“I know what people taste like. I know that babies taste best.”

My hopes were too high for Bong’s English-language debut – I found it talky and clunky and obvious. Good ending, though. Revolution within class-stratified humanity-protecting perpetual-motion train is led by Steve “Captain America” Rogers. He’s backed by wise old train architect John Hurt, loyal-to-the-death Jamie Bell, pissed-off mom Octavia Spencer and tech whiz Kang-ho Song. After dealing with company mouthpiece Tilda Swinton through various levels, final confrontation with engineer Ed Harris, who claims to have planned the revolution and wants the Captain to replace him at head of the train. Meanwhile it’s rumored that the frozen Earth has been warming, and might sustain human life again, which will be tested after Song’s daughter Ah-sung Ko (the monster-abducted girl of The Host) is the only one of these people who survives a train crash.

Things: the workers in back are fed “protein blocks” which turn out to be gelatinized cockroach. The two Koreans are addicted to a drug called chrono which doubles as an explosive. Harris claims John Hurt was secretly working with him (for the good of the train/humanity, of course). A cool bit near the end looks like 2001: A Space Odyssey.

M. Sicinski:

Snowpiercer’s mental motor, its driving intelligence, is its obviousness, which allows the film to be misperceived as something silly. .. Bong, however, seems to understand something many others don’t, both about broad entertainment and the state of successful political action. Big action demands broad strokes; nuances emerge later. In fact, this is to a large degree the political subtext of Snowpiercer itself. .. it doesn’t matter who’s running the train. Bong is not telling us anything we don’t already know, but Snowpiercer’s power is precisely in its capacity to boldly visualize this shared awareness: the futility of liberal revolt, the buffoonery of our betters, the hidden human kindling that is always the tiger in our tank. .. Bong shows us that there’s only one track, and so you can’t flip the switch. You can only light the fuse, and embrace the inevitable destruction as the last picture show.

If Jarmusch set out to film the coolest vampire movie ever made, he may have succeeded. It helps that it’s about stuff like immortality and eternal love without speaking philosophically about those things, just making wisecracks around the edge of the topics. It does speak directly to human society’s tendency to destroy itself, though.

Tilda Swinton and Loki play the lead couple, with Mia “Stoker” Wasikowska as Tilda’s unwelcome sister, who kills Loki’s only human kinda-friend, Anton “Charlie Bartlett” Yelchin. There’s also old family friend John Hurt, and briefly, blood-supplying doctor Jeffrey Wright, plus a Lebanese singer and an indie rock band. For a couple who’ve lived so long, they don’t seem to have a very reliable blood supply, so when John Hurt dies drinking diseased blood, the others slump around looking hopeless before finding a young couple to pounce on.

A. Tracy picks the film apart in Cinema Scope and argues that it didn’t live up to his potential. I see his point and it’s fair criticism (not too sure about his attack on The Limits of Control though), but I found very much to enjoy in the movie. It helps that the music was on my wavelength, from the introductory slowed-down cover of Funnel of Love to the score by Jarmusch and Jozef van Wissem which I played daily for my first couple weeks at work.

Tracy:

As good old George A. Romero’s use of [zombies] for a leftist critique of rampaging capitalism and middle-class apathy has evolved, in this fast-zombie era, into a stealth right-wing vision of the revolt of the underclass hordes, the less overtly political vampire genre has more and more made vampirism a marker of cultural elitism . . . This, of course, is the central—and, conceptually if not in execution, very funny—joke of Only Lovers’ premise: vampires as the ultimate in world-weary hipsters, immortality granting them the ability to quite literally be there for and have seen everything before you did.

On one, very prominent, level, this is what Only Lovers boils down to: a lament by the culturally and cultishly cool about the injustices visited upon the great (themselves included, perhaps) at the hands of the philistine “zombies” who have snuffed out the brightest lights of their culture while poisoning the planet.

The story of Tony Revolori, who loved Saoirse Ronan and grew up to be F. Murray Abraham, told his tale to Jude Law, who grew up to be Tom Wilkinson, whose book inspired many. Zero worked with Ralph Fiennes, who slept with Tilda Swinton, who was murdered by Willem Dafoe at the behest of Adrien Brody, who framed Fiennes by threatening Mathieu Amalric and later murdering Lea Seydoux and Jeff Goldblum (and his cat). Fiennes escapes prison with help from Harvey Keitel, runs into cop Edward Norton and military concierge Owen Wilson, clears his name but sacrifices himself to nazi authorities to save Revolori and Ronan. Jason Schwartzman is a Jude Law-era lobby boy, and Bill Murray, Bob Balaban and some others are shoehorned in.

See also: what I wrote on The Wind Rises.

Stefan Zweig (Letter From an Unknown Woman) gets an “inspired by” credit. Cowritten with the guy who drew the paintings at Eli Cash’s house in Royal Tenenbaums.

Katy liked it alright. My mom did not.

Precocious children with parental issues, highly-organized secret plans and old-fashioned craftsy props surrounded by superstar actors including Bill Murray – so yes, it’s like any Wes Anderson movie, but it’s a good one. He has a unique talent for collapsing different locations into one hermetic snowglobe of a film. The visual/conceptual unity is helped by the soft, grainy 16mm cinematography, and that fact that all the action takes place on an island.

In the celeb-actor world, Frances McDormand is cheating on husband Bill Murray with local cop Bruce Willis. Edward Norton leads a troop of scouts, hopes to join his idol, scout commander Harvey Keitel, at the big convention where Jason Schwartzman is some kinda mercenary merchant. And Bob Balaban is a sort-of-present character/narrator.

But one of the movie’s strengths is that it focuses primarily on its young heroes, Sam and Suzy, who run off together and camp on the beach, leaving the celeb-actors as background players. Willis and Norton lead search parties as two threats approach: an epic storm, and Tilda Swinton of Social Services, coming to take Sam to a home.

Katy liked it more than she thought she would.

Tarr Noir! Tarr doing suspense/crime drama seems unnecessary since his use of the camera and film editing are suspenseful in itself. The crime doesn’t seem that important (until the very end) and the lead guy is kind of an ass, so the suspense remains in the shots and editing, not much carries over into the story. To get my other complaint out of the way (I quite liked the movie), the sound is off because everything is distractingly dubbed into French and English (voices include Edward Fox of Gandhi and The Duellists and Michael Lonsdale of Stavisky and Out 1). It must be for commercial reasons, but I don’t see it playing anywhere except a few film festivals, so what commercial reasons? Seeing the cast of Satantango hanging out in the bar only makes the dubbing seem weirder. Research indicates that there’s a Hungarian version out there, so I guess Tilda Swinton (French-dubbed in my version) gets screwed in both.

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Big-time Euro film producer Humbert Balsan (who worked with Youssef Chahine, Merchant/Ivory, Elia Suleiman, Lars von Trier) committed suicide during production, complicating things. Based on a novel by Georges Simenon (Night at the Crossroads, Betty, Magnet of Doom) which has been filmed before in the 40’s. I dig the Mihály Vig music, but it’s no Werckmeister Harmonies, which I listened to obsessively for a month.

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Offscreen, a man is selling his theater for a suitcase full of money, which gets stolen. The thieves get the suitcase onto the docks, under the watchful eye of stoic Maloin, then one kills the other and runs. Maloin snags the money and hides it. That’s the first half hour in maybe six or seven shots, with no dialogue at all. Crisp b/w images with achingly slow, fluid camera movements, as can be expected.

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Maloin takes time out from the crime drama to torment his family. He pulls daughter Henrietta (cat-torturing poster girl from Satantango) out of work, buys her furs, then gets screamed at by wife Tilda Swinton. Inspector (from London) questions blond killer Brown. We don’t find out exactly how Maloin kills Brown at the end before returning the money to the Inspector. That’s about it for the plot. Most of the time a very enjoyable flick. Moments of otherworldly Twin Peaks-ish parody during dubbed dialogue scenes are immediately forgiven when we come across some Satantango actors performing random hilarity in the bar, urged on by an accordianist. If Tarr fans can’t have the sustained magic of the last couple movies, at least we can all enjoy some drunken accordian antics together.

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Unfortunately, I’d already heard that Isaach is a hitman. So when he has a quizzical conversation (opening with “You don’t speak Spanish, right?” “No.”) is given a matchbox with a coded message on it then flies to Madrid, I knew this was the first step in his assignment to kill someone. Then this happens again, and again, a train ride, and again and again, a guitar changes hands, and again and again before reaching his assignment. Along the way I forgot the comparisons I’d read (Dead Man, Le Samourai and Point Blank) and let my mind synch with the rhythm of the film, occasionally wondering if Isaach gets enough to eat or if he has taken a shower. The main interruption/alteration is the naked girl who lives with him for three days, even sleeping at his side while he remains fully clothed. Her presence (and subsequent death and imagined reappearance), the repetition of story elements, the paintings and music, black helicopters and abductions, the foreboding background score (by Boris) and the continual spoken and written phrases about life being meaningless began to build until, during a flamenco dancing scene, I wondered if this all wasn’t some kind of Lynchian nightmare. Maybe it’s Dead Man taken a step further; Isaach is dead, having some kind of hallucination (peyote is mentioned in dialogue), reliving the day-to-day life of his profession and of Jarmusch’s profession: the broken flowers on the street, pigeons on the rooftop. But then he reaches the end of his journey, finds a powerful American in a bunker, gets himself inside (the movie’s biggest joke: after all that workaday buildup it doesn’t show us how he gets inside – “I used my imagination”), strangles him, escapes, changes out of the suit and re-enters the world.

The other day I thought about telling Katy that Jarmusch is a feminist in order to get her to watch the movie with me, but I couldn’t come up with any evidence for that… in fact, all I could think of was evidence against. The only woman in Dead Man is a dead prostitute… the only one in Ghost Dog is a troublesome slut who indirectly causes the hero’s death… and I think the title of Broken Flowers refers to Murray’s damaged ex-girlfriends, who get progressively more depressing as the movie progresses. So I thought about that during this movie, figuring the very presence of Tilda Swinton should change things, but then there’s the nude girl, and Tilda is cool but gets kidnapped, which leaves the driver and a bunch of men.

A day later I’m more forgiving. It’s hard to fault any movie for artistic indulgence when you’re thrilling to the latest Takashi Miike mind-fuck. The civilized, art-loving europeans vs. shadowy, violent americans plot isn’t subtle but the movie is also too pleasurable to write off.

Isaach De Bankolé is a wonder to behold. The guy is an obvious movie star, and watching his impassive face for two hours is no problem at all. I admit I was excited that the ice cream man in Ghost Dog is starring in a film, but he was better in this role than I could’ve imagined. Black guy speaking French at an airport in the first scene was Alex Descas, a Claire Denis and Olivier Assayas regular. Girl on the train was Youki Kudoh, one of the Japanese leads in Mystery Train. Everyone else I was either already familiar with (white-wigged Tilda, foul-mouthed Bill Murray, guitar bearer John Hurt, guitar appreciator and inexpert spy Gael Garcia Bernal) or I’ve at least seen before and don’t recognize, like the naked girl was in Cider House Rules a decade ago but nobody can be expected to remember that.

When Isaach is given a new assignment, he’ll go to the art museum and study an appropriate painting. So the instruction “wait for the violin” had him studying a painting featuring a violin, etc. At the end he’s given a black piece of paper and no instructions so he visits the museum and studies an artwork featuring a large white sheet, maybe to clear his mind and ease himself out of his mission.

Kaurismäki’s La vie de bohème is pointedly mentioned. Anything in this movie that is mentioned is done so pointedly. I misunderstood the constant pointed warning “he who tries to be bigger than all the others should go to the cemetery to understand a little bit better what life is: a handful of dust” to be directed at Isaach, but they were talking about Murray

Action of the movie spans 400 years, with title cards telling us when we are.

1600 – Death
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Young Orlando is favored by Queen Elizabeth I (gay performer/activist Quentin Crisp – I must see his 70’s Hamlet), who orders him to never grow old.

1610 – Love
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Orlando is smitten with a visiting Russian princess (Charlotte Valandrey). They ice skate together, O. pledges his undying love, and when she leaves the country he attempts a romantic rescue but gets his ass kicked.

1650 – Poetry
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Orlando is obsessed with poetry, and decides to sponsor acclaimed poet Nick Greene (Heathcote Williams of Jarman’s The Tempest). O. tries his own hand at poetry, unsuccessfully.

1700 – Politics
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Orlando goes to “the east” as an ambassador, hangs out with the Khan (Lothaire Bluteau of Jesus of Montreal), accidentally gets involved in a war. Filmed in Uzbekistan!

1750 – Society
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Back home, Orlando wakes up one day as a woman. She puts on the most massive gown she can find and goes out to a small party held by Archduke Harry (John Wood of Richard III). She’d met Harry in 1700 (he’s barely aged – the movie does not treat its timeframe very literally) and he is very intrigued… offers to marry her, then curses her when she refuses. Also at the party: high-haired Kathryn Hunter (who played a plot contrivance in the last Harry Potter), Roger Hammond (Demy’s Pied Piper), Peter Eyre and Ned Sherrin.

1850 – Sex
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Orlando runs through a hedge maze straight into 1850, where she meets and falls for Billy Zane. I know, right? Billy Zane!

Birth
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No date in this segment – set in the present. Orlando motorcycles to her publisher’s office, where they tell her they won’t publish the book she’s been writing for 400 years without some changes. She doesn’t take this hard, goes to the park with her daughter (played by Tilda’s daughter). Daughter has a video camera, they see an angel flying over the trees, segue from that totally nuts image into the closing credits.
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Must say I had high hopes and this movie smashed them all Godzilla-like. The movie is a mighty masterpiece, scoffing at my insufficiently-high hopes! It has as much to say about life and how to live it, fleeting relationships and the nature of time as The Benjamin Buttons, but it says them more elegantly (I know I’ve been hard on The Ben Buttons lately – I actually liked it a lot). Plus it must be the most beautiful super-feminist film I’ve seen… I’ll bet college kids love to write theses on it (a google search reveals this to be true).

Potter says the movie is “about the claiming of an essential self, not just in sexual terms. It’s about the immortal soul.”

Music cowritten by Potter, has Fred Frith on guitar, mostly good, peppered with some late-80’s-sounding beats. Same cinematographer who shot Potter’s Yes. Movie was nominated for a buncha awards, incl. oscars, but lost to The Piano, Age of Innocence and Schindler’s List. Won some stuff in Venice and Greece and I feel pretty good about that.

As with “Before The Devil” which I saw the same day, it’s a bit of classical hollywood storytelling without a very innovative story. This one I loved, however, and “Devil” just seemed okay.

Directorial debut by Gilroy, writer of the Bourne trilogy and junk like “Armageddon”. Starts at the end (not quite the end), and don’t know about opening credits beause I was a few minutes late. Opens with the only calm moment in George’s few days (few weeks? I forget), his pulling off the road and wandering into a field to admire some horses. George is middle of the shot with his look of tired awe, on one side of the frame a horse very close, on the other George’s car idling down on the road. Just when I’m thinking “what, are they trying to show George as being caught between nature and technology?” the car fuckin explodes and the movie begins.

George is the company fixer at a law firm run by the awesome Sydney Pollack (Eyes Wide Shut) and is called in to deal with his good friend, the awesome Tom Wilkinson, who has gone nuts in the middle of a multi-year class-action suit defending a horrible company who hurt a buncha people… a company with a legal team run by the awesome Tilda Swinton. So it’s already shaping up to be a pretty awesome movie. Tom gets killed (set up as suicide) and George loses his faith, ends up with Tom’s evidence against the company he was supposed to defend, and presents it personally to Tilda in one of the most gratifying, well-deserved righteous climax scenes I can recall. What’s next is even better, with George just on fire, going downstairs and out to a cab, driving off in one long shot, camera fixed on his face as the closing credits roll and we watch George veeeerrry gradually loosen up, realizing that he’s won.

I still enjoy watching the whole journey, but still not quite sure about myself afterwards. So Julie Delpy might’ve written the letter? But probably not? Is that completely beside the point? I again failed to recognize actresses. Julie Delpy leaves, Sharon Stone sleeps with him, Frances Conroy lives in a model home, Jessica Lange talks to animals and Tilda Swinton has him beaten up. Got it. Hmm, the guy who directed Habit and Wendigo might’ve punched him out. And Sun Green gets him a bandage, which makes me wonder why I haven’t watched Greendale yet.