Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981, George Miller)

Opens by telling us that yes, the first movie took place after the Oil Wars, and now we’re in the post-apocalyptic future wasteland, and I appreciate them clearing that up. I’m still not convinced that Max is all that mad, not even in the fourth movie. Gibson seemed madder in Lethal Weapon. That said, the climactic road race is pretty damned mad.

Max w/ flamethrower:

These details aside, this movie is electrifying, with an expert mix of intensity and absurdity. Setting the pattern for parts 3 and 4, Max is out in the desert minding his own business and looking for fuel when he stumbles into a situation where people are being oppressed by an evil authority. Max doesn’t set out to save them because he’s a noble hero – it’s in his own self-interest. Max doesn’t even make friends with the gyrocopter pilot who leads him to the oil town (Bruce Spence, later a Dark City alien), keeps him chained up until needed.

Gyrocaptain and snake friend:

Max has a cool dog, who comes to a predictably bad end:

Villains: hockey-masked sharpshooter Lord Humungus and his rage-filled biker enforcer Wez (Vernon Wells, villain of Commando and Innerspace), who is excellent. Also really good is the eight-year-old boomerang moppet – but not good enough to justify the proliferation of kids in part three.

Wez – there are no bad shots of this guy:

Some advanced Babe-foreshadowing via pigs, like when Dekker put a message from the Monster Squad in Night of the Creeps. I didn’t realize when watching this that Thunderdome would be absolutely full of pigs.

Virginia Hey, later a blue-skinned alien in Farscape:

Toadie reminds me of Dennis Hopper in Waterworld:

Three by Piotr Dumala

A Gentle Spirit (1985)

Morphy, smeary animation beneath a crosshatched texture overlay. Time is ticking away and people appear still and sad, a slow-motion human drama with insect cameos, until music ramps up to a climactic chase scene. I couldn’t figure out the story, but I think Dumala assumed no viewer would be so uncultured as to be unfamiliar with the source Dostoevsky novel. Will have to watch this again after seeing the Bresson version (Une Femme Douce, “a young woman kills herself, leaving no explanation to her grief-stricken pawnbroker husband”), which sounds like a barrel of laughs. Some very cool effects in this, including a table transforming into a bed.


Walls (1988)

A man is trapped within some walls. Sometimes things (drawers, insects) appear on their featureless surfaces. I guess he goes mad from sensory deprivation, since his senses start freaking out, his eyes and ears transforming. I liked it better than the previous movie.

This would seem to be an inspiration for both Tool’s Prison Sex video and the movie Symbol. Dumala would further explore his interest in insects with Franz Kafka before returning to Dostoevsky for his half-hour opus.


Crime and Punishment (2000)

I don’t think it’s all drawing, looks like there are layers of filmed objects in there, though in standard-def it’s hard to tell. Of course there are insects – buzzing flies in every scene – and I recognize the basic Crime (with an axe, killing the pawnbroker and a witness), but the crime is finished with only seven minutes to go in the film, so there’s little Punishment. The killer sits at home feeling bad for a minute before Dumala goes outside to play with animals in the rain. Perhaps a mute witness to the crime kills himself at the end? There are some cool effects – I liked the liquid glimmer of nervous eyes in extreme close-up – but it’s so static it loses my attention repeatedly over the thirty minutes.

Raptor in the rain, a drop falling from its beak:

Norte, The End of History (2013, Lav Diaz)

“If you’re doing a revolution, you should have the guts to kill a person.”

Theoretically, this kind of thing is right up my alley: four-hour, long-take, wide-shot foreign film-fest fare with an elliptical ending. But I dunno, I feel like it made its point in a few dialogue scenes scattered throughout, and the rest of the movie was either waiting around, or following a relentlessly grim plot to its lack of conclusion.

Crime and Punishment, but Fabian (Sid Lucero of Independencia) is our Raskolnikov who does the crime, and Joaquin is his neighbor who receives the punishment. It’s hard to know if Fabian is tormented by his crime, or if he’s just an asshole – after all, he seems equally tormented in the first hour of the movie before killing the moneylender woman and her daughter as he does at the end. After the homicide, the middle half of the movie follows imprisoned Joaquin, locked up with a bunch of not-bad guys and one violent psychopath named Wakwak, and Joaquin’s family led by Eliza (Angeli Bayani of Ilo Ilo and Lav’s Melancholia).

Prison visit:

I think Eliza’s sister Ading isn’t too bright, so Eliza is caring for her two kids and the sister, barely making ends meet by selling vegetables. We think a turning point has come when washed-up Fabian finally confronts Eliza after four years, guiltily giving her the cash he got from selling his murder-scene loot, then coercing his former law professors to take up her husband’s case. We assume the movie’s heading towards Fabian turning himself in (as did Peter Lorre and Markku Toikka). Instead he takes his war on society to a new level, visiting his family home only to rape his sister and kill his dog. Meanwhile Eliza visits her imprisoned husband for the first time in years then dies in a bus crash on the way home. Then Fabian goes for a boat ride, the end.

Played Cannes UCR with Stranger by the Lake and Bastards and Manuscripts Don’t Burn – semi-comprehensible stories with unpleasant characters were in vogue that year.

Fabian sleeping with his best friend’s girl:

Eliza fails to find sympathy from the doomed moneylender:

B. Nelepo in Cinema Scope:

An angry narrative by any definition, Norte portrays a country accursed, whose curse, by extension, spills over onto its people; around this curse, furthermore, the backstories of two families weave a subplot of marked importance. In order to prove that their family was doomed to fail from the start, Fabian torments his sister at the end of the movie (the girl is also in a cult, which seems to be a common practice among Filipinos: see Century of Birthing). Their parents, as it turns out, had moved to the US, leaving the kids in the care of hired help. Joaquin’s wife blames his subsequent misfortunes on herself for not letting him work abroad. Rejecting those who have left, the country is twice as harsh on those who have stayed, a theme Diaz has developed before, particularly in Butterflies Have No Memories.

M. D’Angelo:

If Fabian and Joaquin are meant to be distinct individuals, the film is “merely” endless and pointless; I very much fear, alas, that Diaz intends them as class representatives, in which case it’s insultingly schematic verging on outright stupid.

V. Rizov:

Diaz is a formidable talent, eliciting flawlessly naturalistic performances and exhibiting casual visual panache. At 250 minutes, Norte is extremely watchable, and there’s the rub: it’s reasonable to expect transcendence at that sustained length, but instead we get a relatively straightforward tract on political abuses, Christian dogma and social inequity in Filipino society.


The Day Before The End (2016, Lav Diaz)

Also watched this short I found online. Not sure that Norte justified its apocalyptic subtitle, and this short is no Last Night either. Nice b/w photography but not too fun – I think I prefer narrative Lav to experimental. People are rehearsing Shakespeare in public, then wading through torrential rain. This has an IMDB entry, and its description is better than the actual movie: “In the year 2050, the Philippines braces for the coming of the fiercest storm ever to hit the country. And as wind and waters start to rage, poets wander the streets.”

yelling Shakespeare in unison:

Happy Together (1997, Wong Kar-Wai)

Responsible Lai Yiu-Fai (Wong fave Tony Leung) and impulsive, promiscuous Ho Po-Wing (Ashes of Time star Leslie Cheung) took a trip to Argentina, ran out of money and got stuck there. Now they’re trying to make money to get home, while the pressure of being together so long has destroyed their relationship. Ho disappears for long periods, returning dramatically without warning, while Lai persistently works menial jobs at a nightclub, a kitchen and a slaughterhouse. Lai meets Chang (young Chen Chang, lately The Razor in The Grandmaster) in the kitchen, but Chang isn’t sticking around Buenos Aires long, is on his way around the world (with ITMFL-like mention of a remote place people go to leave their troubles behind). Lai finally gets the money to leave, can’t find Ho so he returns to Hong Kong, where he can’t find Chang either (only finds his family’s restaurant).

Mostly great, eclectic music choices, including my favorite Caetano Veloso song from Talk To Her. But, well, my love for Frank Zappa is eternal, and I complain that his music isn’t played enough, and I appreciate the connection between him and the Turtles song of the film’s ironic title, but “I Have Been In You” did not fit the wistful mood of the city montage after Chang left.

Lai at the waterfall:

Chang at the end of the world:

A sustained mood piece, where nothing really happens and Christopher Doyle’s brilliant cinematography heighten the emotions of everyday life – just like In The Mood For Love. But ITMFL was about the possibility of an ultimately doomed romance, and this one’s about the lingering feelings after romance has ended. It’s a much more bitter movie, and though I enjoyed seeing it in HD for the first time, it doesn’t seem like one to revisit regularly.

M. D’Angelo:

Happy Together features all of the elements that have consistently impressed me in his other pictures: elegantly moody characters; stunning cinematography (courtesy Christopher Doyle, as ever); a loose-limbed narrative that careens from shot to shot without deliberation; a general air of cinema as possibility. All that’s missing is the powerful romantic yearning that suffused Chungking Express, Fallen Angels … and even parts of Ashes of Time and Days of Being Wild. In its place, to my irritation, is endless squabbling.

Tale of Tales (2015, Matteo Garrone)

Not the best fantasy English-language debut by a Cannes jury prize winning European filmmaker starring John C. Reilly I’ve seen in theaters this week. Hard to believe this was even worse than Reality. No atmosphere or rhythm, just a series of things happening to no apparent purpose. The colors and costumes looked nice, anyway.

I guess there are three nearby kingdoms. King John C. Reilly dies slaying a sea monster to cast a spell so Queen Salma Hayek can have a baby, but her substitute chef also has a baby and they grow up to be albino twins Christian and Jonah Lees, who send messages via water flowing out of a tree root. Second there’s King Vincent Cassel (Black Swan) who loves having sex with ladies and wants all the ladies to have sex with him. He likes the singing voice of Shirley Henderson so her sister Hayley Carmichael semi-competently fools him, then is thrown from his window and turned into young and beautiful Stacy Martin (Young Joe in Nymphomaniac) by a witch in the woods, after which she marries the king. And King Toby Jones is obsessed with his giant pet flea so absentmindedly allows his daughter Bebe Cave to marry a dangerous ogre.

Shot by Peter Suschitzky (Cosmopolis, Lisztomania) and edited by tossing rough-cut scenes in the air and picking them up in any order.

M. D’Angelo:

One tale will be abandoned for so long that its return is like suddenly remembering last night’s dream in the middle of the day. Guy Maddin employed that device masterfully in The Forbidden Room (which premiered at Sundance earlier this year), but he did so by burying dozens of stories inside others, like Russian dolls. Here, Garrone just randomly cuts to someone else every so often, killing the momentum every time.

The CLF in Cinema Scope:

Thanks to very good CGI and a diligent DP, the film looks pleasant if you’re into Middle Ages fetishism, dragons, albino twins, abusive ogres, and that sort of thing. The way Garrone elaborates the source material is pedantic in its refusal to give a moral dimension to the stories (something missing from the original). What is the point of drawing on archetypical forms of storytelling if their transposition fails to meaningfully relate to the present time? Like many films these days, the only good question Tale of Tales raises is: Why was this film made?

Whispering Pages (1993, Aleksandr Sokurov)

My preparatory viewings of various Crime and Punishment adaptations didn’t end up preparing me at all for Whispering Pages, which uses none of the main events from the novel, instead taking minor scenes and mashing them up with other novels, creating a general tone of miserablist 19th century Russian literature without bothering itself with a story.

Extreme Slow Cinema here, but Sokurov keeps it short, under 80 minutes. He seems to love paintings and long takes. Motion shots turn to stills. The color temperature of shots changes. The picture sometimes looks blurred or stretched or warped, but given the stills I’ve seen of Mother and Son, this is probably intentional. Film grain and rolling mist are more main characters than our lead actor A. Cherednik, who speaks with a breathy Peter Lorre voice and seems to have killed someone offscreen.

Overall I wasn’t a fan, but it does have some mesmerising moments. There’s the main dialogue scene with E. Koroleva, in which he tells her that he’s killed someone and they debate him turning himself in and the existence of God, and she reacts like this:

There’s an obscure bureaucracy scene with this weirdo:

And there’s an inexplicable (dream sequence?) where everyone around our hero is leaping in slow-motion into unknown depths. Stills can’t do that shot justice, so instead here is some mist.

Student (2012, Darezhan Omirbayev)

Definitely more in tune with the mopey Kaurismaki Crime and Punishment than the talky, overbaked Sternberg version. In fact, Student out-mopes Kaurismaki, with an unnamed lead character who lives in a constant state of anger and shame, walking head-down and barely speaking a word during the movie.

Get used to this expression – it’s the only one you’ll get:

There’s much explicit talk in the movie (in his philosophy classes, on TV, at his job slating shots on a film production) about wealth disparity and the modern condition. We witness rich guys punishing people and killing animals with impunity, but the Student still murders and robs a local shopkeeper, and in his late confession to a girl he likes, he says he didn’t do it for the money but “to see if I’m capable of real action, or a coward who just talks, like most people.” Differences from the other movies: he doesn’t toss or hide the stolen money, the crime investigation doesn’t enter the film, and he has no contact with the police until the final few minutes when he turns himself in – although he shows up at the scene of the crime and talks with workmen renovating the place, a familiar scene from the other versions.

The poet’s daughter, to whom he eventually confesses:

Online it’s being called Bressonian – I can see that, with the pacing, and some might see the Student as blank-faced, but I saw simmering rage in his expressions. Bresson wouldn’t have injected so many dream sequences – there are at least three, very effectively staged so that you only realize they were dreams moments after he wakes up (so the same time he’s realizing it).

M. Sicinski (who makes a good case for the movie being Bressonian besides just the lead performace):

Omirbayev could hardly be more pointed in his exploration of what these now-classical ur-texts — Dostoyevsky and Bresson — have to tell us about the contemporary situation in Kazakhstan and, arguably, the former Soviet states more generally … the Student is finding himself stranded in a society where unchecked power rules the day, and yet he is expected to stick to his studies, gain knowledge, evaluate ethical quandaries that no one in the urban jungle of Astana even remotely cares about.

B. Nelepo in Cinema Scope has been following Omirbaev’s career, refers to “his trilogy of adaptations of Russian classics after 2007’s Shuga (based on Anna Karenina) and his short film of Chekhov’s About Love for the Jeonju Digital Project in 2006″:

And yet I’m progressively less enthusiastic about each new Omirbayev feature, because he’s caught up in a pattern he invented a long time ago. Student is his most explicitly political film: the director juxtaposes the protagonist’s crime to the assassination of JFK, the final monologue is a lashing-out against the bombings of civilians, and a visit by George W. Bush is broadcast on TV as a reference to Napoleon, who is mentioned in Crime and Punishment. One would hardly expect the author of the stunning Kaïrat (1992) and Cardiogram (1995) to reduce Dostoyevsky to a simple anti-capitalist poster.

Ali (2001, Michael Mann)

Back in theaters… not for the happiest of reasons, but I’ll take it. Electrifying for the first half hour, then gradually settles into a biopic-groove despite all of Mann’s trademark flair. But with energy and performances this good, I wasn’t worried at the time, just floating on the great history and character and love in this movie.

V. Morton:

Best appreciated in a theater, with a real sound system. The sound mix is key to the legendary opening montage, the way Mann brings Sam Cooke forward and backward, providing structure to otherwise-random memory footage that serves as exposition and context, without feeling like it. The sound is also the key to the fight scenes, in which Mann puts on the screen the subjective feel of being in a boxing match in a way rarely-matched.

Unfortunately, sound at the Grand was turned way down, I guess so the retro boxing movie wouldn’t audibly compete with whatever Care Bears nonsense was playing next door. I get better sound from my barely-in-stereo TV at home.

MZ Seitz:

Even when its momentum falters, its visuals never do. Lubezki, the wizard who went storybook-painterly for Tim Burton’s gruesomely entertaining Sleepy Hollow, shoots nearly the entire film with handheld cameras and gyroscopically stabilized Steadicams, shifting focus spontaneously in each shot as if he’s recording history as it happens. It’s arresting, alive and provocative – a documentary affectation reimagined for Hollywood, and it goes a long way toward making Ali exciting even when it’s not making much sense.

You can tell that one was written in 2001/2002, because not since The New World and Children of Men has anyone equated Lubezki with Sleepy Hollow. This points to another reason that the Ali re-release is less revelatory than I hoped – handheld spontaneity has become de rigueur in Hollywood since its first release (not nearly as purposefully as it’s done here)

B. Ebiri:

So there’s another element to Ali — a ghost in the machine that courses throughout the film. Ali the man desires to be free. But the meaning of that word slowly changes. (“Free ain’t easy,” Bundini says. “Free is real. And real’s a motherfucker.”) Ali seeks freedom not just from the reality of America, but also from everything else with dominion over him. He finds this freedom in the construction of his ever-changing, ever-moving identity. (“Your hands can’t hit what your eyes can’t see.”) In essence, he liberates himself by becoming larger than anything that ever tried to control him — larger than the Nation of Islam, larger than the media, or boxing, or even, ultimately, America itself.

Some Looney Tunes

Still watching the nice HD collection of Looney Tunes


Duck! Rabbit, Duck! (1953, Chuck Jones)

The duck season/rabbit season short in which Daffy gets blown to bits a hundred times and Bugs causes chaos and confusion. Murderous fun. “I hope I didn’t hurt you too much when I killed you.” IMDB calls it the end of a Hunting Trilogy with Rabbit Fire and Rabbit Seasoning.


I Love To Singa (1936, Tex Avery)

“Enough is too much! Out of my house!” Forgot that Owl Jolson’s parents have heavy German accents… also forgot an excellent scene combining telegram lingo with sexual harassment.


A Tale of Two Kitties (1942, Robert Clampett)

Abbot & Costello cats try to steal a pink, featherless, smartass bird from its nest. Very quippy and gaggy, only loosely a story. Explicit Hays Office reference! “Lemme at him Babbit, I’ll moydalize him.” Pre-Tweety premiere of “I tawt I taw a putty tat”?


The Old Grey Hare (1944, Robert Clampett)

God listens to Elmer for some reason, and sends him to the year 2000, which has futuristic weapons and newspapers full of 1940’s references. Then we get a flashback within the flash-forward, so both elderly and baby versions of Elmer & Bugs.


Hare Tonic (1945, Chuck Jones)

In which Bugs convinces Elmer that he’s caught Rabbititis. I thought this was an old-model Elmer, but it’s made a year after the modern-Elmer Old Grey Hare, so what’s going on? The Elmer-torture is prompted not by hunting this time but by Elmer trying to buy fresh rabbit at the meat market, which at least proves that he intends to eat rabbits and isn’t just hunting them for the sport of it.


Fast and Furry-ous (1949, Chuck Jones)

Coyote and Road Runner origin story, setting up the template for many to come – and arguably never surpassed. I like that Road Runner doesn’t just zoom past the traps, but actively fucks with the coyote. I also like that there are complicated cloverleaf interchanges in the middle of the desert. My birds responded to the “meep meep”

My favorite invention, very Silver Surfer:


The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1950, Chuck Jones

Daffy begs his movie producer J.L. to give him a dramatic role for once, which is enacted by an all-star cast: Porky, Sylvester, Elmer, Chicken Hawk. Rated R for snuff usage and suicide.


Chow Hound (1951, Chuck Jones)

Red kitty has a whole string of “owners”, who all feed him, but the food is stolen by a bully dog, who finally overeats his way into the hospital.


Bewitched Bunny (1954, Chuck Jones)

Bugs is reading Hansel and Gretel when he runs into the kids themselves, with ridiculous German accents, and ends up being chased by the witch through her hilariously designed house, and nearly saved by Prince Charming, who got the wrong fairy tale. “Thanks large, mac.” Ends with maybe the rudest punchline ever.