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.

Then five mismatched people in a coach, like a Stagecoach parody, ending up like Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors with all of them already dead.

Watched at the Landmark, and reserving further comment until I either rewatch and get some sweet screenshots, or order that Adam Nayman book.

Visually and performatively stylized melodrama, slangy and retro and dreamily lit, like a much better Grease, or a nonmusical West Side Story. Rusty James (Matt Dillon in his third S.E. Hinton movie in a row) mopes around with his tough friend Smokey (Nicolas Cage, his second year in the movies) and his nerdy David Cronenberg-looking friend Steve (Vincent Spano of City of Hope) and Nice Guy Eddie, speaking wistfully about Rusty’s long-missing older brother, local-legend gangster The Motorcycle Boy. Rusty James has a hot girlfriend Patty (Diane Lane) who’s into him, but he cheats and disappears and flakes around. Rusty James is trying to keep alive the gang wars he barely remembers from his brother’s day, and just as he’s losing a fight, The Motorcycle Boy dramatically reappears. This is the earliest I’ve seen Mickey Rourke, four years before Angel Heart, doing his gentle/tough handsome-zen thing – everyone in town agrees he’s crazy, but we don’t see him acting crazy, except maybe when he liberates every animal in the pet store.

It’s clear from the tone of the thing that somebody is doomed – probably Rourke (and yup, sure enough). The cops aren’t happy to see him back, but a heroin-addict substitute teacher starts hanging around, and old rivalries start simmering. It’s kind of a hangout movie where not much happens, but it feels tense most of the time. Dillon’s character is kind of an idiot, and his idol brother’s return blows up his worldview that things were better in the tough old days. In the end Rourke has died, Cage has stolen the girl and said he’d take over the gang if there even was a gang, Rusty James rides his brother’s motorcycle to the ocean, and it sounds like Wall of Voodoo over the credits but I guess it was that guy from The Police.

I keep meaning to watch the four hours of extras on the Criterion disc, but haven’t found the time. The Outsiders was also a Coppola-shot S.E. Hinton-written gang movie made the same year, and I should have double-featured these. The cast in this film is impressive – the brothers’ shitty alcoholic dad is Dennis Hopper, Laurence Fishburne is a gang go-between, Tom Waits a bartender. William Smith, who starred in the real David Cronenberg’s Fast Company, is the mustache cop who uses inappropriate force to kill Rourke after the pet store incident.

Rumble brothers with grudge cop:

As mentioned in the shorts post, Bill Plympton came to town, presenting his feature Cheatin’. I’ve always loved his work, but from vague memories of The Tune and I Married a Strange Person I’ve assumed his shorts to be far above the features. This week changed everything, as I caught up with the great Idiots and Angels on DVD and saw the beautiful Cheatin’ on the big screen.

Cheatin’ (2013)

I memorized the trailer, and rest of the movie did not disappoint.

Sure there’s a lot of cheatin’, but it’s all based on a terrible misunderstanding.

Bought on blu-ray, so will watch again and write more (with screenshots).


Idiots and Angels (2008)

First of all, any movie that uses “Kommienezuspadt” by Tom Waits is alright by me. Stylish as ever, a scribble-noir in shades of brown and gray with flashbacks and imagination sequences and inventive transitions – and no spoken dialogue.

It’s the kind of story that calls for animation. Bitter gun salesman wastes his evenings at a lonely bar until he starts growing angel wings. He’d like to get rid of the do-gooder, perpetually re-growing wings, and the man’s doctor and greedy bartender would like the wings for themselves. There’s a shooting, a resurrection, a spate of pub bombings, argument over a girl, and crazy bird dreams.

This shouldn’t have worked… a typically overstuffed Gilliam fantasy, riddled with CGI, with a lead actor who died in the middle of filming. But if there’s anything Gilliam seems to be great at, it’s dealing creatively with catastrophe, so this came out miles better than the relatively smooth Brothers Grimm (oops, nevermind, research indicates that Grimm was ruined by fights with studios).

No surprise that the cowriter of Baron Munchausen and Brazil is along for the ride, since this is crammed with dreams and costumes, little stories and bizarre images. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer, having a good year with this, Up and The Last Station) is immortal thanks to a deal with devil Tom Waits (his own sinister self plus a little mustache), who will claim Doctor P’s daughter Lily Cole (Rage) when she turns sixteen in a few days. Dr. P and his gang of circus misfits (including a shockingly good Verne Troyer and young Andrew Garfield, star of Boy A and the Red Riding trilogy) kidnap citizens within a magic dream-mirror, and try to make them pursue their ideal selves instead of succumbing to the devil’s lazy temptations. A bet is made, and they race to save enough souls to win back P’s daughter.

Enter Tony (Heath Ledger) as a charismatic con-artist who attracts Tom’s interest as he begins helping the carnies win the bet, modernizing their look and sucking people into the show. He’s a mysterious dude, which makes his shapeshifting into three other immensely likeable actors inside the dreamworld work, both narratively and visually. I didn’t even notice for a while when Johnny Depp replaced him. Way to save the movie there, Terry and gang. The movie tells us and tells us that Tony is a bad guy, a liar who steals from children, but it still came as a shock when he’s killed at the end. Charisma counts for a lot.

With all the negative-nellying I’ve heard about Parnassus, I’m glad to see it’s got a high IMDB rating and a couple oscar nominations. I was especially suspicious of the computer graphics, but they are bright and cartoonish, fake without trying to seem real, and work great in context, shaming Tim Burton’s Willy Wonka flick and Terry’s own Brothers Grimm. I’d already like to see it again… maybe rent the DVD and listen to Gilliam’s commentary when it comes out.

Opening titles: we hear a nice Tom Waits song (the soundtrack is great overall) and see “JVC PRESENTS.” Didn’t JVC used to make blank tapes? The kind that weren’t even as good as Maxell?

Five segments in five cities. Has cute parts, and I guess it’s part of the greater Jarmusch body of work or whatever, but also kinda feels like something that could’ve safely stayed in 1991 (or maybe ’93; it was ahead of its time). What’s funny is that it doesn’t seem like the kind of movie that should get easily dated (except through the usual – fashions, cars, mobile phones – only period pieces are immune to those) but it has this early 90’s aura about it, like Smoke or a Hal Hartley movie, which I don’t see in Dead Man or Down By Law or Mystery Train. Maybe it’s just Winona Ryder. Anyway this remains my least favorite Jarmusch picture, though I did enjoy it overall. If you could break it up Coffee & Cigarettes-style, it’d be nice to lead from New York straight into Helsinki, and maybe add Rome every third or fourth viewing.

LA: Winona Ryder is a midget phonebook-sitting wannabe-mechanic driving fancypants cellphone-calling casting agent Gena Rowlands home from the airport. Gena’s client is looking for a tough young girl, an unknown, so predictably she propositions Winona, who turns Gena down. Jim says it’s the first movie Gena agreed to do after John Cassavetes died. I never made it past this segment when I first tried to watch Night On Earth a decade ago… pixie Winona is too hard to take as a street tough.

NY: East German Armin Mueller-Stahl (same year he did Soderbergh’s Kafka) is new to New York and cab driving, so passenger Giancarlo Esposito takes over, picking up sister-in-law Rosie Perez for a miniature Do The Right Thing reunion, wide-eyed Armin taking it all in.

Paris: Isaach De Bankolé (stolen from Claire Denis) kicks out some diplomats, picks up a blind girl (Beatrice Dalle, star of Time of the Wolf, also a Claire Denis regular) and asks her a bunch of dunderheaded questions.

Rome: Roberto Benigni picks up a priest, drives like a madman (but there’s no traffic so it’s cool) visits a couple transvestites, and tells horribly perverted stories until the priest dies after dropping his meds on the floor and Roberto quietly unloads him on a park bench.

Helsinki: Cabbie picks up three guys from a hard night on the town. Of course all four of them have been in Kaurismaki films (one of the passengers played Polonius in Hamlet Goes Business. They tell their drunk friend’s hard luck story and the cabbie replies with his own hard luck story. Way to end your movie on a dead baby tale there, Jim.

Nice color cinematography by Frederick Elmes (a Lynch regular who later shot Broken Flowers) – not seen here cuz it was a rental and I forgot to get screen shots.