A Quiet Movie. Mildly disappointing in the same way as Deep Blue Sea – Davies casts some of my favorite actresses, and they’re wonderful in his films, and his use of light is simply the best, and there are some very nice words in the dialogue (like “pillory”), but it all seems kinda polite and I never connect emotionally in the way I feel I should. Much better than Sunset Song, anyway.
An episodic biopic of the life of Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon), with sister Jennifer Ehle (the only good part of Contagion), brother Duncan Duff, and friend Jodhi May (Nightwatching). Spoiler alert for a Terence Davies movie: her heart is full of poetry and yearning but her adult/love life doesn’t turn out very happily.
After an intro sequence where her family is played by younger actors, the movie changes eras, zooming in slowly on each character one at a time, and I was horrified to realize it was morphing the faces of the young actors into the old ones, a technique that I thought was abandoned soon after Michael Jackson’s Black or White video… but a couple seconds later I realized it’s really beautifully done here, and even again at the end, in the biopic-obligatory credits shots where they show the lead actor vs. the real person they’re portraying. The dialogue gets exasperating, but I could watch the actors do their thing forever.
Davies has always been as precise with time as Dickinson was with rhyme, and that ineffable sense of rhythm defines several of the standout sequences … The movie is defined by its staccato phrasings, elliptical flow, and opaquely confessional nature … She could have found a husband and moved out, the film suggests, but being a married woman in the 19th Century would have robbed her of what little creative control she was able to maintain over her own life; after all, she had to ask her father for permission to write, and she only did so in the dead of night, when everyone else was sleeping. Davies has said that, “Having your work taken away from you makes you feel like a non-person,” and just as Dickinson couldn’t stand an editor so much as moving a punctuation mark out of place, the filmmaker is too sensitive to survive the destruction of trying to move beyond his comfort zone.
Relatively normal-seeming indie film – it took me a while to recalibrate my expectations to the lower budget, the subdued Denis Lavant, these two artists still so young and unaware of the great works they’d eventually achieve. It’s new-wavey, and in love with love, and just wonderful, so it’s my problem that I can’t help but compare it to the later films.
Mireille Perrier (later the sorta-narrator of Chocolat) is “Girl” – both of them are going through breakups when they meet and hang out at a party after Alex has a long night walking dazed through the city. He goes off on his own again but comes back, too late to save her from bathtub scissor suicide.
Mr. X (2014, Tessa Louise-Salome)
A talking-heads interview doc about the films of Leos Carax, with clips. I watched this after catching up with Boy Meets Girl, the last of his major features I hadn’t seen before, and revisiting clips of his other films was pleasure enough, but this doc was remarkably good on its own, projecting interviews visually over film footage and showing outtakes and on-set footage and rehearsals and auditions.
Richard Brody: “[The] enduring enemy in his films is ordinariness, routine, mediocrity. And just as the men in his films are willing to go to dangerous extremes to poeticize their life, so the kinds of women his male characters are attracted to are also poetically extravagant.”
The camera prowls a nice house full of artworks and memorabilia, two visitors conversing on the soundtrack, their footsteps clomping through the halls, but never seen, as a piece of music comes and go in scraps.
Then Manoel de Oliveira introduces himself (“Cinema is my passion”), speaking directly to us. He walks to a new room, the color of his sweater changing and a small picture of the Mona Lisa following him into every camera angle, then shows us home movies with loud projector noise.
Back to the visitors, who were supposed to be meeting someone at the house and feel self-conscious about their intrusion, but not enough to leave… back to Manuel, and so on. Manuel’s deliberately-paced stories of the past in plain language feel like a school report, conflicting strangely with the poetry and superstition of the visitor segments. He eventually tells us that he’s a visitor here himself, having sold his childhood home to pay for his films.
Halfway through, we interview Manuel’s wife Maria Isabel, only the second person we’ve seen in the film. Manuel gets less narrative and more philosophical after this break. He talks about his recent films (and the one he was writing: Non), and we head unexpectedly into reenactment territory with the story of his arrest by the fascist government soon after the premiere of Acto de Primavera.
Oliveira spoke like he was at the end of his life, not realizing that another 22 years and half his body of work was still ahead of him. His final narration, “and I disappear,” then a quick slideshow from the family album until the film runs out of the projector. This was withheld from public release until after the maestro’s death, a fitting finale.
Set on the Isle of Man, where a former TV star returns after many unsuccessful years in Hollywood because a murder suspect is obsessed with his character. Not as funny as even the opening credits of Alan Partridge, but it’ll do. The Boosh’s Julian Barratt plays the washed-up Mindhorn,
Alan PaSteve Coogan as his hated ex-costar who became hugely successful by sticking with the show and not fucking off to Hollywood, Richard McCabe (of a couple Greenaway pictures) as his terrible PR guy, Babadook star Essie Davis as his ex, and Simon Farnaby (who played the Howard Moon imposter in Mighty Boosh) as her new husband. Cowriters Farnaby (acting with a Scandinavian accent) and Barrett are lots of fun, as is lead cop David Schofield. I don’t think anything is learned at the end, but the killers (the town mayor, and corrupt cop Andrea Riseborough) are stopped, at least.
What came first, the movie or the Robyn Hitchcock song? Searches reveals a guitar magazine article claiming the song is a nod to the film, but also an interview with cowriter Farnaby claiming he got the movie title from the song. IMDB says Mindhorn is an old Boosh reference, and other sites claim Barratt and Hitchcock are friends, so maybe it’s a mutual influence thing.
“Let’s quit everything”
Made around the time of Tout va Bien and We Maintain It Is Possible, a few years after La Chinoise, which also takes anti-capitalism to bizarre, somewhat comic extremes. This imagines the “Year 01” in which everyone decides to quit their corporate jobs and disband capitalist society and live as people did before machines, growing crops with their bare hands, which doesn’t sound like fun to me, but I’ve been corrupted by capitalist propaganda I suppose.
“Now I take care of the cows. Milking isn’t much nicer than typing, but it’s direct work … if I want to eat, I have to do it.”
“98% vote to abolish property” – it’s convenient for the plot that everyone living in France is a good-natured, 28-year-old communist. They rebuild society in a pointedly uneducated way, going on instict and vague desire, which sounds like how the U.S. government is operating today. Neighbors and strangers open up to each other, jewel thievery becomes a respectable hobby, and everyone acts like they’re going on a huge vacation.
Mouseover to see this hippie get an idea:
Another great idea:
Watched this as part of my quest to see everything Alain Resnais made – he did a few-minute episode set in New York, where bankers leap from Wall Street buildings en masse as the people on the streets excitedly read the Euro news in the papers. The dialogue acting here isn’t great, but it opens with a cool series of quick zoom-outs on imposing buildings. Jean Rouch also contributes a Niger scene, which was short and forgettable but featured a reference to “Petit à petit, Inc.”
Closes with the title “Fin du premier film de reportage sur L’AN 01,” but after 85 long minutes, there was no more to say. I don’t know much about Doillon, but this came near the start of a long, still-ongoing career. Writer Gébé was editing a satirical magazine at the time, which would later transform into Charlie Hebdo.
If the scenario of 10 Cloverfield Lane was filmed with the emotional sensibility of The Road. Opens with the Joel Edgerton family (with Sarah and teenage Travis) murdering and burying grandpa, who has become infected with whatever killed the world, and only gets darker from there. Soon the Chris Abbot family (with Riley Keough and a young kid) shows up, and after a few days of Joel being extremely suspicious, they’re allowed to move in. But paranoia and infection follow, and the Abbots are evicted and killed.
It was sold as a horror movie (according to Indiewire, Black Phillip even has a cameo), but it’s a particularly grim sort of postapocalyptic thriller… effective, but somehow I didn’t go for it – too much grim hopelessness, not enough Take Shelter mystery/wonder – and it somewhat reduces my desire to catch up with Krisha. It’s not a bland genre exercise, tho – interesting ideas within.
The ultimate unknown is death — I think that’s all over the movie. But there are worse things. And there’s a line you can cross that’s too far, and it breaks things, and if we keep functioning like this, and if we keep going in these cycles, we’re going to destroy ourselves. It’s inevitable. We need to take a step back. Losing our humanity is going to be a lot worse.
Travis’ sickness only appears after he’s seen his mother and father kill an entire family — mother, father, and child. For all we know, the disease could itself be a function of metaphor, appearing only after a character has been so fervently immersed in the deterioration of human structures. Indeed, Travis has watched as his parents, his creators and fervent shelterers, have themselves become the nightmares. (Quite literally: throughout the movie, Travis’ more surreal nightmares are shot in a different aspect ratio, and set to a different score. This brutally realistic scene, however, also occurs with these subtle flourishes.) Is his retching after this scene, and the coughing of blood, representative of a revulsion with the very stuff with which we’re made? Sure, he’s pretty undeniably sick, but the sickness is also a literal purging of blood — which metaphorically speaks to a guttural, uncontrollable desire to purge oneself of family, of an inheritance of violence.
Took a few weeks off from movie writing, now let’s see what I can remember about Akira. More than last time, anyway – for ages this was one of those movies I knew I’d seen, but couldn’t recall anything about it (same goes for Ghost in the Shell).
In 2019 Tokyo has rebuilt nicely after WWIII, but music hasn’t progressed much (Led Zeppelin and Cream are visible in a jukebox). Kaneda leads a violent street gang at war with rival bikers in clown suits, and Tetsuo is Ryu’s buddy/stooge. After an encounter with a child-elder mutant escaped from gov’t testing lab, Tetsuo acquires massive psychic powers, which he only uses to cause destruction and taunt his former friends, eventually losing control of his own body, which grows and engulfs everything around. Akira is the name of the most powerful former experiment kid, who may have destroyed Tokyo in the late 80’s – funny how the gov’t didn’t shut down their lab after that. Since I rewatched Fury Road the night before, this was my second movie in a row where someone with a missing arm gets a robotic replacement. Anyway, things don’t end well for poor enraged Tetsuo.
Tetsuo meets Akira:
Based on Otomo’s own comic, the movie was a smash hit in Japan and an enduring cult favorite. Obvious parallels with Godzilla – the original, not the bad version I just watched – and full of extreme violence and nightmare imagery. Somehow it still doesn’t have any sequels or remakes, but with new Blade Runner and Star Wars and Alien and Flatliners and Jumanji movies all out this year, anything’s possible.
Feels like The Silence remade with the visual style of Autumn Sonata, and minus my favorite part (little Johan and the colorful characters he meets in the hotel). So we’re left with two sisters who hate each other and a dying third sister whom they both hate. All the relentless grim hopelessness is killing my Bergman-love momentum that started with Monika, Magician and Smiles… after this, I was gonna rewatch Persona, but instead I watched some sci-fi movies about the death of all humanity (Alien 6 and the Resident Evil series) and those seemed relatively upbeat.
Agnes (Harriet Andersson: Monika, the daughter in Through a Glass Darkly) is deathly ill in bed, tended by the maid Anna. Liv Ullmann (Ingrid’s daughter in Autumn Sonata) plays bright-eyed sister Maria and also their mom in flashbacks, and Ingrid Thulin (Winter Light, The Magician) is dark-haired older sister Karin.
Maria is cheating with the Doctor: Erland Josephson, baron of Hour of the Wolf
“Pray for those of us left behind on this dark and miserable earth beneath a cruel and empty sky.”
D’Angelo didn’t love it: “The dour humorlessness; the mannered performances; the ticking clocks that infiltrate portentous silences with metronomic reminders of mortality; the overwrought arias of verbal cruelty; the expository flashbacks; the random mood swings designed merely to startle…it’s as close as he ever came to self-parody.” Wonder if Mike has seen Hour of the Wolf, which I thought was even more self-parody.
Undead Agnes comforted by Maid Anna:
Scene transitions are accompanied by haunted whispers on the soundtrack, and the overall look is a rich red, red, red, populated by some of the most beautiful actresses in the world. So maybe I should try appreciating it as a gorgeous horror movie. A Kogonada video explains the structural and thematic brilliance, and has a happier ending than the film itself.
Ingrid Thulin at dinner:
Nominated for five oscars including picture, and won best cinematography over The Exorcist. Day for Night won best foreign film, for which this movie wasn’t nominated – strange. Played Cannes out of competition – the only movie I’ve seen from that year’s fest is O Lucky Man!
Great opening titles, the credits created from an array of redacted documents. I took a note when pausing to grab snacks: “no way will the movie live up to these opening titles” – and it didn’t!
but it’s thrilling when G’s laser-breath is finally unleashed:
It doesn’t go the full Cloverfield, but sticks close to the ground, glimpsing giant monster battles from a panicked human perspective, much of the action unreadably dark on my screen. Bomb disposal expert Col. Witwicky must be cursed, he and each of his family members getting right in the path of monster attacks, until he breaks the curse at the end by torching the bad-guy monsters’ eggs before they can overrun the planet. And oh yeah there are evil monsters here, and Godzilla’s the good guy. And Juliette Binoche dies horribly after only 15 minutes, and Bryan Cranston is the star but he dies too, and Sally Hawkins gets three lines, and Ken Watanabe plays the Japanese scientist, and David Strathairn plays the serious military one, but mostly we’re left with Witwicky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, lead rapist of Nocturnal Animals) trying to get home to his Olsen wife before the world ends.
Evil Mantis Monster:
Hidden Mothra reference on a fishtank:
Gareth made this between indie alien thriller Monsters and a Star Wars spinoff. I was planning to double-feature this with the even newer Godzilla movie from the creator of Evangelion, but after two disappointing action flicks in a row (this and Alien: Covenant) I couldn’t risk a third, so rewatched Fury Road instead. Normally I’d say “argh, why did I watch this bland multiplex junk,” not recalling why it ended up on my must-see list, but now thanks to Letterboxd I can look up exactly who recommended it… aha, Ehrlich with 4.5 stars. “One of the most satisfying, well-paced & beautifully directed blockbusters since Jurassic Park… genuinely registers as the first post-human blockbuster.” And MZ Seitz listed it as one of the century’s best. They are high.