Opens unpromisingly despite Ethan Hawke… actors laboriously declaiming portentous dialogue in fake accents. It does start to get trippy, with more CG than expected (incl. cartoon-ass animals), and at the “years later” jump the tedious-to-thrilling ratio is 50/50. Subwoofer cinema, a sonically unpleasant movie – I should’ve played the Harriet Tubman album again. Alexander SkarsgÃ¥rd (Florence Pugh’s fake bf in Little Drummer Girl) swears revenge, loses his way, meets Björk, swears revenge again, kills Fjölnir’s son and refuses to say where he’s hidden the heart. Lotta people get chopped up with swords. Three good performances in this: Björk > SkarsgÃ¥rd > Dafoe

Willow Maclay argues there are four good performances:

Nicole Kidman also gives one of her best performances in some time as an incestual madwoman, driven berserk by the times, and dripping with salacious fury in her scene of revelation. This contrasts with her elegant work as a Queen and mother, and suggests that a proper feminine presentation can be hiding a cannibalistic fury behind doors.

Michael Sicinski:

Virtually every landscape is CGI’ed to the point of absurdity. The Northman strives for the painterly but more closely resembles those 4K test images they show on the TVs at Costco.

“It simply boggles one with disbelief.” I get this movie somewhat confused with Serial Mom, but we’ve got Dan Hedaya here, and Wayne Knight, and That 70’s Dad, so we’re gonna be okay. Nicole Kidman is desperate to get onto TV, and unhappily married to Matt Dillon, so she hires the creep dirtbag youths she’s filming for an aimless documentary to bump off Dillon (the movie’s full of fake-doc material, but all the non-doc stuff looks terrific). Dillon’s family then hires David Cronenberg to murder Kidman – it’s up there with Last Night in the great DC performances (still need to see Clifton Hill).

All the thrash metal in this was unexpected. Van Sant always had an eye for the talented boys – he launched Joaquin “Leaf” Phoenix here, and Casey Affleck (and therefore Matt & Ben), and even better was Alison Folland, who went on to everyone favorite movie about intolerant Nebraskans, Boys Don’t Cry. The only movie Buck Henry wrote in the 90’s. It’s somewhat fun to watch the dummies do crime and get caught, but I started to turn on the movie, seeing successful filmmakers and actors punching down at suburbanites and their petty dreams.

Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman are happily married with two kids, Kim and Bob. Colin is a surgeon, whose dead patient’s son Barry Keoghan (also memorably great in Dunkirk this year) has been hanging around, and Colin has been talking with Barry and bringing him gifts out of guilt. Now Barry’s plan accelerates, and when Colin refuses to leave his own family and join Barry and his mom Alicia Silverstone, Barry curses the family, says they will all die unless Colin chooses one to kill. “Do you understand? It’s metaphorical.”

Everyone is going with the flat line-reads and bizarre, unnatural dialogue and behavior of previous Lanthimos movies (“I’d love to know how much painstaking trial-and-error was involved in crafting such magnificently stilted, awkward performances from these accomplished actors,” said Mike D’Angelo on Letterboxd). There’s some slow-motion and soft-focus, and a repeated Danny’s-tricycle-in-Shining tracking shot through corridors, sometimes at normal level, sometimes from Danny POV, and sometimes as if Danny is riding on the ceiling. Tied with the new Lynne Ramsay for screenplay at Cannes.

Three great actors (Nicole, Kirsten, Colin) plus Elle leading the up-and-comers. Colin is an enemy soldier brought to their boarding school for medical help, then as he recovers his strength, things get increasingly tense until he plays an ill-advised trick on Kirsten, and the women murder him with poison mushrooms.

Lovely movie, great twisted fun. I have few deep thoughts, because my post-film reverie was interrupted by the sight of a guy wearing a Battlefield Earth t-shirt – the novel, not the film.

This had weird similarities with Mountains May Depart, which we watched the night before. It spans about the same amount of time, during which a boy is separated from his mother, moves to Australia and forgets her native language.

This one’s the true story of “Saroo” who gets lost while adventuring with his big brother then accidentally rides a train to Calcutta where he doesn’t speak the language and almost gets captured by a creepy man then ends up in an orphanage from where he’s adopted by Nicole Kidman and the corrupt police chief from Top of the Lake. Years later he is Dev Patel of Slumdog, going to college and dating Rooney Mara when he learns about online satellite-map programs and becomes obsessed with finding his home town, which he’s been mispronouncing all his life, and seeing his real family again.

Besides obviously getting choked up by the climactic family reunion (and the inevitable footage of the real people being dramatized) I got much of the same feeling as Garth’s Top of the Lake – it’s a good-looking prestige pic tackling Important Issues, but when it was over it didn’t reverberate in my head in any meaningful way, just made me wanna go see another movie.

Also: Darth Gavis.

Thinking about this movie again thanks to Room 237. It’s nice to sit down with a “proper film” like Wolf of Wall Street, an austere classic like Winter Light, an idiosyncratic puzzle like Upstream Color, but in some ways, Kubrick knocks them all on their asses. From the start it has a commanding power and grace that seems unreal. It’s a motherfucker of a movie.

At a party, Dr. Bill meets his med school friend (Pianist Nick) and two hot babes, but he escapes upstairs to help save host Sydney Pollack’s prostitute from an overdose, while Bill’s wife Alice (for once, seemingly not a Lewis Carroll reference) dances drunkenly all night with a suave Hungarian.

That night, Alice accuses Bill of infidelity, mocks his total confidence in her by confessing an infatuation with a naval officer last year.

Called away because friend Marion’s father has just died, she confesses her love for Dr. Bill just before her boyfriend arrives.

After being pushed aside by rowdy homophobes, Bill allows himself to be taken inside with prostitute Domino (Vinessa Shaw of The Hill Have Eyes Remake), who has masks on her walls, foreshadowing many masks to come, but after a call from his wife he leaves.

Bill comes across the bar where his pianist friend (Todd Field of The Haunting Remake) plays, and wrestles the details of Nick’s next engagement out of him.

Fully flowing wherever this weird evening will take him, Bill goes to a costume shop to get a mask and cloak, awakens the proprietor (Rade Serbedzija, Boris the Blade in Snatch) who discovers his young daughter fooling around with a pair of Japanese men in wigs.

To the masked ball, where it turns out Bill is immediately suspected for having arrived via taxi. Much nudity, an actually-pretty-tame orgy, and taunting masks everywhere as Bill gets caught and kicked out.

The next morning things aren’t going too well for people Bill met last night. Nick has disappeared (according to hotel clerk Alan Cumming), the costume shop man has reached an “arrangement” with the wig men and offers to rent out his daughter to Bill, Domino got news that she’s HIV positive, and Pollack’s prostitute (who Bill suspects was his rescuer at the masked ball) has turned up dead.

Pollack has Bill over to talk him down, and Bill arrives home to see his wife has found the mask, so he tells Alice everything.

The next day they go toy shopping with their daughter. Alice: “Maybe I think we should be grateful – grateful that we’ve managed to survive through all of our adventures, whether they were real or only a dream.”

Cruise plays so overconfident that his character seems on the verge of being a huge asshole, flashing his doctor’s license all over town like a cop, but he also plays unhappiness and remorse so well that it’s hard to judge. Kidman spends too much of her screen time drunk or stoned, moving and speaking very slowly, but nails the last few scenes.

I enjoyed Rosenbaum’s article, and a detailed analysis of symbols on Vigilant Citizen. I knew I’d easily find such a thing, based on the level of Kubrick analysis/lunacy displayed in Room 237.

From an amazing article by Tim Kreider in Film Comment (although note that he buys into the Room 237 theory of The Shining being about the massacre of the Native Americans):

The real pornography in this film is in its lingering, overlit depiction of the shameless, naked wealth of end-of-the-millennium Manhattan, and of the obscene effect of that wealth on the human soul, and on society. National reviewers’ myopic focus on sex and the shallow psychologies of the film’s central couple, the Harfords, at the expense of every other element in the film – the trappings of stupendous wealth, the references to fin-de-siecle Europe and other imperial periods, the Christmastime setting, or even the sum spent by Dr. Harford on a single illicit night out – suggests more about the blindness of the elites to their own surroundings than it does about Stanley Kubrick’s inadequacies as a pornographer. … Kubrick’s films are never only about individuals. (Sometimes, as in the case of 2001, they hardly even contain any.) They are always about civilization, about human history.

Kind of your standard family-secret homicidal-maniac twist-ending thriller, but Park makes it great. Every scene is amazing looking, not just well-shot but with attention-drawing effects like seamlessly transitioning Nicole Kidman’s hair into a field of grass.

Mia W. is our vaguely Rogue-looking heroine whose dad died the day she turned 18 – killed by his maniac brother, it turns out, who killed their youngest brother as a boy, then kills Mia’s would-be-rapist school acquaintance (Alden Ehrenreich, Bennie in Tetro), then almost kills her mom until finally Mia pulls out the hunting rifle that the movie has taken care to mention and blows him away. Then she drives off, killing a sheriff on the way out of town, having inherited her uncle’s taste for murder.

Other victims include family maid Mrs. McG (hidden in the freezer) and Auntie Jen (Jacki Weaver of Picnic at Hanging Rock) – great discovery scene as Mia calls auntie’s cell and hears it ringing underground. The shooting (by Park’s usual guy Chung-hoon Chung) and editing (by Nicolas de Toth, son of the House of Wax director) are thrilling. Matthew Goode (Firth’s dead boyfriend in A Single Man, kinda has a George Clooney voice) is crazy uncle Charlie, Mia Wasikowska is currently starring in Only Lovers Left Alive, and this is the first Nicole Kidman movie I’ve seen since Birth. Shoot, Harmony Korine was in this and I didn’t notice him.

“I thought you were my dead husband, but you’re just a little boy in my bathtub.”

The director is a different person from Jon Glaser, the stand-up comic I’ve seen a few times performing with Jon Benjamin. IMDB says Glazer directed Sexy Beast, which I rather liked even if I don’t understand its cult reputation, and Glaser cowrote Human Giant and performed in Baby Mama, The Toe Tactic and Pootie Tang. I’m gonna say Glaser is my favorite Jon(athan) Gla(s/z)er at the moment, but Glazer could definitely catch up.

Impossible to watch without thinking of Ruiz’s Comedy of Innocence, also dealing with a kid renouncing his parents and deciding he is someone else, inexplicably and with full conviction, leaving the adults wondering how to react. Very different styles and stories, though. This time the kid (Sean) thinks he is Nicole Kidman’s husband reincarnated, leading to serious problems since they both wish for this to be true but she can’t have a love affair with a ten-year-old.

Also unlike the Ruiz, this kid has an explanation. Anne Heche (electrifying in this – high-strung, cruel and beautiful) and Peter Stormare (kind of a lump) are old friends (I think Stormare might be the dead husband’s brother, and Heche his wife, but don’t hold me to that) coming to a party at which Heche is gonna give Kidman a box of love letters Kidman had sent her late husband, but Heche panics, runs outside and buries the box, which is found by the kid. The rest doesn’t exactly follow logically – movie still has an air of mystery, of spiritual possession – but it’s a partial explanation.

Hot-tempered rich guy Joseph (Danny “son of John” Huston) is to marry Kidman soon, so he doesn’t take well to the kid’s claims. He and gentle, logical Bob (must be someone’s brother, played by Arliss Howard: Cowboy in Full Metal Jacket) and Kidman’s pregnant sister Laura (Alison Elliott of Wings of the Dove) help her work with the kid (whose parents, completely at a loss, allow him to stay over unsupervised), trying to find holes in his story or understand his motives. I liked the movie very much, but the main problem I had was with its attempt to have it’s realism with its mysticism, sending first Nicole then Bob into a room to disprove the kid for two hours then show them bowled over by a couple correct anwers and elide whatever happens for the next hour and fifty-eight minutes, or making his parents total pushovers who stay away from Kidman’s house – always conveniently cutting to prolong the confusion, which contradicts the reality of all these suspicious adults who are supposed to be searching for the truth. If the movie isn’t going to take the approach of an airtight psychological mystery with a twist ending a la Shutter Island, I’d have preferred it head more towards the inexplicable Comedy of Innocence than straddle the line between them. But no matter, it’s an utterly enjoyable movie with awesome acting and unique enough filmmaking (shimmering, closeup-happy cinematography by Harris Savides: Zodiac, Elephant) to get me all excited.

The whole happy family – that’s Lauren Bacall in front of the cake:

I admit I was looking for the twist ending. Even though we know Heche buried something while the kid watched, I’m wondering which adult would have convinced the kid to concoct this lie. Not his parents, who seem very upset. Nicole’s mom Lauren Bacall doesn’t seem diabolical. Jimmy the doorman (played by cowriter Milo Addica) is friendly with the kid but would seem to lack enough information to plot this out convincingly. I stopped guessing when the kid strips and slides into the bath with Kidman – no adult could brainwash a 10-year-old into being so unlike a 10-year-old. Finally, in the weirdest scene of any movie I’ve seen this year, Sean is tested by a creepy Anne Heche, who it turns out had a long, intense affair with the dead man, unbeknownst to Sean since it wasn’t mentioned in the letters. She then confronts him, hissing, shattering his illusions of true love reborn. Mercifully, Kidman never learns of the affair and goes on to marry Joseph. In an otherwise unreal movie, Kidman spectacularly creates a very real sense of loss, and Glazer and his cowriters (Addica who wrote Monster’s Ball and Jean-Claude Carrière, a lead collaborator of Luis Buñuel, which makes perfect sense) must have realized it’d be too cruel to push her any further at the end.

Anne Heche:

Peter Stormare:

Birth was shat upon critically and commercially, which is how it landed at number eight on The Guardian’s list of the ten most underrated films of the decade (between Inland Empire and Songs from the Second Floor). Coincidentally at number eight of their outright best-of-decade list is Dogville, another Kidman/Bacall movie by a filmmaker who gleefully pushes everything over the edge, who would have had Heche gleefully destroy Kidman, the bastard.

Bob comforts Sean after Joseph goes on a rampage:

J. Anderson:

A brilliant score by Alexandre Desplat underlines Birth and completes it, causing it to slide slightly off-kilter with a tinkly music-box jingle and an ominous, nervous thumping heartbeat backdrop. This musical duality meshes perfectly with the fabric of Birth, in which Anna must choose between an impossible true love and a possible false one. It’s a brilliant film, but not a happy one. The filmmakers seem to have begun at the point in which love lives “happily ever after,” discovering only bitter disappointment and misled hope instead.