Lead girl Toni (Royalty Hightower) is boxing with her brother at the rec center until she gets intrigued by the dance team of girls across the hall. And one by one, from older to younger, the dancers start having fits. A good example of movies being much more than their story, because this was endlessly watchable and barely had a story – lots of boxing and fitness and dance practice, the widescreen lens following Toni closely.

J. Bailey:

Holmer primarily tells her story in the brute strength of her imagery, the way the camera regards Toni as a solitary figure, even when among other people, and then subtly shifts that perspective as she finds herself in a period of discovery and reinvention. Oh, and then her dance teammates start having peculiar, unexplained seizures, a narrative shift that somehow doesn’t dismantle the delicate tonal foundation. It’s the kind of film that’s almost inexplicable — I’m not sure how it was devised, or how it was executed. But I’m glad it exists.

D’Angelo:

Formally dazzling, which might have been enough had The Fits been a short … or had its central metaphor been a tad less bluntly obvious (these fits only affect pubescent girls, you say? They’re frightening, but also liberating? Those who haven’t experienced them envy those who have? Hmm…).

Not the best fantasy English-language debut by a Cannes jury prize winning European filmmaker starring John C. Reilly I’ve seen in theaters this week. Hard to believe this was even worse than Reality. No atmosphere or rhythm, just a series of things happening to no apparent purpose. The colors and costumes looked nice, anyway.

I guess there are three nearby kingdoms. King John C. Reilly dies slaying a sea monster to cast a spell so Queen Salma Hayek can have a baby, but her substitute chef also has a baby and they grow up to be albino twins Christian and Jonah Lees, who send messages via water flowing out of a tree root. Second there’s King Vincent Cassel (Black Swan) who loves having sex with ladies and wants all the ladies to have sex with him. He likes the singing voice of Shirley Henderson so her sister Hayley Carmichael semi-competently fools him, then is thrown from his window and turned into young and beautiful Stacy Martin (Young Joe in Nymphomaniac) by a witch in the woods, after which she marries the king. And King Toby Jones is obsessed with his giant pet flea so absentmindedly allows his daughter Bebe Cave to marry a dangerous ogre.

Shot by Peter Suschitzky (Cosmopolis, Lisztomania) and edited by tossing rough-cut scenes in the air and picking them up in any order.

M. D’Angelo:

One tale will be abandoned for so long that its return is like suddenly remembering last night’s dream in the middle of the day. Guy Maddin employed that device masterfully in The Forbidden Room (which premiered at Sundance earlier this year), but he did so by burying dozens of stories inside others, like Russian dolls. Here, Garrone just randomly cuts to someone else every so often, killing the momentum every time.

The CLF in Cinema Scope:

Thanks to very good CGI and a diligent DP, the film looks pleasant if you’re into Middle Ages fetishism, dragons, albino twins, abusive ogres, and that sort of thing. The way Garrone elaborates the source material is pedantic in its refusal to give a moral dimension to the stories (something missing from the original). What is the point of drawing on archetypical forms of storytelling if their transposition fails to meaningfully relate to the present time? Like many films these days, the only good question Tale of Tales raises is: Why was this film made?

Lovely event by The Ross. Went out to dinner with director and cinematographer, and it occurred to me towards the end to feel guilty to be celebrating with the filmmakers of a documentary I’m probably not going to like. Docs about artists tend not to be very artistic themselves, and talking-head interview movies seem pointless to watch in theaters. So I was expecting another Altman, but this doc was great. Yvonne had a fascinating life, and the movie does a good job following it, showing groovy clips of dance routines and films, and not playing the “then this happened, then that happened” narrator games. Yvonne had breast cancer and got a mastectomy, then would stand in classic shirtless male-model poses. Later in the Q&A someone asked if she had breast cancer and I thought “of course she did,” but I guess the movie didn’t explicitly state this, just expected you to follow the stories. This counted as the U.S. theatrical premiere – that’s for a regular week-long release, since it played festivals already.

Screening Room: Yvonne Rainer (1977)

To prep for the Yvonne doc, I watched most of this TV special, in which the great Robert Gardner interviews Yvonne about her film Kristina Talking Pictures, showing about a half hour of it. Local film critic Deac Rossell joined the conversation, and the two men seemed very anxious to talk about film technique, leaving Yvonne to mostly smile in the background – a shame, since I watched this to hear what she’d have to say. I was most uninterested in the film itself at first, with its typically dry, amateur acting, but then I started to notice the unconvincing actors were discussing unconvincing acting in films, and towards the end of the episode the clips played with sync sound in a cool way. So I still haven’t seen a full Yvonne Rainer film, but I know a lot more about her.

Kristina Talking Pictures:

Yvonne:

Surprisingly violent mother-son(s) horror, like The Babadook meets Fight Club, since early on we guess (correctly) that one of the twin brothers is in the imagination of the other. There’s even a proper Fight Club moment where they take turns hitting each other, but no postscript flashback showing an objective view of one kid hitting himself. It all seemed well-made but not interesting – besides the shock moments, wondering how the kid was going to continue tormenting his mom, and the slow creeping sense that the family has long been seriously disturbed (the kid sinks a dead cat in a fishtank full of water – or is it gasoline? – and mom lets it remain in the living room), I would’ve considered turning it off if I’d been watching at home. Ultimately not bad, giving viewers nasty nightmares of dental torture, superglue-as-weapon, and burns both small and large.

So the twin brother died in a car crash, and I think mom was injured (she starts out the movie with her face bandaged). Dad’s out of the picture. They’re wealthy in a secluded house even though it seems like her job (now on hiatus) was calling out lotto numbers on local TV. Movie was actually called I See, I See in its native Austria, where one of the two directors, Veronika Franz, is an Ulrich Seidl collaborator.

Juliette Binoche is at a crossroads. She started her career with the younger role in a two-hander drama and still identifies with that role, but a new director wants to stunt-cast her as the older role opposite a young Hollywood celebrity. The play’s author, her mentor, has just died. At least her personal life is well-managed by assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart), but as Binoche starts rehearsing scenes with her, playing the pathetic, delusional actress to Valentine’s cynical manipulator, the lines take on multiple meanings.

Binoche is as great as she’s ever been, and Stewart nearly matches her. Chloe Moretz doesn’t have enough screen time for greatness, but is at least given an amazing introduction within a fake sci-fi film. On top of the overwhelming performances, the actresses’ own stories and celebrity are beautifully woven into the characters, as a major plot point is casting young action-movie stars in serious productions. Moretz plays the self-assured, paparazzi-hunted superstar and Stewart gets to be more reigned-in, gradually asserting herself then suddenly vanishing.

Assayas admits this:

It’s a movie where you never lose consciousness of who the actresses are, and in the end that’s a very important element of the film. But that’s something I only realized gradually.

but also:

It’s not a meta movie, it’s not a movie about cinema — it’s not even a movie about theater. It’s a movie about very basic human emotions, which have to do with time passing, the perspective you have on your past.

English folk singer Johnny Flynn (he looks convincingly like a Johnny Flynn) plays Chloe’s girlfriend whose wife attempts suicide, Angela Winkler (star of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, The Tin Drum and Benny’s Video) is the original play director’s widow and Lars Eidinger (Goltzius and the Pelican Company) is directing the new version.

S. Tobias mentions Bergman and D. Ehrlich mentions All About Eve. Played Cannes last year – and since Cannes 2015 was just beginning when I watched this at the Ross, this was supposed to kick off Cannes Month, in which I watch movies I missed from this decade’s fests – but it’s a busy month, so we’ll see. Nominated for everything at the Cesars, mostly beaten by Timbuktu but Kristen Stewart won for supporting.

Marieme is having trouble at home (lives with her abusive older brother) and in school until she joins a group of slightly older friends who change her identity, give her the nickname Vic for victory. Seems like things are getting better as Marieme starts asserting herself, has fun, gets into fights, falls for boys, and maybe the movie won’t end with the inevitable lower-class doom, but alas. At least she doesn’t become an actual prostitute when she leaves school, she only rooms with a prostitute as she works for the local drug boss. Ends with maybe a glimmer of ambiguous hope. But along the way, the movie is mostly a joy, sensitively and beautifully shot, with terrific actors.

Oh no, I got behind on the blog and didn’t write about these.
I tend to forget shorts pretty fast, so I’m using web sources to recall which of these was which.

Me and My Moulton (Torill Kove)
Narrated memoir of three girls growing up in a normal town with not-normal parents – they are art and design obsessed, and when the kids ask for bicycles they finally get a weird one the proud parents have mail-ordered. Kove won best picture in 2006 for The Danish Poet.

Feast (Patrick Osborne)
We saw this before, playing with Big Hero 6, and I forgot to mention it then. Dog’s-eye-view of food, food, doomed human relationship, more food. Osborne worked on Bolt, Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph.

The Bigger Picture (Daisy Jacobs)
One of my favorite things: wall drawings and real objects interacting, 2D and 3D blending, like the drawn animations on paper-mache backgrounds in Rocks In My Pockets, or in a different sense, the dimension-based drama of Rabbit and Deer. But while I love the idea, it’s still a drab little story about fighting siblings and a dying parent.

A Single Life (Blaauw/Oprins/Roggeveen)
My favorite – also the shortest. Woman puts a 45 on the player, and finds that if she skips to different parts of the record, she travels to different times in her own life. IMDB claims the story was conceived on a drunken college night.

The Dam Keeper (Kondo & Tsutsumi)
Lonely pig runs the windmill that keeps the darkness at bay, but nobody in town loves or respects him so one day he lets the darkness in. Both directors worked on Pixar movies. This was cool, dark and imaginative, so naturally there’s talk of sequels and franchises and live-action remakes.

Sweet Cocoon (Bernard/Bruget/Duret/Marco/Puiraveau)
A student film, I think. A caterpillar is fat!

Duet (Glen Keane)
Keane has been in animation forever, was a lead character animator on many Disney features, and this is his first solo film. A boy is sporty, and a girl is graceful, and they like each other, all in one continual, fluid animation. Katy thought it reinforced oppressive gender roles, but that was before she saw the new Cinderella.

Footprints (Bill Plympton)
Moebius-strip footprint-following detective story.

Bus Story (Tali)
Another memoir, this time of a young woman who dreams of being a bus driver, so rents a shitty bus from its grumpy owner. Tali made La Pirouette, which I saw in 2002 and liked, though I can’t remember at all.

A good night, with the energetic director in attendance, introducing then discussing her film. It’s an impressive feat too, an animated feature made by a very small team, 2D animation composited onto paper mache backgrounds. Not completely crazy about the movie since it felt like a wearying illustrated audiobook after a while with her relentless narration, but it’s a mostly charming work about her family history of depression and suicide.

Grandma is well educated but runs off with her nationalist entrepeneur boss and bears eight children in a secluded forest, as Latvia is fought over by Russians and nazis and nationalism becomes irrelevant. She raises the kids, tends the animals, carries buckets of water up the hill all day while the entrepeneur works for years on his anti-Russian manifesto, which is burned when discovered by the kids years later. It’s said that grandma would have drowned herself but she kept floating because she didn’t know to put rocks in her pockets. Signe explores her family history while dealing with her own periodic depression, learning about strange and suicidal cousins, before returning to her own feelings and the way she deals with them through art.

This is the second obscure 1977 film on Rosenbaum’s top-1000 list that I thought I might not get to ever see until it showed up at a theater in my town with the director in attendance. The Ross sprang a whole Jon Jost retrospective on us with less than a week’s notice, and this was opening night. But after watching Last Chants, a whole week’s worth of similar movies didn’t sound like a party. Maybe if they played one per month I could summon the energy, or maybe if someone promised the others would be less bleak. It was an experience, though, and Jost was full of stories and game to tell them to the too-few attendees.

First surprise: the movie is shot in a series of very long takes, all of which Jost says were first/only takes except the finale (and only because the battery ran out). Second surprise: it’s a musical! Nobody bills it as a musical, but it’s full of original country songs (which comment on the story/themes) co-performed by Jost himself, and the narrative stops or slows down to let each song play in full. That’s pretty much my definition of a musical.

Light Industry summarizes: “Bates journeys with a young hitchhiker, then tosses him out of his pickup, argues with his wife, visits a local diner, hits a bar, has a one-night stand, and then finally encounters a roadside stranger,” whom he robs and kills. Rosenbaum calls it a “chilling portrait of an embittered, misogynistic lumpen proletarian (Tom Blair) driving through western Montana.” There’s a weird tension, because you buy lead actor Blair as Bates, but you don’t like or trust Bates, and the movie patiently follows him without really getting into his head. Definite highlight was a scene in a bar, Bates picking up some girl, another county song playing as the camera spins drunkenly around the room.