Almost the entire movie is a film director (Bogdan Dumitrache of Sieranevada) having conversations, rehearsals and affairs with his lead actress (Diana Avramut). He fakes a stomach illness, claims he had it checked by a doctor, and his producer (Mihaela Sirbu of Aferim!) has his cover story carefully verified, either to catch him in the lie or, as she says, because of picky insurance demands. Another filmmaker (Alexandru Papadopol of Toni Erdmann) pops into a dinner chat, possibly representing a future job for the actress. This is practically all that happens, and it ends abruptly – so why is it a movie? I get the self-reflexive talk about long takes and film cartridge capacity in a 35mm movie composed entirely of long takes, and after all the film-vs-video talk, video gets finally represented in the form of a colonoscopy DVD. After two long scenes where the director tries to convince the actress that a newly written nude scene is dramatically necessary and she goes over the blocking with him to verify that this is properly motivated, our movie finally shows her gratuitously topless. All this is worth a few meta-chuckles – surely I got more out of it than 12:08 East of Bucharest, and if the whole thing feels slightly pointless and the conversations go on for too long, that’s probably intentional too, for reasons I don’t feel like researching at the moment.

We closely follow Romeo (Adrian Titieni, one of Mr. Lazarescu‘s many doctors), sort of a sad Romanian Nick Frost, during the week of his daughter’s final exams. At first he’s a regular guy whose family has a string of bad luck, then things open up and we see that he’s cheating on his wife, that all the professional and government services are greased by favors and bribes, and that, in trying to help his daughter, he ends up dragging her into the small-town societal corruption that he was trying to save her from. We don’t know for sure if she’ll end up going off to Cambridge, or stay in town with her boyfriend and fall into the same traps as her parents, but I suspect the latter. At least the problems on display here aren’t as life-crushingly bad as in Leviathan.

Daughter Magda is Maria-Victoria Dragus (creepy bird-murdering kid of The White Ribbon). Mungiu tied with Assayas for best director at last year’s Cannes. I finally got to see it on opening day of this year’s Cannes (and also during graduation week).

V. Morton, who also has a nice bit on the film’s “egalitarian framing”:

Even as the film’s central narrative event happens (the assault on Romeo’s daughter on the eve of her baccalaureate exams), we see Romeo as an adulterer (later, we learn, with his wife’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” semi-connivance). We very promptly learn after the assault, even before the narrative implications have really been set up, that he and “Vlad Ivanov” had bribed their way out of the military draft and thus “owe” someone re a liver transplant. Romeo is a doctor. Graduation is not the story of a good man corrupted but a corrupt man trying to do “good” (when it serves him and his) because society runs on corruption.

Sounds like an American-ready comedy premise (which is why there’s a rumored remake): uptight daughter gets a visit from her goofball dad who tries getting her to lighten up. Generic versions of this story have been made before, but this one uses some unique characters to change the trajectory, eventually revealing the daughter was maybe right to hide her true nature beneath a serious businesswoman facade, because when she lightens up, she’s almost psychotically awkward (shades of Ade’s debut The Forest for the Trees).

The infamous nude scene was different than I expected, at least. You figure a nude scene will be about sex in some way, and it’s not. Out of a combination of the quirky strangeness that her dad’s visit has perhaps inspired and frustration at a dress zipper, Ines (Sandra Hüller: Requiem, Amour Fou) answers the door to her party guests in the nude, then starts insisting they disrobe as well. Meanwhile her dad Winfried/Toni (Peter Simonischek) has dramatically upped his costume game from a moppy wig and false teeth to a giant Bulgarian hair-monster costume, and arrives at the party without saying a word, freaking out the already scared naked party guests. It’s clearly a very good movie, and even if I have trouble understanding Cinema Scope’s film-of-the-year acclaim, this may be the scene of the year.

Ade, probably predicting the failure of next year’s remake:

When I tried to shorten the film, it gets very banal and less complex. The film needed a certain length … The moment you take out 20 minutes, then you have the father coming, he’s an idiot, she’s a businesswoman… it gets very simple, very fast.

A movie about nazis being killed off by aliens should’ve been more entertaining – besides a really fantastic smoke-monster effect, this was only pretty good. It tries to be very serious and sets up many conflicts (good alien/bad alien, good nazi/bad nazi, nazis/jews, etc.) then doesn’t do anything wonderful with any of these things.

Trevor: “it fell apart for me when none of the story mattered… mystery invincible guy with glowing eyes walks in and defeats the beast, the worst execution of deus ex machina.”

Smoke Monster, de-smoked:

Okay, Nazis led by Jurgen Prochnow (Sutter Cane in In the Mouth of Madness, and I think Kyle’s dad in Dune) occupy a Romanian town and camp in an empty fortress watched over by a priest (Robert Prosky of Christine and Gremlins 2), who calls in his professor friend Ian McKellen with daughter Alberta Watson (Hedwig/Hansel‘s mom) to translate ancient writings after soldiers keep showing up dead. Prochnow isn’t murdering enough villagers, so the more ruthless Gabriel Byrne (three years before Gothic) is sent to take charge, later shoots Prochnow dead. Smoke Monster heals the formerly-crippled Ian McKellen, says he’s a golem-like Jewish avenger who will crush all nazis if Ian frees him. The priest gets all shitty and tells Ian he can burn in hell (admittedly all the nazis might be stressing him out), meanwhile Mystery Invincible Guy (top-billed Scott Glenn, Jodie Foster’s boss in Silence of the Lambs) has sex with Ian’s daughter until she notices he has no reflection. I think Invincible Guy and the nazis and Smoke Monster all kill each other at the end?

Alberta with sex alien:

Ian under Smoke Monster’s spell:

Second movie I’ve watched this Shocktober where the first death is by exploding head. TV veteran Mann’s second feature, which he has since disowned, based on a story by the guy who wrote Pelts. The actors act as big as possible (apparently Ian McKellen has mellowed with age) and the then-trendy Tangerine Dream soundtrack does the nazi-horror atmosphere no favors. But it’s a startlingly different movie, anyway.

Another drag of a Romanian movie making some sort of opaque political statement, this one by 50 Under 50 filmmaker Porumboiu. Won a couple of awards at Cannes the year before 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days had everyone talking about Romania.

A TV studio cameraman says handheld camera is “the new thing” until the presenter tells him “put it on the tripod before I whop you with it!” That might be Porumboiu’s thoughts on the matter, since his film is shot with locked-down cameras, drab framings through doorways. The program within the film is portrayed as pretty half-assed, with focus problems, making the uninteresting-looking main feature look more competent by comparison. Indiewire says the compositions are “elegant” and “lovely,” so they saw something I didn’t.

12:08 is what time president Ceausescu fled the capital by helicopter on 12/22/1989. On the anniversary, TV call-in host Virgil Jderescu invites a couple of guests (beardy prof Manescu and old man Piscoci) to discuss whether their small town participated in the revolution or simply followed it, defined as whether there were people in the square before or after 12:08. No serious conclusions are drawn, and at the end everyone shuts up and watches snow fall.

Jay Kuehner in Cinema Scope:

This quietly bravura set-piece manages to be narratively torpid and aesthetically flat, but nevertheless conceptually rich; it’s a sublime metaphor for the uses of history, how people make it as much as it makes people, and how received narratives often entail multiple and conflicting views. .. That Porumboiu stages the “action” on live television is surely not coincidental, as impromptu broadcasts from the seized television stations relayed the progress of the revolution, up to and including Ceausescu and his wife’s bloody end.

AV Club says the points are “whether a revolution can happen if nobody risks anything, and whether the long memories of small-town stalwarts can be both a blessing and a curse.”

“Are you still feeling nauseous?”
“I’m feeling melancholy.”

Right off the bat I’m regretting the decision to finally watch the 2.5-hour Romanian movie about the slow death of an old drunk due to failures in the national health care system. One of the top ten most critically acclaimed films of the decade or not, the DVD subtitles are blocky white with a light purple filling, the not-quite-static handheld camerawork is irritating, and the first 50 minutes are set inside Laz’s underlit apartment. I hope with the success of this movie, the director can afford a tripod.

It definitely gets better. Once they get to the ambulance/hospital(s), the handheld camera has some reason to exist, panning in response to characters and situations, like a dopey, late-night In The Loop. The paramedic who first picks up Laz feels responsible for him, wheels him from one condescending doctor to another, waiting in long lines for the use of scanning equipment and dealing with overcrowded emergency rooms and surly staff. Laz has a “subdural hematoma” (a brain cloud) and his condition rapidly and seriously worsens over the course of the night, until he can barely speak or control himself.

Seemed like a useful movie, but I’m not seeing the great work of art within. I preferred The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein as far as rambling 2.5-hour politically-charged budget-shot best-of-decade picks go. It made me angry towards the end, so there’s that, and I was pleased at the beginning that Laz and his neighbors are allowed some intelligence (not a given for movies about poor people). An article I can’t find right now says any Romanian would realize that all the times hospital personnel ask if Laz has any family with him, they are looking for a bribe, and the director says the movie is about the love of your fellow man.

Why, right after watching the classic original Dracula, would I waste time on a cheapo 80’s made-for-TV vampire thriller? Because it’s one of only two unseen titles on Stuart Gordon’s filmography, and SHOCKtober seems like a good excuse to tackle the last of them.

It’s a rare film indeed which stars Mia Sara (Ferris Bueller’s girlfriend) – looks like after Ferris Bueller it was mostly this and Timecop. She shows up… somewhere… Romania? I shouldn’t have waited three weeks before writing this. I’ve fallen behind, you see. The question comes up often, “watch movies or write about movies?” and watching them wins. So three weeks ago I watched a crappy vampire movie starring Mia Sara… in what country did it even take place? Let’s say Romania.

Ferris’s girlfriend and her enchanted necklace:
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Friendly cab driver Max, “Americans and me, we kill many nazis,” drives her around as she seeks her long-lost father. She has a dramatic encounter with Anthony Perkins (in between Psychos 3 and 4) who says her father is dead, which clearly means Perkins is her father. Writer Andrew Laskos apparently didn’t think we’d figure that one out.

Perkins and Grigori:
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Oh, but I said it was a vampire movie and I mentioned Romania. Yes, Perkins is a good vampire, and Mia’s love interest Grigori (Robert Reynolds of Howling 6: The Freaks) is a bad vampire. The former wants to protect her, while the latter wants to have sex with her and create a race of super half-vampire babies like Blade or Ultraviolet.

Anthony Perkins, sunburned vampire:
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There’s a vampire war (a very minor one), Perkins is left in the sun, Mia rescues him, he saves her from Grigori killing them both, oh and the cab driver from before turns out to be a vampire crony. The movie apparently thought it now needed to rescue the derailed romantic subplot, so it pairs Mia up with an American ambassador (current Heroes star Jack Coleman), who has only been grudgingly nice to Mia for the entire flick.

“Shut up, I’m your new love interest!”
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Wonder if this was Stuart Gordon’s sole interesting contribution or if this was in the script… the vampires don’t have fanged teeth, they have little toothy mouths in the tips of their tongues, like the girl’s breasts in Trapped Ashes.

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Movie looks very made-for-TV, which it was. Gordon must’ve needed work after Dolls, and fortunately (in the long run) didn’t get himself tied up in the Puppet Master series.

“Count Dracula may not seem like the ideal husband. … Of course he’s deadly pale, but then he’s a vegetarian and they all seem to look like that.”

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The director admits the film is slow, even uses the word “boring,” but says they figured it’d be more poetic that way. He also claims little familiarity with the original Dracula story and vampire mythology, but says he’d try to respect it whenever a crew member would point it out (“hey Paul, Drac can’t walk out in sunlight like that”).

On the plus side, it has very nice piano music, decent well-lit cinematography by Luigi Kuveiller (who shot Avanti! and is as fond of zooms as Brian De Palma), Udo Kier acting off his nut, a humorous array of atrocious accents, and the longest blood-vomiting scene I’ve ever watched. Morrissey’s got the right idea about horror movies drawing in the viewer through slow buildup, but he misses the creepy horror atmosphere. Udo Kier’s Dracula is a pale weakling who gets ordered around by his enthusiastic German servant (Arno Juerging) and is eventually, humiliatingly killed by a loser rapist houseboy wielding an axe. Without the horror, or the over-the-top 3D humor of Flesh For Frankenstein, this one just sorta drags along.

Arno Juerging with Maxime McKendry:
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Dracula is sent from Romania to Italy to find virgins, since Romania is fresh out. Stays at a house run by the shabby, formerly wealthy couple of Maxime McKendry (seems like the best actress here, but never in another film) and the great Vittorio De Sica, below.

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Drac is interested in the family’s four girls and tries to figure which is a virgin so he can drink her bl… I mean marry her. Unfortunately, the oldest two are having kinky sex regularly with beefcake houseboy Joe Dallesandro (Rivette’s Merry-Go-Round, a hitman in The Limey), the middle one has been engaged before so Drac writes her off (turns out she’s still a virgin so Joe kindly rapes her to save her from becoming vampire food) and the youngest is 14 (so unmarryable, but Drac is chasing her at the end).

Milena Vukotic:
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Stefania Casini (Suspiria, a hitwoman in Bad, 1900, Belly of an Architect):
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Not pictured: Fellini/Bunuel/Tarkovsky actress Milena Vukotic, and youngest Silvia Dionisio. It was a bitch to figure out the above screenshots since all four sisters look the same. See comment below for some clarification/corrections (thanks Jenna).

“What about your sister? What does she do all night? I’d like to rape the hell out of her.” “She’s only 14!”

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The reason I watched this in the first place, kicking off an early start to SHOCKtober on the 29th, is Roman Polanski. During all the controversy while he sits in a Swiss jail I thought I’d watch myself a RoPol movie, but I can’t find my copy of Knife in the Water so I went for this instead. Apparently Udo Kier needed to take a day off for reshoots on another film, so they hurriedly wrote a scene in which Arno Juerging gets scammed by Roman (on left with the mustache) in a tavern.

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Udo is as fun to watch as always (well, maybe less fun than always), but he’s surrounded by the usual sordid 70’s misogyny of a Morrissey/Warhol production. Dracula comes to a sad end, limbs all chopped off like the Black Knight and then staked by the gross houseboy. Better luck next time…

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Tarsem’s previous movie The Cell had a crappy story and bad acting wrapped around a handful of intensely cool but disconnected imagery. This one has a simple but decent story and good acting, with about half the movie being intensely cool imagery, finely intertwined with the rest of the plot. A quantum leap forward!

The gimmick of not having a gimmick (no digital effects, etc) was distracting as hell. We were always “what country do you think that is” or “THAT isn’t a real place is it” or “aha, that’s GOT to be a digital effect” or “is the little girl acting or not, she seems so natural.” From online trivia we learn it’s a remake of a 1981 Bulgarian film and the little girl was often improvising.

Movie itself is a wonder. In Princess Bride’s framing story, grandpa Peter Falk is reading a great, classic storybook, so the bulk movie has to be great and classic, and it lives up – but in The Fall we have an unreliable narrator, suicidal, heartbroken, wasted on morphine, making it up as he goes along. In a sense this makes the story more unpredictable, but it’s also a huge cop-out because if the writing is poor you can say “oh it’s supposed to be poor, didn’t you get that?” And it is kinda poor. Our hero the masked bandit with his lost love and archnemesis kinda fizzles, and his side characters Luigi (“explosives expert” who only uses explosives once, suicidally at the very end), The Ex-Slave and The Indian just make poses and look beautiful against the exotic scenery, getting shown up by the problem-solving Charles Darwin and his pet monkey. So it doesn’t sound too good and it’s probably not, but if you’re gonna throw out images this nice, I’ll let your thin plot slide. Carried over from The Cell we’ve still got some nightmarish imagery too. When their guide The Mystic is captured, being chopped to death with an axe (barely offscreen), crying and repeating the safe word “googly googly”, small birds flying out of his mouth, that’s a thing that gets stuck terribly in my head while I’m trying to sleep.

Movie ends with a montage of Keaton and Chaplin stunt scenes, half of which I recognized, in a belated homage to stunt men (our hero is one, ended up in the hospital with the little girl by falling badly off a bridge). Weird. Nobody I’ve heard of in the cast, which makes sense. If you’re shooting a self-financed movie over four years in 20+ countries, you’re not gonna get many recognizable actors to sign up. However, Lee Pace (our storytelling hero) is now starring in Pushing Daisies.