I’ve been meaning to watch Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth for 6+ years now, so instead of finally doing that, I immediately hopped on his new thing, a period piece with two actors I like getting into hijinks. But I guess you’re not supposed to know about their hijinks – the blurb gives it away, but if you came in cold, one late-movie Anne Hathaway line could’ve been the craziest surprise in any movie all year. Far less surprising (and also given away by the promo materials, this time the poster) is that Thomasin McKenzie will eventually wield the gun she confiscated from her drunk ex-cop dad. The grainy look, winter Massachusetts light and 1960’s sweaters are all fab, as is Thomasin’s excitement by the hot new prison psychologist, who alternately seems too good for her job and very, very bad at her job (the woman Anne kidnaps is Marin Ireland, the missing girl’s mom in The Empty Man). The movie’s also full of ugly sordid details, making sure nobody who watches it will remain unharmed.
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.
Actiony remake of Cure, William Fichtner hypnotizing people into helping with his robberies and kidnappings, sometimes with the traditional lighter and sometimes by just using The Force, with Detective Affleck on his trail. The plot gets more twisty and insane – some rug-pulling in the second half reveals the first half was all a psychic trick being played on Affleck, who breaks free, setting up a Scanners situation between himself and Fichtner and alliance-shifting Alice Braga (a sci-fi thriller veteran). It’s no Alita: Battle Angel, but I had a good time.
also a bit of Firestarter:
The monos are a bunch of commando kids entrusted by a larger organization with the care of kidnapped English native speaker “La Doctora” (Julianne Nicholson of Blonde). The monos are armed, with military training, but they’re also horny fuckup kids, who immediately/accidentally kill the cow they’ve borrowed from the townsfolk, and repeatedly let the Doctora escape. She kills one of them, one suicides, one manages to escape. Movie opens promisingly with a blindfolded soccer game and some Beau Travail moves, and stays watchable throughout, even if it never really goes anywhere. The music is nuts, in a good way, from Under the Skin composer Mica Levi. A Sundance premiere, which makes sense, since it reminded me (but in a kinda good way?) of Mayday.
I didn’t mean to watch another crazy movie involving pedophilia so soon after The Scary of Sixty-First, but that’s what I get for not reading plot descriptions. It’s more of a twist ending in this movie, anyway. Jose Manuel is apparently helping out his sister whose daughter has been abducted, but really J.M. has helped abduct the girl and is now working on her twin sister. This is because he’s joined a minor UFO cult (half of whose members are named RaÃºl) whose leader asks for spiritual child sacrifices but is actually a child pornographer, illegal organ harvester, and probable murderer.
Made in Spain, played Locarno’s main section with Zeros and Ones and After Blue. It’s a likable, low-key absurdist movie with fun visual design and cool music, and you think you’re following a group of harmless kooks until the ending revelation. I take this as a critique on so-called harmless cults in general, that escape into conspiracy theory leads to ignorance of a darker reality. The Cinema Scope review isn’t online and I’ve misplaced half my issues in the move, damn, but in Cineuropa, Ibarra talks of working with nonprofessionals: “I look for that kind of natural spontaneity: I try to avoid them memorizing the text and have them read it only a few times … Nacho FernÃ¡ndez, the protagonist, is a guy from Alicante who works as a night watchman in a car park.”
Semi-sequel to Yojimbo, which I don’t remember being this comical. Sure it’s all life-or-death situations, but Sanjuro gets swept accidentally into this group of young dudes trying to expose corruption, and he keeps pointing out their grave errors, calling them idiots and saving their asses just in time. Mifune hangs back playing cool for an hour before he finally gets to go haywire on some dudes, killing about twenty.
Tatsuya Nakadai (lead guy in Harakiri the same year) is the Sanjuro-equivalent of the opposition, the mutineers’ muscle who has a final blood-spraying showdown with our guy. His traitorous boss is Masao Shimizu, who appeared in every major Japanese film for decades but always twelfth-billed. Too many of the young samurai to keep track of, and their kidnapped righteous boss barely appears in the movie, but his wife (Takako Irie, a WWII-era Kurosawa star) and daughter (Reiko Dan, who slept her way to success in When a Woman Ascends the Stairs) get good roles.
Part 1: The Golden Sea
I watched this in college on bootleg VHS for an ill-fated report on Lang’s cinema, and remembered pretty much nothing. A story in two parts, initially set in America with rival adventurers Kay Hoog and Lio Sha. These are meant to be American names? Kay is rich as hell, going after Peruvian gold despite Lio’s gang The Spiders warning him away. Even this early, Lang was into surveillance tech – Lio has an electric mirror showing a view of the next room: a webcam 100 years ahead of its time.
Kay in foreground, Lio being molested at the tables, Georgia flag in Mexican cantina:
Our teams travel to Mexico, hop a balloon over Chile, Kay parachutes out and immediately rescues the Princess of the Sun from a snake. Lio is safely captured, is to be sacrificed, while the Princess swoons for Hoog in her secret waterfall cavern. I love that the drama is less that a girl is gonna get sacrificed and her nemesis is launching a reluctant rescue mission, it’s that the Princess performing the sacrifice doesn’t wanna but her dad says she has to. A chaotic rescue, they find and steal the gold on their way out, then the spiders start killing each other in a frenzy over the gold, and also light the “holy candle” which is a bomb fuse, flooding the cave. The movie opened with a message in a bottle, and nearly ends with Hoog and rescued/kidnapped Princess adrift in a basket. It actually ends back at the Hoog Mansion when he runs out for an errand, returns to find his princess dead with a toy spider on her.
Princess Dagover in over her head:
The servants get into the wine:
Part 2: The Diamond Ship
Lio seeks a stone for a Chinese client. The opening robbery is filmed at an angle that just doesn’t work, not high enough, very un-Lang. Kay aims to stop the Spiders, still miffed that they killed his princess. With a single edit, Kay jumps off a plane onto a rooftop, hmmm. He hangs out in an opium den to scout for clues, spots Lio and takes her hostage, but they drop him through a trap door into a flooding pit from which he improbably manages to escape. I would’ve been happy watching Kay Hoog continue to escape from implausible scenarios, but the movie feels compelled to set up a big score for us, team Spider swimming in their full black bodysuits (with shoes and masks) to a diamond-laden boat. Somehow this leads to a final fight in a poison cave in the Falkland islands, a four-fingered villain and another kidnapped daughter, but it’s hard to pay attention whenever Kay isn’t falling through trap doors. Ultimately the plastic spiders and the Kay Hoog t-shirts weren’t selling, so the series was cancelled before they made a third episode.
Kay was Carl de Vogt, who worked long enough to appear in a 1960’s Mabuse. His arch-nemesis Lio Sha’s real name was the just-as-unlikely Ressel Orla. A Jew in Berlin, she escaped the holocaust by dying of illness in the early 1930’s. Lil Dagover (of Lang’s Harakiri the same year) played the Princess of the Sun, and part two’s Diamond King (with the kidnapped daughter) was Rudolf Lettinger (in Cabinet of Dr. Caligari the same year).
Caligari Man with Kidnapped Daughter:
Ben Model’s music seems fine, but after five minutes I realized I could be playing Zorn’s Nostradamus: The Death of Satan instead, so I did… then The Ninth Circle… so, the Simulacrum crew of Hollenberg / Medeski / Grohowski, and adding Marsella in the second half of The Golden Lake. For part two I played Harriet Tubman’s The Terror End of Beauty. If you keep falling asleep, resuming the movie where you left off the next night but starting the album over, Harriet Tubman is like the miracle of the oil lasting eight nights. But ultimately the movie is too long, so I moved on to their previous LP Araminta feat. Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet.
Dave Kehr says it best, as usual:
Fascinating … though it no longer plays particularly well. Already at this primitive stage in his development Lang was conjuring vast international conspiracies and drawing his hapless heroes into intractable webs of fate. The form is here, the meaning would come later. The visuals too are stamped with Lang’s personality; no one carved up screen space with his precision and expressiveness.
Diem filmed young Di and her Hmong family for three years, but ends up focusing on one incident near the end of that period. Di goes off with a boy named Vang during the new year celebration, therefore he’s said to have “kidnapped” her and she is his bride – even though Di said before and after that it’s not what she intended. Diem gets involved with her subjects, speaks from behind the camera, has conversations, gets into rice paddy mudfights. I chuckled when she told Di that she’s done the wrong thing, since one of the highest compliments reviewers pay a film is that it’s not judgemental of its characters. The payoff of the director’s involvement in the story onscreen comes in the festival’s most harrowing moment. Vang’s family gets tired of negotiating and of Di’s refusals, and simply pick the girl up and carry her away kicking, as she looks back to the camera screaming for Diem to save her, instantly turning this from “portrait of a girl in a particular culture” or “child bride issues doc” into an emergency study in ethics. The misty mountains were very lovely, too. Living Hour opened again but picked up the tempo, and we calmed down after the movie at Cafe Poland with some pierogis and bigos (wow).
Back in theaters for this one. I love going into Wes movies with absurdly high expectations, because he always meets them. I’ll read the hater critics some other time – maybe they were looking for something more than an endless parade of favorite actors and impeccable production design, but I wasn’t. Much of the movie is in 4:3 black and white, and either my screening was over-matted or the titles appear at the extreme top and bottom of frame.
Bookending segments in the newspaper office, with editor Bill Murray alive in the first piece and dead in the second. Bicycle tour through the town of Ennui by Owen Wilson. Story 1 is relayed by Tilda Swinton, involving art dealer Adrien Brody patronizing imprisoned painter Benicio del Toro whose guard/model is LÃ©a Seydoux (they get some actual French people in here sometime). I was least involved in the middle piece, about faux-May’68 student revolutionary TimothÃ©e Chalamet’s affair with reporter Frances McDormand. Then Jeffrey Wright is reporting on celebrated police chef Steve “Mike Yanagita” Park, who helps foil a plot by Edward Norton to kidnap chief Mathieu Amalric’s son.
Michael Sicinski (Patreon) also liked the Benicio story best:
By contrast, Anderson’s snotty riff on May ’68, “Revisions to a Manifesto,” succumbs to the director’s worst comedic instincts, essentially declaring that political desire is nothing more than sublimated horniness … The final segment, “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner,” sort of splits the difference, although it is elevated considerably by a fine performance from Jeffrey Wright, channeling James Baldwin as a melancholy ex-pat uncomfortable with his journalistic distance. The story itself is mostly just a riff on The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s portrait of courtly civility as a bulwark against anarchy. But it’s Wright’s representation of honest inquiry, and humanistic curiosity, that makes it far less silly than it should be.
Watched again a month later, with Katy this time.