Back in theaters for this one. I love going into Wes movies with absurdly high expectations, because he always meets them. I’ll read the hater critics some other time – maybe they were looking for something more than an endless parade of favorite actors and impeccable production design, but I wasn’t. Much of the movie is in 4:3 black and white, and either my screening was over-matted or the titles appear at the extreme top and bottom of frame.

Bookending segments in the newspaper office, with editor Bill Murray alive in the first piece and dead in the second. Bicycle tour through the town of Ennui by Owen Wilson. Story 1 is relayed by Tilda Swinton, involving art dealer Adrien Brody patronizing imprisoned painter Benicio del Toro whose guard/model is Léa Seydoux (they get some actual French people in here sometime). I was least involved in the middle piece, about faux-May’68 student revolutionary Timothée Chalamet’s affair with reporter Frances McDormand. Then Jeffrey Wright is reporting on celebrated police chef Steve “Mike Yanagita” Park, who helps foil a plot by Edward Norton to kidnap chief Mathieu Amalric’s son.

Michael Sicinski (Patreon) also liked the Benicio story best:

By contrast, Anderson’s snotty riff on May ’68, “Revisions to a Manifesto,” succumbs to the director’s worst comedic instincts, essentially declaring that political desire is nothing more than sublimated horniness … The final segment, “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner,” sort of splits the difference, although it is elevated considerably by a fine performance from Jeffrey Wright, channeling James Baldwin as a melancholy ex-pat uncomfortable with his journalistic distance. The story itself is mostly just a riff on The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s portrait of courtly civility as a bulwark against anarchy. But it’s Wright’s representation of honest inquiry, and humanistic curiosity, that makes it far less silly than it should be.

Watched again a month later, with Katy this time.

“Cops are pigs / cops eat shit!” You know when your cynical movie opens with a couple of news guys chancing upon a car wreck and filming the dying victims before bothering to call an ambulance, the movie’s gonna end with the death of a main character and the camera looking back at us, accusingly.

Pausing to get a beer halfway in, I looked up the female lead Verna Bloom (paper-mache artist in After Hours, Mary in Last Temptation of Christ) and realized our lead is Robert Forster – I had no idea, never seen him young before. Forster wheels around town with his soundman (Peter Bonerz of Catch-22, later director of Police Academy 6: City Under Siege) in the lead-up to the ill-fated Democratic National Convention. They follow a kid home and Forster falls for his mom Eileen (Verna).

Robert and Verna enjoying some TV:

The movie has character to burn. Playful editing, very mobile camera, and full of Zappa songs. A black community confronts the white camera crew about exploitation in the media, the morals of Mondo Cane are discussed, and in a movie (/city/year) where police are the villains, the reporters discover that their TV bosses have been letting cops study their raw footage. After Forster is fired, and before he’s hired by someone else to cover the convention, he seems like a calm and okay guy, just a good dude who loves shooting film and hanging out with Eileen and her pigeon-loving son Harold – so it’s the profession that’s sick, not him personally.

This would’ve been a vaguely-memorable late’60’s anti-establishment movie, but for the ending. Harold goes missing, Forster’s at the convention, so Eileen walks the city wearing a bright yellow dress in the midst of the real police riots – some of the most intense location shooting I’ve seen.

Wexler shot everything from Burt Reynolds’ film debut in 1961 to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Conversation, to Hal Ashby and John Sayles movies, to concert docs and a Zappa video.

There’s shooting and there’s shooting:

Thomas Beard for Criterion on the movie’s True/Falsey nature:

Wexler has had a kind of double life as an artist, known both for his poetic reportage and for his role as a studio craftsman, and his bifurcated career is mirrored in the dual nature of Medium Cool … To watch a fiction film and subordinate its plot and characterizations to the documentary value of the world it depicts, or, alternatively, to watch a documentary and constantly question its veracity, is to read the work against the grain. Given the design of Medium Cool, a film that explicitly functions as both document and fantasy at once, to view it at all is to read it against the grain. It’s a movie whose very composition not only allows for but demands multiple kinds of perception and visual thinking; it preserves its own disorder.

Slimeball Donnie Darko is introduced stealing wire and chainlink fence then beating up a security guard, but he’s not your ordinary lowlife – he wants to be an entrepreneur, learns everything he knows from online courses and speeches and always speaks formally to others, like a corporate simulacrum of a person. Good movie about ruthless capitalism, with amoral, manipulative Donnie destroying some lives and ending up on top.

Donnie watches a comedy on TV:

Donnie watches his coworker dying on TV:

“Our viewers are more interested in urban crime creeping into the suburbs.” After running into freelance videographer Bill Paxton at an auto accident, Donnie cuddles up to news anchor Rene Russo, hires flunky Riz Ahmed, and gets rich partly through calculated plotting and partly by being at the right crime scenes at the right time.

The very definition of a great ensemble cast, each character given similar tasks throughout the investigation but with different personal connections to the church and the case. Hulk Ruffalo and Michael “Birdman” Keaton are joined by Rachel “Passion” McAdams, John “Iron Man’s dad” Slattery and a gentle mustache named Brian James under new boss Liev “brother of Wolverine” Schreiber as reporters investigating a pattern of sexual abuse in the catholic church.

D. Ehrlich: “earns comparisons to Zodiac and All the President’s Men, but is also more modest and anonymous than either… less sticky. still, builds an immense momentum with its earnestness.”

M. D’Angelo: Thoroughly enjoyable, but the only aspect of it that wowed me was Liev Schreiber’s deliberately off-putting performance; I imagine McCarthy repeatedly telling him “Let’s try that again, but give me more absolutely nothing this time.”

M. Harris:

I know some people think that Tom McCarthy’s direction is utilitarian; I couldn’t disagree more. His steady medium shots and groupings of men (mostly men) in conversation in offices, behind overcrammed desks, in restaurants, clubs, doorframes, and well-appointed sanctuaries are not the product of lack of visual imagination but of serious thought about how best to tell a story of journalistic process and the uneasy co-functioning of big urban institutions (church, paper, courthouse). The empty weekend office in the film’s final sequence, with Liev Schreiber’s Marty Baron at work in the distant background, has stayed with me as much as any shot from any movie this year.

What a thrill – Morris’s most energetic movie yet. The story of a certain litigious woman (let’s call her J) and her exploits – in her own words, and from the perspective of a couple insiders (a pilot she hired, a dog-cloning scientist) and outsiders (two tabloid journalists and an ex-mormon radio host). The result is what Morris calls a “Looney Tunes Rashomon,” in which you can never quite be sure of the true events because each side is enthusiastically, entertainingly promoting their own version.

The events in question: in 1977 J’s boyfriend/crush went away on a mission (or was kidnapped by the Mormon church). She assembled a militant team to rescue/kidnap and deprogram/rape him, depending whose story you buy. When the story came out, the tabloids hit her hard, finding and publishing supposed evidence that she’d been a sex worker. Towards the end of the movie as we’re running out of details and stories regarding the 70’s incidents, J lives alone with her dog, still pining after her now-married Mormon boy, when the dog dies – so she has him cloned in South Korea, and now lives with five perfect replicas of her former dog. The events in J’s life would be notable in themselves, but the genius of the movie is all in the telling. The editing is a little jittery and jumpcutty for my liking, but the welcome absence of the Mr. Death-style re-enactments and the wealth of valuable stock photos and the cool tabloid-headline graphics make up for that.

Morris:

I like this new film because it’s a return to a kind of absurdist version of what I do. I love the oddities of how people express themselves. Take [tabloid journalist] Peter Tory’s affection for the phrase “spread-eagled.” Every time he says “spread-eagled,” and he says it again and again and again, I ask myself, “Is he making this up? Is this tabloid journalism in its essence?” At one point, he’s talking about the “sex in chains” headline, and he says, “I think it was ropes, but chains sounds better.” Tabloid’s a story about narrative, about how stories are constructed as they’re being told. I wanted to achieve that effect in a movie, and I hope it’s there.