The Tenant (1976, Roman Polanski)

Happy SHOCKtober!

It’s hard to tell what I watched in SHOCKtober 2013, since I was running months behind and posting movies out of order, but I think it was six movies, from Mr. Vampire through The Black Cat, plus a Last Ten Minutes full of ridiculous horror sequels. SHOCKtober 2012 consisted of a single movie, The Hole. So 2011 was the last big SHOCKtober, and 2010 even got its own horror top-ten list. Time to bring back the shocks – got a bunch of movies lined up for this month.

Polanski himself plays Trelkovsky, who snags a Paris apartment (with an awfully steep deposit) thanks to the suicide of the former tenant Simone, and is made to feel unwelcome by almost everybody. He visits Simone during her final days in hospital agony and meets her friend Stella (Isabelle Adjani of Possession, also Lucy in Herzog’s Nosferatu). Then Trelkovsky attempts to settle in at home (he works as some kind of clerk, shades of Kafka), but everyone is suspicious of him, even the local police, accusing him of rule violations, and Trelkovsky starts to suspect these hostile neighbors drove Simone to jump from her window.

One man and a wardrobe:

French neighbors scheming against Polish Jew, was starting to look like a persecution story, but then Polanski starts believing the neighbors are trying to turn him into Simone when he wakes up with women’s makeup on his face, and another day he’s lost the same tooth she had lost.

At the end, when he has found shelter at Stella’s place then trashes her apartment because he thinks she’s in on the conspiracy, it becomes clearer than Trelkovsky is just nuts. Inevitably, he jumps from the apartment window in front of an imagined audience of mocking neighbors, but the fall doesn’t kill him, and as the police arrive, he lurches back up the stairs and jumps a second time, ending up in a time-loop as he takes Simone’s place in the hospital bed and sees himself and Stella visiting.

Polanski and Adjani pause to watch Enter The Dragon:

Great cast: Melvyn Douglas (40-some years after The Old Dark House) is Mr. Z the landlord. Jo Van Fleet (Wild River) brings a petition (which Trelkovsky refuses to sign) to evict another neighbor. Jeunet regular Rufus (Amelie‘s dad) comes by looking for Simone. Shelley Winters (A Place in the Sun, Night of the Hunter) plays the angry building concierge. Unfortunately some actors have been euro-dubbed, and even the cinematography by Sven Nykvist (between Black Moon and Autumn Sonata) looked just-decent on my video copy.



Ebert called it an embarrassment, also explains there was an apartment shortage in Paris at the time. I guess people were bound to be disappointed in any follow-up to Chinatown, but Canby called it “the most successful and most consistently authentic Polanski film in years,” dismissing Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby as “more or less tailored to popular tastes.” Critics mention Trelkovsky’s meek and malleable nature and the film’s pessimism, but I’m still not sure what to make of the Egyptian references. And am I misinterpreting the image, or at one point is his nightstand replaced with a two-dimensional copy?

Nominated at Cannes the same yeas as Taxi Driver, The Marquise of O, Kings of the Road and Mr. Klein. Based on the novel by Roland Topor, who cowrote Fantastic Planet and played Renfield in Herzog’s Nosferatu.

All That Jazz (1979, Bob Fosse)

A singing, dancing musical fantasy taking place in the mind of a lead character confined to a hospital bed, who doubles the filmmaker’s own hospital illness/fantasies. But enough about The Singing Detective

Bob Fosse ended up in hospital trying to obsessively re-edit his film Lenny while launching his musical Chicago, and Fosse’s stand-in Roy Scheider (the guy in Jaws whom I disliked less than Richard Dreyfuss) is in a similar fix, plus he’s juggling too many drugs and women, including ex-wife Leland Palmer (that’s the actress’s real name, also of Ken Russell’s Valentino) and dream-girl Jessica Lange. Inspired by 8 1/2, Scheider always surrounded by women in his profession and home life.

Lost the big oscars to Kramer vs. Kramer and Apocalypse Now, but still won a bunch, including editing, which it deserved. Most impressive part of the movie is the dance scenes, which include the camera and editing as part of the dance.

N. Murray:

Joe’s great curse is that he knows everything can be improved with more time and effort — himself included. More than once in the movie, he shows his work to someone who’s exasperated with him for all the time he’s taking and all the money he’s spending, and in each case, they shake their heads, annoyed to have to admit that all his fussing has made the finished product more brilliant. A skeptic might say this is Fosse congratulating himself, but it’s really more of an explanation. It’s impossible to create something as lasting as All That Jazz without doing a lot of personal and collateral damage.

Minority Report (2002, Steven Spielberg)

So, in the straightforward ending, pre-crime dept. head Max Von Sydow murdered precog Samantha Morton’s inconvenient mother and good cop Colin Farrell, while Cruise’s ex-wife springs him from The Attic to bring justice and a happy ending. But an article Katy found says the ending is too idyllic and perhaps Cruise never awoke from The Attic, but actually dreams the last half hour Brazil-style. I love that the movie works either way.

Highlights: creepy doctor Peter Stormare and the following scene with retina-scanning spiders invading his apartment complex, Cruise escaping via auto assembly line, Morton’s freaked-out performance, the still-exciting technology and how most of it is becoming real. Katy is hung up on the mismatched architecture/design styles of all the interiors.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014, James Gunn)

It’s like all the humorous bickering of The Avengers mixed with the action of… The Avengers. So it’s like The Avengers, or maybe Firefly. But funnier, and with more rock songs. Katy and I don’t like the shot-too-close, over-edited action scenes, but otherwise had no complaints.

Heroes: Andy Dwyer, hulky Dave Bautista (Brass Body in Man With The Iron Fists), green Zoe Saldana (Avatar), talking raccoon Bradley Cooper (Midnight Meat Train) and kinda-talking tree Vin Diesel (The Iron Giant). Not heroes: Andy’s mercenary ex-partner Michael Rooker, Zoe’s evil-blue-robot sister Nebula, “the collector” Benicio Del Toro, super baddie Ronan (partnered with Thanos, a main Thor/Avengers baddie) and Ronan’s enforcer Djimon “Digital Monsters” Hounsou.

Supplementary good guys: president Glenn Close and cops John C Reilly and Peter Serafinowicz.

Introduced: something called “infinity stones” which I think power some of the other magic stuff in Avengers-world, and rumored superhuman backstory for Andy.

Kanal (1957, Andrzej Wajda)

If ever asked what’s the most depressing WWII European resistance movie, I’d briefly consider Rossellini’s trilogy before answering Army of Shadows – but now that I’ve seen Kanal, it easily takes the title. But nobody ever asks me these things. Kanal was the first film made about the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, written and adapted for the screen by a participant. It’s Wajda’s darker, more intense follow-up to A Generation, and the centerpiece of his own war trilogy, or at least that’s what critics and marketers belatedly claim.

The Uprising was Polish resistance’s attempt to free Warsaw from Nazi rule, and was a huge failure, in part because they knew the Russian army was just over the river, but the Russians allowed the resistance to get wiped out before entering the city. First half of the movie shows the losing battles, and in the second, they retreat to the sewers, to their slow, dark, confused deaths from sickness and suffocation, injury and poison.

Lt. Zadra has a diminished company of 40 men, including his second-in-command Lt. Wise, messenger girl Halinka, record-keeper Sgt. Bullet, shirtless young Korab (Tadeusz Janczar, who played the charismatic fool hunted down for killing a German in A Generation), and a composer called Michal (Vladek Sheybal, who moved to England and appeared in some Ken Russell films). They already feel defeated at the start, but manage to hold off some weird remote-control mini-tanks before the retreat to the sewers, where the composer starts quoting Dante, making it clear that this will be their hell.

Their guide Daisy claims to know the sewers, ends up with Korab, who was wounded in the mini-tank battle. The men start separating into groups. The composer, plus Wise and Halinka (who’ve been sleeping together before the sewer escape) are in a team until the composer goes mad and starts roaming alone. When they reach a dead end Wise says he has to escape for his wife and child, and Halinka shoots herself. After a long slog looking for a way out, Korab getting sicker, and and Daisy reach an iron grate.

Wise finds an exit straight into the hands of waiting nazis, who are disarming men as they surface and executing them. Meanwhile, Lt. Zadra proceeds, being assured by a spooked Bullet that the rest of his men are behind him. Very tense scene with a grenade trap – the third guy with them is killed disarming it. Finally a safe exit into the ruined Poland, but when Zadra realizes it’s just the two of them, he shoots Bullet and descends into the sewers to find his men.

Learned from the extras: Andrzej Munk, then a documentarian, was going to make the movie but cancelled because the sewers were too dark to film realistically. So Wajda didn’t shoot them realistically, used expressive lighting. To solve another light problem during a surface fight scene, they shot live ammo because blanks weren’t bright enough.

The movie looks wonderful and demands screenshots, but I watched on the big TV and didn’t get any, so here’s Wajda with Jean Cocteau from the extras:

Snowpiercer (2013, Bong Joon-ho)

“I know what people taste like. I know that babies taste best.”

My hopes were too high for Bong’s English-language debut – I found it talky and clunky and obvious. Good ending, though. Revolution within class-stratified humanity-protecting perpetual-motion train is led by Steve “Captain America” Rogers. He’s backed by wise old train architect John Hurt, loyal-to-the-death Jamie Bell, pissed-off mom Octavia Spencer and tech whiz Kang-ho Song. After dealing with company mouthpiece Tilda Swinton through various levels, final confrontation with engineer Ed Harris, who claims to have planned the revolution and wants the Captain to replace him at head of the train. Meanwhile it’s rumored that the frozen Earth has been warming, and might sustain human life again, which will be tested after Song’s daughter Ah-sung Ko (the monster-abducted girl of The Host) is the only one of these people who survives a train crash.

Things: the workers in back are fed “protein blocks” which turn out to be gelatinized cockroach. The two Koreans are addicted to a drug called chrono which doubles as an explosive. Harris claims John Hurt was secretly working with him (for the good of the train/humanity, of course). A cool bit near the end looks like 2001: A Space Odyssey.

M. Sicinski:

Snowpiercer’s mental motor, its driving intelligence, is its obviousness, which allows the film to be misperceived as something silly. .. Bong, however, seems to understand something many others don’t, both about broad entertainment and the state of successful political action. Big action demands broad strokes; nuances emerge later. In fact, this is to a large degree the political subtext of Snowpiercer itself. .. it doesn’t matter who’s running the train. Bong is not telling us anything we don’t already know, but Snowpiercer’s power is precisely in its capacity to boldly visualize this shared awareness: the futility of liberal revolt, the buffoonery of our betters, the hidden human kindling that is always the tiger in our tank. .. Bong shows us that there’s only one track, and so you can’t flip the switch. You can only light the fuse, and embrace the inevitable destruction as the last picture show.

Blue Ruin (2013, Jeremy Saulnier)

Shaggy, homeless Dwight (Macon Blair of a Bubbles-starring horror-comedy called Hellbenders) learns of the release of Wade Cleland, imprisoned for killing Dwight’s parents, so kills that dude with a knife right away then cleans himself up and goes into hiding at his sister’s house (she is Amy Hargreaves, Ed Furlong’s dream girl in Brainscan).

Dwight’s family apparently had a feud with the gun-totin’ Clelands, due to a cheatin’ incident, and Wade had taken the prison time for his now-deceased father, who’d done the killing. By the time Dwight learns all this, he and his sister’s family are under attack, so he gets some help from a gun nut friend (Devin Ratray of Nebraska), kidnaps one Cleland and assaults the others.

Dwight checks on his kidnap victim:

Movie is getting critical credit for portraying the murders and injuries more realistically than usual, paying attention to the difficulty of each task. It’s also a tense, well-made thriller, which has become a rare thing.

Devin gives shootin’ lessons:

Angry Clelands:

Sight & Sound Documentary List 2014

Sight & Sound has a new list of movies I should see.

This is not a full duplication of the Sight & Sound documentary lists.
It is a personal checklist.

Consensus Picks:

Man with a Movie Camera
The Thin Blue Line
Man of Aran
Belovy (Kossakovsky 1994)
Chronicle of a Summer
The Sorrow and the Pity
Darwin’s Nightmare
Nostalgia for the Light
Seasons (Pelechian 1975)
Welfare (Wiseman)
When We Were Kings
West of the Tracks
Listen to Britain
The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On
The Quince Tree Sun
Night Mail
A Diary for Timothy
Moi, un noir
Handsworth Songs (Akomfrah 1986)
Hour of the Furnaces
Waltz with Bashir

Individual Picks:

Santiago (2007)
Informe general sobre unas cuestiones de interés para una proyección pública (1976)
La Rosiere de Pessac (1968)

John Akomfrah
A Sixth Part of the World (1926)
Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti (1977)
For Memory (1986)
Jaguar (1967)

Thom Andersen
In the Land of the Head Hunters (1914)
What Do Those Old Films Mean (1985)

Jennifer Baichwal
Volcano (1976)
Sud (1999)
Our Daily Bread (2005)
Picture of Light (1994)
Examined Life (2008)

Richard Brody
The Children Were Watching (1961)
Strange Victory (1948)

Noel Burch
Hotel des Invalides (1951)
King, Murray (1969)
Artists in the Big Top: Perplexed (1968)

Ian Christie
From the Pole to the Equator (1987)
Of Great Events and Ordinary People (1978)
Our Century (1983)

Mark Cousins
Minamata: The Victims and Their World (1972)
Last of the Unjust (2013)
Siddheshwari Devi (1989)
Letter From My Village (1976)
Sreda (1997)
November Days: Voices and Choices (1990)

Helen Dewitt
The Houses Are Full of Smoke (1987)

Su Friedrich
Basic Training (1971)
The Devil Never Sleeps (1994)

Jean-Michel Frodon
History of Post-war Japan as Told by a Bar Hostess (1970)
I Wish I Knew (2010)
Route One/USA (1990)

Chris Fujiwara
Oriental Elegy (1998)
On the Bowery (1955)
The Shiranui Sea (1975)

Tag Gallagher
Acts of the Apostles (1968)
Cezanne (1989)
Valse brillante de Chopin (1936)
Toscanini (1944)

John Gianvito
Starting Place (1993)
How to Behave (1985)
The Journey (1987)
79 Primaveras (1969)
L’Algerie en Flammes (1958)

Joao Rui Guerra da Mata
Jaime (1973)
Berlin, Symphony of a City (1927)

Barbara Hammer
The Atomic Cafe (1982)
Tongues Untied (1989)

J. Hoberman
In the Street (1947)
Meet Marlon Brando (1965)

Ferroni Brigade
Misery in Borinage (1933)

Patrick Keiller
News From Home (1976)

Gabe Klinger
Seventeenth Parallel (1968)
Renoir, The Boss (1967)

Viktor Kossakovsky
Ten Minutes Older (1978)
Spiritual Voices (1996)
Workingman’s Death (2005)
Look at His Face (1966)
Our Mother is a Hero (1979)

Kevin Lee
Afrique 50 (1950)

Jorgen Leth
First Cousin Once Removed (2012)
Jogo de Cena (2007)

Scott MacDonald
Unsere Afrikareise (1961)
Time Indefinite (1993)
Microcosmos (1996)

Adrian Martin
Journey to the End of Night (1982)
The Video Diary of Ricardo Lopez (2000)

Peter Matthews
Homework (1990)
Dying at Grace (2003)

Adam Nayman
The True Meaning of Pictures (2003)

Ben Rivers
Filmmaker’s Holiday (1974)
Horendi (1972)
Milestones (1975)

Jonathan Rosenbaum
La guerre d’un seul homme (1982)
Workers, Peasants (2001)
RR (2008)

Ben Russell
My Name is Oona (1971)
Crossroads (1976)
What the Water Said, No 1-3 (1997)
The Visitation (2002)
Episode III: Enjoy Poverty (2009)

Michael Sicinski
Louisiana Story (1948)
Disorder (2009)
Images of the World and the Inscription of War (1988)
Granton Trawler (1934)

Amy Taubin
Las Muertas Chiquitas Una historia inacabada de placer y de violencia (2010)
S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (2003)

James Toback
Hotel Terminus (1988)