So many details to talk about in this movie, but the main thing I’ll remember is, after the whole twisty, backstabby mess, when Chris Evans has been taken away for murder (one provable, two attempted), that final shot of Ana de Armas (the hologram-girlfriend in Blade Runner 2049) with the “my house/my rules” mug. The nazi child was Jaeden Martell of Midnight Special – so the second time he’s played Michael Shannon’s son. The silly-ass state trooper is Noah Segan, a Rian Johnson regular since Brick. Murdered Fran is a Groundling, Shannon’s wife is from Garfunkel and Oates – lot of comedians in the cast, but most everyone plays it straight against eccentric detective Daniel Craig.
After an accident, Hiroshi (Tadanobu Asano of the Thor movies, star of Bright Future and Ichi the Killer) wakes up uncommunicative, barely knowing who he is. He returns to med school and begins a four-month class where he dissects the body of his girlfriend Ryoko who died in the crash, while he experiences lucid dreams (or returning memories, or a split consciousness) in which he spends time with Ryoko.
So it’s another trauma movie from Tsukamoto, about pain and memory and body horror – though this is a quiet and restrained movie, and we hardly see any surgery, so it’s not so much a horror movie as the poster would have us believe. This was made before two of my faves, Haze and Nightmare Detective. Employing crossfades and slow zooms into splotchy patterened walls, it effectively represents Hiroshi’s dark, blurry mindset without going into the usual Tsukamoto shaky-cam histrionics.
Hiroshi’s own parents had apparently given up on his future before the crash and are warily glad that he’s back in med school – dad is Kazuyoshi Kushida of Oshima’s Sing a Song of Sex, and mom is Lily of Oshima’s Dear Summer Sister. Hiroshi makes the odd decision to contact the girlfriend’s parents and let them know that he’s cutting her up. They take this news better than I would’ve figured, and as the mom (the cinematically named Hana Kino of Ôbayashi’s Beijing Watermelon) is dying of cancer, dad (Jun Kunimura: the unlaughing lord in Scabbard Samurai, lead gangster of Why Don’t You Play In Hell?) seems to appreciate Hiroshi’s company. There’s also another emotionally disturbed med student, Ikumi, who blames herself for a professor’s suicide, and seems to exist in the movie mostly as an audience surrogate to stare in disgusted wonder at Hiroshi as the other students slowly abandon him.
The second half reveals that Bradley Cooper’s washed-up drunk suicidal 1970’s jam-dude was the lead character all along, bumming out a movie that we thought would be more about the giddy excitement of Lady Gaga’s rise to stardom. She’s an amateur from nowhere with a golden voice, but being a pop singer in 2018 requires choreography and shitty beats, so Cooper loves and marries her but still gets to be the guy who keeps it real, commenting on her false costumes and dance moves, then goes back to barking indecipherable lyrics over Neilyoungian jams (backed by Neil’s band Promise of the Real).
Despite the Cooper obsession, it’s a well-paced beauty of a movie that seems to exist for that one song/scene, Gaga revealed to be far more talented than her work in Machete Kills hinted at. The camera dives and swoops through the rock concert scenes, Sam Elliott is cool as ever, and it’s not until the closing credits that we stop to wonder what Andrew Dice Clay and Dave Chappelle were doing in a movie together.
Grotesquely happy, murderous singing cowboy Tim Blake Nelson explains that he’s not a misanthrope in the Coens’ most self-referential piece yet, before he’s killed by a Hail Caesar singer.
James Franco gets hanged for his comically failed bank robbery, then again after escaping on account of Indians killing the guys hanging him, the point of the episode seeming to be the joke where he turns to another guy getting hanged and says “first time?”
(Nearly?) mute Liam Neeson wheels a monologuing human torso (Harry Melling) from town to town until tastes change and Neeson finds new entertainment that’s cheaper to feed. A haunting and cynical segment – wonderful looking, with rich storybook color, as are they all.
Tom Waits as an ol’ prospector, the role he was born to play, just searching for gold in a gorgeous river valley amongst deer and owls. The lead character has died at the end of every segment so far, so I was afraid for Tom, but he turns the tables on would-be thief Sam Dillon.
Finally it’s a woman’s turn to meet a sorry end: nervous Zoe Kazan, a wagon train widow who is very nearly protected from Indians by Bill Heck and Grainger Hines.
Watched at the Landmark, and reserving further comment until I either rewatch and get some sweet screenshots, or order that Adam Nayman book.
This would make a good double-feature with Dead Ringers, another 1980’s movie about twin doctors who fall for the same woman. In this one, Oliver and Oswald (twins, separated conjoined, I think Oliver is the blond one) are played by Eric and Brian Oswald (brothers, not twins) – zoologists studying animal behavior when their wives are killed in a car accident while being driven by Alba (Andréa Ferréol of La grande bouffe, The Last Metro, Street of No Return). They become increasingly obsessed with Alba, with each other, and with chaos and decay, freeing zoo animals and shooting time-lapse films of ever-larger dead ones.
These three are surrounded by some suspicious characters: a woman called Venus (Frances Barber of Secret Friends) and a mad surgeon named Van Meegeren, who amputated Alba’s leg after the car crash and now wants to amputate the other leg. She finally turns down the twins in favor of a new man who is also missing his legs – I think she dies at the end but not sure exactly why, and the brothers stage a suicide before the time-lapse camera to add their own decaying images to the collection.
It sounds like a bunch of weirdness from a plot description, but in practice it’s much weirder. Obsessed with Vermeer, decay, snails, symmetry, doubles, the alphabet, fakes and missing limbs – with the great pulsing Nyman music, and always more than one thing happening per shot, each splendidly composed frame full of motion.
Starts and ends with a labor strike, but I guess 1982 was too little/late for Demy to be considered political enough to hang with the New Wave gang again. This is a tragedy version of The Young Girls of Rochefort: all-singing, love and coincidence following multiple characters through 1955 Nantes, ending in suicide and disaster.
Our doomed lovers are Edith (Dominique Sanda, also suicidal in Bresson’s Une femme douce) and Francois (Richard Berry, now a writer/director). She’s dabbling in prostitution to get away from her loveless marriage, walking the streets in only a fur coat.
Edith’s mom (Danielle Darrieux, the mom in Rochefort) is Francois’s landlady, though they won’t discover this until late. Edith’s impotent husband is a redbearded Michel Piccoli. In 1967 Danielle Darrieux’s character was dating Piccoli, and now 15 years later he’s married to her daughter. Danielle is ex-aristocracy, politically opposed to her “anarchist” tenant, dealing with loneliness after the recent death of her husband and a seldom-visiting petulant daughter who claims to be in eternal love with the man she met the night before.
Francois is a junior dockworker, so is afraid of losing his job during the strike. His sweet, lovely girlfriend Violette (Fabienne Guyon, a singer and stage actress) is pregnant, has a sweet, lovely mother (Anna Gaylor), but Francois tells Violette about his love affair and breaks everyone’s hearts. He joins his balding coworker (Jean-Francois Stevenin who plays the balding dude in everything: Le Pont du Nord, Small Change, The Limits of Control) on the front lines, and the movie ends how it must: Piccoli slashes his own throat, Francois gets his head smashed by the cops and Edith shoots herself.
Francois and Stevenin, with union leader Jean-Louis Rolland in the hat:
This was the last film from the box set, so I checked out the exhaustive A to Z extra by James Quandt. “Given his happy childhood, one wonders what accounts for all the broken families in his films.” Demy considered Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne “the formative influence of his career” and Quandt displays similarities between Bay of Angels and Pickpocket. “The director once said that his ideal would be to make fifty interlocking films elaborating on his characters’ overlapping destinies.” I knew about the Cocteau and Ophuls connections, but the segment on influences from paintings was fresh. Interesting sidenote on the axe murderer in Rochefort, and Une Chambre en Ville was said to be Demy’s dream project and he was crushed when it flopped.
One week in 1953, things went very badly for military scientist Frank Olson (played by Peter Saarsgard in reenactment footage). After he’s given LSD at a cabin getaway, he does something wrong (“they laughed at me”) then asks to be fired from his job. Instead he’s escorted to NYC, taken to see a psychiatrist (actually an allergist) and a magician, and one night he goes out the window of his hotel room and falls to his death. Few specifics are known for sure – what happened in the cabin, who else was in the hotel room, what the NYC trip was even for – but Frank’s son Eric has spent six decades learning all he can, trying to piece it together. So the film follows his investigation, fleshing out the story more and more as he learns details over the decades from court cases and document searches and unofficial visits.
Eric’s collage art must have inspired some of Morris’s compositions:
Dr. Balaban… I thought this was Morris and his interrotron when I first saw it:
Saarsgard is lost in the reenactment scenes, dazed or drugged or having a breakdown, and we barely see or discuss him behaving normally before the fateful week. Other actors hover about, such as Tim Blake Nelson as sinister boss Gottlieb (who once tried to assassinate Lumumba) and Bob Balaban as the allergist, but these scenes never quite come together, because the investigation doesn’t. We get close enough to make assumptions – that Frank was dropped out the window, staged as a suicide – but it all leads up to the terrible final moments of the Eric Olson interview:
“I remembered my father but I forgot who I was… you become lost in a sea of questions, all of which pertain to the other, none of which pertain to yourself… Because the value of the lost one is infinite, the sacrifice becomes infinite.”
It’s a powerful ending, and I love some of the editing tricks, echoing and split-screening the interview images. But something is off with the big-picture editing – the episodes were either meant to be watched a week apart (watching two in one sitting yields too little progress, too much repetition) or they had enough material for four good episodes and extended it to six when they got the netflix deal.
The Tabloid television setup:
chemist Robert Lashbrook:
Lawrence Garcia in the new Cinema Scope:
Uncertainty, unknowability, and the nature of truth are subjects that Morris has revisited throughout his career, specifically in relation to (American) structures and systems of authority. And despite its overt epistemological explorations, conspiratorial tone, and more unconventional trappings, Wormwood still bears the hallmarks of traditional journalistic reportage. But there’s been a marked change as well: the relative certainty of something like the Randall Dale Adams case — built around a clear miscarriage of justice, with a self-evident corrective goal — has been traded in for McNamara’s fog, Rumsfeld’s flurry of memos (nicknamed “snowflakes”), or the recurring image of the sea in The Unknown Known. It’s a shift from thin blue line to churning, Rorschachian haze.
Skinningrove (2013, Michael Almereyda)
After Experimenter and now Escapes, I thought it’d be worth watching everything I can find by Almereyda. This one is simply a slideshow, narrated by photographer Chris Killip who’d spent a few years documenting the titular fishing village. We get descriptions of who we’re seeing, how his (excellent) photographs were taken, and what happened after (two of the boys died in a storm). Killip says he’s never been sure what he should do with the photos – I suppose this is what.
Me the Terrible (2012, Josephine Decker)
Girl dressed like a pirate conquers New York, from the Statue of Liberty to Wall Street to the Empire State Building, until a gang of red-suited bicyclists steal her teddy bear in Central Park and she abandons the rest of the conquest. The adults seem to be lipsyncing to voices from old movies. Not at all like Decker’s Butter on the Latch, but fully wonderful in all new ways.
Split Persona (2017, Bradley Rust Gray)
Twin sisters Karrie and Jalissa have a majorly depressed mom. Jalissa always takes care of mom, so she asks Karrie to stay home for once, but apparently whenever mom is left home with Karrie she attempts suicide. Bummer of a little film, possibly made as a PSA for mental health care – it barely exists online, despite coming from the director of Jack & Diane. This was written by a Nelson, whose mom suffers from depression, and it stars a Nelson as the mom, but no word whether it’s Mom Nelson.
Second Sighted (2015, Deborah Stratman)
Movement through space. Stock footage. Water and earth… earth under water, and flowing like water. Graphic markups on photographs. Models and data and data models. Good stuff, and I didn’t even mind the soundtrack: drones, chimes and that chirpy chatter that accompanies old computer images. My first by Stratman – I’ve been seeing her name here and there.
Woodshock (1985, Richard Linklater)
Bunch of pretty annoying dudes clown around at a Texas underground film festival. Daniel Johnston makes an appearance, then the footage starts overlapping and running in reverse in order to get groovy and psychedelic. He calls this a “film attempt” in the credits, fair enough. I spotted GBH and Exploited t-shirts! Shot by Lee Daniel, who was still working with Linklater as late as Boyhood.
Gazing at the Catastrophe (2012, Ali Cherri)
Closeup of a man’s face, his skin tone shifting every couple of frames. A photoshop cursor strokes each of his features, slowly applying scars or burns to his visage, then the picture cuts away to stuttering video horrors for a few seconds, and repeat.
The followcam gets shaky, but not the worst I’ve seen, and I stopped noticing it as the movie got stranger. Leo, a dude with serious eyebrows who is supposed to be writing a screenplay, is instead wandering some roads and fields, failing to pick up a young guy named Yoan, then succeeding in picking up a female sheepherd – and his success is signaled by a completely unexpected cut from them talking about moving in together to a close-up birthing scene.
Leo (Damien Bonnard – I think he drowned in Dunkirk) continues to hit on the dude Yoan, who lives with the muuuch older Marcel (Christian Bouillette, in movies since 1970). And one day Leo’s girl (India Hair of Camille Rewinds) leaves forever, and Leo is stuck living with their baby and her Bluto-looking dad (Raphaël Thierry). Bluto doesn’t take this well, steals the baby and tries to leave it outside for the wolves. And Leo goes on some Ornithologist-like journey along a river to visit a new-agey friend – I didn’t really follow this part.
Soon the movie loses its marbles: everyone is attracted to Leo, his girl is shacked up with Yoan, a panicked Leo flees into the river to escape his movie’s producers, he is beaten and stripped by a homeless gang, and finally Leo makes local headlines for having sex with Old Man Marcel while assisting his suicide. A flash-forward shows everyone living semi-normally, but the movie leaves us with Leo and Bluto surrounded by wolves.
Whatever it all meant, it’s a huge step up from Stranger by the Lake, and all the partner-swapping and unusual desires and wolf-lust felt fresh and enticing. Some scenes were too dark to be legible on my TV. The 13th I’ve seen of the 21 films in Cannes competition last year, and like Paterson and Slack Bay it never played theaters here.