One of the greatest forgotten comedies with the best casts ever. Shirley Maclaine is super as a long-suffering woman who wanted a simple life with true love, but all the men she married came into money and became obsessed with success, driving them to their deaths and leaving her with increasingly massive inheritance. My favorite, self-referential part: in telling her story, Maclaine imagines each of her marriages as a different style of movie.

Undercranked silent with Van Dyke:

Maclaine (just after her oscar nomination for Irma la Douce) spurns self-important department store heir Dean Martin in her hometown, instead marrying Dick Van Dyke (of Bye Bye Birdie). After some idyllic months in their crumbling shack, he finds he has a knack for salesmanship and devotes the rest of his short life to business.

Arty Foreign Film with Newman:

Next comes bohemian painter Paul Newman (character name: Larry Flint) who makes a fortune selling artworks painted by machines (and by a monkey). Then to switch things up, Robert Mitchum, who’s fabulously wealthy when he meets her and dies as soon as he attempts to retire to a simpler existence. Finally Gene Kelly, a hack cafĂ© comic who becomes a star the first time she convinces him to perform without his costume and makeup.

Spendy Hollywood production with Mitchum:

All this is being told to psychiatrist Robert Cummings (Jean Arthur’s love interest in The Devil and Miss Jones) in framing story after she’s caught trying to give away her fortune to the IRS. Maclaine then finds a financially ruined Dean Martin, working as a janitor in the building, who has come to appreciate the simple life after being driven out of business by Dick Van Dyke, and it’s true love.

Musical, of course, with Kelly:

Won a well-deserved oscar for costumes (although it kinda cheated with the parade of self-consciously glamorous dresses in the Hollywood meta-film), and another for art direction, presumably for the house that Gene “Pinky” Kelly has painted entirely pink. Writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green did The Band Wagon, Singin’ in the Rain and On The Town, and Thompson had just made The Guns of Navarone and Cape Fear. Thanks to Joanna for the recommendation.

A very grey-brown movie (because it’s so “real”) about the “real” Jean-Claude Van Damme (“really” named Jean-Claude Van Varenberg) in his “real” hometown, who gets caught in the middle of a “real” action adventure when “real” thieves are robbing a bank (or is it a post office – I didn’t get that part). Not done mockumentary style (in fact, there are some impressive showoff long-shots), although JC does have a talk-to-the-camera monologue in the middle, where he gets real with his fans.

I’ve got nothing against JC (Steven Seagal, on the other hand…) and could’ve enjoyed this if it was more what I’d expected – a fake-reality situation in which JC kicks some righteous ass while getting real about his career. But after a not-much-happening mistaken-identity hostage situation is shown again and again from multiple perspectives, JC finally does kick a dude… in his imagination! Really he’s saved from the thieves by the cops who then arrest him for extortion, haha! It’s so real. Kind of depressing, really. I’ll take the first ten minutes and leave the rest.

Indy Week: “What could have been a crisp little concept movie (how do you say Phone Booth in French?) is instead a limply paced, murky-looking attempt to state the obvious: that big action stars are not, in fact, invincible.” But Cinema Scope calls it remarkable: “By pitting JCVD the axiom against JCVD the person, JCVD deconstructs and deepens the understanding of both. It is nothing if not a triumph of humanism.”

Only thing I’d seen before by Lelouch was his fairly conventional and lightly enjoyable entry in Chacun son cinema, which it turns out was good preparation for this fairly conventional and lightly enjoyable film.

A meta-thriller without too many thrills of its own. I would’ve been shocked if the eminently likeable Dominique Pinon turned out to be a psycho killer and slaughtered down-on-her-luck chainsmoking hairdresser Huguette, as the movie kept implying he would. I also would’ve been shocked if the top-billed Pinon whose character is a ghostwriter and a former magician had NOT been faking his own death at the end, and had actually been killed by famous author Judith Ralitzer (Fanny Ardant of some unseen Resnais and Truffaut films from the 80’s). Judith’s suicide at the end was surprising though, and seemed tonally out-of-place. There’s no evidence that Judith was a potentially-murderous monster (it’s only implied), but we’re not supposed to be upset when she is driven to suicide… I was, a little.

Pinon is on his way to a yachting trip with Judith but stops along the way to stalk Huguette who is dramatically dumped in front of him at a gas station. He waits all night to give her a ride – not because he is the escaped magician serial killer whom the radio keeps mentioning, but because he’s researching roles for “Judith’s” next novel. Takes H. to her rural home and pretends to be her boyfriend for the benefit of her family, then continues to the yacht two days late, proclaims that he’s done ghostwriting for Judith and that this will be his own “first” novel, writes the book onboard, “falls” overboard, hides out for a year, then returns Fury-style during police questioning, gets Judith to kill herself, then gives Huguette a big kiss. Why did he disappear? The book would sell tons more copies as a Judith novel than as a Dominique Pinon novel, and I guess by returning he gets all the royalties, though the movie conveniently ends before explaining that part. Also, in a cute side-plot, Dominique’s sister’s husband (never seen) leaves her and she falls in love with the police detective to whom she reports the crime.

The fun of the movie is its fooling around with thriller conventions, with Dominique alternately set up as the killer, the ghostwriter, and the sister’s missing husband. Pretty good looking film, but nothing amazing. Seems like the kind of slick, enjoyable, not-too-foreign movie that could run at the Landmark for a couple weeks.

Takeshi Kitano plays sort-of-himself, a superstar gangster actor. But mostly he plays a beat-down loser wannabe actor who keeps failing auditions for small parts on TV shows. His neighbors laugh at him, and he works at a convenience store. But one day a real gangster hides in the store then dies in the back room, and the loser Kitano finds himself with a Falling Down-style bag full of guns… goes on a mighty rampage. Or does he? Dream sequences and fantasies are flowing in and out of the picture.

image missing

There aren’t as many Kitanos as I thought there’d be, and the whole thing made more sense than I thought it would. Lesson learned again and again: when everyone says a movie is difficult and confusing, that don’t necessarily make it so.

image missing

As usual, The Internets come in handy here. A couple weeks later, I saw the dvdbeaver review with a ton of great screen shots… really a great looking movie, full of signature Kitano setups, but I was too busy following the story and reading subtitles to notice at the time.

image missing

Rotterdam Film Festival calls it “a mocking, almost surrealist film about the star Kitano, his oeuvre and his failed alter ego”.

Trivia: Tetsu Watanabe the noodle cook was in Fireworks and Sonatine, Kitano’s friend Susumu Terajima was in Brother and Fireworks and everything else, and the manager & taxi driver was Ren Osugi, the chief from MPD Psycho.

image missing

So two approaches. I’m tempted to consider this viewing a test run, this writing a rough draft, and sit down with all of Kitano’s films, watch or rewatch them, then see this one again to catch more of the references. On the other hand, even though it’s an extremely self-referential film, I know the Kitano persona well enough to get the overall joke, and I enjoyed watching this… why not take it on its own merits instead of turning it into a study project? Kitano’s films are all worth re/watching anyway… maybe I’ll get to ’em after my upcoming Seijun Suzuki fest.

image missing

In the meantime I’ll have to say I liked this one more than I thought I would… it pretty much made sense, and looked great.

One day, OCD number-freak IRS auditor Will Ferrell hears Emma Thompson narrating his life. He seeks help from English professor Dustin Hoffman, and spends his days auditing free-spirited baker Maggie Gyllenhaal. Queen Latifah is also there but I’m not sure why.

Lively Spoon soundtrack keeps me happy while I stare at Maggie and wonder about Will’s mostly non-acting. Guess he learned from the Truman Show and tried the less-is-more thing instead. Dustin Hoffman spends more time lifeguarding the pool than teaching classes. No really stupid parts, some funny bits, some clever writing. Somehow Emma’s novel is the greatest piece of American Literature in years but only if Will gets killed, and somehow Maggie falls in love with Will because he sings a Wreckless Eric song. Spoon’s new one “The Book I Write” is pretty good. Katy liked it too.