Finally getting to Dumont’s debut. Parts of this movie about a dimwit boy in a nowhere town look familiar from Lil Quinquin – a yard where they fix up their car even looks like a location from that movie, and there’s a character named Quinquin. But this was before Dumont had learned to be funny or unpredictable, from his punishing slow art cinema days. Maybe the crappy marching band was supposed to provide levity, but in the end it’s simply no fun to watch a crappy marching band. This doesn’t give me much hope for L’Humanité – I’m guessing that’s as misleading a title as this one, which follows a kid who Dumont wants to portray as a sensitive soul, with his epilepsy and pet finch and cute girlfriend. But the kid’s also a horrible racist, and finally catches the Arab guy he’d seen hanging around with his girl, and uses his head as a soccer ball. The non-pro actors in this stayed non-pro. I was surprised to recognize the finch-song contest from Arabian Nights.

Nicholas Elliott for Criterion:

Rather than a description of the film’s contents, the title is an unusually active element of the viewing experience, a riddle that prompts the viewer to see beyond the low horizons of Freddy’s existence and imagine how the spiritual might be reintroduced into this context. In the trickiest of ways, Dumont titles the film to prime us to look for good where there is evil. Yet he does not ask us to like Freddy, only to accept that he exists…

Seems like a pretty faithful adaptation of the 1929 novel, according to the wikis, right down to the ambiguous cause of Ruth’s fall from a high window at the end. Really well visualized by Hall (British actress, star of Christine) and acted by protagonist Tessa Thompson, husband Andre Holland, and frenemy Ruth Negga. Also the first movie I’ve watched at someone else’s house since Batman Returns seven years ago (unless we’re counting the cabin).

A good haunted house movie, much scarier than the 1970’s one, with some good demons and a new twist: the couple can’t move out of the extremely ghost-filled house because they’re Sudanese refugees who barely survived a treacherous boat ride that killed their daughter, and have been placed here by the government, their only chance to stay in Britain. He’s Sope Dirisu of the Snow White and the Huntsman sequel, and she’s Wunmi Mosaku of Lovecraft Country and the Wyatt Russell episode of Black Mirror. Ghosts in the house, crows in the walls and thugs outside, nowhere to hide. When he’s scraping off all the wallpaper and pulling out the wiring, and she’s trapped in the maze of their housing complex, I start wondering if they died at sea and England is hell, but they’ve got other secrets: their “daughter” was a girl they kidnapped to get preferential treatment while escaping. But instead of hell-vengeance, the wife kills the witch and they patch up the walls to please the housing people, and try to live in relative harmony with their racist neighbors and house full of spirits.

Wife, husband…

and daughter:

Double-featuring with Cotton Comes to Harlem, this is set in some of the same locations, driving past the Apollo during opening titles. And it’s a grim, joyless take on the same sort of story – cops and rival criminals all looking for stolen money, with a pair of cops as our heroes. This one replaces the humor and nudity with extra violence and racism, and yes it kills racist corrupt terrible cop Anthony Quinn in the final moments, but I got the feeling it wanted us to see this as a dark/unhappy ending.

Thieves dressed as cops rob a money room, killing everyone in it, and the Italians in charge want revenge – “We have to teach them a lesson, or we lose harlem.” Anthony Quinn is very mad that Yaphet Kotto is put in charge of his investigation, meanwhile Italian gangster Nick is reminding Black gangster Doc who pulls the strings, and the rest of the movie is Nick torturing the Black thieves and Anthony brutalizing Black suspects, while Yaphet and Doc stand by uncomfortably.

One weird thing about this movie: each character states their age aloud, I think the point being that everyone’s slightly desperate because they’re past the age when they should’ve been advancing in their organizations – or I’m giving the screenwriter too much credit.

I liked Paul Benjamin as the murderous lead robber (who throws his share of the cash to a playground full of kids as he’s dying) – he’d later play one of the three shit-talking corner guys in Do The Right Thing. His girl Gloria would play Maya Angelou’s sister in Poetic Justice, and Italian torturer Anthony Franciosa would star in Tenebre. Connections with Cotton: Doc’s enforcer Chevy led Cotton‘s five-man Black Berets group, and the robbers’ getaway driver Antonio Fargas (the first to die, after being extremely uncareful about throwing stolen money around) was in Putney Swope, which was shown playing on a marquee in Cotton. Shear followed up by replacing the fired Sam Fuller on The Deadly Trackers, which now I have even less incentive to watch.

It’s Cannes Fortnight 2021! I was gonna watch this anyway, eventually, then noticed there’s a new Gaspar playing Cannes this year, so “eventually” became now. In in the mood for some cinema after taking things easy post-True/False, rounding up some recent Cannes titles I missed, and some by this year’s crop of directors.

Wonked-out closing/opening credits sequence, then the camera spirals and weaves around a courtyard, Massive Attack’s La Protection Centrale. I didn’t know what was happening for a good long time, the I Stand Alone guy philosophizing with anonymous Frenchman Albert Dupontel (a war survivor in A Very Long Engagement), but it becomes clear as the movie woozily whips us through the rest of the story in reverse order. I was gonna say it takes us from one sordid scene to another, but that’d be underselling one of the most extremely sordid films of the last twenty years. I read a piece recently, thought it was by Charles Bramesco but can’t find it now so who knows, calling Promising Young Woman a weaksauce take on the rave/revenge story, and it came to mind a few times while watching this, a decidedly strongsauced rape/revenge story, because is that such a desirable thing? Is the point to seek out the most extreme rape/revenge cinema? Ultimately, the “time destroys all things” thesis, the film title and the reverse-action gimmick framing the horrors had me appreciating this much more than, say, Revenge, though I can’t feel naughtily transgressive about liking a movie that comes highly recommended by every critic I respect.

“Lenny’s a racist, but he’s one of the good ones.” Filipe’s short letterboxd review kept coming to mind, “the overall absurdism does have its moments and Morris’s anger comes through,” especially when the movie ends with cops and feds getting cheerfully promoted for destroying the lives of cool weirdos. Lead weirdo is Moses, who runs a black militant duck farm. Agent Anna Kendrick is looking for people to set up to take credit for saving the world from terrorism I guess. The feds determine Moses’s crew is no threat, but after Moses sells fake uranium to nazi cop Jim Gaffigan (!), the higher-ups get involved and everybody below goes to jail.

Moses presides:

Danielle Brooks (Clemency the same year) gives Santa a touch-up:

Afrika nails informant Kayvan Novak (Four Lions):

Sometimes when you’ve fallen behind on the ol’ blog, you realize that thirty movies ago, you took no notes on a movie that consisted mostly of essay readings by powerful actors, with newly photographed and stock footage visuals, written as a letter to the author’s teenage son about systemic racism. Katy wanted to watch it in case her students, assigned the book to read, try to get away with only watching the movie. Good film – Forbes had previously worked on a doc miniseries on a slam poetry competition, and appeared in a Grand Theft Auto game.

Frank (Shaun Parkes of the current Lost in Space reboot) is the restaurant owner and social center who gets all the soulful closeups, Altheia (Letitia Wright) is the requisite movie star, a pregnant Black Panther, Darcus (Malachi Kirby of the latest Roots reboot) is a self-representing defendant who gets all the best speeches, and Barbara (Rochenda Sandall, who used to play a character named McQueen) has the best hair, and a spiel about how the children are our future. That leaves whiteys Jack Lowden (Dunkirk) as their lawyer who looks like Austin Powers’ buttoned-up brother, and Sam Spruell (Russian baddie of Taken 3) as the racist pig leader.

Kirby:

First half is in the streets and the restaurant, figuring out how to make a life without getting hassled by the pigs (impossible), second half has real based-on-a-true-court-case energy, as indeed it was. The lines aren’t as head-smacking as they were in Widows, and McQueen finds some evocative visuals every so often, but mostly powering through this to get to Lovers Rock.

Every SHOCKtober you’ve gotta watch an anthology horror… this played at the Plaza this month, but I didn’t feel like going out during the apocalypse so I watched the blu-ray at home.

Three drug guys have heard that there’s a package for them at a funeral home, but before he’ll give them “the shit,” the mortician shows some bodies and tells how each met their demise. So far, so anthology-horror, but the difference here is that the framing story is the best part, due to an incredible performance by mortician Clarence Williams III (Prince’s dad in Purple Rain, a lead on The Mod Squad, and hey, this is my second movie in a row with an actor from The Cool World). He plays it big and campy, with a comic unpredictability without losing his menacing edge, and whenever the three guys ask for their shit, he repeats “the shit” in the craziest way.

Anyway, story one: Anthony Griffith (of Panther the same year) is a rookie Black cop whose white partners beat a Black political rival (Tom Wright, also star of an anthology segment in Creepshow 2) to death while “Strange Fruit” plays – so it’s gonna be an unsubtle social issues movie. Anthony can’t take the heat and leaves the force, but that’s not good enough. “Where were you when I needed you?” After hunting down and killing the three cops as brutally and ironically as possible, the vengeful ghost frames Anthony for their deaths. One of the white cops was in The Crow, another in Texas Chainsaw Massacre III.

The next story involves extreme domestic abuse mixed with It’s a Good Life. I dunno what made them cast David Alan Grier as a violent monster stepdad, but it works out. The writer/director plays a concerned teacher who comes to student Walter’s house, meets his hot mom (Paula Jai Parker of She Hate Me and Friday), and they all get tormented by wicked Grier until Walter (who later played Young Michael Jordan in Space Jam!) takes his psychic revenge.

A racist white southern politician named Duke (heh) is running on an anti-affirmative action platform while living in a house where a lot of bad historical shit went down, until a small army of stop-motion dolls imbued with the souls of murdered slaves take him out (this has better puppetry than the Puppet Master movies). Corbin Bernsen (between Major League II and The Dentist) is the main racist, and Roger Guenveur Smith (Do the Right Thing‘s Smiley) is his image consultant (who is also murdered).

Starting to bring things home for the framing-story boys, the fourth body is a guy they knew. Jerome (Lamont Bentley of TV’s Moesha) is a crazy murderous gangster paired up with a klansman in prison by “experimental” doctor Rosalind Cash (Buckaroo Banzai, The Omega Man) under the logic that they both killed a lotta Black people. Jerome is tormented, but won’t repent, and all this turns out to be a years-long dying fantasy as he’s killed in the street in the first, pre-prison scene.

Cash died of cancer just months after this film’s release:

Obviously at this point the three dudes are gonna discover coffins of their own in the funeral home, though I didn’t need the mortician to turn into a literal demon, he was fine as he was.

Rusty also directed Chappelle’s Show and made Fear of a Black Hat, which suddenly seems essential. One of his two belated sequels stars Keith David in the mortician role, which could work, and the other stars Tony Todd. Rusty’s cowriter on all three films is Darin Scott (also: Vincent Price anthology From a Whisper to a Scream, Danny Trejo anthology Mr. Malevolent, and he directed Jeffrey Combs in Dark House).