After an earthquake half destroys their apartment, a couple of actors (both are stars of Farhadi’s About Elly) find a new place which was formerly rented by a sketchy woman, whose former “customer” wanders into the place one day and catches the wife alone in the shower. She is traumatized, and too distracted to carry on with the play. Between rehearsals her husband gets annoyed with everybody and tracks down the assailant, an old man, locking him into their old place until he has a panic attack and dies. I assume the moral ambiguity of it all mirrors something in Death of a Salesman, but I’ve really only seen the version in Synecdoche, New York.

Richard Porton in Cinema Scope, a known hater of Farhadi’s The Past:

Both Farhadi and Miller are fond of schematic narratives and cannily deployed didacticism; the strengths and weaknesses of this sort of social realism are crucial to assessing the muddled aesthetic achievement of a film that doesn’t replicate the impact of A Separation, the director’s finest achievement, but avoids the embarrassing histrionics of his previous (and weakest) film, The Past.

I think this is Mina Sadati playing the prostitute – she complains that the play dialogue refers to her having no clothes on, while she’s always wearing a raincoat:

Vince Vaughn’s measured descent from tow-truck driver to drug runner, into a police shootout, to prison, to max-security prison, to “the prison within the prison,” to ultimate revenge and death. Heads get stomped, but in grimy low-light, so not even as graphically as in Dead Man – overall this was less brutal than I expected from the reviews (which may have been written by people who missed Bone Tomahawk), and funnier too. Vaughn plays an intriguing mix of characters we’ve seen before: smart and smartass, the extreme badass who will do anything to protect his family, willing to turn on his own colleagues to protect police but later destroying any prison guard who gets in his way, always calm and patient.

Don and the gang:

Somehow this is the first Vince Vaughn movie I’ve seen since Made in 2001. I didn’t recognize Don Johnson as the Gary Oldman-looking warden, or most of the other actors. Geno Segers (a cannibal in Bone Tomahawk) is one of the idiots working for the big bad (Dion Mucciacito). Jennifer Carpenter (the lead’s sister in Dexter) is Vince’s wife, kidnapped by the big bad and threatened with an evil abortionist if Vince doesn’t cooperate. Messages are delivered by a calm Udo Kier, who gets killed by family friend Marc Blucas (Buffy’s boyfriend in season 4-5). Tom Guiry (Smalls in The Sandlot) is a torturer guard killed by Vince. Mustafa Shakir (Big Mike in The Deuce) is a decent guard who Vince attacks when trying to act dangerous to escalate his sentence, and Clark Johnson (news editor in The Wire season 5) was in there somewhere, probably dead or at least badly hurt. Just missed the top-ten in this year’s Skandies (The Salesman is the last of the top twenty that I haven’t seen).

Just another business day for Udo Kier:

All marvel movies are about sibling rivalries and father issues, aren’t they? Twenty-some years ago, New Black Panther Chadwick Boseman’s dad T’Chaka (who later died in a Civil War-era explosion) killed his brother/Boseman’s uncle N’Jobu (This Is Us star Sterling Brown), and now N’Jobu’s son has grown into the revenge-seeking Michael B. Jordan. But first, Boseman has to become Black Panther so we’re familiar with the rituals and clans… Winston Duke challenges and loses, Daniel Kaluuya is a Boseman buddy who joins Jordan and feels ambivalent about it (he’s this movie’s Karl Urban), Forest Whitaker is a wise man (of course he is). Jordan shows up with a dead enemy of Wakanda (Andy Serkis as “Ulysses Klaue”) and proof of his noble birth, so he’s accepted and allowed to challenge, then after he wins and Boseman loses his Panther powers, the alliances get all twisted.

Boseman has very capable help from his gearhead sister Shuri (Letitia Wright of the Black Mirror season I keep forgetting to watch), his ex Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), and Kaluuya’s girl, the bald warrior Okoye (Danai Gurira of Mother of George, whose costar Isaach De Bankolé appears here as an elder and I didn’t recognize him because of the huge distracting lip-plate), and improbably, CIA agent Martin Freeman. Besides the whole cynical “The CIA is actually doing good things for Africa” message and some typical CG-cartoon fight scenes, the movie’s Africa-influenced sci-fi and badass warrior women make for some striking imagery that we’ve never seen before. This and Thor 3 and Guardians are finally taking all this blockbuster superhero money and producing things that are fantastic to look at instead of ever-larger monsters destroying ever-larger cities.

A great swordsman defeats an entire army of thugs who murdered his sister, then is made immortal by an old woman, and this entire backstory only takes up the first twelve minutes of the movie. Miike wasting no damn time with this one, supposedly his hundredth film, though I’d like to see what list they used to calculate this, since IMDB considers Pandoora a movie, and counts MPD Psycho as three movies.

Anyway… fifty years later, the “itto-ryu” is a supervillain samurai clan killing all the dojo heads in the Tokyo, including the parents of this girl Rin, who reminds our man of his sister, so he agrees to take on the gang. Rest of the movie is a series of high-energy fights, one-on-one and one-on-hundreds, against badasses with a variety of weapons. I found Sukiyaki Western Django too tiresomely goofy, 13 Assassins too classy and Hara-Kiri too faithful – this one’s just right.

Our heroes:

Clan leader Sôta Fukushi:

Our immortal hero is Takuya Kimura (Faye Wong’s bf in 2046, voice of Howl, star of two separate movies called Hero), Rin is the voice of Mary, and the fey cult leader starred in As The Gods Will. That leaves all the specialty assassins:

Kuroi Sabato (Kazuki Kitamura of Miike’s video game movie Like a Dragon) wears Shredder headgear, goes down first. Magatsu (Shinnosuke Mitsushima of the next Kore-eda movie) has long spiky hair and a sweet facemask. Shizuma Eiku (Ebizô Ichikawa, main dude in Miike’s Hara-Kiri) is a white-haired immortal who knows how they can be killed (bloodworm poison!). Makie (Erika Toda of the Death Note series) wields a double-edged spear and changes sides, and Shina (Hayato Ichihara, bullied boy of All About Lily Chou-Chou) is a blonde dude who focuses on killing the girl even when the army is attacking. Chiaki Kuriyama (Gogo in Kill Bill) is a government spy with long blonde hair, and Tsutomu Yamazaki (Goro in Tampopo) leads the government army, which needless to say in a Miike film is no better than the murderous cult. With no main-cast crossovers between this and 13 Assassins, it looks like Miike is trying to turn every actor in Japan into a badass killer.

Maatsu:

Makie:

Willow Maclay on her blog:

Miike doesn’t pull any punches as things reach a climax (with a few bloated, unnecessary side plots here and there) frequently zeroing in on Manji’s immortal body as it falls apart, but impossibly perseveres. When Manji finally confronts the man who wronged Rin … he’s barely a man anymore, more zombie than alive, and there is no elegant duel between sword wielding warriors. It is merely an act of execution, a job being completed, and a loss of life. It is with blunt honesty that Miike displays this final dance not as something worthwhile or justifiable, but another violent act in a long string of violent acts that Manji has committed during his lifetime, and some day Rin will die because of his actions.

From the advertising this looked like an amoral violent comedy with the funniest dialogue of the year, but it turned out to be a deep story about forgiveness with the funniest dialogue of the year. According to the Internet, the movie is actually racist, anti-feminist, and not deep at all, so I am wrong, but I had a great time.

Frances McDormand wants to shame sheriff Woody Harrelson into continuing the search for her daughter’s killer, but Woody is dying of cancer and finally kills himself, causing the town to turn on Frances. Sam Rockwell, a horrible racist cop working for Woody, who badly beats Caleb Landry Jones (playing a nice guy for once), is fired by new chief Clarke Peters, then tries to do the right thing for once by helping Frances. Lucas Hedges, having a big year, is Frances’s son, John Hawkes her ex, Peter Dinklage her partner in crime, and Abbie Cornish Woody’s wife.

I haven’t seen this since it premiered. Teenaged Me was really into Tarantino, and also Counting Crows and Gin Blossoms and the Nightmare on Elm Street movies and Wayne’s World and Tim Burton and Mortal Kombat, and most of those things are no longer good, so sometimes I forget that Tarantino still is.

Anyway, here’s what happens in Kill Bill Volume 1:

Whole wedding party is wiped out, execution-style by the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad.

The Bride shows up at Vernita’s house (Vivica A. Fox, lately of Empire). A quick knife fight, then relaxed conversation, then sudden death.

Flashback to the aftermath of the bloody wedding, investigated by the cop from Grindhouse, then Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) is sent to assassinate the Bride in her hospital bed but Bill calls her off at the last minute. We never find out what the Bride did, exactly, to deserve this treatment.

The Bride awakens, righteously murders the dudes who have been coma-raping her, and hits the road in a stolen Pussy Wagon.

O-Ren Ishii animated backstory, which is basically Lady Snowblood.

The Bride talks the retired swordsmith Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba of bunches of Kinji Fukasaku films) into making her a perfect sword.

The Big Finale of Part 1: The Bride shows up at the House of Blue Leaves, taking on crazed teen Gogo (Chiaki Kuriyama of Battle Royale, The Great Yokai War)…

and O-Ren herself (Lucy Liu)

“Is she aware her daughter is still alive?”


Volume 2:

Wedding reprise, she introduces Bill as her father to groom Tommy (oscar-winning makeup artist Chris Nelson)

Budd (Michael Madsen) has a horrible strip club bouncer job and a pointless life, but he has been warned that the Bride is coming, and he gets the drop on her then buries her alive.

In flashback, Bill sends the Bride to be tutored by Pai Mei (Gordon Liu, star of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin with comical white hair), who teaches her “it’s the wood that should fear your hand,” and she destroys the coffin and emerges from the ground living-dead-style. 95% of movies would open with the training scene, then when she’s in trouble an hour later have a voiceover reminder of the training scene, then victory… it seems more effective to structure it this way (hopeless situation / flashback to training scene / solution).

Elle kills Budd via snake, and a close-quarters swordfight with the risen Bride follows. Elle loses her other eye. Frequent sightings of the movie poster for Mr. Majestyk.

The Bride visits Bill and rescues her daughter via the five point palm exploding heart technique.

“The lioness has rejoined her cub and all is right in the jungle.”

2016/17: Watched the new blu-ray and updated the 2008 writeup below.

The brother of Morag (Geraldine Chaplin, then of Cría cuervos and The Three Musketeers, later of Love on the Ground and Talk To Her) is killed. She seeks revenge on pirate queen Giulia (Bernadette Lafont, Sarah in Out 1, also Genealogies of a Crime), infiltrates the castle with help of traitorous Erika (Kika Markham of Truffaut’s Two English Girls and Dennis Potter’s Blade on the Feather). Gradually all of Giulia’s associates are killed off, then G & M stab each other to death, fall to the ground dying and laughing.

Early ambush attempt:

Feels more mysterious and less straightforward than Duelle even though there’s less talk of magic in this one. Morag is apparently the moon goddess and Giulia the sun goddess, though they don’t reveal their powers until the last half hour. I didn’t do the best job keeping track of the minor characters, but I’m almost positive that some of them – including Morag’s brother – keep dying then reappearing in later scenes. In fact, I guess one of the two male pirates, “Jacob” (Humbert Balsan of Lancelot of the Lake, later an important film producer) is also her brother “Shane,” which complicates the plot in ways I no longer understand.

The men of the castle, Jacob and Ludovico:

There are gas lamps and castles and swordfights and magic, all very period, but then there is lots of cool, modern (clearly 70’s) clothing and guns and motorboats. And nobody is cooler than Bernadette Lafont in her bellbottomed pink leather suit (which creaks loudly when she moves). Watching her and Chaplin’s movements through the scenes, and to a lesser degree the other male pirate Larrio Ekson, are the best part of the movie and sometimes appear to be its entire point.

As beautiful and simple as the sun: Giulia with pink jeans on:

Morag and Erika have meetings in which they sit or walk robotically and recite lines in English from the play The Revenger’s Tragedy, so maybe reading that would help somewhat. Then again, D. Ehrenstein says “Analysis begins to run into a series of dead ends. The texts utilized as central sources of quotation… Tourneur’s The Revenger’s Tragedy in Noroît — are merely pre-texts, having nothing to say about the films that enclose them, posed in the narrative as subjects for further research.”

As in Duelle, whenever there’s music in a scene the musicians are part of that scene, even when they realistically would’ve left the room. Maybe right before the shot begins Giulia has threatened their lives and told them to play, no matter what. There are long stretches with no spoken dialogue. Lighting mostly looks natural indoors. This and Duelle were Rivette’s first films shot by William Lubtchansky, who would shoot most of the rest of the films (not Hurlevent). William is husband to Nicole L., who edited everything for forty years from L’Amour Fou to Around a Small Mountain.

Morag killing Regina:

Erika playing Morag in the reenactment of previous scene:

Morag playing Regina getting killed by skullfaced Erika:

I wish I knew how this movie’s title was pronounced, because every time I think of it, Fred Schneider sings “here comes a narwhal!” in my head. It’s gonna be “narr-WHAA” until some Frenchman tells me otherwise. One site translates the word as “Nor’wester.”

Rivette:

When I was filming Noroît, I was persuaded that we were making a huge commercial success, that it was an adventure film that would have great appeal … When the film didn’t come out, when it was considered un-showable … I was surprised. I don’t consider myself … unfortunately, I’m not very lucid when it comes to the potential success of my projects.

J. Reichert:

As with all good revenge dramas (this one inspired by bloody Jacobean plays), the mass of killings begin to far outweigh the initial wrong done and the angel of vengeance experiences moments of doubts and sympathy for her marks—there’s betrayal as well. Rivette shorthands these narratively rich moments, suggesting them in a glance, a line, a change of Chaplin’s face, so that he can maintain focus on the ballet-like movement of his players through space, where stowing recently acquired treasure takes on the aspect of slow-motion acrobatics. The drama climaxes in a clifftop masquerade ball/murder spree/dance performance shot across what looks like infrared, B&W, and color, that combines violence and poetry into a mix that’s literally unlike anything I’ve seen.

Doomed dance party:

Giulia (left) and Morag having stabbed each other to death:

D. Ehrenstein:

The films are devoted to methods that while seeming to reach representational specificity, do so in a manner designed to cancel all possible affectivity. The settings and costumes of Duelle suggest their display in a reserved “theatrical” style, but the camera, while tracking smoothly, does so far too energetically, and when coupled with the film’s nervous angular montage rhythms, disrupts the space it has spent so much time constructing. Likewise each setting (casino, hotel, aquarium, ballet school, race track, park, subway, dance hall, and greenhouse in Duelle, castle by the sea in Noroît) suggests the possibility of an atmosphere the mise en scene never seems directly to create (as in Resnais, Franju, Fellini, etc.).

Similarly acting styles clash with one another. Flip off-hand cool (Bulle Ogier, Bernadette Lafont) wars with highly stylized affectation (Hermine Karaheuz, Geraldine Chaplin) rather than the work holding to the latter mentioned category for an overall tone as would be logically demanded by a project of this sort … The film’s essence is thus not reducible to a specific moment, but must be seen in the working through of its positive/negative gestures — unfixed points neither within nor without the films.

Poster shot: Morag and Shane… or is it Jacob?

Michael Graham:

Like any Rivette film, [Noroît] took shape gradually, drawing on a large number of deliberately chosen ideas and as many fortuitous circumstances. As important as Rivette’s interest in Tourneur’s The Revenger’s Tragedy (drawn to his attention by Eduardo De Gregorio), and the curious traditions surrounding the period of Carnival, was the availability of Geraldine Chaplin and Bernadette Lafont together with that of a group of dancers from Carolyn Carlson’s company. It must be kept in mind that Rivette often conceives a film around particular people; Celine et Julie began as ‘a film for Juliet Berto’. Any casting decision is consequently of primary importance. Further, the selection of Brittany as a location arose as much from certain union allowances permitting a six day week outside Paris, as from a vague desire to spend some time in the country. Once the different ideas and practical considerations begin to sort themselves out and interact, the narrative itself starts to acquire definition. Even after shooting has begun, however, Rivette is enormously influenced by what he may discover the actors capable of achieving.

It was the baby-monitor jump-scare that lost me. Intriguing backstory open before the movie changes directions, centering on Amy Adams (far less electric here than in Arrival, and given much less to do) reading the rape-murder-revenge novel written by her ex Jake Gyllenhaal, visualizing it starring him with Michael Shannon as a dying cop who doesn’t play by the rules. I suppose the ending should be cynically satisfying, as Adams becomes obsessed with the novel, contacts Jake to meet him and talk about it, and gets stood up. By that point though, who could care about Amy and Jake’s old relationship problems (she got an abortion without telling him, and dumped him for Armie Hammer) or his elaborate literature-based revenge plot, when the bulk of the movie has become the novel itself, a grimy, joyless, desert desperation story? And who can say why Adams gets so sucked in, to the point where she starts seeing jump-scare monsters inside her assistant’s baby monitor, a moment that felt so outrageously cheap that I optimistically figured it would be justified later, or at least be the beginning of a series of visions?

Also it opens with naked fat women dancing in slow-motion. And hey, here’s Love star Karl Glusman and Donnie Darko‘s Jena Malone, both of them returning from another 2016 movie I found ugly and misguided. Standard dialogue scenes were filmed in a flat and boring manner (and the movie is mostly standard dialogue scenes). Diana Dabrowska in Cinema Scope and David Ehrlich on Letterboxd both compliment the camerawork, so maybe I missed something there. At least Jake G. is very good in his role, and Shannon is always pleasant to watch.

The movie that blew up my twitter the most in December, from “bear rape” to “movie pussies”. And it won the golden globe over Carol, Mad Max, Room and Spotlight. But it’s by Iñárritu, who I haven’t trusted since the putrid 21 Grams, and I was ambivalent to his oscar-winning Birdman. So surely the question on everyone’s mind is: did I enjoy The Revenant? Yes!

This one’s not done as a fake single-take – and who told me it was? – but rather shot with a grotesque wide-angle lens by the great Emmanuel Lubezki and edited by Soderbergh’s man Stephen Mirrione. I guess Leo DiCaprio is the gone-native white dude with a half-breed son and the two of them are well-paid to guide and protect a crew of trappers under siege by a group of natives looking for a kidnapped girl, rival French trappers (who kidnapped the girl), snow, bears, and worst of all, their own greedy compatriots. After Leo is half-destroyed by a bear, trapper Tom Hardy murders Leo’s son and abandons Leo to the elements, returning to camp to collect his reward for valiantly trying to help (Tom’s word against nobody’s). But Leo survives a million horrible things, makes it to camp and gets Captain Domhnall Gleeson (having a good year with Ex Machina and Brooklyn) to go after the villainous Hardy.

So yeah, I was convinced by the film, went along with the ride, edge of my seat like a disgusting, frozen, bloodied Panic Room, and didn’t even feel bad about it afterwards. Some folks weren’t as persuaded.

J. Christley:

That The Revenant is egregiously overlong is almost beside the point; audiences will manage their expectations in that regard. What pushes the film, at long last, into the icy river, is its very design, as a monument to slick, mercenary grandeur.

He makes a good point about The Big Sky being a more efficient film, but did The Big Sky have characters named Trapper Hatchet In Back and Dave Stomach Wound?