Go Go Tales (2007, Abel Ferrara)

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.

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (2009, Werner Herzog)

“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.”

Buy from Amazon:
My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? [DVD]

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009, Wes Anderson)

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.

Antichrist (2009, Lars Von Trier)

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.

Wild At Heart (1990, David Lynch)

Nic Cage goes to jail. Twice.

image

Harry Dean is a lovestruck sucker, gets killed by three characters who are far more prominent in the deleted scenes: Quiet Dropshadow (Jerry Horne in Twin Peaks), talky, over-friendly Reggie (black islander Calvin Lockhart, who played “Biggie Smalls” in Sidney Poitier film Let’s Do It Again, which I must see sometime), and creeeepy cane-walkin’ woman Juana Durango (Grace Zabriskie, even creepier in Inland Empire, also Laura Palmer’s mom). Álex de la Iglesia made some sort of a sequel featuring these three characters called Perdita Durango or Dance With The Devil. I guess it’s not really a sequel, but both films are based on novels by Barry Gifford, who also cowrote Lost Highway and Hotel Room.

image

Lynch has plenty of contenders for Creepiest Character In Film History – there’s Robert Blake in Lost Highway, Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet… my personal pick is Willem Dafoe in Wild At Heart.

image

Crispin Glover also gets a bigger part in the outtakes, including the scene below where he’s almost discovered by our heroes working at a gas station. I can’t remember if the revelation that he impregnated cousin Laura Dern when they were younger was in the movie or not… I’m thinking it’s from the outtakes too.

image

“How many stars you think are up there, baby?”
“There’s a couple.”

Paris, je t’aime (2006)

Wonderful anthology film, bunch of episodes connected with unexceptional cityscapes shot by one of the producers. I don’t know anything about the neighborhoods of Paris, but I guess each short is supposed to have its own local tone to it.

Montmartre
Man is cursing traffic, cursing everyone, alone and angry, then woman walks by and passes out next to his car. He acts the husband to other onlookers and lays her down in the backseat. She wakes up, they kinda like each other, she’s off to her tobaccologist (?) but they’ll meet up later. A nice opening piece, more like the kind of short that plays the film festivals than most of the other segments turned out to be… they were more episodes, excerpts, not stand-alone stories.
Director Bruno Podalydès starred himself, along with Florence Muller of Resnais’s Coeurs.

Quais de Seine
Boy’s friends are yelling insulting things to every woman who walks by, so boy gets away from them and helps up muslim girl. They like each other, it’s cute, her grandfather is nice to him, awww.
Director Guriner Chadha made Bride & Prejudice and Bend It Like Beckham.

La Marais
Jokey bit where dude helping artist Marianne Faithful at a press falls immediately for guy sitting on floor. Dude talks to him forever, tells him how they were destined to meet, gives his phone number, walks off, turns out guy on floor speaks no French, har!
Director Gus Van Sant lovingly photographs Gaspard (the boyfriend in A Very Long Engagement) and Elias (Elephant) in mostly long takes.

Tuileries
American tourist Steve Buscemi is waiting for his subway train and breaking the rules in his tour guide (“don’t make eye contact”), getting himself involved in the power games of two young lovers across the station and leading to his being beaten up with his souvenirs dumped all over him. Poor guy.
Directors Joel & Ethan Coen almost make up for The Ladykillers with this one. Katy was defeated by too-high expectations.

Loin du 16ème
Girl puts her own baby down at the babysitting place, then rides public transit to her job taking case of some rich lady’s baby, sings the same sweet song to both babies. One of the more obvious message-movies, but nice.
Director Walter Salles (Motorcycle Diaries) cast Catalina Sandino Moreno, of Fast Food Nation and Maria Full of Grace.

Porte de Choisy
Okay, Barbet Schroeder is a bald hair-care product salesman who goes to hardass Madame Li’s place to sell her stuff. First meeting doesn’t go well but she tries the stuff and calls him back, delighted. Sort of a choreographed musical comedy. Makes no damn sense. Best part is when he’s between meetings, bowling at a monastery and monks take away his cell phone.
Directed by Christopher Doyle, who I see is shooting a Rufus Sewell thriller and Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park next.

Bastille
Guy meets his wife for lunch, intending to tell her he’s leaving her for his mistress, but first she hands over a doctor’s note saying she has terminal leukemia. So he “rises to the occasion”, dumps his girlfriend, and spends the rest of his wife’s life doing things they used to love to do together, falls back in love with her and is destroyed when she dies. The only piece with a 3rd-party narrator, and one of my favorites.
Director Isabel Coixet made The Secret Life of Words and My Life Without Me… stars a guy from Va Savoir as the husband, the girl in a coma in Talk To Her as the mistress, and Miranda Richardson as the wife.

Place des Victoires
Kinda crappy despite two fave stars Willem Dafoe and Juliette Binoche. Her son died a week ago and she follows his phantom voice out to the plaza where Dafoe is a cowboy on a horse who lets her see her son once more. Katy liked it, I thought it was David Lynch-derivative.
Director Nobuhiro Suwa made some well-regarded Japanese movies I’ve never heard of before.

Tour Eiffel
Kid describes how his mime parents first met. Awesome, funny, features identical twins, imaginary cars and lots of miming… the one short that the whole movie would be worth seeing just to catch.
Director Sylvain Chomet’s follow-up to the perfect Triplets of Belleville.

Parc Monceau
In a single shot, father Nick Nolte walks down the street with his daughter to where a friend is watching her son. He takes over babysitting and the friends go off together. Jokey because the dialogue at first makes it sound like she’s cheating on her husband (actually the son) with Nolte.
Director Alfonso Cuarón is into long takes now. I told Katy I was waiting for something to explode but she didn’t get me.

Quartier des Enfants Rouges
One of the better ones… Maggie Gyllenhaal has a kinda cute encounter with her drug dealer, then calls him up to order more (really to see him again), but he sends a flunky instead who steals her watch.
Director Olivier Assayas has apparently completed his new Asia Argento / Michael Madsen thriller.

Place des Fêtes
Another great one, man gets stabbed and as he’s dying, a girl he recognizes is trying to help him. He flashes back to his not-so-easy life in Paris and all the times he’s tried to talk to her. Sad movie.
Director Oliver Schmitz has made a buncha German films. The girl is Aïssa Maïga, the lead (bar singer) in Bamako and also appeared in Caché.

Pigalle
Guy is trying to have a role-playing night out with his wife – it doesn’t go as planned but they’re still alright.
Director Richard LaGravenese made Freedom Writers, seems a weird choice for this. Bob Hoskins stars with Fanny Ardant, whom Katy recognized from 8 Women.

Quartier de la Madeleine
On a creepy street with desaturated colors except for bright-red blood, model Olga Kurylenko is devouring Wes Craven when Elijah Wood interrupts her. Vampire love ensues.
Director Vincenzo Natali made Cube and Nothing, and has seen Sin City more than once.

Père-Lachaise
Spacey, businesslike guy’s on a pre-wedding honeymoon with cute girl, she kisses Oscar Wilde’s grave then decides he’s not romantic enough for her and storms off. He talks to Wilde’s ghost briefly then runs after her and quotes her some Wilde, which idiotically makes her fall back in love with him.
Director Wes Craven isn’t known for this kind of thing. Rufus Sewell and Emily Mortimer are the couple, Alex Payne plays Wilde.

Faubourg Saint-Denis
Blind boy gets phone call from girlfriend, apparently breaking up with him. He flashes back in high-energy Lola-style through their relationship, how he first met her thinking she was in trouble, falling for her rehearsal performance (she’s an actress). He’s fallen for it again and she’s not really breaking up with him. One of my faves.
Director Tom Tykwer made Perfume. Natalie Portman is the girl. This apparently existed as a separate short back in 2004.

Quartier Latin
Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara get together at a cafe to talk over their divorce at the end of a long marriage. Good one, Rowlands wrote.
Director Gérard Depardieu is probably a big John Cassavetes fan, appears himself as the waiter.

14th arrondissement
Another really nice one, American woman is narrating to her French class (?) about her trip to Paris. She’s kind of lonely and jetlagged, but everything falls into place for her at the end.
Director Alexander Payne made Sideways and Election, and actress Margo Martindale is in Rocket Science and played Swank’s mom in Million Dollar Baby.

Katy liked it, too.

eXistenZ (1999, David Cronenberg)

A surprisingly great movie. I mean, it’s Cronenberg so I oughtta like it, but at the same time it’s a late 90′s virtual reality thriller… not the kind of thing you can easily recommend to people, after the blitz that was Dark City, The Cell, The 13th Floor, The Matrix, and to a lesser extent, 1995′s Strange Days / Virtuosity / Johnny Mnemonic. But Cronie has been comfy working with virtually unreal worlds for decades, after Naked Lunch and Videodrome, and his movie easily stands above those others (not to knock Dark City).

image

It’s not the story, which is fine, or the is-it-real-or-not bits, which are well played and not overdone or inexplicable, it’s the look of the thing, the sleek style and great lighting… the compositions, which are uniformly attractive without calling attention to themselves or drowning the film in stylistic tricks. It’s genre sci-fi filmmaking that is so good it looks effortless. It won a silver bear in Berlin for outstanding artistic achievement, but was understandably ignored everywhere else.

image

Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh (spoiler alert: last 90 seconds) are underground realists out to destroy the creators of virtual-reality video games. They play the premiere of a new game with its creator (Don McKellar)’s participation, along with gamers Ian Holm, Willem Dafoe and others.

Next level: JJL is premiering her new game to a crowd of excited gamers, but when an underground realist tries to assassinate her, security guard JL comes somewhat to the rescue and they go on the run together. Along the way they meet Willem Dafoe, Ian Holm and Don McKellar, but it’s never clear who’s on their side.

Various sub-levels back and forth. The “game pods” are organic, and plug into bio-ports in your spine, but on some levels it’s a mini gamepod that merges with your spine directly. There’s spy business at a chinese restaurant, acknowledged fake accents, CGI insects, a few killings and close calls, and the deadly spoooores.

image

Has the game-life analogies you’d expect from the genre and the body-horror, sexuality and organic technology mix you’d expect from Cronenberg. Seeing the movie for a second (third?) time, it’s nice to see that the movie really doesn’t trick you, that the ending makes sense. Whether the ending is the really real “real world” or if we’re still within a simulation doesn’t matter, since of course the movie itself is a simulated reality.

image

Spider-man 3 (2007, Sam Raimi)

Felt kinda empty and unexciting. Too bad. Bruce Campbell has a longer, funnier scene than usual, but otherwise it’s a big ol’ studio comic picture. The Sam Raimi that brought us Evil Dead is gone. Oh well, enjoy the aerial acrobatics and the sandman effects and wait in line for the next one.

Tobey is still our man, Kirsten is still better to look at than to watch, and Franco is still a rich and vengeful third wheel (feat. a welcome Daddy Dafoe cameo). But we need more baddies with half-assed excuses to dislike spiderman, so we’ve got Parker responsible for photographer Topher Grace losing his job, and we’ve got Thomas Haden Church who apparently killed spidey’s uncle and I think Topher convinces Haden that Tobey did something I dunno it doesn’t matter.

Coincidentally, Tobey turns the dude he fired into Venom, and the dude who killed his uncle turns into Sandman. but first, Tobey experiments with the Venom suit and goes all Chris Gaines in some horrible dance/club sequence. Sandy blows away unharmed, Venom “dies” strangely, and Franco dies by rocket sled, same as his dear daddy.

Also Theresa Russell was Haden’s wife but I didn’t notice at the time, and Bryce Dallas was Topher’s girl.

Anyway, there was some effects and stuff, and I dig Topher’s style. Movie was just good enough to keep seeing the sequels. This ranks somewhere between the grim and badly paced Batman Begins and the surprisingly decent X-Men 3.