This and The Rapture bookended the 1990s, stories with good endings about Christian zealots who do murders. But we open with Matthew McConaughey telling his story to an unamused cop, predicting True Detective. He’s here to explain that his late brother is the serial killer they’re looking for, that their dad Paxton claimed to have an epiphany and became an avenging angel with an axe called Otis, and Matt’s gullible little brother believed all this. After playing the religious mania-as-mental illness side, the movie flips on you, showing Paxton as righteous and Matthew having set a trap to kill the demonic FBI guy. Good, slippery movie.
Flashback kid Fenton went on to Brick, younger Adam played the lead in a Peter Pan movie, and Agent Powers Boothe (whose acting and behavior is the most 1990s here) was in Tombstone with Paxton. Shot by the DP of The Conversation, Jaws, and Child’s Play.
Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor (2007, Koji Yamamura)
Yamamura made Mt. Head, which I saw a bunch of times when it came out and now don’t remember so well anymore. When a choir starts narrating in song it is clear that this isn’t a great Kafka story adaptation, but the design and animation are very cool. Heads keep deforming, voices keep double-tracking, while hairy loops and bubbly blobs float over the image.
Jefferson Circus Songs (1973, Suzan Pitt)
There is some kind of human stop-motion here, kids (all the actors are kids) dressing in fancy doll clothes and moving like robots or Svankmajer creatures – insane and dreamlike, not always in a good way. No idea what this meant, it’s completely out of the blue – even the credits don’t make sense. Apparently made in Minneapolis, the kids created their own roles, and even the distributor calls it “a string of puzzling little episodes.”
Flo Rounds a Corner (1999, Ken Jacobs)
Extremely Arnoldized clip of a girl in pink rounding a corner, the picture strobing and the frame sometimes splintering into sections that Arnoldize at their own separate pace. Had I known it was going to be silent, I would’ve thrown on “Light’s New Measure” by Black Duck.
Jackals & Fireflies (2023, Charlie Kaufman)
Like a music video for a poet. Eva HD’s work also appeared in I’m Thinking of Ending Things, and she is a fan of David Berman and Nico. Kinda works as “overheard in new york: the movie” – I’ll bet the movie plays better if you enjoy the voiceover poem and its delivery.
Crazy low-light texture, the picture swimming in so much grain that you can’t tell if things in the rooms are moving or not. Perverse framing from angles that rarely show the characters. Doors and windows appear and disappear, leaving blank walls with a humming sound. Mention of the boy having fallen down the stairs while sleepwalking, back now from the hospital, though we don’t see any of this. He takes a break from watching public domain cartoons (The Cobweb Hotel) to visit the master bedroom, where dad is blairwitching and vanishing like the windows, replaced by mom. Most dialogue is whispered, and the jump scares are bad. A distant doom voice orders Kevin to sleep. Scene in a cartoon where a character disappears plays on loop to demonstrate a point before a toy in the room also disappears.
Movie itself isn’t scary, but it productively made me remember actual nightmares I had as a kid… the sense of being in a dark house with strange light where time and space can’t be trusted. It rules that this barely-narrative experimental nightmare was in theaters for a month.
The dread that pulses through the filmâ€™s empty spaces soon gives way to a permeating melancholy, as it becomes clearer just how helpless Kevin and Kaylee are within their own home. Toys and cartoons, at first objects of childish comfort, begin to be manipulated by the malevolent force within the house, reminders of the fear induced by pseudo-parental control. Time in the house becomes deliberately indefinite to create a perpetual night, a horrific extension of Kevin and Kayleeâ€™s daily reality.
First movie of 2023, if anyone is keeping track, and off to a shaky start. This was on the Sight & Sound list, and of course I’ve always been curious about the movie where a boy befriends a hawk. But I also know about animals in movies, and assumed the hawk has to die in the end, which it does. At least, per imdb trivia, it’s the favorite film of both Krzysztof Kieslowski and Karl Pilkington.
British adults are authority-obsessed obstructionists, and Billy is a smart, resourceful kid who gets into kestrels, then steals a chick and raises it. He steals something in every scene, so the adults have reason to be suspicious of him. Billy gets brief fame at school, the others impressed by his pet hawk, until his older brother kills the bird. If the movie is about anything, it’s that institutions fail us and birds are beautiful. I hope England sinks into the sea (but slowly enough for the birds to relocate). The kid kept acting, was in an All Quiet on the Western Front remake with Donald Pleasence and Ian Holm.
Cool opening as everyone in town passes out, and all the women wake up pregnant. But – oh no, it’s British – so we cannot say the word “pregnant,” it wouldn’t be proper. The men are understandably upset since nobody in Britain has had sex in years, but life must go on, all the babies are born heavy with strange eyes, growing fast and blonde, and the grown-ups make the best of it.
Alan (Michael Gwynn, a priest in Scars of Dracula) visits town to see what’s up, checks in with his friends George Sanders (All About Eve narrator, Voyage to Italy husband) and Barbara Shelley (Quatermass and the Pit) and their new alien son David. The kids are psychic, resistant to authority, and tend to make adults who threaten them commit suicide. As an unexpected tie-in to our Hellraiser-themed month, their intelligence is tested using a complex puzzle box. The angry drunks at the bar think mob violence is the solution, but it’s not – it’s sending George Sanders to the schoolhouse with a bomb, trying to guard his thoughts from psychic intrusion until it goes off. In the Defining Movies book, Chris Fujiwara praises the ending, the crumbling wall superimposed over Sanders’ eyes “shows the process of thought – the gradual erosion of the man’s concentration.”
The author’s Day of the Triffids was filmed the year before with Howard Keel, and more recently with Eddie Izzard, while this was remade a few times, the latest coming out just a few months ago (and now I need to check out the John Carpenter version). Rilla is mainly known for this – looks like he made some naughty indies in the 1970’s.
Sanders, matching the curtains:
Both the movie and its lead dude Cooper Hoffman move fast. He gets Alana Haim to be his chaperone on a promotional trip for his acting career, then things escalate, until he’s arrested for murder while selling waterbeds at a teenage fair, and flooding the house of Barbra Streisand’s boyfriend. She directs the ads for aspiring politician Benny Safdie, he opens a successful pinball palace. Haim gets to run a lot. The final scene, I dunno, but hey, why not.
Kid does not have a bike, and lives in a group home but keeps escaping to look for his dad, a sous chef who sold the bike and doesn’t want to be a dad anymore. Enter large-hearted hairdresser (and Haute Tension star) CÃ©cile de France, who takes a liking to the boy (even though he’s a bit of an asshole) and buys his bike back. Gaining a new mother-figure is outweighed by Dad (JÃ©rÃ©mie Renier, naturally) telling him not to come around anymore, so Kid immediately gets mixed up with a gang of criminal youths. He stabs CÃ©cile when she tries to keep him from going out to conk a newsseller with a baseball bat. The newsseller takes revenge, but everyone is alive and intact in the end, and CÃ©cile remains large-hearted despite having to pay back the money her shitty adopted son stole. The Kid would go on to play Jean Renoir’s little brother in a biopic.
Miller has made an interesting movie out of typical prestige drama material by not shooting this in a typically prestige-drama manner. It looks Little Shop sound-stagey, with big cartoon Lost Children close-ups and boss scene transitions.
DC family’s beloved son starts having violent outbursts, they’re told it’s a fatal degenerative brain disease with no treatment, so the dad goes from support groups to library research to medical conferences to hiring labs to make custom experimental drugs, earning his son twenty extra years of life through the resulting treatments. Intro scene in East Africa pays off when they invite L’s protective buddy Omouri to help out towards the end (Nolte balks: “We can not bring an African to this racist country”).
All the nominations went to Sarandon and the writers, but all the awards went to Emma Thompson and The Crying Game. No noms for Nolte, who can’t do much to elevate the movie while saddled with an Italian accent.
Celia’s beloved grandma just died, but she’s got the new neighbors next door to play with, and the eternal hope that she’ll get a pet rabbit. Unfortunately the neighbors are communists, and it’s Australia in the 1950’s during a myxomatosis outbreak (I’ve had the Radiohead song’s bassline in my head all week), so she’s constantly being warned against rabbits and commies.
Rabidly anti-commie dad (Nicholas Eadie of pre-fame Nicole Kidman miniseries Vietnam) chooses sides, and buys her a rabbit if she won’t play with the neighbors anymore, tells her they’re bad people. Cruelty abounds: the other kids hurt her rabbit, dad gets the neighbor fired. Her family’s cop friend John (Bill Zappa of The Road Warrior) straight-up kidnaps the rabbit, and after it dies in quarantine, Celia becomes the Joker. She shoots John to death while seeing visions of storybook monsters (major Heavenly Creatures parallels) and gets away with it, then fortunately doesn’t kill his daughter while staging mock gallows executions.
Not so harmless:
Celia was Rebecca Smart, who debuted in Dusan Makavejev’s The Coca-Cola Kid. Turner later directed Sam Neill and pre-fame Russell Crowe, and remade Teorema starring Sandra Bernhard in the Stamp role(!!)