Elisabeth Moss plays Becky, a wreck of an alt-rock star in five real-time extended scenes. First, she and bassist Agyness Deyn and drummer Gayle Rankin encore the final show of their tour with “Another Girl Another Planet” – a live show with suspiciously antiseptic studio sound. I did not expect them to go straight backstage into a voodoo ceremony with suddenly oppressive sound design, all rumbling and scratching, nor for Matthew Crawley to show up as Becky’s baby-daddy. Can’t say I recognized Amber Heard (The Ward) as a pop star who offers them some opening dates, nor Eric Stoltz (The Fly II) as their manager. Anyway, the point of this segment is that Becky is an utter mess, dangerous to herself and everyone around her.

They’ve been unproductive for months in a studio (engineered by Notes on an Appearance star Keith Poulson) when a young band intrudes on their turf (Valerian star Cara Delevingne, Xan from Kimmy Schmidt, Ashley Benson of Spring Breakers). Becky wants the new kids to play their song, and again, the music in this movie sounds too perfect, then the doomed grinding soundscape returns. I didn’t quite buy the performances and the mayhem in first part, but by second part it’s real, and I’m reminded that the opening paragraph of the Rachel Handler interview that got me to watch this movie called it “excruciating.”

In the middle part, omg they are opening for the kids… well, they’re not, since Becky destroys everything and has a big public meltdown before they can play a set, focusing rage on her mom Virginia Madsen (whose fortieth birthday was 9/11/01)

Recovery alone in a Last Days-reminiscent house, visited by her ex and their kid with Agyness. Becky still seems a bit crazy, but in a gentle way, and she’s off the drugs and drinking tea, so that’s something. She plays a Bryan Adams song for her daughter, then a good new song for Agyness, which I guess was written by Alicia Bognanno of Nashville band Bully.

Of course, the comeback show. It’s just a label celebration, probably an industry event at the same medium-sized club as section 3, co-performing with the kids and the pop star, and it goes off without a hitch despite everyone getting nervous when Becky makes a comment about “the very end” then goes missing for a spell.

“Exasperating” is another word for this movie – I mostly liked it, but the Vulture interview is better. Yes, Perry has made some cool movies, and the cinematography is by Sean Price Williams (Good Time) and editing by Robert Greene (Bisbee ’17) and they are superheroes, but mostly I want to hang out with the sound designer and whoever made the fake CD artwork over the closing credits.

Catherine (Elisabeth Moss of Top of the Lake and Listen Up Philip) and Virginia (Katherine Waterston, the troubled ex in Inherent Vice) spend a week at Virginia’s lake house to bond while Cath is recovering from a breakup. They’re shitty friends though, and the presence of neighbor Rich (Patrick Fugit, main rock groupie kid in Almost Famous) makes Cath crazy – although she doesn’t seem to need much outside help to go crazy. The movie flashes back to the previous summer when they were joined by Cath’s ex James (Kentucker Audley of Christmas Again).

Great atmosphere, shot by Perry’s usual DP Sean Price Williams and edited by Robert “Actress” Greene, and the actors are fun to watch even if their characters are unbearable. More enjoyable on a moment-to-moment basis than Listen Up Philip, I suppose, without the sharp power of that one’s ending. Cameo by Kate Lyn Sheil towards the end.

M. D’Angelo called it Random Creepy Affectation: The Movie.

J. Cronk in Cinema Scope:

At once a character study in the guise of a psychosexual thriller and a parable of friendship filtered through a prism of horror tropes, the film is, perhaps more significantly, a harrowing depiction of depression and the debilitating effects of hereditary paralysis. … Like a lot of Perry’s characters, these women are almost comically mean-spirited as they verbally disarm the opposing party with exceptional eloquence. “One of the worst tendencies of human nature is to assume the best of one another,” Virginia matter-of-factly states in the film’s centrepiece sequence, an unbroken six-minute shot which subtly interrogates each woman as they painfully detail instances of past romance and betrayal, effectively encapsulating Perry’s entire worldview in one bravura gesture.

“I hope this will be good for us… but especially for me.”

Watched during Sundance Week! During Sundance 2015, I managed to watch three movies from Sundance 2014. There are lots of movies from last year that I mean to catch up with, and this seems as good a scheme as any.

Seems like a hard movie to enjoy, a non-comedy with a total asshole lead character (played by Jason Schwartzman, a puppy dog with a severe hairstyle). But the movie only occasionally seems to sympathize with him, and it takes sidetracks into the lives of the people he knows: his long-time girlfriend Ashley (Elisabeth Moss, star of Top of the Lake and Mad Men), his novelist mentor Ike (Jonathan Pryce), and that novelist’s daughter Melanie (new Marvel superhero Krysten Ritter). After the finale, which is particularly harsh towards Philip, allaying my fears that the movie expected me to care about a terrible person’s sense of well-being, I decided maybe Perry set out to make a movie centered on the selfish prick who shows up in minor roles in other movies, usually to make the sympathetic lead characters look good in comparison or to motivate some kind of action on their part. Philip and Ike become friends but can’t seem to motivate each other, because they’re both the selfish prick.

“I want you to contextualize my sadness.”

I didn’t much enjoy Perry’s The Color Wheel, and don’t care for his handheld camera work (although it seemed better here, in color), but can’t ignore a critical mass of critical acclaim – don’t want to sleep on a masterpiece. This wasn’t, but it’s got good acting and some hilarious/horrible moments, like Philip’s response to a student asking for a recommendation: “Here’s a piece of paper with some staples in it. Wish I could be of more help.” Casting Jason Schwartzman and making a movie about white middle-class sadsacks and father issues, decorated with 1970’s book jackets and omniscient narration, Perry might want to hang with Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson.

Josephine de la Baume, lead vampire of Kiss of the Damned, plays Philip’s fellow English teacher, who poisons the department against him. The Color Wheel’s Kate Lyn Sheil played one of Philip’s exes, and Eric Bogosian (Joe McCarthy stand-in of Witch Hunt) narrated. Edited by Robert Greene, who made a splash last year with his own Actress.

“Tonite only”, that’d be Friday the 13th, Sept. 2013.

My favorite prickly response to the movie comes from M. D’Angelo, who finds the narrator’s grammatical errors and misuse of words “entirely typical of [Perry’s] approach to filmmaking in general. Everything here feels like the work of someone inexpertly trying to synthesize challenging elements of books he’s read and movies he’s seen… which is what ambitious young artists do, to be sure, but they’re generally not celebrated this fervently until after they exit the blatant juvenilia phase.”

A.R.P. on not making “calling card films” to get hired in Hollywood:

There is an ineffable “do not hire” quality to Listen Up Philip, apparently, that shows experienced manufacturers of entertainment that whomever made this film is most likely hard to work with.

JR (Carmen Altman, whose twitter reveals that she’s a stand-up comedian, and that yes she’s the daughter of Robert Altman but not THAT Robert Altman) has just broken up with her professor/boyfriend and enlists her brother (writer/director/star Perry) to help her pick up some stuff from her apartment. I think they go from Pennsylvania to Boston – something like that – annoying the hell out of each other the whole way, berating each other’s lives and careers (he writes copy for focus group presentations, she is an aspiring news anchor). He has a Michael Cera voice with a relentless rapid-fire delivery, eventually gets in a minor fight with her Henry Chunklet-looking ex and helps carry her two measly cardboard boxes away. Then they have sex in their hotel room.

Shot in grainy black-and-white with no particular style besides “cheap indie”. Katy seemed to find it exasperating, says she saw the incest bit coming since the beginning. The dialogue is mostly funny, but otherwise I’m not sure why this is getting much attention – maybe funny dialogue is enough.

M. Sicinski

We soon begin to recognize the real pain these two are carrying around. Their pathologies, the film argues, are unique; those all around them are crushingly typical. By the end of The Color Wheel, J.R. and Colin are somewhere well beyond the reach of cultural or cinematic domestication, as is the film itself.

but later:

Alex’s films are designed to be hard to like. They are about people and scenarios and environments that are deeply offputting, about humor-in-inverted-commas that makes you feel a bit unclean. Part of what I find deeply intriguing about The Color Wheel is that for so much of the first half of the film, I want to get away from it.

Perry had author Philip Roth in mind.

People say you can’t make an honest film from one of Roth’s novels because it would be nothing but people talking, characters who only live inside their own heads, followed by unforgivable and reprehensible sex. Which is basically exactly what The Color Wheel turned out to be. … I think cynicism is sorely lacking from independent films. There is an edge that is missing, which confuses me because most of us are making films with no stakes. You can get away with anything when you raise your own budget as a passion project so I’m not sure why people seem unwilling to push things in a more aggressive direction.