Ethan Hawke appears in none of these movies, rather he was interviewed on Criterion to chat about movies in general and about each of these picks, so I watched every minute of that and then went on a Hawke-approved viewing spree.


The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (1968, Les Blank)

Blank is one of my faves because the photography is grainy but good, the songs and stories play out in full, and he cuts the picture to whatever catches his interest. Hopkins is a versatile player. I see Hawke’s point about watching this to really understand the blues. It kinda worked but I’m still not past the “all the songs sound the same” phase. I’ll get back to those Bear Family comps, maybe.


The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972, John Huston)

That makes two in a row set in Texas. Paul Newman goes to the lawless part of the state, brags about being a bank robber, is robbed and nearly killed… Victoria Principal (TV’s Dallas) brings him a gun, he returns to the bar and kills all the men, then instates himself as sheriff and hires the next group of guys to wander in (five failed outlaws) as marshals.

I love that the story is partly narrated by dead men who passed through. Grizzly Adams (our director) isn’t permitted to die in town so he moves on, leaving his bear behind. The ensuing musical montage to an Andy Williams song is better than the Raindrops Keep Falling scene, because it’s about Newman and Principal playing with a bear. The only threat to Newman’s authority is Bad Bob The Albino (Stacy Keach) who is killed immediately, until attorney Roddy McDowall turns out to have been playing the long game, getting elected mayor and turning the tables on the power structure. After 20 years in exile, Bean returns to round up the gang (and grown daughter Jacqueline Bisset who doesn’t seem to mind having been abandoned for two decades) and stage a fight to the death between the wild west old-timers and modern society’s highly flammable oil-well town. Ethan says that everyone now admits the postscript ending is bad, in which Bean’s actress idol Ava Gardner arrives in town too late and only gets to meet Ned Beatty. Roy Bean was a real guy who often shows up fictionalized on screen – he’s been played by Walter Brennan, Andy Griffith, Tom Skerritt, and returning to the legend with a casting promotion, Ned Beatty.


Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (1976, Robert Altman)

Judge Roy Bean was mostly set in 1890’s, we’re in 1880’s now, with a nightmare font on the opening titles. Sadly, for our second revisionist comedy western we’ve left Texas (set in Wyoming, filmed in Canada) but we’ve still got Paul Newman, now with an aged Dude appearance as a famed cowboy running a wild west show. Major Kevin McCarthy delivers Sitting Bull to the show (interpreter Will Sampson of Cuckoo’s Nest does all the talking) but his role and attitude are mysterious. Meanwhile it’s the usual Altmanny bustle of activity (I’ve missed it), featuring sharpshooter Geraldine Chaplin taking aim at living target John Considine, producer Joel Grey handling a visit by President Cleveland and his new wife (Shelley Duvall!) and I’m afraid I didn’t buy Harvey Keitel, the same year as Taxi Driver, playing a meek flunky. Everyone gets uptight and embarrassed in turn, and in the end, the president refuses to hear Sitting Bull’s requests, and Newman roams his oversized quarters talking to ghosts (predating Secret Honor by eight years). This won (?!) the golden bear in Berlin, against Canoa and Small Change and The Man Who Fell to Earth.

The opener was… Nerenai? That’s what I wrote down, though it’s not listed on the fest schedule… two women with two guitars, mic and drum machine.

You Can’t Stop Spirit (Vashni Korin)
Portrait of the Mardi Gras “Baby Dolls” shot like a Beyoncé video with dialogue loops and callbacks, fun. This came to mind again during the Big Ears festivities.

In Flow of Words (Eliane Esther Bots)
My fave of the bunch, though I remember it the least well now. Widescreen stories of translators who work on genocide trials.

The Last Days of August (Robert Machoian & Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck)
I knew the Killing of Two Lovers guy was going to be in this program, and recognized his style from the first frame… portrait of dying Nebraskan towns.

Our Ark (Deniz Tortum & Kathryn Hamilton)
3D models and simulationism. Our second Deniz collaborative short.

Nuisance Bear (Jack Weisman & Gabriela Osio Vanden)
Katy gave this a thumbs-down. Widescreen gliding camera discovers creatures on the outskirts of Canadian towns: snow rabbit, dogs, foxes, and the bears, who are caged and deported when they dare to involve themselves in the human civilization that has encroached on their territory and now comes out to gape at them as they migrate.

We showed up for the feature Dos Estaciones (Juan Pablo González), a re-enactment about an extremely buttoned-up woman running a failing tequila factory, but we ditched to get food and rest – it’s a lot of movies to watch over a long weekend.

Extremely convoluted and vaguely offensive, with more ideas per minute than anything else I’ve seen this year… which is to say that my high expectations set by Bodied have been met. Set in a high school where all the kids are obsessed with the 90’s. There’s a “gotta fled” reference.

After a false start, Riley is our loser main girl (Shanley Caswell seemed up-and-coming then followed this up with a David DeCoteau movie) who decides to hang herself in the school hallway and ends up fighting off an axe murderer in a princess crown cosplaying the horror sequel all the kids want to see, Cinderhella 2. She and Josh “Hunger Games” Hutcherson try to stay alive long enough to solve the mystery. There’s body swapping and time travel and alien abduction. Dumbfounded from Bodied downloads an illegal workprint of Cinderhella 3 seeking clues from the future. Shout out to Adrian Martin for listing this as one of the century’s greatest films.

Kahn:

Horror was the bait that we were dangling so we could flip all the genres around … One of the conceits of the movie was to put each of the characters in their own genre: one of them is in a sexcapade, one of them is in a horror movie, one of them is in Clueless. And then over the course of the movie they sort of start to peek over into each other’s genres. The only one who can’t see outside of his genre is Sander, who is a version of those Columbine guys. He has no backstory.

Mostly shot in Hungary, haha. I’d been saving this Sweden-set horrorfilm for our own trip to Sweden, but with our flight cancelled and SAS absconding with our ticket money, suppose I’ll just watch it now. Florence Pugh, known for having the most emotionally expressive face in the business, mostly expresses sullen sadness here after her whole family dies then her boyfriend who wanted to break up with her reluctantly lets her join his friends’ trip to visit a psychedelic pagan cult in rural Sweden.

The trip is for Chidi’s research, and I sorta buy his part in the academia subplots, but not Pugh’s boy Christian (get it? Jack Reynor, the cool older brother in Sing Street). Christian doesn’t read as a grad student, and unapologetically tries to steal Chidi’s research topic just by saying so, with no background or theory or actual, uh research, except for questioning the locals after it’s already clear to us that they’ll all be sacrificed in some ritual or another. I waited three whole hours for him to get Kill-Listed after reading somewhere that those two movies have the same ending, but he was burned alive inside Chekhov’s Bear instead, which is nowhere near the same thing.

Reynor, Pugh, Chidi:

Will Poulter (The Little Stranger) is “the shitty friend” according to my notes, but there’s tough competition – all these dudes deserve a good burning. It’s a great looking movie, so I didn’t mind the three hours even if I wouldn’t wanna watch it again. Katy should not watch it at all – between the bad relationships and graphic head injuries, it’s about the least-Katy movie I watched all SHOCKtober. The lengthy version I watched adds more close-ups of smashed heads (good for me, bad for Katy) and 20+ minutes of Chidi going on about his thesis (vice-versa).

Kicking off Cannes Month with last year’s jury prize-winning tale of misfit youth, shot in the People’s Aspect Ratio of 4:3. After finding love in a hopeless place (wal-mart), Sasha Lane dumps two kids onto a woman line-dancing to Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road” (“they ARE yours”), sneaks away from her boyfriend (husband? stepdad?) and joins hottie Jake (Shia LaBeouf, last seen in Nymphomaniac) on the road, selling magazines for group leader Krystal (one-note villainous Riley Keough, of Fury Road).

The characters are all useless, but as far as capturing a certain vibe/mood and creating visual energy with the camerawork, it’s a pretty swell movie, keeping me going for all three (!) hours despite some groanworthy choices (“Dream Baby Dream” when they talk about their dreams – later the new girl in Sasha’s place is named Drema).

Time Out:

There are so many extraordinary moments, beautiful shots and intoxicating rushes of pure teenage adrenalin, that it’s all the more frustrating when … American Honey stops short of being more than a fitfully exciting, occasionally trying and undoubtedly overlong experiment.

M. D’Angelo:

It works best as a rowdy ensemble piece — sort of a co-ed, mobile, present-day version of Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some, examining the frayed bonds created among newly formed adults with few responsibilities and a dynamic torn between loyalty and rivalry.

Nobody wanted to pick between the Rohmer and the Pasolini, so I brought out the dark-horse Disney flick as a sorry compromise. I heard it might actually be great, but it was… okay. Had to get used to the digital animals looking so cartoony in motion, though their speech and mouth movements were the most realistic I’ve seen since Whiskers, The Kitten Who Can Name Fruit. Admittedly this was probably better in theaters in 3D, but we watched in HD on our big screen with the volume up, so I feel like if there’s real magic, we would’ve felt it. Anyway it was fun.

Songs worked better in context of the cartoon, and were pried into this version, making it feel like it’s referencing the original – so not only a remake for new audiences, but one that wants you to have watched the original. Between that and the cartoony animals wanting so badly to be real, it’s a conflicted movie – one of Disney’s “live action” remakes without much live action (the kid was okay).

Usually I don’t notice celebrity voice casting so much, but it’s hard to miss Christopher Walken (King Louie) and Bill Murray (Baloo). Katy recognized Idris Elba (evil tiger), Scarlett Johansson (evil snake), and Ben Kingsley (fatherly panther Bagheera). Apologies to Garry Shandling and Giancarlo Esposito and Lupita Nyong’o, I guess, for blending in and not sounding distractingly like stunt celeb casting.

Ignatiy V.:

Its jungle is a complete simulacrum: Everything from the birds to the leaves is artificial, which means that nothing can ever stand out as unreal. The ironic exception is Sethi’s manic Mowgli, mugging on partial sets against blue screen; in a digital world realized by a dream team of effects studios, the one real thing seems fake.

Never before realized that Baloo is a sloth bear.

Hosoda’s latest, which we watched after catching up with his previous three, was disappointing. There’s lots of incident, but we didn’t always buy the characters or situations, and the idea of a beast world that exists parallel to ours is only sorta-developed. It was maybe hurt by my recent love for Ernest and Celestine, which is also about parallel animal worlds where a grumpy bear takes on a sidekick, but Katy skipped Ernest and didn’t seem to be having this one either.

Boy and Beasts:

Very moody Boy gains a fluffy pet who hides in his clothes and isn’t important, then finds his way to beastville where chimp and pig monks introduce him to a filthy slacker Beast, who is challenging the beloved local Boar for grandmaster title after the disappearing Grandmaster Bunny (my favorite character, by far) retires. The boy is fed raw eggs and Karate Kids his way towards being a warrior by imitating Beast’s every move, then inevitably he returns to humanville where he meets his real dad and a girl tries to get him into school. And I guess the boar has also been fostering a human son (wearing an unconvincing genki hat), who crosses over to threaten the human world, turning himself into a whale after glimpsing a copy of Moby Dick (shades of Ghostbusters). Guess I don’t remember the very end since it was getting late, but one assumes the good guys are rewarded.

Also this happened, whatever it was:

Showdown in humantown:

Sure it’s the cutest-ever story of an orphan mouse who befriends a hermit criminal bear, but it also has major subplots about teeth theft at the behest of a sinister orphanage.

Also there’s a family with a dentist mom who works across the street from her candy seller husband, which is funny and low-key cynical but they don’t seem to deserve the chaos Ernest wreaks upon their businesses.

Beautiful watercolor backgrounds, often fading away at the edges. According to the codirector the writing was influenced by Studio Ghibli (naturally) and Kikujiro (ha!).

I was crazy about it, but something seemed off with the English voices. After just having seen The Little Prince and feeling Jeff Bridges was just perfect as the inventor neighbor, I wasn’t feeling Forest Whitaker as Ernest. The movie is short, so I watched it again in French with original Ernest Lambert Wilson (the American in Not On The Lips), which was perhaps an improvement, perhaps not, but either way a joy to see twice.

The movie that blew up my twitter the most in December, from “bear rape” to “movie pussies”. And it won the golden globe over Carol, Mad Max, Room and Spotlight. But it’s by Iñárritu, who I haven’t trusted since the putrid 21 Grams, and I was ambivalent to his oscar-winning Birdman. So surely the question on everyone’s mind is: did I enjoy The Revenant? Yes!

This one’s not done as a fake single-take – and who told me it was? – but rather shot with a grotesque wide-angle lens by the great Emmanuel Lubezki and edited by Soderbergh’s man Stephen Mirrione. I guess Leo DiCaprio is the gone-native white dude with a half-breed son and the two of them are well-paid to guide and protect a crew of trappers under siege by a group of natives looking for a kidnapped girl, rival French trappers (who kidnapped the girl), snow, bears, and worst of all, their own greedy compatriots. After Leo is half-destroyed by a bear, trapper Tom Hardy murders Leo’s son and abandons Leo to the elements, returning to camp to collect his reward for valiantly trying to help (Tom’s word against nobody’s). But Leo survives a million horrible things, makes it to camp and gets Captain Domhnall Gleeson (having a good year with Ex Machina and Brooklyn) to go after the villainous Hardy.

So yeah, I was convinced by the film, went along with the ride, edge of my seat like a disgusting, frozen, bloodied Panic Room, and didn’t even feel bad about it afterwards. Some folks weren’t as persuaded.

J. Christley:

That The Revenant is egregiously overlong is almost beside the point; audiences will manage their expectations in that regard. What pushes the film, at long last, into the icy river, is its very design, as a monument to slick, mercenary grandeur.

He makes a good point about The Big Sky being a more efficient film, but did The Big Sky have characters named Trapper Hatchet In Back and Dave Stomach Wound?