A Summer’s Tale (1996, Eric Rohmer)

Currently my favorite Rohmer movie. I’ve always thought his movies looked nice, but never thought they looked glorious until now, and I’m worried that’s because I watched this one in theaters, which I’ve got little chance of doing with the others. Either way, the color cinematography, its look naturalistic but never at the expense of style and framing, was perfect.

The story doesn’t seem like all that, but the lead boy’s girl problems become increasingly engrossing. Don’t know how this fits with the Moral Tales, since we wait for our hero to make moral (or at least hastily-justified) life decisions, but he can’t seem to manage, finally ditching all three of his women to pursue a music career.

Melvil Poupaud (of Genealogies of a Crime and Mysteries of Lisbon), with black tousled Garrel-hair, is at the beach awaiting his girlfriend Lena. He befriends Margot (Amanda Langlet, title star of Pauline at the Beach), they hang out, go on long walks and once to a dance club where he sees Solene. Margot claims to be in a relationship, boyfriend is away for the summer, but doubts that Melvil’s is gonna last since his girl is a week late, encourages him to date Solene instead. Lena finally shows up, they have a great day then a less-great day, and Melvil has to decide if he’s taking his long-anticipated trip to a nearby island, and if so, with which girl (at this point, he’s invited each of them separately).

Not officially released in the U.S. until this year.
Third of his four seasons films, which I’m now tempted to watch all of.

G. Kenny:

As Gaspard tries to juggle his girls, he fails to perceive that he’s sinking into the quicksand of little white lies. And the more confident he gets, the more insufferable he becomes. Looking at the picture’s mostly sun-drenched and drolly cheerful surface layer, one marvels at Rohmer’s unerring sense of what drama kings and queens young people can be. But not too far below that surface is an ironic parable about how people, regardless of their age, use their romantic lives to construct their self-images.

The Boxtrolls (2014, Laika)

Another delight from Laika. Think we both enjoyed this even more than Coraline. Insect-eating Boxtrolls live beneath the city, taking scraps and bits of shop signage from the above world and transforming them into machinery. Also they have a human boy who thinks he’s a boxtroll until, while fleeing from the town’s obsessive boxtroll exterminator Archibald Snatcher (whose reward for total extermination will be admittance to high-society cheese tastings), he bumps into a macabre little girl who helps him discover that he’s the long-lost son of a missing inventor.

I particularly liked the armatures.

Stop motion inventors with an obsession for cheese obviously brought to mind Wallace & Gromit, so we watched The Wrong Trousers a few nights later.

Hellraiser (1987, Clive Barker)

First time I’ve watched this in HD.

Larry: Andrew Robinson, a regular on Deep Space Nine, formerly a soap opera star, bad guy in Dirty Harry, also in Pumpkinhead 2 and Child’s Play 3

Julia: Clare Higgins, apparently I missed her in season 3 of Downton Abbey

Kirsty: Ashley Laurence returned in three sequels, including Hellseeker which I don’t remember too well, also in a Lovecraft movie called Lurking Fear with Jeffrey Combs

Frank: Sean Chapman was in Barker’s Transmutations, and much later a Charisma Carpenter movie called Psychosis

Besides playing Pinhead, Doug Bradley has been in Pumpkinhead 3 and Proteus, and appeared in Nightbreed with two other cenobites.

Clive always claims to have a bunch of movies in development, but nothing has come out since the burst of originals in 2006-2009: Dread, Book of Blood, Midnight Meat Train and two (not great) Masters of Horror episodes.

The Keep (1983, Michael Mann)

A movie about nazis being killed off by aliens should’ve been more entertaining – besides a really fantastic smoke-monster effect, this was only pretty good. It tries to be very serious and sets up many conflicts (good alien/bad alien, good nazi/bad nazi, nazis/jews, etc.) then doesn’t do anything wonderful with any of these things.

Trevor: “it fell apart for me when none of the story mattered… mystery invincible guy with glowing eyes walks in and defeats the beast, the worst execution of deus ex machina.”

Smoke Monster, de-smoked:

Okay, Nazis led by Jurgen Prochnow (Sutter Cane in In the Mouth of Madness, and I think Kyle’s dad in Dune) occupy a Romanian town and camp in an empty fortress watched over by a priest (Robert Prosky of Christine and Gremlins 2), who calls in his professor friend Ian McKellen with daughter Alberta Watson (Hedwig/Hansel‘s mom) to translate ancient writings after soldiers keep showing up dead. Prochnow isn’t murdering enough villagers, so the more ruthless Gabriel Byrne (three years before Gothic) is sent to take charge, later shoots Prochnow dead. Smoke Monster heals the formerly-crippled Ian McKellen, says he’s a golem-like Jewish avenger who will crush all nazis if Ian frees him. The priest gets all shitty and tells Ian he can burn in hell (admittedly all the nazis might be stressing him out), meanwhile Mystery Invincible Guy (top-billed Scott Glenn, Jodie Foster’s boss in Silence of the Lambs) has sex with Ian’s daughter until she notices he has no reflection. I think Invincible Guy and the nazis and Smoke Monster all kill each other at the end?

Alberta with sex alien:

Ian under Smoke Monster’s spell:

Second movie I’ve watched this Shocktober where the first death is by exploding head. TV veteran Mann’s second feature, which he has since disowned, based on a story by the guy who wrote Pelts. The actors act as big as possible (apparently Ian McKellen has mellowed with age) and the then-trendy Tangerine Dream soundtrack does the nazi-horror atmosphere no favors. But it’s a startlingly different movie, anyway.

The Maze (1953, William Cameron Menzies)

Oh this was awful! The worst, slowest, MST3K-worthy British (“made in Hollywood USA,” the end titles promise, but trust me) “horror” movie, back when horror meant anything out of the ordinary. And yeah the movie turns out to be about a 200-year-old frog who is lord of a castle, and that ain’t a bad concept, but nobody dies except the frog (one old woman is frightened, and a younger woman screams!) and nothing happens for the first 75 minutes except rich British people speak slowly and properly and act put out by things. Oh, and someone is menaced by an even worse rubber bat than the one in Black Sunday.

Also: the maze isn’t even really important.

Giant frog suicide:

Unwelcome houseguests:

Richard Carlson (of The Ghost Breakers and It Came From Outer Space) is to marry Veronica Hurst (a small part in Peeping Tom) but his uncle dies and Carlson disappears to tend to the family castle. Hurst arrives with her insufferable relative Katherine Emery (Isle of the Dead), and they worry for over an hour then invite some friends who worry more, then Hurst gets out of her room and sees the frog and it jumps to its death and the couple who’ve shown no affection for each other can finally get married. The second-to-last feature by Menzies, who made Things to Come in better days, adapted from a novel by Daniel Ullman (writer of a hundred westerns). I was surprised to see that a 3D version exists, since dull people worrying aloud in 3D is no more thrilling than in 2D.

Carlson conspicuously reading his teratology guide:

Narrator Emery begins the movie centered in-frame but her chair slowly sinks. Here she is at her lowest, pleased as punch after the giant frog suicide:

The Devil’s Backbone (2001, Guillermo Del Toro)

Set in a Communist-friendly haunted orphanage towards the end of the Spanish Civil War, but surprisingly, all deaths and horror in the movie come from twisted, selfish young Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega of Abre Los Ojos and Transsiberian) raised at the orphanage and now after its hidden gold, not from ghosts or General Franco’s men. He’s sleeping with one-legged Marisa Peredes (star of The Flower of My Secret) every night (she runs the place with older boyfriend Federico Luppi, the moral vampire in Cronos), stealing keys from her chain to try getting into the safe. When the orphanage is to be abandoned because the war is lost, he loses his shit and blows everything up, killing most of the movie’s characters except young viewer-surrogate Carlos. The ghost of a kid he’d killed the previous year has warned about this (“many of you will die”), but doesn’t try to stop it, only wants to drag Jacinto into the murky depths.

Guillermo’s movie between Mimic and Blade 2, a solid haunted orphanage movie but not as great as I’d heard it would be. Some nice details which are more rich and mysterious than the ghost: an unexploded bomb in the middle of the courtyard, the titular backbone, the orphanage selling aged embalming fluid in town as liquor, gold stored in a hollow leg.

M. Kermode:

It is a film about repression that celebrates, albeit in heartbreaking fashion, the irrepressibility of the innocent human spirit. This duality also underpins Pan’s Labyrinth, a fable about a young girl’s exploration of an underworld. Both films balance political tensions with a feud between fantasy and reality, between the way the world seems and the way it is. And both counterpose the recurrent fairy-tale motif of choice against the specter of fascism — the ultimate lack of choice.

Fall of the House of Usher (1928, Jean Epstein)

Everyone in a Poe adaptation is weak, white and willowy, and it’s expected that at least one of them will die of consumptive illness, as did Poe’s own wife, as we learned in the D.W. Griffith bio-pic. Here it’s Usher’s wife (played by Marguerite “wife of Abel” Gance), but not for a while. First, portrait-painting-obsessed Usher (Jean Debucourt, decades later the jeweler in Madame de…) has his “dear and only friend” over for the season, then mostly tends to his paintings (which move and blink) while his wife dies (shades of Dorian Gray).

I love how this silent film portrays music. Everything starts moving in slow-motion until Usher plays his guitar, then his playing is illustrated with quick cutaways to nature shots. Overall lots of camera movement for 1928, with crazy angles and ghostly superimpositions – a slow and moody film. Excellent looking except for the fake castle (in wide shots) and owl.

This is the third House of Usher movie on the blog after the Watson & Webber and the Ken Russell, but the first to tell the Poe story in a way I can follow. IMDB says assistant director Luis Bunuel quit over liberties taken with the adaptation. In the Poe story Madeline is his twin sister instead of his wife, but otherwise doesn’t seem too dissimilar. Epstein made this the year before his amazing Finis Terrae.

Ed Gonzalez in Slant:

The film’s tour-de-force is a hulking funeral procession of overlapping visual textures and animal-like camera movement, a startling vision of metaphysical passage and metamorphosis. With the castle’s dripping candles in ominous tow, the men proceed through land and water toward the netherworld of Usher’s catacombs, with Madeleine’s veil weighing them down like an arm digging into the ground; all the while, an owl keeps ominous watch and two toads get their groove on. Madeleine will not go gently into this sinister night, nor will Usher let her, insisting that her coffin remain unnailed, which, in effect, precipitates a supernatural spill between worlds.

Kiss of the Damned (2012, Xan Cassavetes)

“He used to think he was John Luke Truffaut”

My second super-stylish vampire love-affair flick this year after Only Lovers Left Alive. Also my second Cassavetes movie this Shocktober (see also: Rosemary’s Baby). Xan, daughter of John & Gena, appeared in Husbands at age 4. Sleek, sexy movie with great rumbly music, surprisingly shot by the DP of Momma’s Man.

This is more the standard vampire love-affair setup than the Jarmusch movie, though they both have a destructive sister character who shows up halfway through the story. Juna (Josephine de la Baume of Listen Up Philip) meets Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia, Stallone’s son in Rocky Balboa) at the video store and tries to warn him that she’s a vampire, but he’s into that, so she turns him and they move in together. She teaches him to hunt deer, but her sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida, Fat Girl‘s older sister) starts killing every person living nearby (including, presumably, Paolo’s literary agent Michael Rapaport), bringing outside attention that concerns head vamp Xenia (Anna Mouglalis of Merci pour le Chocolat and Garrel’s Jealousy). Nobody directly stops Mimi, but she stays out too late and the housekeeper decides not to drag her inside before the sun comes out.

I love their widescreen house:

Alloy Orchestra double-feature

I never got to see Alloy Orchestra very often in Atlanta, but apparently both Lincoln and Omaha are on their regular tour schedule. They played different movies (with very different scores) in each city, so I made us watch both. Roger Miller seems very approachable at the merch table, but I have all his records and am therefore afraid of him.

Son of the Sheik (1926, George Fitzmaurice)

Sequel to Valentino’s The Sheik from five years earlier, so the flashbacks to his father as a young man are scenes from that film. Son walks in his doppelganger-father’s footsteps by kidnapping and raping the woman he loves, the same way Sheik met his wife. Son’s girl (Vilma Bánky, also in Valentino’s The Eagle) dances for a nomadic group of entertainers/bandits who are trying to extort and/or murder the Son. Much unconvincing swordplay ensues!

Man with the Movie Camera (1929, Dziga Vertov)

Timely screening, less than two months after Sight & Sound declared this the best documentary of all time. It certainly has one of my favorite silent-movie scores, all driving percussion to fit the unrelenting pace of the film, and we sat right in front of the band for an awesome sensory experience (also because we arrived too late to get seats further away).

Always surprised that this “day in the life of a city” movie opens with the city waking up but ends abruptly without showing it go back to sleep. Probably a “sun never sets on Russia” sort of thing. I realized while looking up Vertov that he invented cinema-verite (his newsreel series Kino-Pravda translates as film-truth), took his moving camera into the streets to film everyday people, and made a film that contains its own behind-the-scenes elements – all forty years before Chronicle of a Summer did these same things.