Not trying to brag or nothin’, but I kept telling myself this movie felt like Atomic Blonde, only to find out later that it was secretly codirected by that movie’s David Leitch, so I guess I know my Russian secret-agent hit-man action thriller directors. I skipped this Keanu Reeves revenge flick when it came out, but I keep hearing good things about it and the sequel, so finally checked it out in between viewings of American Made.

The late Michael Nyqvist with Dennis Duffy:

Keanu is sad after his girl’s death from illness, left only with the dog she left him, an awesome car, a weapons arsenal, and intense murder skills, so when the local crime lord’s son kills the dog and steals the car, Keanu will not be persuaded to stop killing people (this one is more revenge-driven than the previous movie I watched, which was simply called Revenge).

Fun movie, with some interesting comic-booky elements (a hitman society with a safe-zone hotel headquarters), with appearances by Willem Dafoe, John Leguizamo, Jerry Horne, Lester Freamon and Cedric Daniels.

Terrific shots of awesome mountains with Willem Dafoe spitting wisdom about the sublime, the combination of beauty and terror that scaling these beasts engenders. Almost the entire movie is in slow-motion, the camera always gliding on helicopters or drones. From the history of mountain climbing forward, it gets more dangerous – now that just anyone can climb Everest if they’re rich enough for the gear and sherpas, the serious new climbers embrace a higher risk factor. This culminates in a Red Bull-branded extreme sports montage, which Dafoe solemnly condemns after showing us rad footage of it for fifteen minutes, the movie getting to have it both ways.

Young mom Halley, impulsive and disrespectful, is barely getting by, staying in a motel run by Willem Dafoe, living on food smuggled from her friend Ashley. But the film takes the perspective of her bright, energetic daughter Moonee, who is making new friends, tormenting Willem, accidentally burning down neighboring properties, and so on. The kids are barely aware of the adult world’s workings, and Moonee doesn’t realize how precarious her situation has been until child services arrives for her at the end.

Dafoe is getting award nominations, and deservedly so, if only for the scene in which he chases off a possible pedophile and the one where he tries to reason with some cranes blocking the driveway, but Moonee and her friends Jancey and Scooty with their completely naturalistic play and banter are the reasons this film will be loved forever.

The Benaki Museum (2013, Athina Tsangari)

Lovely seven-minute advertisement for a Greek museum narrated by Willem Dafoe, children acting as curators, interacting with ancient artworks.

The Boy Who Saw the Iceberg (2000, Paul Driessen)

Crazy… split-screen with a boy’s ordinary day on the left and his imagination (which usually involves being captured and making a daring escape on the right. Then he and his family die when travelling on a boat that hits an iceberg. The imagination side takes another minute to adjust to this ending. Animation is fluid, doodly and wonderful. Driessen is Dutch, has a long career of award-winning shorts.

The Lost Thing (2010, Tan & Ruhemann)

Dude is collecting bottlecaps when he finds a Lost Thing (sort of an armored contraption with mechanical parts, jingle bells and tentacles), seeks its origins, finally returns it to a secret area in the city where crazy mecha-organic beasts all live. Won the oscar, same year as Day & Night. Tan created the source book, Ruhemann lately produced something called Chuck Norris vs. Communism.

Zerox and Mylar (1995, Joel Brinkerhoff)

Wicked one-minute claymation thing. Cat wants to lure mouse, paints his hand like a lady mouse, but mouse traps the lady-mouse-hand and has his way with it/her. Brinkerhoff is obviously a madman, apparently worked on Marvin the Martian in the Third Dimension, which is on one of the Looney Tunes blu-rays.

The Temptation of Mr. Prokouk (1947, Karel Zeman)

Mr. Prokouk is building his own house when he’s tempted by the evils of alcohol. After going on a massive bender and literally losing his head, he recovers, murders the ghostly barrel-shaped liquor salesman who got Prokouk hooked on the stuff, and continues with the house building. I dig the little birds who build a nest on his sign.

Mr. Schwarzwald’s and Mr. Edgar’s Last Trick (1964, Jan Svankmajer)

Svankmajer’s first short! Stop-motion, live actors, painting and puppetry, all very well blended, with extreme close-ups, frequent zooms and super fast edits. So JS was accomplished at making great-looking, creepy films from the very start. Two wooden-mask-faced magicians take turns performing elabotate tricks, aggressively shaking hands after each one, until the handshake turns lethal and they tear each other apart.

Your Acquaintance aka The Journalist (1927, Lev Kuleshov)

A 15-minute excerpt from a feature. Possibly Kuleshov’s follow-up to the great Dura Lex – IMDB isn’t so clear on Russian cinema. Aleksandra Khokhlova (Kuleshov’s wife, crazy Edith from Dura Lex) is a newspaper columnist who gets fired for turning in an article late while she was distracted by a handsome rich man. That’s about all I got from this fragment, plot-wise.

Edition Filmmuseum:

She is a modern woman, in-your-face and interesting in both the way she dresses and the way she handles the men who surround her in her everyday working life: she writes almost all of them off as wimps but the one she loves, a functionary, proves to be a conformist: disappointment ensues … The mise-en-scène is unique, with razor-sharp contours and extreme lighting provided on the one hand by Aleksandr Rodchenko with his constructivist design of the materialistic world, and on the other hand by cameraman Konstantin Kuznecov with his “svetotvorchestvo” (light-making) already known from [Dura Lex].

The Tony Longo Trilogy (2014, Thom Andersen)

A found-footage piece, Andersen taking three films and isolating only the scenes with imposing character actor Tony Longo in them. Tony is an ineffective doorman in The Takeover, is seeking Justin Theroux in Mulholland Dr., and fights with Rob Lowe before being murdered by Jim Belushi in Living in Peril. Why was Thom Andersen watching Tony Longo movies? Tony died soon after this came out, unrelated to the fact that IMDB says he was once struck in the mouth by lightning.

Cinema Scope:

What makes the videos in The Tony Longo Trilogy both exciting and frivolous is that it’s not terribly difficult to imagine Andersen repeating the operation for Tony Longo’s other hundred-odd screen credits, or, to push the idea to its limit, for anyone who’s ever appeared in a motion picture.

Riot (2015, Nathan Silver)

Home movies of 9-year-old Nathan reenacting the LA riots in his back yard wearing a Ren & Stimpy shirt

Uncle (1959, Jaromil Jires)

Kid in crib makes friends with the thief breaking into his house. Jires’s second short, still in film school. Uncle Vlastimil Brodsky was already an established actor, would later star in many Jiri Menzel films and Autumn Spring.

Tramwaj (1966, Krzysztof Kieslowski)
Silent… guy is miserable at a party, so leaves and gets on a dismal night train where he tries to impress a sleepy girl. One of Kieslowski’s first shorts, made in film school.

Logorama (2009, Alaux & Houplain & de Crecy)

Fantastic concept, a world made only of corporate logos. The writing and voice acting could’ve been better though. After creating this graphic-design logo monstrosity, they fill it with some sub-Tarantino cops-and-robbers shootout stuff, Michelin cops fighting a rogue Ronald McDonald. Logorama beat A Matter of Loaf and Death at the oscars, also won awards at Cannes and the Cesars. Two of the directors went on to make a tie-in short to a Tom Clancy video game series. David Fincher did a voice, along with the writer of Se7en and a guy with small roles in half of Fincher’s movies.

Sniffer (2006, Bobbie Peers)

Sniffer works as a deodorant tester in a world where people wear metal boots to keep from floating off. One day after seeing a pigeon crash into a window, Sniffer decides it’d be nice to float off, and unstraps his boots. Norwegian, I think.

The Foundry (2007, Aki Kaurismaki)

Seen this before in an anthology but now it’s available in HD so I watched again.

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.

As close as Ferrara will ever get to making Big Night – almost-but-not-quite a comedy about an enthusiastic strip club manager with a gambling problem who has bet everything (including tonight’s payroll) on a lotto scheme. A happy, generous movie that delights in hanging out with the girls, the owners and other employees and patrons for a few hours without any major agenda.

Sylvia Miles:

Willem Dafoe is Ray the gambler, hiding in his office with Roy Dotrice (Mozart’s dad in Amadeus), the only other guy in on the scam. Bob Hoskins works for Ray, Ray’s brother Matthew Modine (star of Full Metal Jacket) is the club’s silent investor who’s pulling the plug, and loud, grating Sylvia Miles (Midnight Cowboy) is the landlady about to shut them down. Ray’s scheme works: he wins the lotto, making enough to keep the club, but can’t find the winning ticket since he and Dotrice have stashed bunches of tickets in hidey holes all over the club. I guess this plot device is what led IMDB to wrongly call the movie a screwball comedy.

Modine’s dog trick:

Asia’s dog trick:

The girls don’t get nearly as well-drawn characters as the men. Mostly they strip and dance, and even highly-billed Asia Argento (same year as Boarding Gate and The Last Mistress, renowned here for her rottweiler french-kissing scene) is absent for 90% of the film. Late thursday nights are reserved for the girls and management to put on a talent show for each other and invited friends and family, changing the image of the place from a seedy sex joint to an affectionate family business, thus raising the stakes for Ray to find that winning ticket.

D. Lim in Cinema Scope:

Go Go Tales is also an allegory: a portrait of the artist as a hustler, a gambler, a performer, a dreamer, an addict, a throwback, a holdout, and, of course, a purveyor of good old-fashioned T&A, navigating the screw-or-be-screwed questions common to all exploitative professions, indeed to modern capitalist systems. You could say this one comes from the heart.

When Ferrara was interviewed in this issue, it seems he had begun his Late Sam Fuller stage: a quintessentially American filmmaker, disrespected and underfunded at home, coerced to move to Europe to keep making his New York-style indie movies.

“Razzle them. Dazzle them. Razzle dazzle them.”

“Sometimes I’m really not sure who’s worse: us cops or the fuckin’ criminals,” says a cop (Willem Dafoe) in Werner Herzog’s new movie – which premiered two days after his Bad Lieutenant. I appreciated that little connection, as well as some casting borrowed from producer David Lynch (Dafoe from Wild at Heart, Brad Dourif from Blue Velvet and the ever-creepy Grace Zabriskie from Inland Empire) and Lynchian attention paid to coffee cups. Unfortunately, I didn’t appreciate much else – not the flat camerawork, the easily-predicted hostage twist, nor the go-nowhere story.

Grace has jello:

My two biggest problems with the movie are identified as assets by Herzog on the DVD extras. He says that feature films should be made cheaply and he achieved this by using a lousy DV camera (probably a Lynch hand-me-down), hence the flat grey photography (fortunately Herzog still knows how to frame a nice shot – it’s not just a visual wasteland out there). Then he talks about interviewing the crazy fellow on whom Michael Shannon’s character was based, noting hundreds of loony little details, then making up his own loony details with Shannon to avoid making a boringly specific true story. But it’s all random details. Shannon is always saying crazy shit with no connection anywhere else, and hey, maybe that’s what fellows who call themselves God and murder their parents actually do, but it comes across as trying too hard to be zany.

Chloe starts to worry about her boyfriend:

Framing device: Michael Shannon (last seen being crazy in Bug) has killed his mother with a sword in front of neighbors Irma P. Hall (Coens’ The Ladykillers) and Loretta Devine (Urban Legend). Detective Dafoe and his overeager partner Michael Peña (Shooter) wait outside because Shannon yells that he has two hostages – but he won’t say who, and the only characters missing are his pet flamingos named Macdougal and Mcnamara, so guess who the hostages turn out to be? Until Shannon comes out, Dafoe kills time by interviewing the neighbors, Shannon’s girlfriend Chloe Sevigny, and friend Udo Kier.

Macdougal and Mcnamara are great flamingo names!

Theater director Udo describes the background of the play he cast Michael Shannon in: “a dynasty of ruthless kings and diabolical queens who eat each other’s flesh and fuck each other’s wives – century after century, generation after generation – and only Orestus can lift that curse, but he has to murder his mother to do it.” This is the part that was based on a true story. He also reminisces about Shannon taking him to uncle Brad Dourif’s ostrich farm (flamingos + ostriches = a good bird movie). Chloe says Mike went to Peru with his buddies a couple years ago and started having premonitions, ditched the raft trip they were all supposed to take and ended up the only survivor. Meanwhile, Shannon in flashback walks around a market in some country or another with a Pi-camera strapped to him and says things like “I hate it that the sun always comes up in the east.”

Michael, Udo, Brad and a sword:

DVD extras tell us the writer used Jules Dassin’s A Dream of Passion for inspiration. I was thinking that “hostages” kinda sounds like “ostriches.”

The stop-motion in Coraline seemed untoppable, and now a few months later this seems untoppable. Coraline felt slicker and this had more rustling animal hair which gave it a rough feel without ever looking less than terrific. Anderson’s controlled compositions and affinity for tiny visual details are a perfect match for the rigorous stop-motion process, and the writing and voices and action were all wonderful – this was better than I dreamed it would be.

So I don’t know the original story, but in the movie Meryl Streep agrees to marry Fox on the condition that he stop stealing livestock from farmers. Years later Fox, still a “wild animal,” has a midlife crisis, enlists his buddy and his nephew and sets out to defeat the security systems of the three farmer fatcats in town. Bandit hats are handed out (seems to steal too obviously from Bottle Rocket) and all kids have major parental issues (Anderson would’ve added those if they weren’t already in the book), and Fox ends up getting all the animals in trouble when the fatcats team up to retaliate. Ends happily with a grocery-store hoedown.

Katy liked it, too.

I told Katy I wanted to call this “post-feminist cinema” but she said “anti-feminist” would fit better. I’m gonna read what everyone wrote about this later on, but for now my first impression was that it’s a beautiful film of a less-beautiful story. Charlotte and Willem lose their young son and since he’s a psychologist he tries to help her through it using dodgy methods like taking her to the place she’s most afraid of. So he’s either doing a good job, or he’s misguided but still trying to help the best he knows how, or he’s an awful person who hopes to further incite his wife’s trauma so he can write an exciting book about it. I go back and forth, but what I’m sure about is that Charlotte turns out to be an evil witch. She watched her son die and did nothing to stop him, she drilled a metal rod through Willem’s leg, and she acts generally psycho until he stops her and is confronted by the ghosts of a hundred dead forest witches. Or something. Gotta say I actually liked it a whole lot, found it an effective and gorgeous horror movie, despite any political or character misgivings.