I. The Battles begins with Jeanne having had her angel visitations already, trying to convince local government to take her to the king, and halfway through the film gets to the battles she led against the English. II. The Prisons is half battles (which is good; we didn’t get enough battles in part 1) and half British prisons (with hardly any of the trial/execution scenes that Dreyer would focus on). All set 1429-1431, except for an odd intro in 1455, with Jeanne’s aged mother, a nun, telling of her daughter’s unjust execution.

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It’s a Rivette film, all right. Long shots with medium natural lighting, deliberate camera movement, same typeface as always on the titles, brief blackouts between scenes, same list of collatorators in the credits. Quite a follow-up to La Belle noiseuse… I’ll bet nobody saw this coming. It works very well to Rivette’s strengths, though, and stays focused on Jeanne and her quest without gimmicks and without getting caught up in the scale of the story and the hundreds of side characters.

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Sandrine Bonnaire, a decade after Vagabond and a year before The Ceremony. I didn’t recognize anyone else besides a cameo by Edith Scob. IMDB says Jean de Metz, the guy who leads her to the king’s court, was in Hurlevent, King Charles (André Marcon) is appearing in Rivette’s new film, and Quentin from Out 1 played Pierre Baillot (who was that?).

with Edith Scob:
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Joan is charismatic and persuasive, but acts realistic. Her supernatural visions aren’t shown – we know Rivette isn’t above showing supernatural visions, but here he has Jeanne speak of them regularly without portraying them as a reality to the audience.

Unfortunately, this four-hour film has another two hours which I can’t see at the moment. Looks like Artificial Eye has released it on DVD. You know, my birthday is coming up…

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J. Rosenbaum:

…this is a materialist version of a story that offers no miracles, though it does offer a pertinent attentiveness to gender issues (such as the nervousness and sexual braggadocio of the soldiers who sleep beside Joan) and a Joan who’s girlish as well as devout, capable of giggling as well as experiencing pain; when she wins over the dauphin the scene is pointedly kept offscreen, and when she’s interrogated by priests about her faith she could almost be a graduate student defending a dissertation.

with the king/dauphin:
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C. Fujiwara:

As Rivette and Bonnaire present her, Joan suggests a novice movie director protected by a seasoned crew that humors her as much as obeys her. (Army life in this film is more sitting around than fighting; in this respect it’s like a film shoot.) She doesn’t do miracles; she just uses common sense and takes the initiative.

Opening titles: we hear a nice Tom Waits song (the soundtrack is great overall) and see “JVC PRESENTS.” Didn’t JVC used to make blank tapes? The kind that weren’t even as good as Maxell?

Five segments in five cities. Has cute parts, and I guess it’s part of the greater Jarmusch body of work or whatever, but also kinda feels like something that could’ve safely stayed in 1991 (or maybe ’93; it was ahead of its time). What’s funny is that it doesn’t seem like the kind of movie that should get easily dated (except through the usual – fashions, cars, mobile phones – only period pieces are immune to those) but it has this early 90’s aura about it, like Smoke or a Hal Hartley movie, which I don’t see in Dead Man or Down By Law or Mystery Train. Maybe it’s just Winona Ryder. Anyway this remains my least favorite Jarmusch picture, though I did enjoy it overall. If you could break it up Coffee & Cigarettes-style, it’d be nice to lead from New York straight into Helsinki, and maybe add Rome every third or fourth viewing.

LA: Winona Ryder is a midget phonebook-sitting wannabe-mechanic driving fancypants cellphone-calling casting agent Gena Rowlands home from the airport. Gena’s client is looking for a tough young girl, an unknown, so predictably she propositions Winona, who turns Gena down. Jim says it’s the first movie Gena agreed to do after John Cassavetes died. I never made it past this segment when I first tried to watch Night On Earth a decade ago… pixie Winona is too hard to take as a street tough.

NY: East German Armin Mueller-Stahl (same year he did Soderbergh’s Kafka) is new to New York and cab driving, so passenger Giancarlo Esposito takes over, picking up sister-in-law Rosie Perez for a miniature Do The Right Thing reunion, wide-eyed Armin taking it all in.

Paris: Isaach De Bankolé (stolen from Claire Denis) kicks out some diplomats, picks up a blind girl (Beatrice Dalle, star of Time of the Wolf, also a Claire Denis regular) and asks her a bunch of dunderheaded questions.

Rome: Roberto Benigni picks up a priest, drives like a madman (but there’s no traffic so it’s cool) visits a couple transvestites, and tells horribly perverted stories until the priest dies after dropping his meds on the floor and Roberto quietly unloads him on a park bench.

Helsinki: Cabbie picks up three guys from a hard night on the town. Of course all four of them have been in Kaurismaki films (one of the passengers played Polonius in Hamlet Goes Business. They tell their drunk friend’s hard luck story and the cabbie replies with his own hard luck story. Way to end your movie on a dead baby tale there, Jim.

Nice color cinematography by Frederick Elmes (a Lynch regular who later shot Broken Flowers) – not seen here cuz it was a rental and I forgot to get screen shots.

July is “Movies I Rented & Copied But Never Watched” Month. I figure there are about 75 of those, and tragically only 31 days in the month.

Dan Hedaya + prosthetic arm:
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Rented this for our Florida trip. Made it halfway through with Katy but she didn’t seem interested in the second half. I gotta agree that for a cult comedy it’s awfully slow and talky, and the second half is slower if anything, but I still think it’s great. A crazy movie. There are big, loud, blues-song music-video segments, a slow two-minute pull-away shot of Tom leaving the doctor’s office and petting a dog, a puppet of a hammerhead shark, and Meg Ryan in three roles, two of which are impersonations. I’d at least admire the movie for all that even if I didn’t find it hilarious and wonderful.

In Ossie Davis’s follow-up to Do The Right Thing, the movie that took on Driving Miss Daisy’s view of race in America, he plays chauffeur to a white man.

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Abe Vigoda plays the village leader like the Three Stooges in tribal makeup:

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The great Robert Stack (House of Bamboo, Written on the Wind) is the doctor who gives Tom his fatal “brain cloud” diagnosis:

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The great Lloyd Bridges is the rich man who pulls the strings, including Stack’s:

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Meg Ryan is kinda awful as Hanks’ coworker at the rectal probe and artificial testicles factory with a Little Shop of Horrors New York accent, and worse as Lloyd Bridges’ daughter, doing an over-the-top Katharine Hepburn impression, but she’s kinda good as that girl’s un-accented half-sister who captains the boat to the island.

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“Men don’t have to tell women everything.”

I love Jet Li but I think he’s been in about two good movies since the mid-90’s, so thought it was time to rent some of his early good stuff. Thought this was just okay though – an action flick given importance by tying in some historical drama. From the director of King of Beggars, Royal Tramp and The Medallion, but not as goofily comedic as those (and fortunately not as drab and dry as Jet Li’s Fearless either). This could still afford to be more fun, but I think it had a political point which I mostly missed.

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Jet is Chen Zhen, disciple of a respected Shanghai fighting school gone to Japan to study. This is the mid-30’s and China is occupied by Japan, so when Jet starts the film by kicking the asses of thirty Japanese dudes who belittled his country, you know what direction the movie is going. Turns out his master was killed at home by a new school of rude Japanese guys so Jet returns home (followed belatedly by his Japanese girlfriend; you see Jet is beyond racism and just wants everyone to get along).

So Jet teams up with the master’s son and new clan leader Ting’en (Siu-hou Chin of Twin Warriors and the Mr. Vampire series) and cool-headed elder guy Uncle Nong (Paul Chun of Peking Opera Blues, played a king in Royal Tramp II). They talk peace and strategy, challenge some guys to some fights, and so on.

Uncle Nong, Ting’en, Jet:
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Hmmmm, I’m thinking… okay, Jet kicks the ass of the guy who killed his master and figures out that the school’s chef poisoned the master to make him lose the match. A Japanese general kills the guy who Jet beat and takes control of the other school. Somehow involved is this guy Fumio Funakoshi (Yasuaki Kurata, also of Fist of Hero, Fist of Vengeance, Fists for Revenge and Fist of Unicorn) who challenges Jet to a blind match, which ends in a draw then Fumio respectfully bugs off. The general is not so graceful about losing, pulls a sword forcing Jet to fight back – with his belt! – and kill the guy.

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There was also some racism business, a thing about a brothel girl who Ting’en hangs out with, a court case, and Jet pulling boxing moves in the middle of his kung-fu fights. At the end, Jet is “executed” by the Japanese, but really he’s secretly shuttled out of town with his girl. Some extremely cheesy parts – if this is better than Fearless, it’s not an awful lot better. Filmmaking seemed pretty standard, with too much editing but some good fight choreography by Yuen Woo-ping, who himself directed a Brigitte Lin movie and a Michelle Yeoh movie the same year. After Black Mask (1996) he’d start bouncing back and forth to Hollywood to help with Matrix sequels and Tarantino flicks.

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Movie is apparently considered one of the greatest martial arts films ever (I preferred Royal Tramp) and contains references to Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury.

Nic Cage goes to jail. Twice.

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Harry Dean is a lovestruck sucker, gets killed by three characters who are far more prominent in the deleted scenes: Quiet Dropshadow (Jerry Horne in Twin Peaks), talky, over-friendly Reggie (black islander Calvin Lockhart, who played “Biggie Smalls” in Sidney Poitier film Let’s Do It Again, which I must see sometime), and creeeepy cane-walkin’ woman Juana Durango (Grace Zabriskie, even creepier in Inland Empire, also Laura Palmer’s mom). Álex de la Iglesia made some sort of a sequel featuring these three characters called Perdita Durango or Dance With The Devil. I guess it’s not really a sequel, but both films are based on novels by Barry Gifford, who also cowrote Lost Highway and Hotel Room.

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Lynch has plenty of contenders for Creepiest Character In Film History – there’s Robert Blake in Lost Highway, Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet… my personal pick is Willem Dafoe in Wild At Heart.

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Crispin Glover also gets a bigger part in the outtakes, including the scene below where he’s almost discovered by our heroes working at a gas station. I can’t remember if the revelation that he impregnated cousin Laura Dern when they were younger was in the movie or not… I’m thinking it’s from the outtakes too.

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“How many stars you think are up there, baby?”
“There’s a couple.”

Action of the movie spans 400 years, with title cards telling us when we are.

1600 – Death
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Young Orlando is favored by Queen Elizabeth I (gay performer/activist Quentin Crisp – I must see his 70’s Hamlet), who orders him to never grow old.

1610 – Love
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Orlando is smitten with a visiting Russian princess (Charlotte Valandrey). They ice skate together, O. pledges his undying love, and when she leaves the country he attempts a romantic rescue but gets his ass kicked.

1650 – Poetry
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Orlando is obsessed with poetry, and decides to sponsor acclaimed poet Nick Greene (Heathcote Williams of Jarman’s The Tempest). O. tries his own hand at poetry, unsuccessfully.

1700 – Politics
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Orlando goes to “the east” as an ambassador, hangs out with the Khan (Lothaire Bluteau of Jesus of Montreal), accidentally gets involved in a war. Filmed in Uzbekistan!

1750 – Society
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Back home, Orlando wakes up one day as a woman. She puts on the most massive gown she can find and goes out to a small party held by Archduke Harry (John Wood of Richard III). She’d met Harry in 1700 (he’s barely aged – the movie does not treat its timeframe very literally) and he is very intrigued… offers to marry her, then curses her when she refuses. Also at the party: high-haired Kathryn Hunter (who played a plot contrivance in the last Harry Potter), Roger Hammond (Demy’s Pied Piper), Peter Eyre and Ned Sherrin.

1850 – Sex
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Orlando runs through a hedge maze straight into 1850, where she meets and falls for Billy Zane. I know, right? Billy Zane!

Birth
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No date in this segment – set in the present. Orlando motorcycles to her publisher’s office, where they tell her they won’t publish the book she’s been writing for 400 years without some changes. She doesn’t take this hard, goes to the park with her daughter (played by Tilda’s daughter). Daughter has a video camera, they see an angel flying over the trees, segue from that totally nuts image into the closing credits.
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Must say I had high hopes and this movie smashed them all Godzilla-like. The movie is a mighty masterpiece, scoffing at my insufficiently-high hopes! It has as much to say about life and how to live it, fleeting relationships and the nature of time as The Benjamin Buttons, but it says them more elegantly (I know I’ve been hard on The Ben Buttons lately – I actually liked it a lot). Plus it must be the most beautiful super-feminist film I’ve seen… I’ll bet college kids love to write theses on it (a google search reveals this to be true).

Potter says the movie is “about the claiming of an essential self, not just in sexual terms. It’s about the immortal soul.”

Music cowritten by Potter, has Fred Frith on guitar, mostly good, peppered with some late-80’s-sounding beats. Same cinematographer who shot Potter’s Yes. Movie was nominated for a buncha awards, incl. oscars, but lost to The Piano, Age of Innocence and Schindler’s List. Won some stuff in Venice and Greece and I feel pretty good about that.

Redux is playing in theaters, so I watched the original first to get all the plot and characters straight. I know that Plot And Characters Do Not Make The Movie, but even with crazy movies like this and Out 1, I like being able to keep all that stuff straight before I can lose myself in the atmosphere of the film. Also, although there are about eight mega-superstar actors in this, I only recognize half of them. My Hong Kong/Chinese moviewatching has fallen sadly behind. A study guide follows.

Leslie Cheung is in all the framing-device scenes, probably the single star of the movie. Easily recognized throughout by the mustache. Moved out to the desert to forget his true love, Maggie Cheung, who got tired of waiting for him and married his brother. Sort of a swordsman matchmaker – hooks up would-be killers with people who need somebody killed. One day will be called Malicious West.
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Seen him in: Farewell My Concubine, The Chinese Feast
Still need to see: A Chinese Ghost Story, A Better Tomorrow

Tony Leung Ka Fai, or “Tony 2” – old friend of Leslie’s, comes around once a year. This time he brings a wine of forgetfulness for Leslie to drink, but ends up drinking it himself. Visited Maggie Cheung once a year, gave her an update on Leslie. A ladies man, I think he’s in love with Carina Lau. Will later be known as Evil East.
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Seen him in: Dumplings
Still need to see: Election, The Lover

Maggie Cheung – object of affection of the above men. She gives the wine to Tony 2 to be given to her ex, Leslie, in hopes that Leslie will forget her. Dies of an illness before most of the movie takes place, but we don’t find that out till the end.
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Seen her in: Irma Vep, In The Mood For Love
Still need to see: Comrades, Centre Stage

Brigitte Lin – crazy woman who comes around as a “man” trying to hire a killer for Tony 2, then comes back as herself trying to hire a killer for her “brother”. She fights and almost kills ex-flame Tony 2 herself at one point, maybe when she first met him, then later becomes obsessed with him. Finally goes off into the desert practicing sword skills on her reflection.
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Seen her in: Chungking Express, Royal Tramp 2
Still need to see: Bride With White Hair, Swordsman 2, Police Story

Tony Leung Chiu Wai (“Tony 1”) – former best friend of Tony 2, is quickly going blind. Needs one last high-paying job so he can afford to go home and see “the peach blossoms” (see below) before his vision fades completely. Hires on to protect a nearby town from bandits, but the bandits take too long to show up, he loses more of his sight, and he dies in the battle when clouds darken the sky. Perfect role for Tony 1, the saddest of all actors.
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Seen him in: 2046, Infernal Affairs
Still need to see: Cyclo, City of Sadness

Carina Lau – beloved of Tony 1, named Peach Blossom. Mostly crouches in flashback looking awesome… has hardly any lines. She fell in love with Tony 2 years ago, which is why Tony 1 is alone and sad.
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Seen her in: 2046 (she’s Lulu/Mimi), Flowers of Shanghai
Still need to see: Curiosity Killed The Cat, Intimates

Charlie Yeung – poor girl who wants to hire a swordsman to avenge her brother’s death at the hands of the militia with some eggs and a mule. Leslie and Tony 1 turn her down, and Tony breaks her eggs.
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Seen her in: Seven Swords, Fallen Angels
Still need to see: Butterfly Lovers

Jacky Cheung – dirty, barefoot, badass swordsman. Leslie hooks him up, gives business and strategy advice. Jacky is well paid for defeating the bandits, and also takes on the militia in exchange for Charlie’s egg (but almost dies). Rides off with his wife (not Charlie) in the end. One day to be known as the Northern Beggar, will fight a doubly-fatal duel with Leslie years later.
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Seen him in: Once Upon a Time in China, As Tears Go By
Still need to see: Bullet in the Head

Movie is an imagined prequel to popular novel “Eagle Shooting Heroes.” All the cast members also appear in film The Eagle Shooting Heroes, a parody dir. by Jeffrey Lau, with supposed participation by Wong and Sammo Hung. Will have to see to believe. Edit: Found it, watched in between Ashes and Redux, reviewed here, still not sure if I quite believe it! Other filmed versions of Eagle Shooting Heroes all seem to be TV series, although Royal Tramp and the Swordsman series are based on other books by the same author.

Screenshots above are from a scrappy foreign DVD (still not half as scrappy as the American disc looked), then a week later I ran out and watched Ashes Redux on lovely new 35mm (minus the topmost and leftmost 5% of the picture – thanks, Landmark). I am not considering these two separate movies, of course. Don’t know why the IMDB has a new page for Redux – they don’t have five different pages for The New World. Besides being able to see what’s going on and properly appreciate the glorious cinematography, Redux straightens out the plot threads at the start and end, the bits about the memory wine, Tony 2, Leslie and Maggie. It also cuts out a whole fight scene, the one that the original drops the viewer into at the beginning without explaining a damned thing. I miss that fight scene – it was awesome, and one of my favorite shots of the video was in it: a black-eyed, wild-haired Tony 2 giving a monstrous, slow-mo, silent scream.

I did understand everything better while watching Redux – but is that because Wong re-edited, or because I’d spent the week before studying the movie? I don’t think of myself as the type who champions straightforward stories over complex mood pieces, but Redux does probably work better. Movie leads up to this grand emotional moment of Maggie crying over her lost Leslie, talking about her failure to spend the best years of her life next to the person she loves most, and if you didn’t couldn’t make sense of the wild first ten minutes of the film, that’s not going to hit very hard. I’m apparently only good at summarizing plot and character, which, as I said three pages ago, isn’t what makes the movie. The desert, the mountains, the spinning birdcage, the haze, eclipses, sudden swordfights, and endless stories of lost love all add up to a pure and excellent film. I’m not saying it’s my favorite – most of Wong’s films are excellent – but it’s up there.

Writes T. Brogan on the film vs. novel:

The original plot actually dealt with two characters nicknamed “Evil East” and “Wicked West”, aged, respected and feared demi-gods in the pugilistic world. Arch rivals, their tussle for power was the backdrop against which Cha’s main protagonists (a pair of lovers from the entire trilogy series) were tested in terms of their wits, loyalty and love for one another. In Wong’s film, however, the hands of time have been turned back, and the focus is primarily on the two men, now portrayed in their prime, and seeks to “explain” the beginnings of their bitter feud in a progressive manner.

Wong:

Basically the film is about emotions. It’s a love story about Dongxie [Tony 2], Xidu [Leslie] and a woman, spanning half a life time. Certain emotions are eternal. When I got to the film’s ending I finally realized what Ashes of Time is about, and its relationship with my previous films. They are all about refusal and the fear of refusal. Everyone in Days of Being Wild has been refused. They become afraid of being refused, so they refuse other people before other people have a chance to refuse them. It’s the same in Chungking Express. But I think I have changed, so the film has an open ending. Tony Leung and Faye Wong don’t really know where they stand with each other, but they know they can accept each other. Ashes is most deadly. It sums up the three previous films. How do you go on with your life after you’ve been refused, and you’re afraid of being refused to begin with? So [Brigitte] Lin Chin Hsia becomes schizophrenic, Tony [1] resorts to the most destructive method to solve his problems; Leslie Cheung hides in the desert; Tony [2] drinks himself to amnesia. The only exception is Hong Qi [Jacky]. He doesn’t think being refused is a big deal. He just goes ahead to do what he thinks is the right thing.

IMDB: “What do an elderly topiary gardener, a retired lion tamer, a man fascinated by mole rats, and a cutting-edge robotics designer have in common?” That’s what I set to find out while watching this very fun, good-looking and well-edited movie. Katy got tired an hour in, liked it for the most part but didn’t enjoy my connection-drawing game.

Dave was a lion trainer who traveled with the circus. He seems ambivalent about his career, not talking it up as a great time with his beloved lions or an exhilarating and rewarding experience, mostly going over the reasons for first wanting to be involved (he idolized and eventually worked with Clyde Beatty, animal trainer and entertainer who once co-starred with Mickey Spillane in a weird-sounding mystery called Ring of Fear) and the procedures and dangers involved.

George is an elderly gardener who creates, trims and maintains the topiary sculptures in one estate garden. You get the feeling there used to be one old woman who oversaw the garden, and now there’s nobody, that he’s gardening for himself on someone else’s land. Unlike Dave, who is helping train newcomers, George has nobody following in his footsteps, and dislikes other gardeners’ methods (using electric hedge trimmers, for example).

Raymond studies and “wrangles” insects, and has become a specialist in the naked mole-rat, a mammal that exhibits insect-like behavior. He sets up a museum installation to put their society on display, and talks about their activity and relationships.

Rodney is a robot scientist trying to innovate robotic movement and behavior by putting together bunches of small robots or processes which try to solve common tasks, instead of attempting to control them with one larger intelligent system.

There are plenty of ways to link these four guys and their jobs/interests, not a large hidden theme which is the One True Key to unlocking the film. They all work with non-human life forms, trying to study and control behavior. Some offer insights into human behavior through the lens of their subjects. All but Dave work with arrays of smaller beings (robots/leaves/rats) which work together towards large tasks (or forms). I had more but I’ve forgotten half of them… IMDB commenters mention themes of growth and development, consciousness and death, or the guys as representative of different concepts of god’s existence.

I loved the editing, the music (by Caleb Sampson, who killed himself the following year), the use of stock footage (such as old Clyde Beatty films) instead of the Mr. Death re-enactments, the pacing. The movie’s got heart… these guys are really involved in what they’re doing, care about it, and each is able to express himself and his subject in an engaging, philosophic way. It’s not the connections and differences between these guys which are interesting in themselves, it’s the way Morris encourages the viewer to discover them. Wonderful.

Happy 10th anniversary to the funniest comedy of the 90’s!

In honor of this anniversary, I intended to post pictures of Jeff Bridges’ smiling eyes, but the DVD crashes my VLC player on both computers, so I will abandon this post before I am tempted to start quoting lines.