Why does this open with an Ethan Hawke personal intro, between the production logos and the title? The movie’s broad motivations are obscure, and I don’t buy many of its details. The music has Dead Man guitar improv vibes, and if it’d cut out those military marching band beats it might be truly great (the music, not the movie). Some kind of a cyber military thriller, mainly shot in ugly nighttime handheld digital. Pandemic-era: kissing through masks, smartphone in a freezer, disinfectant sprayed on $100 bills, a computer gets shot during a skype call. One Hawke zooms around Rome holding out his camera like it’s a gun (“shoot it so they believe it”), his revolutionary imprisoned Hawke Brother seems Nick Nolte-inspired.

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 Léa Seydoux (they get some actual French people in here sometime). I was least involved in the middle piece, about faux-May’68 student revolutionary Timothée 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.

You had me at “Ayn Rand follower befriends Lee Harvey Oswald and creates parody religion called Discordianism, spreading the Illuminati myth as a prank codenamed Operation Mindfuck, accidentally creating the modern conspiracy theory.” We also trace the fall of the communist revolution (and ALL revolutions), invention of mass electronic surveillance in order to catch the Red Army Faction, how counterculture transformed into consumerism, and of course, flawed and simplified models of human thought and behavior leading to widespread disaster. Kill the cop in your head.

ExtaZus (2019, Bertrand Mandico)

1. The sword-wielding, red-haired Nirvana Queen, tastes a crystalline rock in front of the orally-attached twins, awakens in a green world surrounded by crystal-headed hook-handed persons, talks to a woman in a bubble with a strong French accent, gets aggressively tongued by a giant cave-mouth, then she disfigures the titular sunglasses-man who’d been typing her story with his Freddy Krueger fingers.

2. She convinces him to create a new heroine named Peach Machine, and he has her dance with death in the desert. Peach is unhappy with her role, and slaps his face off.

3. With the author dead, PM visits NQ. As NQ plays a dual-dicked statue like it’s a Robotron machine, PM approaches and makes out with the face on the back of NQ’s head.


Veslemøy’s Song (2018, Sofia Bohdanowicz)

The Deragh Campbell-as-Audrey short coming between Never Eat Alone and MS Slavic 7. It’s more lively than the previous feature, which is a good sign for the next one. She finds a book about her grandfather’s violin teacher Kathleen Parlow, who played lead on a music piece titled V’s Song that was written for her when she was 18. Audrey flies to NYC to hear the only known recording of this piece, but can only hear part of the record, since the archive will only play excerpts and will not make copies. Not a documentary, of course, despite the real people and events, since we hear the song in the film. Hand-processed film, full of texture and scratches.


The Sky Is Clear And Blue Today (2019, Ricky D’Ambrose)

German lesson repeating the film title… kids recite My Pet Goat to camera… scraps and stories from post-9/11 America. The story proper is about an American director named Helmar contracted by German TV to make a cheap 60-minute film about a photograph showing a happy get-together while the twin towers burned in the background. They cast lookalikes from the photo and resort to digital trickery to fake the location, after the real location owner (Glenn Kenny, introduced as “an especially unpleasant and gluttonous man”) refuses to let them shoot. But the director and eight others die in a fire during production – “it was just like a movie” said the survivors. Fits in nicely with my previous short, stylistically and in its blend of real events with fictional ones, matter-of-factly narrated.


Visit (2020, Jia Zhangke)

Oh noooo, a beautiful short about covid quarantine. I was still getting angry over The Plagiarists and wasn’t ready for anything this delicate and lovely. Add it to the list of movies that show off their directors’ DVD collections: shout out to Suzhou River.


Fire (Pozar) (2020, David Lynch)

Abstract animation solidifies into shapes: a house, a tree, fire. Still images, but the drawn page shakes under the camera. Nice string music with surface noise (added?). Through a burned hole floats a flying creature with hands reaching from its eye sockets. A welcome callback to the very early Lynch shorts blended with the Inland Empire-era web works.


France Against the Robots (2020, Jean-Marie Straub)

Single shot, a man walks along the lake and talks about the sad necessity of revolution, since the capitalist systems aren’t gonna reform themselves. Then the credits repeat, and the film repeats – but at a different time of day, and with more swans about.


Pigeons and Architecture (2020, Anne Linke)

A chill movie looking at how pigeons live in buildings, and how people who love pigeons illicitly feed them by shawshanking healthy grains down their pantlegs, something I will be doing wherever I go from now on.

Picturesque and moody, which is to say it’s slow in that 1980’s arthouse sort of way, with drone music which put Katy briefly to sleep. This is a mixed blessing, since she missed the siamese twins separation surgery scene.

Abena (Tania Rogers of a Dr. Who two-parter) is a journalist returning to Ghana after having fled for decades. She’s here to track down the film set of Werner Herzog’s Cobra Verde and shame them for misrepresenting Africa, and also incidentally to reconnect with her former communist revolutionary friends, who remained in country and seem withdrawn and broken and not especially glad to see her. In end Abena seems to have taken responsibility for her part in the communist experiment failure – I’m not sure this was the intention, but it’s what I thought was happening. Either way, this makes a good follow-up to In The Intense Now. And she does track down the Cobra Verde set in the end, lingering on all the skull imagery and saying that Europeans have always been better at leaving testaments.

Daniel Kasman on Mubi, from where I also stole the above image:

The soundtrack, flush with ambient synths, simmering orchestrations, and local songs of lament and longing, as well as the brilliantly and variously interpolated archival footage from across Ghana’s post-independence history, is unique to the collective. The result is an elegantly mournful story where this specific woman becomes something more grand, a conduit not only for a personal history of exile and political dismay, but a national and perhaps even continental one.

Akomfrah:

In the 1960s, they’d all, in different parts of Africa, effectively lost a war of independence, one which had started with them as radicals, Marxists and socialists who wanted to take their countries in a certain direction. As the decade ground on, one by one those countries had been turned around, overthrown, or coups had been planned. Many of these people had left Britain or Europe to go back to Africa to plan these new anti-colonial moves, and, irony of ironies, had to run back to the countries they’d left. They were now back in the so-called mother countries begging for refuge … If you were from one of those exile families, like me, that melancholy was the overwhelming feeling that your childhood seemed to be suffused by. I knew I wanted to do something around that feeling of exile as a sort of space of emotional stasis.

Lawrence (who made Water For Elephants and the music video for Gone Till November) turns in a much better Hunger Games movie than the last guy did. This movie will, of course, be best remembered for bringing together both mid-2000’s Truman Capotes: Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toby Jones. New additions to the movie’s revolutionary team include Jeffrey Wright (also in Only Lovers Left Alive this year) and Sam Claflin (Snow White and the Huntsman).

Another drag of a Romanian movie making some sort of opaque political statement, this one by 50 Under 50 filmmaker Porumboiu. Won a couple of awards at Cannes the year before 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days had everyone talking about Romania.

A TV studio cameraman says handheld camera is “the new thing” until the presenter tells him “put it on the tripod before I whop you with it!” That might be Porumboiu’s thoughts on the matter, since his film is shot with locked-down cameras, drab framings through doorways. The program within the film is portrayed as pretty half-assed, with focus problems, making the uninteresting-looking main feature look more competent by comparison. Indiewire says the compositions are “elegant” and “lovely,” so they saw something I didn’t.

12:08 is what time president Ceausescu fled the capital by helicopter on 12/22/1989. On the anniversary, TV call-in host Virgil Jderescu invites a couple of guests (beardy prof Manescu and old man Piscoci) to discuss whether their small town participated in the revolution or simply followed it, defined as whether there were people in the square before or after 12:08. No serious conclusions are drawn, and at the end everyone shuts up and watches snow fall.

Jay Kuehner in Cinema Scope:

This quietly bravura set-piece manages to be narratively torpid and aesthetically flat, but nevertheless conceptually rich; it’s a sublime metaphor for the uses of history, how people make it as much as it makes people, and how received narratives often entail multiple and conflicting views. .. That Porumboiu stages the “action” on live television is surely not coincidental, as impromptu broadcasts from the seized television stations relayed the progress of the revolution, up to and including Ceausescu and his wife’s bloody end.

AV Club says the points are “whether a revolution can happen if nobody risks anything, and whether the long memories of small-town stalwarts can be both a blessing and a curse.”

Already showed up in someone’s top-ten-ever list in Sight & Sound. Completely odd and exceptional movie, everyone acting like they’re in another dimension, standing outside the film. Sleek and cool, starring a blank Robert Pattinson as self-destructive billionaire Packer, Sarah Gadon (Mrs. Jung in A Dangerous Method) as his new wife, Paul Giamatti as his stalker, and a bunch of people who get a single scene each.

Starts with business partners talking shop, health (he gets a prolonged rectal exam while talking with an employee), paintings (he has sex with art dealer Juliette Binoche) and relationships in his silent limousine, but things start to go downhill. It becomes clear that Packer has sunk his fortune into a dying currency, rat-wielding economic protesters fill the streets and attack the car, Packer’s wife is breaking up with him, and his favorite hip-hop musician has died – this is in decreasing order of how much these things seem to matter to him.

Packer’s quest to get a haircut in his old neighborhood is nearly complete when a celebrity-pranker (Mathieu Amalric) hits him with a pie – then, probably unrelated to that, he asks to see his bodyguard Torval’s gun, and shoots Torval to death with it. Down to just Packer and his driver, they have dinner with the barber, who cuts half of Packer’s hair before he wanders off again to confront violent stalker Paul Giamatti, trying to talk reason to him.

The movie is wall-to-wall talk, so to summarize all the conversations, as if I remember them, would take pages and pages. Best to just watch it again. Cinema Scope 51 has a good few pages, with input from Cronenberg and Pattinson, and discussion of what makes this faithful adaptation of a Don DeLillo novel uniquely Cronenbergian.

“A terrible word is the NON”

A film with a stagy, heightened atmosphere in which you plainly see things happening though you somehow come to believe that these things are not happening. It’s a feeling I’ve had before with Oliveira, and with some of my favorites by Ruiz, Bunuel and Resnais, a slippery strangeness which I suppose most critics call surrealism.

Obvious predecessor to A Talking Picture, a movie full of narrated history lessons ending with a moment of violence, history’s revenge on the present. Portuguese soldiers on a troop truck, out defending the colonies, chat about politics. Lt. Cabrita (Luis Miguel Cintra, scary uncle in Pedro Costa’s O Sangue) tells them stories of their country’s past defeats, which are played out for us in full costume using the same actors as in the truck.

Two of my fave soldiers: at left is Manuel, Diogo Doria of Manoel on the Island of Wonders

Flashback, B.C. 130’s: Viriato, a successful defender of Portugal (then Lusitania) against the Romans, an icon of Portuguese independence, killed by his own Roman-bribed men while he slept.

Flashback, early 1470’s: Portugal fights Spain on two fronts. King Afonso V is defeated in a chaotic battle, while his son Prince John fought and won a battle that was apparently tactically brilliant but seemed strange to me. So, “There were neither victors nor vanquished.” Symbol of the battle was “The Mangled Man, who, in his chivalrous ardour, refuses to let the nation’s symbol fall” – a flag-bearer who kept holding the flag after having both hands cut off by the enemy. “King Afonso V’s image is belittled compared to The Mangled Man’s, whose courage the king himself didn’t deserve.”

Flashback, late 1470’s: John of the previous battle is now king, and his son Afonso is married to daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, so the children would have united the Iberian kingdoms, had Afonso not died during a horse race. Zodiac-like, this episode adds up the details of the suspicious/tragic event without drawing clear conclusions.

Time out for Cabrita to speak of Portugal’s discoveries and art, how they are more meaningful than any military achievements. This features a song, baby angels, much nudity, and Leonor Silveira.

Flashback, 1578, Alcazar-Quibir, the War of the Three Kings, a disastrous battle fought in northern Morocco. Cintra/Cabrita plays Alexandre Moreira, head of the adventurers’ regiment, who attacked first, to no avail. Three kings were killed, the nobility slaughtered, the army defeated, and Portugal was taken over by the Spanish government for the next sixty years.

Cintra/Cabrita/Moreira:

The next day, out on patrol, they’re caught in Portugal’s latest military defeat – Cabrita is shot, taken to a military hospital populated by mutilated men. He dies in the hospital on April 25, 1974, the day of the Carnation Revolution which ended the colonial war.

Acquarello: “By juxtaposing history-based fiction with historical non-fiction, Oliveira illustrates the process of mythologization, where history becomes refracted and idealized in times of crisis and upheaval. However, rather than engendering a romanticism for the past glory, Oliveira dismantles the myth of conquest, reframing history as an elusive (and delusive) quest for fleeting victories and unsustainable empires.”

Oliveira quoted and took inspiration from Portuguese poet Camoes and his Lusiades. When asked to think back on the film: “The NON. . . you don’t have to go back, because the NON goes forward many years, therefore we are late compared to the NON.”