Opens with a William Blake quote,

features Gary Farmer… and solo guitar music (by William Tyler, not Neil Young)

and has in Cookie the most self-conscious man in the West since Depp in Dead Man.

Even the trappers lining up to eat homemade “oily cakes” recalls the Billy Bob & Iggy campfire scene.

Soooo I liked it very much.

Cookie and King Lu stay together to the end, neither one taking the money and running. We already knew their fate from the surprise Alia Shawkat opening scene, but it’s still a shock to see friendship trump greed in this sort of movie. Adam Nayman’s article in The Ringer is the one to beat.

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.

Normal movies have exciting, memorable, flashy parts, but most of their run-time is composed of the necessary plot and character development. Cattet and Forzani dispose of all plot and character, creating ninety-minute movies where every single minute is marvelous.

This one is their “western,” criminals with stolen gold hiding out with locals and hitchhikers and some intruding cops. If you screenshot whenever someone speaks a character name, and chart the time-of-day intertitles preceding each scene, you can construct a logic puzzle to piece together who’s who and figure out who betrayed whom at what point – but if instead you focus on what the filmmakers are emphasizing, the movie is a sensual marvel of bodies and fire and the sound of stretching leather. Nice to see them get outdoors and work with bright, sunlit colors for once.

Elina Löwensohn (Amateur and Nadja) is the only actor I might have recognized – I think it’s her place where all this is going down. A writer named Bernier (Marc Barbé, a marquis in Don’t Touch the Axe – he must be the guy with the green ring) was staying at her place along with a lawyer who’s in on the heist. The three murderous thieves are the bald guy, the grey-haired guy and “the kid” (Rhino, Gros and Alex – possibly in that order). Returning with the gold they pick up three hitchhikers: the writer’s wife Melanie, the maid Pia and a child. One of the two cops gets shot in the face straight away, and the other lasts pretty long. Not positive who is alive at the end, but it’s one of the women based on the silhouette.

Michael Sicinski on Letterboxd:

There’s a subtle but crucial difference between Cattet and Forzani and other Eurotrash revivalists … The disreputable B pictures offer certain formal possibilities — jagged edits, dramatic wide angle cinematography, extreme close ups, and an expressionist use of color — that both commercial and art cinema never really explored any further. Corpses isn’t an exercise in nostalgia so much as a rejoining in progress, an exploration of those largely untapped potentials.

An unusual Western with a pretty usual setup: two killers are sent after a guy who a fourth guy is tracking, only this time all the guys get to talkin’ all philosophical-like, and decide to team up. One of the Brothers (J. Phoenix) is kinda the dumb drunk one, and doesn’t seem completely on board with quitting the killing business to join the others and start a utopian society in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, but as time goes by, he upgrades his ambitions from killing the target to replacing his boss (Rutger Hauer). Phoenix also gets overzealous with the gold-detection chemical which the gentle escaped commie scientist (Riz Ahmed) has invented, leading to the loss of his hand and the death of the scientist and his tracker-become-bestie Jake Gyllenhaal. His brother (JC Reilly) is the more thoughtful one, is a good mediator between the others and also an excellent killer. Between the cast (including Rebecca Root as a local town/crime boss who hunters the Sisters) and the movie’s title and character names (Riz plays “Hermann Kermit Warm”), the movie seems like a comedy, but doesn’t have many laughs, and is gradually revealed to be its own weird thing. Surprising change from the over-serious immigrant crime dramas A Prophet and Dheepan. The actors’ faces aren’t usually visible, and I can’t tell if it’s a stylistic choice or Audiard not knowing how to light people wearing cowboy hats. Nice to see, briefly, Carol Kane as Mother Sisters, not made up to look like a crazy person for once.

If anyone’s reading, there is a short-term Situation over here… fewer movies are being watched, and fewer words written about them. Gonna burn through the backlog with some half-assed posts!

Katy says this is considered Jimmy Stewart’s worst movie, which seems farfetched – A Tale of Africa, anyone? Sure it’s no Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but it’s fine. Stewart is scooping salt after dropping off supplies when local drunken bully Dave (Alex Nicol of Bloody Mama and The Screaming Skull) comes by and steals/destroys all his stuff. Stewart gets revenge, of a sort, by hanging out with Dave’s dad’s love-interest/nemesis Aline MacMahon (The Flame and the Arrow) and refusing to leave town, not letting on that he’s tracking some rifles stolen from his late brother. So Jimmy gets tangled up in all the townfolk’s affairs until he figures out who’s trading rifles to the sinister Indians (it’s Dave, of course), almost getting himself killed a bunch of times in the process.

Dusty, enraged Stewart with defeated Dave:

The town is supposedly dominated by a very large ranch plus Aline’s smaller one, though we never see workers at either place except when they ride out in groups to start fights. The rancho grande is run by ailing Donald Crisp (Ulysses Grant in Birth of a Nation forty years earlier) who wishes his son wasn’t such a fuckup, and foreman Arthur Kennedy (who we just saw in The Lusty Men), who’s in on the rifle scheme with Dave. Combo of the gun deal, the vengeful Stewart, and Crisp’s failed power plays all lead to downfall and death, though somehow Crisp is given a happyish ending, engaged to Aline, while Stewart has to ride off but tells his own love interest (Cathy O’Donnell, girlfriend of handless Harold in The Best Years of Our Lives) to look him up if she ever rides east.

Crisp and Kennedy:

Jack Elam (Once Upon a Time in the West) plays a would-be assassin:

Robert Mitchum is a washed-up rodeo legend who runs into Wes (Arthur Kennedy of Rancho Notorious, traitor of Bend of the River) and Susan Hayward (Canyon Passage). Wes gets the idea to make quick money by getting Mitchum to train him for the rodeo life, soon becomes a conceited gambler going out with hot chicks and abandoning Susan at home, and Mitchum gets a complex about it, goes back out to prove himself and gets thrashed to death by a bull.

“I got a special callin’ for handling horses like some folks get the call to be a preacher.” Just a couple days later, we saw The Rider, which had the unfortunate side effect of making this movie seem somewhat phony by comparison. It’s overall fine though, if not up to the very high standards of Ray’s next few pictures. Arthur Hunnicutt (The Big Sky) is a highlight as a cripped ex-bullrider with a teenage daughter named Rusty… never seen the bad girl who tries to steal Wes (Eleanor Todd) or the bitter widow (Lorna Thayer) before.

Right before True/False I watched a few knotty films that I’m having trouble writing about. This was the most alluring of the bunch, and though The Challenge played last year’s fest, and The Disaster Artist is a feature about real people making a feature, and Wormwood is a semi-doc with reenactment footage about the impossibility of knowing real truth, somehow Western is the one that I feel best exemplifies the spirit of the month. It’s a fiction film with non-actors, delicately balancing a mix of tones and ideas, usually beautiful and unaccountably tense though there’s not much action (reminded me of La Ciénaga in that regard).

Meinhard is a quiet mustache guy on a German work crew on a job in Bulgaria. His compatriots spend their downtime drinking and harassing the locals, while M. spends time alone, finds a horse and rides it into town, and over the next few weeks drifts ever closer to the locals, particularly horse owner and local business bigwig Adrian. Negotiations and conflict over the treatment of local women, shipments of stone, use of water, and the horse, most of which come down to German foreman Vincent on one side, and Adrian’s group on the other with M. floating between.

But much of the movie is quiet and peaceful, a highlight being the easygoing conversations Meinhard has in town with people who don’t know each others’ languages:
“I lost a brother.”
“You’re saying something sad.”

Meinhard:

Adrian:

Also a reference by the Germans to being back in the country after 70 years – that would be Bulgaria’s alliance with the nazis… a scene of tough guys around a campfire remarking on the softness of one’s hair… and already the second movie I’ve seen this year with Bulgarian folk dancing. Played Cannes UCR with the Cantet, the Kurosawa, the Amalric, the Rasoulof.

Andrew Chan in Cinema Scope called it “a subtle variation on the western’s themes of individuality, community, and male aggression, using these timeless tropes to frame the cultural fissures in modern-day Europe.” Grisebach, from the interview:

I was happy when I found this premise of German construction workers living in a foreign country, because I felt that then I had something more ambivalent. I am always afraid when something is too direct — I don’t trust it anymore. For me it’s not easy to say that something is like this or like that. I was really interested in how xenophobia exists between the lines, how it isn’t so direct, and how this contrasts with the official ways of telling history in Germany.

Badass bounty hunter Henry Fonda (same year as 12 Angry Men) rolls into town and meets the unqualified local sheriff Anthony Perkins (three years pre-Psycho) who wants to do the right thing and arrest local bad guy Neville Brand (lead of Riot in Cell Block 11) even though it’ll probably get him killed. Meanwhile, Fonda is renting a room from a woman (Betsy Palmer, the killer in Friday the 13th) who has been exiled from town because of her half-breed son (Michel Ray, who would become an Olympic skiier and a beer billionaire). And Lee Van Cleef and his brother are going around murdering people. Fonda, an ex-lawman, says repeatedly that he’s done being a lawman, nuh-uh, never again, so we just know he’ll become acting sheriff and take care of things.

The writers lost the oscar to Designing Woman, but this was a very good Mann western to file with all the others.

Henry Fonda, Mrs. Voorhees and the young owner of Heineken:

Thanks to a well-placed mirror, we can see the bar fight and Perkins’ reaction:

I missed the evening show of Manchester by the Sea because I misremembered the start time and got caught up watching Black Mirror episodes. But I still wanted to get bummed out watching a long Casey Affleck movie, so fortunately I had The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford handy. I don’t remember Casey from the Oceans trilogy or Interstellar, so this served as a reintroduction before Manchester, and both turned out to be stunner movies with great lead performances. If anyone is working on a Timothy Carey biopic, I nominate Casey as lead.

I’ve seen this story before, in Sam Fuller’s I Shot Jesse James, in which The Coward Robert Ford shoots his hero/boss Jesse in the back, then lives the rest of his short life as a famous outlaw-killer, reenacting his crime onstage. This movie fleshes out the gang much more, showing a Robert as a starstruck, excitable kid, the runt of the Fords, and Jesse as paranoid and dangerous.

After one last train robbery, the gang lays low. Jesse has a family with wife Mary-Louise Parker, lives in a forest house near Kansas City under a fake name, never got caught. Ol’ Frank James (Sam Shepard) and Charley (Sam Rockwell) make the weasely, weak-sounding Robert feel bad about his Jesse James hero-worship, but Jesse recruits Robert when the rest of his gang starts falling away and he gets nervous that someone will sell him out for reward money, visits old friend Garret Dillahunt and kills him. Meanwhile, Paul Schneider and Jeremy Renner are none too bright, compete for the attention of a teen girl, eventually have a huge falling out and Bob kills Renner and calls the cops on Schneider. Late appearance by James Carville as the governor, Nick Cave as a troubadour and Zooey “She” Deschanel.

Casey and Carville have a psychic battle:

Dominik and DP Roger Deakins don’t overdo the stylistic quirks, allowing the story and actors to do their thing against gorgeous landscapes, but the movie’s got its share of flair – shots with edges blurred like old-timey photographs, an occasional omniscient narrator.

Casey of the Clouds:

A. Cook:

On one side it mythologizes the transitionary period of American history via the fable-building narration and dreamy photography, and on the other it slowly and methodically demystifies the characters that populate it and the falsehood of celebrity. It is this contradiction that is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the film and mirrors the inner-conflict of Robert Ford and his complex relationship with Jesse James.