After sitting through two stiff early horrors, this was more like it – the voodoo-magic of White Zombie and satanism of The Devil Rides Out thrown into a noir-blender. Unlike The Fly its style and music can’t quite transcend its 1980’s origins, but it’s a good try.

Angel is Mickey Rourke, and I’m not used to seeing him pre-Sin City – he looks more like Mathieu Amalric here. He’s hired by the devil Robert De Niro (“Louis Cyphre… Lucifer… even your name is a dime-store joke”) in 1955 to track down devil-dealing singer Johnny Favorite who disappeared without paying his debts (reminiscent of Hellraiser from the same year). Angel follows the leads to New Orleans, meets Favorite’s ex Charlotte Rampling, Favorite’s daughter Lisa Bonet, and Favorite’s bandmate Brownie McGhee, all of whom end up murdered. But Angel himself is the missing Johnny, and after he tracks down all his old friends and family (and has sex with his own daughter btw), he blacks out and murders them, before the devil reveals all and Johnny/Angel is taken away.

Joy (J. Lawrence) dreams of being an inventor, but then her life gets sidetracked with a husband (E. Ramirez), two kids, a divorce, a lazy mom (V. Madsen), an erratic dad (De Niro) and a spiteful sister. One day she hits on a new idea for a miracle mop, and sets to producing and marketing it, bringing the whole family along with dad’s rich girlfriend (I. Rossellini) and Joy’s supportive grandma (D. Ladd) and best friend. Then there are pricing and patent disputes. Then after everything has been pretty lousy and hopeless for Joy for an hour and fifty-eight minutes, she wins a major victory against a crooked business partner then becomes wildly successful in postscript.

It feels like Russell builds overcomplicated situations in American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook, shoots the scenes with his trusted cast, and figures out how it’ll all work in the editing room, relying on energy and instinct to carry him through – and this time, he didn’t have it. The scenes and sporadic voiceover and transitions and characters often felt half-assed, and if I hadn’t known a distinguished filmmaker was behind the whole thing, I rarely would’ve guessed.

The cast gathers ’round to watch NAILED on cable:

T. Robinson:

Every character feels like a half-sketched first draft, awaiting development that never comes … The excruciatingly literal dialogue also feels like first draft material. “I feel like I’m in a prison,” Joy sighs about her house. Later, she and her supportive best friend Jackie reminisce about “all the things we used to dream about,” and Jackie introduces a flashback with “Remember the party where it all started?” Exposition inevitably comes either via Mimi’s gushing voiceover, or “As everyone here already knows…” speeches. Joy’s own emotional development consists of a recurring nightmare in which her childhood self scolds her for abandoning her ambitions.

M. Singer:

Lawrence is too good of an actress not to be watchable in the part, but she’s totally miscast as a divorced mother of two who’s been repeatedly beaten down by life’s disappointments. This part was meant for the Jennifer Lawrence of 2025, not the one of 2015.

Haven’t seen this in 18 years, so I’d forgotten most of it, and didn’t realize it contains The Definitive Samuel L. Jackson Performance.

Sam Goody:

Shot by Tarantino buddy Robert Rodriguez’s cinematographer Guillermo Navarro – close-ups galore and terrific acting. Part of a mid-90’s cinematic Elmore Leonard craze, between Get Shorty and Out of Sight. Grier, Forster and Jackson got various awards and nominations. Only Forster made it to the oscars, though… jeez, it was an all-white year at the oscars except for a 4 Little Girls documentary nomination.

Keaton, the year after Multiplicity. De Niro shortly before he turned to self-mocking comedy in Analyze This and never looked back. Bridget Fonda apparently retired after 2002. Jackson would continue the 1970’s references with his Shaft remakquel. Chris Tucker’s Fifth Element costar Tiny Lister appears as Forster’s employee at the bail-bond place.

Unfortunately Pam Grier’s follow-ups don’t look so good: Chris Elliott comedy Snow Day, Fortress 2, Snoop Dogg’s Bones, Ghosts of Mars, and finally the career-killing Adventures of Pluto Nash. I assumed Jackie Brown was a comeback for her, but it looks like the movies she made the year before were better than any that came after: Mars Attacks, Escape From L.A. and Larry Cohen’s Original Gangstas.

Great to see this again, although maybe I should’ve sprung for the high-def version to see if it looks much better than my old letterboxed DVD. Katy agreed that the movie seems long, and opted not to teach it in her dystopian fiction course.

I’ve seen people call Brazil the centerpiece of Gilliam’s dream trilogy – Time Bandits being the dreams of youth, Brazil of adulthood, and Baron Munchhausen an old man telling dream-stories to children. It’s a lovely thought, but then what is the rest of Gilliam’s career full of dreams and visions?

Don’t think I knew who Jim Broadbent was the last time I watched this. He plays Sam’s mom’s plastic surgeon: “Snip snip, slice slice, can you believe it?” Jack Purvis of Time Bandits is rival doctor “the acid man”. Sam’s mom’s friend getting acid treatments (“my complication had a little complication”) is Barbara Hicks of Britannia Hospital, and her daughter is Kathryn Pogson, recently of The Arbor. Mrs. Buttle (I’d forgotten how good she is) was Sheila Reid (Felicia’s Journey, Lady Rawlinson in Sir Henry at Rawlinson End). I haven’t recognized Kim Griest in anything else but I see she was in Manhunter and CHUD. Mr. Helpmann (‘ere I am, JH) was in some Ken Russell films and Mountains of the Moon. Sam’s useless first boss was Ian Holm and his decisive, always-walking boss in Information Retrieval was Ian Richardson (later Mr. Book in Dark City).

Our second “guy just out of mental institution struggles to readjust” romantic drama-comedy in a row, after The Perks of Being a Wallflower. This one seemed to try harder for slightly lesser results. But the two leads were great, and Robert De Niro and Chris Tucker are better than they’ve been since Jackie Brown.

Bradley Cooper is our disturbed hero – I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who mainly knows him from Midnight Meat Train, yet there was a MMT reference in this movie – and Jennifer Winter’s Bone Lawrence is his disturbed new friend with whom he tries to enter a dance competition. Bradley moves back in with his mom (Jacki Weaver from Picnic at Hanging Rock) and dad (compulsive gambler De Niro) and spends all his time stalking his ex-wife and hurting J-Lawrence’s feelings, until they realize after the dance thing that they were meant for each other.

Also, Dewart from Take Shelter plays Bradley’s brother and Dash Mihok from The Thin Red Line shows up as a cop.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010, Jon Turteltaub)
Our brash teen hero is driving around anxiously. But elsewhere – Alfred Molina/Nicholas Cage wizard battle! That’s what I came here for. The CGI flies as dark sorceress Monica Bellucci unleashes ancient evils. Cage inhales her face, Mummy Returns-style, but gets possessed by dark powers. Then our teen hero discovers the power was within him all along. From the director of the National Treasure series and the first 3 Ninjas.

Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002, Jay Roach)
Instead of the last ten minutes, I enjoyed the Tom Cruise / Gwynyth Paltrow / Kevin Spacey / Danny Devito / Steven Spielberg open and the Britney Spears / Quincy Jones credits sequence. If I hadn’t read the reviews when this came out, I’d gladly sit through the rest of this. While Myers has kept busy voicing cartoons lately, Roach made a Ben Stiller and a Steve Carell comedy, neither of which looks good.

Mercury Rising (1998, Harold Becker)
One of those generic-looking action thrillers from the late 90’s with a forgettable nonsense title. Alec Baldin is the government baddie, and after watching four seasons of 30 Rock I cannot deal with him in a straight role anymore. I thought Bruce Willis was doing pretty well in the 90’s – what would make him agree to something like this? The two stars are fighting on a greenscreen roof until Bruce saves the autistic kid who cracked some kinda government code according to the plot description, sending Alec to a gruesome death plummet. Becker also made other action thrillers with generic names like Sea of Love, Malice, City Hall and Domestic Disturbance.

Starship Troopers 3 (2008, Edward Neumeier)
Two women are praying, and a giant beastie made of dodgy CGI is arising from a volcano, until Casper Van Dien’s dodgy-CGI power suit comes and rescues them. Looks like the worst movie ever, and practically a cartoon with all the poorly-rendered graphics. Neumeier wrote the original Starship Troopers and Robocop, so he can’t be all bad, but he also wrote all their shameful sequels, so maybe he is.

The Funhouse (1981, Tobe Hooper)
Looks like our heroine (who played Mozart’s wife in Amadeus) has finally reached the breaking point into psychosis when presented with the dead body of her (husband? brother? best friend?) by a robot clown. After a long suspenseful chase sequence, a dude in a drooling latex mask catches up with her, but gets electrocuted and chewed up in some gears while she screams uselessly. Some heroine. A forgotten feature made by Tobe between Salem’s Lot and Poltergeist, from the writer of that gag 1990 Captain America movie.

Blood Creek (2009, Joel Schumacher)
The man once in charge of the Batman franchise is now making direct-to-video nazi zombie flicks? Apparently his career was destroyed not by his derided comic movies or his despicable follow-up 8mm, but by the 2004 Phantom of the Opera. Some people are running from the nazi, and some from the zombie, who has a wormie in his forehead just like Jeffrey Combs in From Beyond. Anyway, this looks no good, but at least the effects are better than the above three movies combined. From the “writer” of a whole bunch of remakes.

Stone (2010, John Curran)
Robert De Niro’s house is on fire! He rescues his wife, who gripes some religion at him. Flash forward, Rob is retiring, and is an asshole. Then he finds, and does not kill Ed Norton, who steps back into the shadows. Some stuff about redemption and god’s will, oh and here’s Milla Jehovavich finally, in a bar. The sound mixer thinks he’s all that. Was a time I wouldn’t have missed a De Niro/Norton movie, but that time was about a year before The Score came out. From director of The Painted Veil and writer of Junebug – weird combination.

War of the Worlds (2005, David Latt)
Another one of those quickie direct-to-video titles designed to confuse Blockbuster patrons looking for the Tom Cruise version. C. Thomas Howell plays substitute Tom Cruise here (he’s also sub-Jennifer Connelly in The Day The Earth Stopped and sub-Will Ferrell in The Land That Time Forgot). Some guy informs us D.C. is gone (budget filmmaker’s motto: tell, don’t show) and the rebellion is hiding out in the Blue Ridge mountains, and oh here’s Jake Busey as an authoritarian dick army man, cool. But Howell makes it to D.C., gazes at some CG backgrounds, crosses a bridge that crumbled in a totally believable way (destroyed but for a convenient walking path down the center), chats with a dying alien tripod (err, 4 or 5-pod) and is reunited with his family in the last minute. Just like the Spielberg version, except not any good. From the writer of The Da Vinci Treasure, AVH: Alien vs. Hunter and Allan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls.

This post has been released under the Movie Journal Amnesty Act of March 2011, which states that blog entries may be short and crappy, since I am too busy to write up proper ones.

Machete (2010, Robert Rodriguez)

I loved the Machete fake trailer in Grindhouse, but felt R.R. was stretching the joke too far by making this. It didn’t get stellar reviews, so I skipped it in theaters. Oops. So wonderful, probably better than Planet Terror. Baddies Robert De Niro, Steven Seagal and Jeff Fahey all get brutally killed, along with Cheech Marin and about two hundred others. I don’t know how Rodriguez stays on the cool/fun side of the campy comic-action tightrope, instead of stumbling like Sukiyaki Western Django or falling clear off like Tokyo Gore Police. Dude is good.

Hatchet 2 (2010, Adam Green)

Ugh, a boring waste of time. Good for you if you make a self-aware, post-Scream horror movie full of fun references, movie veterans and tons of humor and gore. But boo on you for throwing away all accumulated goodwill on an obvious rehash sequel. Boooooo.

Frozen (2010, Adam Green)

Watched to give Green another chance after Hatchet II. Full of “why don’t they try…” and “why wouldn’t they just…” moments, and I thought the cinematography was boring, but the story and acting are undeniable… quite a good little horror flick.

In the Mouth of Madness (1994, John Carpenter)

When bad horror gets me down, I like to watch this again. It’s clunky at times and likes to montage itself (each cool shot is shown three times or more) but Sam Neill is great, and it’s one of few horrors I’ve seen that takes its Lovecraftian apocalyptic premise all the way to a satisfying conclusion.

Barres (1984, Luc Moullet)

A whole movie about dodging payment in the Paris subway – only 15 minutes long with no spoken dialogue. Cute and instructive. Told myself I’d finally check out Moullet but this is all I’ve gotten to so far.

Barres:

Beauty and the Beast (1991, Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise)

Watched with Katy. What’s this new cleaning song doing in here? Must all Disney movies have a cleaning/work song?

The Clash: Westway to the World (2000, Don Letts)

A member of Big Audio Dynamite makes an interview film with some concert footage about The Clash. Very conventional, would’ve rather read The Clash’s wikipedia page and watched a full concert DVD.

Marty (1953, Delbert Mann)

The TV version from that rad Criterion DVD. I enjoyed Mann’s smooth Jimmy Stewart voice on the DVD commentary. He died two years before the DVD came out. A big shot in television through the early 50’s, he started working in cinema beginning with the film version of Marty, reaching the heights of a Cary Grant/Doris Day rom-com in ’62, then by the early 80’s he came back full-time to TV. Written by Paddy Chayefsky, acclaimed for this and Network, and also surprisingly the author of Altered States.

I’m still not clear on the kinescope process – so it was a camera aimed at a TV screen during broadcast? And this was done by the network, not by some enthusiast at home with a proto-VCR setup? And it was set up for time-shifting to the west coast? How did they get the film developed and send it to LA in an hour? Is the kinescope the reason why lateral camera moves make the movie suddenly looks like I’m watching it inside a cylinder?

“Girls: Dance with the man who asks you. Remember men have feelings too.” Marty is bored, has no luck with ladies, finally meets one who is his own speed. Meanwhile his mother is worrying over him and his aunt is moving in and his friends are telling him to forget the girl. Will love conquer all? Yes. A very small-scale but wonderful movie.

Rod Steiger would go on to star in Run of the Arrow and In The Heat of the Night, and more importantly, as the warmongering general of Mars Attacks!. He was recast as Borgnine in the feature film, but his mother and aunt made the cinema transition – the mother (Esther Minciotti) also played mother to Cornel Wilde and Henry Fonda in Shockproof and The Wrong Man, respectively. I had to subtitle her thick accent at times on the DVD here.

Parks & Recreation season 1

Now maybe I’ll be able to remember who Amy Poehler is, even though I’ve seen her in four movies. Also good to see Aziz again after Human Giant, but this was surprisingly not too funny/brilliant a season. Things have already picked up at the start of s2, so hopes are high.

Lars/Real Girl’s well-meaning brother Paul Schneider is low-key ladies’ man Mark. Nick Offerman of The Men Who Stare at Goats is mustachioed manager Ron. Bored receptionist April is Aubrey Plaza, a minor hostile character in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Poehler’s new friend Ann is Rashida Jones, the lawyer (?) who talks to Mark Zuckerberg after-hours in The Social Network, and her boyfriend Andy is Chris Pratt of nothing I’ve seen yet.

Saxondale season 1

Steve Coogan plays less of a buffoon than usual, actually kind of a bright and capable guy. He’s not super classy though, an ex-roadie for various rock groups turned independent exterminator with anger management issues, with a new young assistant whom he and his wife Mags (Ruth Jones of Little Britain and Nighty Night) somewhat adopt. Not a masterpiece of a show, but a happy diversion with some sharp comic bits.

Stella (2005)

The only season of Michael & Michael & David Wain’s show. Once I learned to tolerate how awful and stupid it is, I started to appreciate its stupid, awful, brilliant sense of humor. Or maybe I’m just stupid. Still to see: Michael & Michael Have Issues and rival series Wainy Days. Plus I never watched Reno 911, and maybe Viva Variety will come out on DVD some day.

Flight of the Conchords season 2
The Mighty Boosh season 2

These two are currently competing for best musical comedy series of the decade. Metalocalypse doesn’t stand a chance. Conchords may have the edge, because the music in Boosh season 2 was less prominent and awesome than in its first season.

Between “My Year of Flops” and “I Watched This On Purpose,” the AV Club watches a bunch of known-to-be-bad movies and reports back on the experience. I also have an unhealthy urge to watch stupid movies, but I don’t have the kind of free time they’ve got. I just want to know if I’m missing out on anything, and if the movie’s got a built-up mystery, what’s the big twist at the end. And now, thanks to netflix streaming, I can watch any part of any bad movie instantly. So here’s a rundown on the last ten minutes of…

Delgo (2008, Adler & Maurer)
Our hero Freddie Prinze Jr. is inspired by princess Jennifer Love Hewitt to go fight the evil queen. Animation really is as bad as they said, does not look like something that should be in a theater in 2008. I looked for Avatar parallels – got the enchanted forest, peace-loving fairy inhabitants (not cat-people at all) who ride dragons, and the cliche-and-catchprase-littered dialogue. Chris Kattan (ugh) rallies all the planet’s species to attack evil there at the end, also an Avatar plot point. Oooh, Delgo uses the Force. Isn’t the Force trademarked? J.L. Hewitt kills evil stepmother Anne Bancroft (I’m sorry this was your final film, Anne Bancroft) and peace is brought unto the land. Full of corny-ass jokes and hot, forbidden interspecies love.

Pandorum (2009, Christian Alvart)
A bearded Dennis Quaid seems possessed by some supernatural sci-fi evil. This is way more talky than Event Horizon. Ben Foster (X-Men 3, Northfork), I assume, is experiencing some kinda psychological special effects. Oh they are not in space, but underwater – that’s the big revelation, allowed a couple seconds of floaty luminescent peace before it’s back to punching Dennis Quaid. He fights some girl who is not Carrie-Anne Moss. Now is Ben possessed by the ancient evil? Wait, nevermind, a crack in the hull. Oh, the evil is some kind of cat beast. Catmen from Pandorum – more Avatar references? Ben and the girl surface. Happy ending? I can’t tell. Director Alvart is a German making it big in Hollywood with writer Travis Milloy, who once wrote a Jason Schwartzman movie that nobody saw.

The Alphabet Killer (2008, Rob Schmidt)
Tim Hutton (Ghost Writer, The Dark Half) must be the killer here. He’s trying to sedate Eliza Dushku, but she uses her Buffy moves to bust his face and escape. She tries to trap him in a way that would totally not work, but totally does, and dude escapes, gunshot in the foot, into the river. Is she raving incomprehensibly, or is the string music just up too loud? Later, in the hospital, Cary Elwes (I’ve not seen him since Saw) proclaims that this is all his fault (I’m willing to accept that). She never recovers and Hutton gets away, ouch. Schmidt made one of the more enjoyable Masters of Horror eps, and writer Tom Malloy did something called The Attic which looks even worse than this.

Righteous Kill (2008, Jon Avnet)
Pacino is gonna get shot by DeNiro! Or is DeNiro gonna get shot by Pacino? The editing is confusing and every shot is a close-up. Now there’s a showdown in an 80’s-movie factory, both of them with guns. I don’t know what they’re saying because Katy made me turn off the sound, but Pacino is pissed, and his hair isn’t as bad as it usually is, and Carla Gugino (Watchmen, Sin City) is hanging around. Nevermind all that, Pacino got totally shot to death by DeNiro! He gave a long speech I didn’t hear, then some shit happens, I wasn’t looking anymore. From the director of 88 Minutes (and Fried Green Tomatoes) and the writer of Inside Man.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009, Patrick Tatopoulos)
Sooo dark! I see werewolves, and some Lord of the Rings business, but it’s all so dark. The action is very actiony. HooRAY, Bill Nighy of Shaun of the Dead is the self-serious lead bad guy in a ridiculous costume. He shall face off against a pissed, bearded Michael Sheen, who screams “I loved her,” which means that Rhona Mitra (Doomsday) might be dead. Wait, Nighy is a vampire! He got sunlit then stabbed through the head by a righteous Sheen, which Katy did not appreciate seeing. Oh and Nighy is still alive in the twist ending here, as is Rhona Mitra. The director was a creature designer on the first two movies, never a good sign. Jesus, nine writers?

Lies and Illusions (2009, Tibor Takacs)
Christian Slater does his hammy always-talking thing in the backseat of a made-for-1991-TV-looking full-frame car chase. Sarah Ann Schultz is trapped after a huge crash, while Christa Campbell shoots at some baddies who are not Cuba Gooding Jr. The sound mix is awful, very Slater-heavy with crap music, but wait, CGJr showed up and shot Slater, which STILL didn’t shut him up. Sarah Ann Schultz sneaks onto Cuba’s airplane, and parachutes out leaving the plane to crash, in the most hilarious special effects attempt of 2009. Tibor, of course, made the excellent The Gate and less-excellent The Gate II back in the 80’s – doesn’t look like he’s doing so well now. From the writer of nothing, and cinematographer of Trapped Ashes (but given a Magnum P.I.-era TV videocamera).

Angels & Demons (2009, Ron Howard)
Tom Hanks discovers secret cameras taping the board room! He sees a very sinister Stellan Skarsgard (ha ha, he is always sinister) saying quizzical shit to an incredulous Ewan McGregor. Apparently Ewan spread illuminati rumors to stop SS from trying to find scientific proof of God? Or something, anyway Ewan frames SS and gets him shot in flashback, to the despair of all the cardinals reviewing security tapes with Hanks and some girl who is not Audrey Tautou. Later, a guy who might be Armin Mueller-Stahl presides as scary Germans tail a bruised Ewan until he sets himself on fire. The evidence is destroyed, and the crowd goes wild. Where does Jesus’s granddaughter fit into all this? From the writers of Zathura, Secret Window, Constantine and Deep Blue Sea, ouch.

Camille: “Can I come during the day, from 5 to 7?”
Marcello: “The magic hour for lovers.”

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Simon Cinema (Michel Piccoli) isn’t doing too well, confined to his mansion-museum with his butler (Truffaut/Duras vet Henri Garcin) and best friend Marcello Mastroianni (as himself, sort of). Film student Camille (Julie Gayet, the girl with the giant gag vase in My Best Friend) is hired to talk with Simon about movies for 101 nights, and her boyfriend (Mathieu Demy) takes advantage of her position to cast the legendary Mr. Cinema in his student film.

Michel and Marcello:
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Garcin and Gayet:
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But the plot is just an excuse for some fun. Every star of French cinema shows up, major films are mentioned (nothing is discussed in any depth – no time). Anouk “Lola” Aimée, Catherine Deneuve and Robert De Niro take a boat ride. Sandrine Bonnaire appears as both her Vagabond self and Joan of Arc. Piccoli drops the Simon shtick and the white wig for a minute and compares cinematic death scenes with Gérard Depardieu (“that old devil Demy!”) before a poster of their co-starring Seven Deaths film…

Gerard and Michel:
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Sandrine d’Arc:
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Hanna Schygulla (Fassbinder films, Passion) and Jeanne Moreau (Jules and Jim, The Lovers) play Simon’s ex-wives. There are seven dwarfs. There’s a conspiciously Bonheur-looking sunflower shot. Alain Delon arrives by helicopter (reminiscent, though it maybe shouldn’t be, of the out-of-place helicopter in Donkey Skin).

Gayet with Alain Delon:
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Jeanne and Hanna:
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It’s all very light and playful. I’m sure I missed a thousand references, but it keeps many of them obvious enough to remain accessible (if you didn’t catch the meaning when a bicycle is stolen outside the mansion, someone cries “italian neorealism strikes again!”).

Mathieu Demy meets Fanny Ardant:
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The credits list how many seconds and frames were used from each featured film – impressive – and also all the stolen music cues.

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tour bus guy: “Glad to see you on form.”
Simon: “Form of what?”
“Why, you seem content.”
“Form and content, a debate even older than I am.”

At Cannes:
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NY Times: “While covering so many bases, Ms. Varda never makes more than a glancing allusion to anything, and at times the film is such an overloaded grab bag that it grows exasperating. Or even baffling; for unknown reasons, Stephen Dorff turns up in a pantheon of great Hollywood stars.”

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LA Times: “Michel Piccoli plays Monsieur Cinema, who embodies the history and spirit of film, and in particular, that Fabulous Invalid, the French motion picture industry itself. (Since Varda is such a playful director, Piccoli is sometimes simply himself.) Monsieur Cinema may have been inspired by the director of the landmark Napoleon, the late Abel Gance, whom Piccoli resembles when he puts on a long silver-white wig.”

Lumiere brothers:
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Doctor Belmondo and Jack Nance:
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