grounds are drawing energy from the sleeping men to fight their posthumous wars. This all sounds crazier than it feels while watching it, since the actions and dialogue are so understated. The men do wake up occasionally, and Jen hangs out with one named Itt.

Out on the town with real Itt (Banlop Lomnoi, whose character was named Keng in Tropical Malady):

Out on the grounds with Keng-as-Itt:

Some other things: Jen and Itt can see each other’s dreams… Jen is married to an American named Richard who she met online… she remembers a lake animal from her past, which now floats inside her… a silent game of musical chairs… talk of massive floods… an amoeba-spaceship floats through the water-sky… Itt possesses a psychic woman named Keng, gives Jen a tour of the grounds pointing out the ancient structures that used to exist there, pours gingko water on Jen’s bad leg and kisses it… and a meditation lesson, which may be key to understanding this, A.W.’s most somnambulist feature.

Three balding middle-aged dudes wearing overcoats assemble at a tiny bar – The Writer, The Professor (of physics) and the Stalker, who will lead them to The Room inside The Zone, where… something will happen, possibly.

The Stalker is nervous, hired as a guide but seems unsure of everything. The Writer is drunk and arrogant, argues with the Stalker at every juncture. The Professor came as a saboteur, meaning to destroy the Room, but doesn’t go through with it. And the movie conjures its entire sense of mystery and horror through dialogue and behavior, with no special visual effects, just fields and damp rooms.

What exactly the Zone/Room does is mysterious – it provides enlightenment or fulfills unconscious desires – and the Stalker is cagey and possibly deceptive, revealing stories of other stalkers and their sorry fates. After an argument, the men presumably don’t even enter the room, meeting the Stalker’s wife back at the bar. Epilogue with their daughter, poetry and telekinesis, feeling like a scene from Mirror.

Wife of Stalker: Alisa Freyndlikh of Elem Klimov’s Rasputin

Daughter of Stalker:

The film’s writers also did the source novels for Hard to be a God and Sokurov’s Days of Eclipse. The Prof (in the hat) was Nikolay Grinko, at least his fifth Tarkovsky film, also in Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. The Writer was Anatoliy Solonitsyn, Andrey Rublev himself.

Took a few weeks off from movie writing, now let’s see what I can remember about Akira. More than last time, anyway – for ages this was one of those movies I knew I’d seen, but couldn’t recall anything about it (same goes for Ghost in the Shell).

In 2019 Tokyo has rebuilt nicely after WWIII, but music hasn’t progressed much (Led Zeppelin and Cream are visible in a jukebox). Kaneda leads a violent street gang at war with rival bikers in clown suits, and Tetsuo is Ryu’s buddy/stooge. After an encounter with a child-elder mutant escaped from gov’t testing lab, Tetsuo acquires massive psychic powers, which he only uses to cause destruction and taunt his former friends, eventually losing control of his own body, which grows and engulfs everything around. Akira is the name of the most powerful former experiment kid, who may have destroyed Tokyo in the late 80’s – funny how the gov’t didn’t shut down their lab after that. Since I rewatched Fury Road the night before, this was my second movie in a row where someone with a missing arm gets a robotic replacement. Anyway, things don’t end well for poor enraged Tetsuo.

Tetsuo meets Akira:

Based on Otomo’s own comic, the movie was a smash hit in Japan and an enduring cult favorite. Obvious parallels with Godzilla – the original, not the bad version I just watched – and full of extreme violence and nightmare imagery. Somehow it still doesn’t have any sequels or remakes, but with new Blade Runner and Star Wars and Alien and Flatliners and Jumanji movies all out this year, anything’s possible.

After Take Shelter, I’ll definitely sign up for another Jeff Nichols/Michael Shannon drama about impending doom. This one is maybe more ambitious, definitely more confusingly plotted, and has less well-defined characters and relationships. Shannon and childhood friend Joel Edgerton have kidnapped Shannon’s magic son Alton from a doomsday cult and with help from Shannon’s (ex-?)wife Kirsten Dunst and federal agent Adam Driver they take Alton to fulfill his destiny by ascending to Tomorrowland.

Pretty sure this was meant to evoke the string of psychic-child adventure stories in the late 1970’s: Firestarter (the novel, if not the film) and The Fury. In fact I was so busy trying to remember how Firestarter ends that I may have missed some details about the doomsday cult and why exactly they wanted Alton – or maybe they weren’t even sure of that themselves. If not an instant classic, at least a cool-looking, mysterious movie, full of great acting and shocking moments (I leapt when satellite parts rained down on the gas station). I always appreciate sci-fi stories that show glimpses of larger worlds and deeper mysteries than the film has the time or inclination to explain.

This counted as the kickoff to Cannes Month, since Nichols’ previous movie Mud played Cannes, and his second film of 2016 Loving is about to premiere there. Although I would’ve watched it anyway.

M. D’Angelo:

For some reason, the emotional core of this film seems to have gone missing — I can see where it’s supposed to reside, but the love Alton’s parents feel for him is oddly abstract, perhaps because E.T. seems more human than he does.

I. Vishvenetsky:

The bad guys trace [our heroes’ car] through an insurance bill left on a kitchen counter, because even Midnight Special’s sense of conspiracy is grounded in the commonplace. The only explicitly poetic line the movie allows itself is spoken by the cult’s neckless goon, played by character actor Bill Camp. Sitting in his truck, he says, “I was an electrician, certified in two states. What do I know of these things?” This is the most the viewer will ever learn about him. Midnight Special defines characters through what they can’t understand, contrasting fear of the unknown with faith in it, and flipping the supernatural into a metaphor for the everyday.

From J. Romney’s review intro:

Cinema has rarely felt so much like a son et lumière as it did in a brief period in the early ’80s, when suddenly shafts of light came shooting out of movie images, as if the screen had been slashed. It became a defining image of Steven Spielberg’s films — Close Encounters, E.T., and Poltergeist too, if you want to count that as one of his … In their purest and most glaring form, those shafts of light had something of the quality of angelic revelation about them. Certainly, you suspected that cinematographers such as Vilmos Zsigmond and Allen Daviau had taken a close look at certain academic religious paintings of the 19th century, or perhaps at Renaissance church sculpture, with their sheaves of marble emulating beams from the divine. At any rate, it came as a shock to get the impression from these films — and with such eye-searing intensity — that cinema was a matter of light streaming directly out of the screen, rather than just bounced off it. The motif was a powerful way of restoring, if not a holy, at least an authentically otherworldly dimension to cinema.

“As an aphrodisiast, Dr. Stringfellow proposes the use of synthetic aphrodisiac drugs to assist those who wish to attain a fully three-dimensional sexuality.”

I rented this on VHS from Movies Worth Seeing (RIP) back in 2000-2002, watched and hated it. Now it’s in lovely high-def on my Scanners blu-ray, and I am older and more tolerant, so time to give it another shot. And I still hate it, but the visuals are extremely sharp and it has interesting resonance with Scanners.

The story, or perhaps the backstory, is told via narrator, with total silence at all other times (so no sync sound on the action). Eight subjects underwent brain surgery to extend the natural electrochemical network of the human brain to provide telepathic capabilities. So far so Scanners, but there’s more. The psychics are said to have strange reactions when in the same room as each other, and one “pierced his skull with an electric drill, an act of considerable symbolic significance.”

It’s set at a sanatorium in the woods, which I admit is wonderfully well photographed, as are the actors. The guy who we’ll call the star wears a cape with a giant amulet and carries a cane. I wish I could get away with this look, but I can’t – and neither can he. He appears at all times to be a pretentious film student, which would sink the movie if it didn’t sink itself in other ways, by being dull at all times, by depriving us of sound except for the posh intellectual narration, by having the psychics suck on pacifiers. He even uses slow-mo at times, as if the movie wasn’t already slow enough. In recent interviews, Cronenberg says it works better if you’re stoned. Four of the seven actors were also in Crimes of the Future, which I was going to double-feature with this but chickened out, and one actor got as far as The Dead Zone 13 years later.