Camille is home during WWI waiting for her man, and when he sends a letter telling her to stop writing, she cuts her hair short and sneaks out of town, hoping to blend in with soldiers while tracking him down. She joins an increasingly suspicious troop company – turns out they’re deserters heading to the Belgian border, and they have a habit of pulling out makeshift instruments and singing a continuing song about a blind girl. The men get sick and fall in holes and hide in caves, she helps by killing a lookout guard, she admits her name is Camille but they continue thinking she’s a boy, somehow.

I was right to think this would pair well with A Very Long Engagement. She is Sylvie Testud (in Vengeance, stars in La Captive) and her man, who appears at the end, is Guillaume Depardieu (the same year he was very good in Don’t Touch the Axe). A European Barn Owl can be seen – and heard – towards the end, which gains the movie an automatic half star, but it doesn’t need to kiss up to me with owls, I was already charmed. On letterboxd it looks like nobody loved this, so now I guess I’ve gotta see his other features, which nobody also loved.

This was the end of a successful Cannes Fortnight, in which I watched a bunch of movies I’d never seen by directors who had new work premiering at Cannes: Serge Bozon, the Dardennes, Claire Denis, Hlynur Pálmason, Cristian Mungiu, George Miller, Sergei Loznitsa, Jerzy Skolimowski, and David Cronenberg.

From Sammo Hung to Jeffrey Lau this week. After Eagle Shooting Heroes, Lau made a two-part Journey to the West with Stephen Chow called Chinese Odyssey, and a few years later, this movie has… no relation to that one – probably just a U.S. distrib capitalizing on name recognition. Heroes was produced by Wong Kar-wai, featured cast from Ashes of Time which was being shot at the same time, and jokey references to the Wong film, which ended up releasing later than the would-be parody because Wong spends years in the editing room. These two buddies have not learned their lesson, repeating the same trick here with 2046, which wouldn’t come out for two more years. Besides the Wong refs (also a Days of Being Wild joke, and people being precise numbers of meters apart) it’s got really good music, overall a snappy action-comedy.

Princess Faye Wong escapes the palace, in part by smashing through the gate with her head, pursued by Emperor Chang Chen. Meanwhile, Tony Leung is the most hated man in his small town, obstructing business to his beloved sister’s restaurant (she is Zhao Wei of Three and Red Cliff) while trying to find her a man. Each sibling couple falls for their counterpart, and it looks like things will work out until the Dowager Empress Rebecca Pan (Maggie’s landlady in ITMFL) denies the marriage to Tony, and Princess Faye goes mad. As usual in Chinese movies, everyone mistakes the two lovely women for men, but this goes even further, becomes a genuinely transsexual movie when Tony and the Princess swap roles at the end.

Chang and Zhao being weird:

Tony and Faye in trouble:

The first movie we saw at this year’s great True/False Fest was a pleasant enough way to begin, the fest’s first film from Bhutan, but it sounds like Lovers of the Night was the better monk film. Two siblings play soccer around the family monastery, where their monk father wants older brother Gyembo to attend monk training camp and follow in his footsteps, carrying on the forever-old family tradition. Gyembo is ambivalent about it, and about everything, feints vaguely in the direction of rebellion but will probably end up becoming a monk – we don’t know for sure, since he stops speaking entirely in the second half of the movie.

Gyembo and Tashi, crushing your head:

We first mistook his short-haired younger sister Tashi for a boy. She refuses the color pink, wants to swap clothes with her brother, talks with him about picking up girls, and even the parents say she has the soul of a boy, but when she doesn’t make the team at soccer camp, her future is left even more open-ended than her brother’s.

Dad is a goofball monk, doing traditional dances and blessing people (for money) with colorful phalluses. He tells Gyembo that he wants him to be happy, and his future is his own decision, and he doesn’t have to become a monk, but if he doesn’t, the tradition held by their family for untold generations will come to a crashing end and they’ll lose the monastery and all will be lost, but no pressure, make your own decisions. His repetitive lectures even become a joke within the movie as one scene shows Gyembo falling asleep while his dad rambles on, but the joke doesn’t make his nagging any easier to take. The mountainous scenery and colorful festivities are lovely.

Durango (2016, Matt Sukkar)

We liked the opening short even more than the feature, and they fit very well together. Two Colorado siblings: the younger a long-haired boy we first mistook for a girl (and a great skateboarder) and his older brother restless, threatening to leave town and move to Seattle, their mom crazy and father dead. More spoken venting and fighting and confessions and hopes/dreams than in The Next Guardian, which is content to watch quietly as everyone wrestles silently with their fates. The provocation by Aja Romano was about Harry Potter fandom and the author letting everyone down, which is a nonissue I’d already read too much about.

Immediately reminiscent of early Spike Lee movies in style. Weirdo comedy from Cameroon. I didn’t follow all of the plot threads, but would have followed even less had we not read up on the movie ahead of time. The characters all helpfully introduce themselves to camera at the beginning, but there may be subtitle problems (“Call me GOOD FOR IS DEAD”). Somewhere in this jazzy intro, a young woman called Queen of the Hood apparently expresses a desire to experience life as a man, and so Mama Thecla transforms her into “Myguy” in a scene reminiscent of The Terminator (Myguy appears naked inside a fog-blanketed truck).

Myguy starts dating Saturday, the sheltered daughter of hard-ass local boss Mad Dog. I lost track of a couple other characters, but Mama Thecla had also transformed herself into Panka, a man who can cause other men’s penises to disappear with a handshake. She does this apparently for the hell of it, and it’s treated more as a hilarious prank than a source of terror in the community. After Saturday falls in love with Myguy, he meets Panka again and they transform back into their female selves. No word on where this leaves poor Saturday or the local men’s disappeared genitals. Audio commentary on the DVD would definitely be interesting, but alas, it’s in French.


[Panka] becomes My Guy’s guide and protector to the social and sexual politics of the quarter: a self-made man who reinforces his stature by taking on a second wife, the subtle inculcation of Christianity into daily life, even as the people continue to practice traditional – often conflicting – customs, the marginalized role and maltreatment of women that sharply contrasts with their real roles as family nurturers and community builders (and, as in the case of Mad Dog’s exiled first wife, literally feeds society when she sets up a vending stand near a high traffic street). As in [Spike] Lee’s films, Bekolo uses archetypal characters, informal fourth wall address, jaunty camerawork, and integral incorporation of pop music to illustrate the paradox of social and gender inequity and anachronism of contemporary life in post-colonial Cameroon.

Katy liked that it referenced American culture (Denzel Washington, Michael Jackson’s African influences) and America’s view of Africa (starving children).

Antonio Banderas (first movie of his I’ve watched since Once Upon a Time in Mexico) invents an insect-and-heat-repellent artificial skin, which he’s tested on a beautiful woman who seems to be imprisoned in a room of his house. But the artificial skin is a distraction from the real story – the fact that the girl may be fireproof is sadly not integrated into the plot. Mainly the movie wants to tell us more about Vera, the woman in the room (Elena Anaya of Mesrine), and how she got there, with bonus sub-plots about Dr. Antonio and his family.

Firstly, his housekeeper/chef (Marisa Peredes, star of Flower of My Secret) is secretly his mom, and her misfit son Zeca comes to the house dressed as a tiger, ties up his mom and rapes the girl upstairs before Antonio comes home and shoots him to death, while mom watches on the monitors downstairs. Some of the most intense shots in the movie involve those monitors, Antonio, his mom and Zeca interacting with Vera’s image.

Backstory: Antonio became obsessed with artificial skin after his wife was disfigured in a burning car (crashed by Zeca, with whom she’d been cheating) then threw herself out the window to her death in front of their young daughter, who became a psychological wreck from the experience. Years later Antonio takes his daughter Norma on a rare trip outside her mental hospital to a party, where she’s nearly raped by party-crasher Vicente in the garden. Soon the daughter commits suicide and Antonio kidnaps Vicente, gives him an unwilling sex change and alters his whole body to resemble that of Antonio’s dead wife before her accident.

So, back in the present, it’s no wonder that soon after Antonio starts letting Vera/Vicente leave her room, she starts planning revenge – grabs a gun from his desk and kills Antonio and his mom. Movie ends with a tearful reunion, the beautiful Vera in her family’s shop for the first time in six years telling her mother “I’m Vicente.”

Almodovar will never top the Caetano Veloso interlude in Talk To Her, but he gives us a couple of passionate performances by Concha Buika, just one of the details that lifts this movie above its sordid story.

I meant to rewatch Eyes Without a Face before going to this, but forgot.

Another sci-fi time-travel political-conspiracy comedy from 1970’s Czechoslovakia. How many could there be? Unsurprisingly, this shares its writers (and some actors) with Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself With Tea.

In the future year of 1999, a group of terrorist physicists drop “G-bombs” that make all women grow beards and become infertile. Instead of falling into chaos like the stupid civilization in Children of Men, they do what any reasonable person would do – invent a time machine to travel to 1911 and kill Einstein before he can invent the bomb. A historian tells them Einstein will be at a party where a chandelier will fall and narrowly miss him, so they plot to see that his chair is underneath it when it falls. This from scientists who have guns that can kill, work as jetpacks, tie someone up in toilet paper, nullify gravity and make nifty ‘ptoo ptoo’ sound effects – they’re gonna use a chandelier. One guy meets his own father (aged 10-ish) in the past. There are hijinks (film is sped up, slapstick is achieved) and the kid is killed by mistake.

Back in 1999 they explain what happened and try again – but this time things get stupid complicated because at least one other group (incl. the terrorist physicists) go back in time as well. Lots of people are tied up and some cops are confused. Things happen in the dark that I could not make out. Einstein is shot and our guys return home happy – but the historian has fallen in love with Einstein, so she had him fake his death, and she convinces him to follow his other passion and be a violinist instead of a physicist.

Problem solved – the bomb never existed – but back in 1999, a group of terrorist chemists has caused all the men to become effeminate and afraid of women, so the future of the human race is still at risk! Luckily, our hero who invented the time machine now “invents” the atomic bomb and they blow the evil chemists to bits. Einstein (who would be 120 years old in ’99 – I’m guessing they did their plot calculations from 1970 and only added the year 1999 at the last minute) shows up with the historian to play violin.

It’s hardly a hilarious movie, but entertaining enough – and nice widescreen picture. I’m glad someone is out there taking good care of cult Czech films. 25 years later, the guy who played Einstein would star in Svankmajer’s Faust. Lipsky followed up with a kids movie called Six Bears and a Clown, which actually played on CBS.

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

1600 – Death
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
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
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
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

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

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.

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.

I read about this when researching Ashes of Time and wasn’t sure I believed it existed… but whattaya know, the video store has it on DVD. And in crystal-clear quality with good subtitles, versus my blurry, half-assed copy of Ashes of Time. How’s that for justice? Oh well, Ashes gets a sparking theatrical reissue with a blu-ray disc to follow, so I guess time heals.

If you’d run these two movies back-to-back I wouldn’t have even suspected they’re both based on the same novel. Yeah, I’d be aware that most of the same actors are here, and some character names are the same, and both movies have borderline-incomprehensible plots, but the only person who seems vaguely similar is Jacky Cheung’s beggar king. This was exec-produced by Wong Kar-Wai, with great fight choreography by Sammo Hung, and shot at the same time as Ashes. Of course, this came out a year earlier because of Wong’s legendary slowness. And it was a bigger hit, because of Wong’s legendary artiness.

It’s actually a good movie… I enjoyed it more than Katy was enjoying Smart People in the other room. Some of the jokes are funny, some of the action is awesome, color is bright, editing is controlled and coherent, and it never drags. Everyone seems dubbed, though. It’s stupid as hell, but in a fun way. I’m not gonna try too hard to get the plot details straight, but here’s an actor/character spread to match the one I did for Ashes:

Tony “Tony 1” Leung Chiu Wai held his title as “the saddest of all actors” for three days, before it was revoked. This screen shot should indicate why. Here he’s an unexplained evil dude who chases the princess to obtain the royal seal and usurp the throne. It doesn’t go well… despite his very powerful toad-style kung fu, he’s beaten to hell (in self-defense) by Jacky Cheung and defeated at the palace by the combined forces of the good guys, so he decides he’s a giant duck and happily joins the cave monsters. Tony 1 has probably got the most complicated story and the most screen time, and he does a great job, really, as an evil goofball warrior. His name is Ouyang Feng (Leslie’s role in Ashes).

Veronica Yip is Tony 1’s evil partner. I don’t know where she goes between the first few scenes and the last few.

Brigitte Lin is the princess being chased by those two. Everybody humors her one kung fu attack, which is powerful but lacks any accuracy. She’s poisoned at the end, but that turns out to be nothing. She was engaged to Prince Duan, but that also turns out to be nothing.

Leslie Cheung is Yaoshi, a kung fu master chosen to protect the princess. He has a mark of three sixes on his chest, which for some reason doesn’t make him the devil, but rather Tony 2’s one true love. He is sweet on Suqiu, who is the only girl he’d ever seen until the princess comes along. He’s playing the role Tony 2 did in Ashes.

Joey Wang is Suqiu, Leslie’s sweetheart who fears losing him so follows him and the princess. I think she gets him back in the finale, from the way they’re fighting together. Joey was supposed to be in Ashes of Time, but when she couldn’t do re-shoots, was replaced by Charlie Yeung, another girl with a boy’s name.

Carina Lau is Zhou Botong – she’s actually playing a male monk, not ambiguous like Brigitte in Ashes. When her master is killed by a magical boot discarded by Tony 1, she thinks it’s Leslie’s fault, and follows them parallel to Suqiu to take revenge. Movie ends with her dreaming of her master returning to requite her love – weird.

Tony “Tony 2” Leung Ka Fai is Duan, a lame but extremely powerful guy who speaks English in his first scene. He’s engaged to the princess, but wanting to be immortal, he goes looking for his immortal true love. When he finds Leslie and tricks him into saying “I love you” three times (there is cross-dressing involved, and a floating disembodied head), Tony 2 ascends to heaven, returning in the finale to kick Tony 1’s ass.

Jacky Cheung is Hong Qi the beggar king, cousin of Suqiu who wants desperately to marry her. She won’t marry him so he decides to die instead, tries to get every passing kung-fu master to kill him, but he’s too powerful and ends up hurting them instead. Funny that the only happy guy in Ashes should end up playing a suicidal version of the same character in the comic parody.

Maggie Cheung barely appears in this, just like she barely appears in Ashes and 2046. Maybe it’s an in-joke, or maybe it’s because IMDB lists twelve other 1993 movies she acted in (not including 1994’s Ashes). She is a sorceress who gives the evil duo some malfunctioning equipment (magic flying boots and invincible killer bees) and shows up in the finale to help kick ass.

Director Lau made some Stephen Chow movies and another Wong Kar-Wai parody (Chinese Odyssey 2002), again produced by Wong himself.

Excerpts from DVDTalk’s review:

written by no one apparently (there is no credited screenplay)… Lau and his cast appear to have never met a silly joke they haven’t liked, even resorting to Three Stooges-style eye pokes and rubber gorilla suits… I was never entirely sure who was after what mystical book or royal seal, nor could I always tell who hated whom and why… everyone gets chased by the vengeance seeking, chubby homosexual Zho Botong (2046’s Carina Lau playing a man). Most of the characters change allegiances at least once, several do so while hallucinating… Really, it’s the fights that are the best part of Eagle Shooting Heroes, when the movie can take a break from the headache-inducing script (or lack thereof) and show off a little… Eagle Shooting Heroes was shot by the awesome Peter Pau (Crouching Tiger, The Promise), which only adds to the incredible roster of talent that threw standards to the wind and made this goofball adventure. It makes it all the more of a waste that Wong Kar-Wai didn’t hire a real comedy writer to whip the material into shape. All of his people are ready to totally go for it, just what “it” is seems to confuse them all.

A total trip, better than I’d dared hope it would be. Would’ve been soooo nice to see in theaters, but I’ll settle for the multi-narrated DVD. Even more family-focused than Cowards, it also goes further inside the psyche of the Maddin character than that one did, with his flashbacks and memories and fantasies splayed out on the screen, cutting and fading into whatever “reality” he’s seeing at the time. Black and white, great-looking photography with subliminal flashes of color. Attractive and expressive actors do a great job with the gonzo plot before the editing rips it to pieces. More obsessions on dead fathers, hands (gloves), infidelity, sexual transgression, betrayal, and memory oh the memories!!

Shotput of butter!

Briefly: Adult Guy Maddin returns to his childhood home, an island lighthouse orphanage, by request of his dying mother. As he paints the place he remembers his life there with older sister Sis, forbidding faux-suicidal Mom, mysteriously hard-working Dad, twitchy traumatized friend Neddie, and leader of the orphans Savage Tom. One day teen detective Wendy Hale comes to the island, but after she falls for Sis (and Guy falls for Wendy), she disguises herself as brother Chance Hale, leading to much sexual confusion for poor Guy. With the kids, Wendy finds out the terrible secret, that Dad is stealing brain nectar from the orphans (and from Sis) and selling it. Sis awakens one night and kills Dad with a knife, Guy is adopted off the island, Dad is resurrected then both parents are exiled and, after Wendy leaves, Sis burns herself up like a moth in the lighthouse lamp. Back in the present, Guy is still obsessed with Wendy, tries to get to know his mother better, and there’s almost a semi-happy ending before the melancholy memories take over once more.

Conspirators! Guy in center, Sis on left, The Lightbulb Kid whispering:

New cinematographer (sorry, but you can’t tell), same editor as Cowards Bend The Knee (you can kinda tell), and music that I’d swear was influenced by the 60’s Russian song used in Heart of the World. Features no actors from anything else I’ve ever heard of (well, Guy’s mother was 33rd-billed in Henry Fool).

A rare glimpse of color:

The shorts on the disc are cool, too. It’s My Mother’s Birthday Today is a “biopic” (heh) of the “castrato” who sang with the live show – a few minutes of abstract business, with the vaguely Scott Thompson-looking guy making hard-boiled eggs and singing with a caged bird. Footsteps juxtaposes scenes from the movie with the sound crew in their lab doing foley effects, including some questionable techniques of bare-butt-slapping and horse’s-ass-kissing. Slower-cut than My Mother’s Birthday but even more fun to watch.