No Sudden Move has lost its status as the year’s most grotesque use of a wide-angle lens, courtesy of some Abu Ghraib flashbacks that turn Oscar Isaac and Willem Dafoe into carnival-mirror dwarfs. Isaac served time for torturing the enemy while his superiors stayed free and rich, and a fellow torturer’s son Tye Sheridan tries to rope Isaac into a revenge plot, but Isaac wants to stay cool and quietly win card games using Tiffany Haddish’s money. Nice to see a movie where cooler heads prevail, the kid is set straight and Isaac gets the girl… oh no, that’s not what happens, two people die and Isaac goes back to jail. I can’t decide how I feel about it – the tone felt off, or maybe I just felt weird being at the Grand all by myself, anxiously trying not to expect First Reformed 2.

Fake documentary following the exploits of an area serial killer after the discovery of a room full of videotapes documenting his crimes. Much of this movie is footage “from” those tapes – not just VHS quality, but with an effect like the tapes or camera suffered magnetic damage, the picture bending in waves.

It’s a bummer of a movie that makes you feel bad for watching it. The guy’s first known crime is the abduction/rape/murder of an 8-year-old, the central case is a girl he keeps for a decade and subjects to Martyrs-level torment, and the interviewees are a parade of FBI guys impressed by the killer’s craftiness, which includes railroading a cop to a state execution for the killer’s crimes. So the killer is portrayed as an evil genius still at large at the end, but Se7en or Memories of Murder this ain’t. Let’s stay away from the real sordid feel-bad movies this week and look for more horror-comedies.

“Isn’t it a terrible world?” One of the most honestly messed-up movies. Still very good, but it does take its time, when you know what’s coming. We’re halfway through the two-hour movie before it shows its hand with the sack in the apartment, and there’s only 20 minutes left when Asami puts on the rubber gloves.

Our dude is Ryo Ishibashi, the wide-faced star of Suicide Club and a couple Grudge movies. His filmmaker buddy who sets up the fake auditions is Jun Kunimura, who I’ve seen in 15 movies and has appeared in 150 more. And Asami is Eihi Shiina, of Eureka and Harmful Insect, but probably better known for schlock like Tokyo Gore Police.

L-R: movie buddy, our dude

L-R: creepy sack, Asami

Forgot about the wheelchair-bound music teacher (Miike regular Renji Ishibashi, also of Ronin-Gai), and that she severs one of our dude’s feet before his son shows up and knocks her down the stairs.

In a WWII prison camp, Beat Takeshi is a sadistic guard led by humorless youngish Capt. Yonoi (the film’s composer, Ryuichi Sakamoto). Lawrence (Paddington 2‘s Tom Conti) is a prisoner who speaks some Japanese and represents the Brits, a bunch of sensible dudes until David Bowie (same year as The Hunger) comes along.

Cruel Story of Middle Age. A classy-looking narrative movie with tricky subject matter, feeling more like a prestige 80’s international coproduction than those late 60’s Oshima youth films. Cool rumbling music, and lots of singing, never as fun as the pub songs in the Terence Davies movies. The story is mostly survival tactics, power games, betrayals and brutality – strange that the lead actors were two rock stars and a comedian.

Devout priests Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver convince Ciaran Hinds to send them to Japan, where Christianity has been outlawed, to covertly spread the good word and to locate their teacher Liam Neeson. I’ve seen this story told before, in Masahiro Shinoda’s film, so I knew the general outline and some of the characters. I liked Scorsese’s three-hour remake (with a new epilogue) a hell of a lot better – even if I still can’t comprehend some of the characters’ actions, it’s an intense, awe-inspiring film. Would’ve been cool if it had hung around in theaters, since I would’ve liked to watch again after a few weeks or a month, but I guess America wasn’t interested in sacrifice and devotion this holiday season because it only lasted a week.

I couldn’t resist stealing a couple of screenshots from Film Comment:

In Japan, our white saviors meet interpreter Tadanobu Asano (lead ghost in Journey to the Shore), Shinya Tsukamoto himself (tortured to death by being tied to a cross and pounded by the surf for days), drunken traitor Kichijiro (Yôsuke Kubozuka of Tokyo Tribe), and eventually, toothy torturer Issei Ogata (extremely different from his gentle software developer in Yi Yi and twitchy emperor in The Sun).

J. Cabrita:

There is an essential balance to Silence, subverting a colonizer’s prejudices while also considering the prospect that Rodrigues’ missionary work is disseminating objective truth; one does not reduce the other, but enlivens it, makes it meaningful, potent and mysterious. Adapted from a novel by Shusaku Endo, a Japanese Catholic persecuted for his religious values at home and discriminated against for his race abroad, Scorsese’s film also occupies the novel’s ambiguous middle ground.

N. Bahadur, who also makes good connections with The Age of Innocence:

In terms of the film’s critical distance from Rodrigues, what is important is that it is not Christianity which is being critiqued but rather perspective. The moral fundamentals of both religions in the film do not include concepts of pride and glory which both Rodrigues & the Inquisitor demonstrate. Both men are completely invested in their way of viewing the world – fully formed yet opposing views which make sense – and by watching their debates we can already see Scorsese’s perspective: does moral righteousness negate a moral perspective? A colleague mentioned: “they talk about faith needing to take root, but it only becomes faith after becoming rootless.” Perhaps on a moral and ideological level, Rodrigues and the Christians are right: advocation for a Universal truth, yet they fail on a political level because of the failure to see the colonial implications of their actions. While the Japanese in the film prove to be far more selfless and with rather more reason or martyrdom, yet on a moral level the Inquisitor is despicable and inhumane.

G. Kenny:

The opening title, with its sounds of nature followed by absence of sound, constitutes an arguably almost literal-minded demonstration of the movie’s theme, but that plainness is purposeful … And of course the most virtuoso filmmaking of the piece, the scene where Rodrigues comes to his most crucial decision. It’s just crushing, not least for the way it’s set up. Liam Neeson’s Ferreira, speaking to his former student of “a suffering only you can end,” tells Rodrigues his sacrifice will be “the greatest act of love ever performed,” and Rodrigues’ Japanese interpreter (Tadanobu Asano, great) tells the priest, “It’s just a formality.” Which is it, for God’s sake? And then the soundtrack drops out for the second time.

Bilge, from his great Voice article about Scorsese’s holy trilogy:

There’s a vanity behind Rodrigues’s sense of responsibility, too, and Silence slowly interrogates this earnest man of the cloth. Once he gets separated from fellow priest Garrpe (Adam Driver), Rodrigues is accompanied through the film by … the unchanging, ever-present face of Jesus, about whom he dreams at night. The priest even sees Christ’s visage replacing his own reflection in a pool of water, and he giggles maniacally at the thought that he might be headed for a fate similar to his messiah’s; he exults in the glory of a martyr’s death … Rodrigues will not die a martyr. He will not become a saint. His sacrifice will not be written about in the annals of his faith; if anything, he will be a shameful footnote. But he will, finally, achieve true compassion for another man [Kichijiro], the two of them united in their weakness. And in this, who’s to say that he has not found the divine?

Third version of this story I’ve watched, after the Svankmajer short and the Stuart Gordon version, with which this has almost nothing in common. This was the second full-color Corman/Price Poe adaptation after House of Usher, and everyone was in top form.

In the mid-1500’s, Mr. Barnard (John Kerr of The Cobweb) shows up at reclusive Price’s spooky old castle wanting to know how his sister has died, is taking no shit from anybody. Price gets to be his haunted, tormented self for the bulk of the movie, explaining that his young wife died tragically of illness (but later changing his story), and later while bemoaning his dreadful family legacy he gets to be an evil maniac in flashback portraying his own father, an enthusiastic Inquisition torturer.

Also in the castle is Price’s sister Catherine (Luana Anders of Dementia 13 & Night Tide) and doctor Antony Carbone (art café boss in A Bucket of Blood). The place is being haunted by strange noises and Price has a phobia that his wife wasn’t dead when she was buried, so finally they dig her up and sure enough:

Of course I’d seen Barbara Steele’s name in the credits and recognized her face in paintings of the “dead” woman so was fully expecting her to show up. She’d fallen for the doctor and this is all a plot to drive Price mad so they can run off together. Unfortunately for them, Price’s madness takes the form of reverting to his family’s torture legacy, and he locks up Steele then puts poor Barnard under the razor pendulum while fighting off the others, eventually falling to his death in the pit (the only detail unchanged in the Stuart Gordon movie).

Screenplay by Richard “I Am Legend” Matheson, in lovely widescreen with some fun color-filtered anamorphic Raimi-effects and crazy oil-color swirls over the credits. I hope the other 1960’s Corman movies are this good.

I started watching Masters of Horror shortly before starting the movie blog, so in my season one round-up, three episodes are mentioned but got no writeup. Well it turns out MoH blu-rays are cheap, so now I own those three episodes, and am gonna rewatch the two good ones – Mick Garris’s Chocolate is doomed to be the odd man out.

Imprint was the episode I remembered the least. I wanted Miike’s English-language debut to be better than it was, and now that I can enable subtitles I didn’t miss any part of the story, but it seems like he and writer Shimako Iwai were trying to impress by throwing in every shocking thing they could come up with: pregnant prostitute murder, sibling incest, parental rape, aborted babies tossed casually into the river, a syphilitic dwarf (actor familiar from Zebraman 2), birth defects, Audition-reminiscent needle torture, madness, hanging and strangling and… this:

But there’s great color and some arresting images – more than any other MoH episode, I’d guess.

And the actors all acquit themselves well enough with the English dialogue, even native speaker Billy Drago (Papa Jupiter in The Hills Have Eyes Remake). Drago has made his fortune and returned to Prostitute Island to rescue his lovely Komomo (Michié of R100) but is told that she’s dead by a facially-deformed woman (Mystery Train star Yûki Kudô), who proceeds to tell him why, changing the story multiple times making herself more and more guilty of Komomo’s torture (at the hands of an evil needle woman played by the author Iwai) for supposedly stealing a ring from the house madam (Toshie Negishi of Over Your Dead Body and Audition), until Drago has heard enough stories, murders the woman and goes to jail.

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.

Same director, star, writer, editor, cameraman as Z. New still photographer Chris Marker and assistant director Alain Corneau. Instead of communists being attacked by the fascists in charge, this time a group of communists is destroyed by their own party. It’s a depressing slog of a movie, a feature-length torture session ending with the men delivering their well-rehearsed but completely false “confessions” and being sentenced to death.

This time we’re in Czechoslovakia in 1951-1952. Yves Montand plays one of the three who only got long prison sentences, Simone Signoret (a year after the even more depressing Army of Shadows) his wife, and Gabriele Ferzetti as his interrogator Kohoutek (not the subject of the R.E.M. song).

Haunting flash-forwards – the worst of which comes during the trial, when the fourteen men on trial enjoy a hearty laugh and the image bleeds into their ashes being scattered on a frozen road weeks later.

Warok, as always:

D. Iordanova:

The film was an important step in the public expression of Western leftist intellectuals’ disillusionment with Soviet Communism … The Confession was the first film that zeroed in on torture as a seemingly endless ordeal, a systematic and relentless process aimed at delivering a specific outcome.

The Second Trial of Artur London (1970, Chris Marker)

Marker was on-set during the making of The Confession, as was London, portrayed by Yves in the film. Marker focuses on the idea that the book and film can weaken the communist movement by showing horrid things done in its name. Obviously the participants in the film’s production would disagree, and Marker lets them explain why. Unbelievably, after the film’s completion, London is again accused of being a spy and stripped of his Czech nationality. But he is defended: “The witnesses who remained silent in 1952 speak up today.”

My favorite line about the film sets: “A retirement home, unmodified, becomes a prison.”

London: