Katy would not have liked it. An open-road hitchhiking serial killer movie. The trucker (“wheeler”) and the cowboy (“walker”) vie for the same victim. Mean, violent fun. No eye gouging that I can remember, but it has the MOH trademark naked woman (being tortured to death).

Interesting thing about it, really the only thing that sets it apart from your standard trucker serial killer movie is that every single character is either killer or victim. No bystanders here… if we see someone, they’re kill-or-be-killed. A familiar-looking Fairuza Balk stars (ed norton’s excitable gf in American History X) with Michael Moriarty, a Cohen regular.

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The “worst movie of 2006” label affixed to this is one of the most kneejerk backlashes I’ve seen. And people are attacking M. Night for his acting, but I think they meant to say his casting, putting himself in the martyred messiah role. Whatever.

Paul Giamatti is a superintendent with a tragic past who thinks he has no purpose in life. Bryce Dallas Howard (Ivy in The Village) is a fairy come to earth to do… something. Paul has to send her back to her homeland by keeping the evil grass wolf away long enough that the giant eagle can pick her up. To do this, he has to find some key people who live in the building. He gathers them all together, finds out he’s done it wrong, and gathers a different group instead. Meanwhile they throw a building party and a pessimistic film critic gets taken out by the wolf. Jeffrey Wright from Broken Flowers is in there as a crossword puzzler, and the kid from Heroes is his son. And Bryce tells M Night that he’ll write a book that will inspire a great leader to change the world.

Moving story about finding your purpose, about helping others find theirs, about hope for the future. A fairy tale. I loved it, especially towards the end. The eagle pickup shot from inside the pool is terrific. Amazing looking movie, bizarre/cool compositions confused me at first but turns out it was shot by Christopher Doyle so that explains everything. Katy thought it was okay, but lacked in execution in a few places, “some of the dialogue was terrible” and she “totally disagrees” with me for thinking it was awesome.

Katy thought Belle was dumb and the final scene looked crappy/fake and bits were stolen from Cinderella, but even she was impressed by the handheld candelabras.

One of the most beautiful movies ever, of course. Lighting, set design and costumes are completely perfect, acting and story and effects are all great. Probably not much needed to say since I’ve seen this a bunch of times now.

Learned from commentary: actor Jean Marais (Avenant, The Beast, The Prince) was Cocteau’s lover and suggested he make this film. René Clément (Forbidden Games, Purple Noon) co-directed. Beauty Josette Day starred in Cocteau’s Les Parents Terribles, which I barely remember. Given the post-WWII shortages, Cocteau’s illnesses and all the other problems involved in making this, it must be one of the biggest film triumphs in history.

Katy watched with me! Unfortunately we agreed that it was not too great a movie. Jet Li spends far too long being an unlikeable jerk, and only after his behavior leads to the death of his wife and kid does he shape up. Then after spending years in exile farming with a blind girl, Jet comes back to town just in time to defend China’s honor in a symbolic match against four foreign competitors, during which he is poisoned to death. Good sportsmanship beats personal triumph, and China is respected in the world again. This all ends one year before the 1911 Revolution which ended the last imperial dynasty.

Anyway yeah, your standard action movie with the quick cuts and the pretty pictures and the fast fights and the tragic deaths and the not worth watching again.

There’s something to be said for filming everything at weird angles and heightening your entire movie at once and having arrogant cheesehead lead characters… casting yourself as a rich & powerful murderer and casting your wife as your daughter… using flashbacks and narration and tossing in some goofy comedy scenes. The movie kept me guessing, stylistically if not story-wise.

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Stars a bunch of non-stars, like Robert Arden and Paola Mori. Akim Tamiroff, the reluctant old guy in the beat-up apartment in the only non-flashback scenes, was in The Trial, Touch of Evil, some Preston Sturges movies, Ocean’s Eleven and Alphaville.

Arden, with the high-class name of Guy Van Stratten, is the cheesehead who starts chasing after Arkadin’s daughter Raina. Arkadin hires Guy to dig up Arkadin’s own past, then follows, killing people Guy meets with. Arkadin is thwarted at the airport after tying up the last loose end (Akim Tamiroff) then leaps from his private plane when he believes that Guy has told the daughter all that’s happened.

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Liked the movie but it’s not like “let’s have some friends over and watch mr. arkadin”. This was the corinth version… gotta check out the others sometime.

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I’ll probably remember the feeling of Satantango, the length of it, the way it moves and the way it looks, a lot longer than I’ll remember the plot and characters. So here:

The money from the harvest has come in. Mr. Schmidt is planning to run off with Mr. Kraner and their wives instead of splitting fairly eight ways. Futaki, sleeping with Mrs. Schmidt, finds out and wants in. The doctor watches all this from his room getting drunk on fruit brandy. But the news is that Irimias and Petrina, long thought dead, are approaching town.

At the bar, Mr. and Mrs. Halics frolic with the innkeeper and a talkative Kelemen (“Irimias hugged me and the waitresses jumped like grasshoppers and I was plodding and plodding and plodding”) while the Doctor fails to make the long walk in the cold rain to get more brandy, the town prostitutes have no customers, and a young neglected girl kills her cat then herself.

Irimias shows up at the funeral and rebukes everyone, tells them he will help them start a new life with meaning and honor if they give up all their cash. They abandon the town and head for a crumbling manor, but Irimias shows up soon and says the time is not yet right, that they must scatter and live quietly until attitudes shift enough that they can begin this new life. Irimias fiddles around trying to get lots of gunpowder, finally submits some kind of report to the police captain informing on the former townsfolk, whom he clearly detests. The doctor, alone at home after a hospital visit, boards up his windows.

Simply amazing to sit in a dark theater for eight hours, surrounded by this movie. Time expands and contracts, bends and warps, loops back upon itself. The black-and-white cinematography, the scattered diehard audience, the closeness to the screen, the jitters and scratches and cuts in the film, the swing between almost inaudible dialogue and ear-splitting bell-ringing, the middle-of-the-night drive home from Nashville… the most perfectly realized cinema experience I’ve had for years. A true cinephile/cult film. Seeing it at home on video over the course of a few nights was to study the movie, to follows the story and see what the movie might look and sound like… it was a preview. Seeing it in Nashville is to be part of something, to feel like there’s a point to cinema besides my own living-room amusement. The movie gives hope, if not to the dismal and defeated small-town Hungarian people, then at least to me.

Delightful comedy, light and funny. Jimmy is a serious writer stooping to cover a society wedding with photographer Ruth. Katharine is marrying some schlub and Cary is her ex-husband, C.K. Dexter Haven, intent on making everything difficult for everyone. Katharine has important rich parents and a typically movie-precocious younger sister. K. almost falls for Jimmy at the end, but decides to remarry Cary, leaving Jimmy with Ruth and the schlub to wander off alone. Exactly the kind of movie they don’t make anymore (sorry, Intolerable Cruelty). Katy watched with me and was delighted.

George Cukor: My Fair Lady, Adam’s Rib, Bhowani Junction, fired from Gone with the Wind the year before.

Katharine Hepburn: after Bringing Up Baby and Sylvia Scarlett, before Adam’s Rib, Summertime and The African Queen.

Cary Grant: after His Girl Friday, Only Angels Have Wings and The Awful Truth, before Suspicion, Notorious and Arsenic & Old Lace.

James Stewart: after Shop Around The Corner and Mr. Smith, before Wonderful Life, Northside 777 and Rope.

Philadelphia Story: in the IMDB top 200, won two oscars (screenplay and jimmy stewart), nominated for four more, got beaten by Rebecca, John Ford, and Ginger Rogers (also playing a girl from Philadelphia).

Everyone who worked on this movie is dead (Ruth Hussey died last year).

Here’s my email to Jimmy the next day.
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Time vs. The Leopard (or Burt’s Eyebrows: The Movie)

So it completely slipped my mind that I hate Italian movies, and I went to see The Leopard last night.

An IMDB reviewer says “To anyone interested in serious concerns, cinematically expressed with grace and intelligence, I would urge you to see this splendid film.”

Serious concerns? Concerns about what? About being serious? The movie is serious about being serious. It seems serious about the people of Sicily, about its sense of history and its future, and about our lead man Burt and his serious eyebrows and sideburns.

In the past few weeks I’ve watched movies by Bela Tarr, Wong Kar-Wai, and Luis Bunuel, plus The Double Life of Veronique and The Fountain. Been using all of those to think about how the movies present time, how they stretch time and contract time and enhance it and make it stop and start. It’s one of the main things movies do that other art forms don’t. It’s hard to change your sense of time with a play, with a painting.

The clock in White Hall to the left of the movie screen is stopped dead, and I liked to look over at it during The Leopard as if to confirm that the movie was frozen in a moment, that it was not progressing, that it had barely started and it was nowhere near the end. A great movie seems to fly by… I want to start it right up again after it ends, but then I notice the real time on the VCR clock, and remember that in real time, in my real day, two hours have gone by and I can’t play it again and I probably should be cleaning the office or going to bed. The Leopard left me with no such illusions. I felt the full force of all one hundred and eighty minutes… plus more minutes! The movie was even longer than it actually was! I feared that Visconti was filming new scenes while we watched, that the movie was looping itself, that the elderly couple behind me would not live to see the credits!

Nice restored print with very strong color. Good low-light and natural-light photography. The movie is a painting, with a painting’s sense of time. It wants to be looked at, but it does not propel you forward. Maybe people want this, to be slowed down, frozen in time focusing deeply on Burt Lancaster’s eyebrows and sideburns (an obsession of mine while the film was in progress), but I’m not so sure. I heard heavy sighs from the crowd, a few people left, at least one fell asleep, and some started talking and wandering around when one of them got a leg cramp. On my way out I walked past a couple discussing how the final dance sequence seemed way too long.

Was this done on purpose? As Prince Burt Fabrizio Lancaster is aging, thinking back on his life, thinking about the changes in Italy, watching the old power structure of which he is a part slowly decline, are we supposed to feel his sense of the moment stretching to the breaking point? Did the director know that the final dance sequence is way too long? Was he rudely extending the scene to force us into Burt’s mindset, to show us that from Burt’s age and position, this dressy ball is tiring and meaningless?

Sometimes when I notice that a movie is using longer-than-usual shots, I try counting shots to see just how long they are. At one point in The Leopard, I think they were running around five to six seconds on average, but it’s actually hard to count seconds in Leopard-time, which is more agonizingly slow than real time. When watching Werckmeister Harmonies (which I haven’t finished yet), I counted only eleven shots (plus or minus a couple) in the first forty minutes. And those forty minutes fly by! Bela Tarr expresses time in a mysterious and alluring way. Luchino Visconti (and Fellini, and Pasolini, and possibly Rossellini but probably not De Sica or Leone) expresses time in the most leaden way possible. I’m surprised that Visconti ever built up the energy to start filming. I’m sure, though, that he never stopped filming The Leopard, that the studio took what he’d shot so far and edited it into a movie. IMDB says he died 13 years after the movie’s release. There must be 13 years worth of deleted scenes, of sequel, of continuing ballroom dances and palaces in disrepair and golden harvest fields by moonlight, of candlelit interiors and Sicilian cityscapes at dusk, all sitting in a chest in Casa Visconti, waiting to be discovered by anyone bored enough to venture there. The ten thousand minute director’s cut!

Other notable things about the movie: Frenchman Alain Delon (of Le Samourai and L’Eclisse) as young rebel Tancredi… a DeNiro-looking priest who is omnipresent in the first half of the movie and strangely missing from the second half… all the young soldiers look like Cary Elwes… some pretty women (the prettiest of whom starred in Fellini’s 8 1/2 the same year)… and of course the lousy dubbing and sound design and the interruptive, full-of-itself Nino Rota score (Italians don’t seem to think that sound is an important part of a movie).

At the end of the movie, Burt Lancaster is old, he’s tired and he’s crying. And so am I. I drove straight home and trimmed my eyebrows.

Bunuel’s brief return to Franco-era Spain before escaping back to Mexico and then heading to France. Viridiana (Silvia Pinal, Simon of the Desert‘s devil) is about to be a nun, but her superiors say that first she must visit her benefactor, her widower uncle Don Jaime. The trip seems to be going fine so far.

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But Viridiana is a crappy nun and gets tricked into wearing her aunt’s wedding gown, then gets drugged and put to bed. Don Jaime (Fernando Rey of That Obscure Object and Discreet Charm) tells her she was raped and now can’t return to the convent, but then confesses the truth… she flees and he kills himself.

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Viridiana gets to split the estate with her handsome cousin Jorge (Francisco Rabal of L’Eclisse and Nazarin). She leaves the convent and attempts to make a home for a bunch of beggars. But she’s no good at that either… they take over the house and attack her.

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Viridiana finally accepts her fate and sits down with Jorge and the housekeeper in a menage-a-trois-suggestive final scene.

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Very interesting movie. Glad I played with all the DVD extras and read up a little on it. Not much to say about it, myself, except to repeat unimportant trivia I’ve learned (Sylvia and Juan Luis smuggled the film out of the country to Cannes, where it unexpectedly won).