Nuclear war was in the air this month, so I double-featured two hour-long films.


Atomic (2015, Mark Cousins)

A bunch of period footage cut with no sense of rhythm… not sure what this adds to the conversation. It’s not fair that Cousins gets to use and manipulate the music of Mogwai, instead of vice versa. It’s diverting, at least.


The Bomb (2016, Kevin Ford & Smriti Keshari)

Started out so promising… scientific documents expertly composited over footage that was mostly unique from the other movie. Then it devolves into mumford-scored bomb montages with a long segment from that old standby Duck & Cover, ending up on the surface of the sun, just like the other movie. If we could’ve taken the first half of this movie and scored it with Mogwai, then we’d really have something.

Three balding middle-aged dudes wearing overcoats assemble at a tiny bar – The Writer, The Professor (of physics) and the Stalker, who will lead them to The Room inside The Zone, where… something will happen, possibly.

The Stalker is nervous, hired as a guide but seems unsure of everything. The Writer is drunk and arrogant, argues with the Stalker at every juncture. The Professor came as a saboteur, meaning to destroy the Room, but doesn’t go through with it. And the movie conjures its entire sense of mystery and horror through dialogue and behavior, with no special visual effects, just fields and damp rooms.

What exactly the Zone/Room does is mysterious – it provides enlightenment or fulfills unconscious desires – and the Stalker is cagey and possibly deceptive, revealing stories of other stalkers and their sorry fates. After an argument, the men presumably don’t even enter the room, meeting the Stalker’s wife back at the bar. Epilogue with their daughter, poetry and telekinesis, feeling like a scene from Mirror.

Wife of Stalker: Alisa Freyndlikh of Elem Klimov’s Rasputin

Daughter of Stalker:

The film’s writers also did the source novels for Hard to be a God and Sokurov’s Days of Eclipse. The Prof (in the hat) was Nikolay Grinko, at least his fifth Tarkovsky film, also in Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. The Writer was Anatoliy Solonitsyn, Andrey Rublev himself.

Chloe Sevigny (early-career, between Gummo and Boys Don’t Cry) works in publishing with her coworker/roommate/frenemy Kate Beckinsale, and they frequent the disco run by Chris Eigeman (Metropolitan). Kate dates ad-man Mackenzie Astin (star of The Garbage Pail Kids Movie a decade earlier), and Chloe dates Matt Keeslar (Waiting for Guffman, Rose Red), who turns out to be a district attorney investigating the club owners. Not being Stillman obsessives (yet) we didn’t recognize cameos by the Metropolitan and Barcelona casts.

M. ditched the movie halfway in, because she hated all the characters, but I thought hating the characters was part of the point (maybe not, since it’s based on Stillman’s own experiences) and greatly enjoyed. This came out a couple months before 54, less than a year after Boogie Nights, and I skipped it at the time, which was maybe smart since it’s more to my tastes now than in 1998.

Time and history and fiction intermesh in a greenscreen theater. Don Celso aka Rhododendron is introduced in old age, then he meets Long John Silver in flashback, immediately putting us in classic Ruiz territory.

Somehow, Ruiz’s actors don’t seem as convincing on video. Also, I don’t have a damned clue what’s going on half the time, and a couple weeks afterwards I’ve forgotten everything previously understood. The Boris Nelepo article in Cinema Scope (“the meta-Ruizian film, it unlocks the secret recesses and false compartments of his entire oeuvre”) will have to be revisited before I watch it the next time.

Young Celso hangs out with his buddy, stalks his math teacher to try getting a grade changed. The movie is full of word games and notes on translation, and I don’t have complete faith in my subtitles (they translated the title “la noche de enfrente” as “into the coming night”). In the semi-present, Rolo comes to a boarding house to kill Don Celso, makes out with his own aunt first. And then…

Griffin Dunne (An American Werewolf in London) is a hopeless single dude working a boring job with Bronson Pinchot. After work he meets diner patron Marcy (Rosanna Arquette of Desperately Seeking Susan the same year), bonding over their shared love for Henry Miller, and she refers him to her artist roommate Kiki (Linda Fiorentino of Jade). After an undercranked cab ride to their loft, his night spins out of control in tragicomic fashion. Not to get all auteurist on a 1980’s wild-crazy-night picture, but it’s better-looking and more intricately designed than this genre generally gets.

O’Hara and Bloom:

Buncha people with tendencies to panic and lose their cool about small things, not excepting our main man – in Marcy’s bed smoking a bad joint he suddenly sneaks out ranting about needing paperweights. He gets into a barter situation with bartender Tom (the late John Heard), gets shamed by Kiki’s dom boyfriend, wanders over to waitress Teri Garr’s place, then to Catherine O’Hara’s place, then a beardy guy’s place, then Verna Bloom’s place – what is it about Griffin Dunne that makes everyone want to take him home? Verna paper-maches Griffin to hide him from an angry mob who believe he’s responsible for a string of break-ins, then the actual thieves Cheech & Chong steal him, believing he’s art. It’s a very good ending, pulling Griffin abruptly out of the situation and back to his office, which could make the whole thing seem like a harmless dream if not for Marcy’s suicide.

Teri Garr is skeptical:

John Heard is skeptical:

Made by Scorsese between King of Comedy and The Color of Money, after a first attempt to make The Last Temptation of Christ fell apart. Reportedly the flashy camera moves were designed as a Hitchcock parody. Joseph Minion wrote (with some help from Kafka), also wrote Vampire’s Kiss and Scorsese’s episode of Amazing Stories. Tied with Blood Simple at the first Independent Spirit Awards, but it was better-loved in France, where it got a C├ęsar nomination and won best director at Cannes.

Mouseover to make Dick Miller wink at you:
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Shot in the Jauja ratio (square with rounded corners). Strange movie – I didn’t know where it was going, thought the much-discussed pie scene was fine, followed along through some wtf moments, and finally felt deeply moved at the end. The second great ghost film of 2017. Theme of writing down secrets and slipping them into rocks and walls, similar to the Wong Kar-Wai whispers. Writer/director Lowery has a bad mustache, makes lyrical indie dramas in between Disney live-action cartoons.

Rooney and Casey are married, argue sometimes, make love sometimes, then he dies in a car accident just outside the house and appears as a classic ghost (white sheet with eyeholes). Time moves fast – months pass while he makes a single round of the house. He terrorizes some new residents, observes a house party with a nihilist Will Oldham, and witnesses the demolition of the house and construction of a massive office building. Suddenly time resets and we’re in American settler times, then back to the house, where the strange new-house noises heard by Rooney and Casey appear to be the Casey ghost, making one wonder whether the ghost is even Casey after all. No need to write down what happens in the final minute, because I’ll never forget it.

A John Carter-like attempt to film an influential comic which many sci-fi movies (including Besson’s own Fifth Element) have been ripping off for decades. I’ll bet this was better in 3D. The movie seems to want to be in VR, having Valerian put on special glasses when he wants to see into other dimensions (recalling Freddy’s Dead).

The Pearls, a peaceful race of white Na’vi, live on Shell Beach with their pets who can shit dark matter, until their planet is destroyed as collateral damage in a space war led by Commander Clive Owen. Survivors have invaded the International Space Station (now a massive free-floating city of a thousand alien races) and learned all the alien techs to built themselves a supership Shell Beach simulator. Commander Clive sees all this as a threat, and sends soldiers to stop them, or something.

But first, Major Tom Valerian (Dane DeHaan: Lawless, A Cure for Wellness) is sexually harassing his coworker Laureline (Cara Delevingne: London Fields, Paper Towns). According to my Alamo Drafthouse waiter, their relationship made some kind of sense in the original comics, but human behavior isn’t Besson’s strong suit, so he’s botched it. These two are sent to interrupt a trade between Pearls and a Hutt unmistakably voiced by John Goodman, and during their escape a bulletproof rhinobeast wipes out their team.

Valerian’s boss, the General, looks like a Weasley but is actually Sam Spruell of Snow White and the Huntsman… then there are a series of higher-ups played by Rutger Hauer and Herbie Hancock who we barely see. Our team is eventually separated, and Laureline goes underwater with a beardy submariner named Bob (Alain Chabat of The Science of Sleep) while Valerian gets help from a shapeshifting Rihanna (after murdering her pimp Ethan Hawke), who does a dance which will be my most-watched scene on netflix once it comes out.

Some effects shots are very cartoony, not fooling anyone, and the action choreography is quite bad when viewed the day after Atomic Blonde. The very long info-dump ending is bad, the plot is mostly bad, the teaching Valerian about the meaning of love is bad, so I spaced out in the last half hour and tried to figure who Dane DeHaan reminds me of – is it Nicolas Cage? He’s fine, don’t get me wrong – all the acting and filmmaking is generally spot-on, just in service of a poor script. There is one great bit in the ending: Laureline is left alone with Commander Clive and just keeps punching him.

After watching Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde, I thought I’d make my own Fury Road reunion and watch Tom Hardy in Dunkirk. Of course I would’ve loved to see it in 70mm and/or imax, but an all-day road trip was out of the question. Alamo preshow was all Nolan stuff, video essays on commonalities in his previous films and interview segments mixed with 1940’s newsreels and trailers.

Three stories happening on three intersecting timelines – it’s a very simple war story with a complicated structure… if you missed the opening title cards, you could miss the structural games altogether.

In the three segments: (1) Kenneth Branagh commands a horde of soldiers stranded on the beach at Dunkirk, (2) Tom Hardy is a fighter pilot tailing enemy planes, and (3) a civilian boat comes to help the trapped soldiers and picks up shellshocked, panicky Cillian Murphy along the way. The ground and air segments are mostly notable for action, leaving the sea segment to carry the emotional aspect – Mark Rylance as the civilian captain, Tom Glynn-Carney his son, and Barry Keoghan the local boy who meets an unfortunate demise. Fionn Whitehead as Tommy, the lead grunt in the ground segment, is considered the film’s lead, but didn’t make as much of an impact as the sea fellows to me – maybe next time. Also: the line of helmets on the beach a nice Prestige callback.

What verve, what style! Super-paranoid triple-agent action spy thriller starring all the best people, every scene awesome. Sure, a couple of dialogue clunkers and an overall feeling that, despite the constant life-or-death struggle, nothing really consequential is happening, but this movie is good, and I watched it at a good theater, sitting right up close.

Huge centerpiece showing in a single take how Charlize got beat to hell protecting Eddie Marsan. Poor Marsan – when you see him in a movie you just know things won’t turn out alright for him. John Goodman is CIA, Toby Jones is MI6, so who really was James McAvoy? Not a double agent, just a spy who got caught up in his own power? As Charlize runs into a movie theater playing Tarkovsky’s Stalker to hide from assassins, I lost track of the double-dealings and reveled in the self-conscious coolness.

The director is the Wachowskis’ stunt coordinator and did second-unit stuff on Jurassic World and the Ninja Turtles movies. It’s not the most promising looking resume, but damn. More evidence to check out John Wick, which Leitch codirected.

As many pop songs as Baby Driver, but used for different purposes, slinky mood music to fit the visual tone. The songs are vintage but their performances might not be – that wasn’t Ministry playing Stigmata, and some sounded like updated remixes.