“If I had to choose between Elmer and the itch, I’d start scratchin'”

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Kind of an unexpected story. Not that Street Angel was business as usual, plot-wise, but somehow I expected this one to be more normal and boring, which is maybe why I put off watching it for four months. Lazybones is a very lazy boy with an amazingly patient mother. He’s hot for neighbor Agnes Fanning but doesn’t do much about it, just expects her to marry him someday. Her sister Ruth is summoned home from college by their dour, domineering mother to marry snotty businessman Elmer, but Ruth has already been secretly married and widowed and has a baby. So she does the natural thing: puts the baby safely in a basket then jumps into the river to drown herself. This is the only act of free will performed by the Fanning sisters in the movie… they do everything their forbidding mother demands, to the ruination of both of their lives. Ruth spends the next 15 years unhappily married to Elmer, sneaking glimpses of her daughter through the window, having no more kids and finally dying of illness/madness, and Agnes breaks up with Lazybones and spends her days shut up in mother’s house, only learning the truth at the end.

Ruth (left) and Agnes:
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Lazybones, meanwhile, agrees to raise the baby (it’s a girl, his mother tells him). Raises her well with the help of mother, but doesn’t get any less lazy. He goes off to fight in the WWI trenches and stumbles into heroism when he sleeps through a battle and finds himself behind enemy lines, helping take 20 captives. Comes home and finds his adopted daughter has become a young woman, so he starts falling creepily in love with her, until she’s fortunately whisked away into marriage by a nice local boy. LB grabs his fishing pole and heads for the river, as if the last eighteen years was just one long afternoon.

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Lazy Buck Jones was in 150+ westerns and this, and his grown stepdaughter (above) Madge Bellamy starred in John Ford’s The Iron Horse a year earlier, would later appear in White Zombie.

Emily Fitzroy (of The Bat and the original Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) played the evil mother of sisters Ruth (Zasu Pitts of Greed, Ruggles of Red Gap and Stroheim’s The Wedding March) and Agnes (Jane Novak of some Harold Lloyd shorts).

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Senses of Cinema refers to Ruth’s “illegitimate daughter.” Has the author not seen the movie lately, or is it like Miracle at Morgan’s Creek, where we know that Hollywood must provide a girl with a lost or deceased husband in order to have a child, but it’s understood by the viewer that the girl wasn’t actually married – a complicit understanding between film and audience of the limits imposed by censorship? Ah, Michael Grost agrees: “While there is a censor-placating marriage ceremony for Ruth (Zazu Pitts in a great performance), this is a thinly disguised look at the problems faced by unwed mothers and illegitimate children. It recalls Way Down East (D. W. Griffith, 1920). The negative look at small town life, and the wasted lives full of pain of rejected people who live there, also recall True Heart Susie (D. W. Griffith, 1919).”

M. Grost again:

Borzage’s heroes love technology. The hero’s main passion is tinkering with his car. Unfortunately, he never does anything serious with this interest, unlike later Borzage heroes who become engineers or scientists. The hero’s car links him to high technology and progress in the opening scenes. By contrast, his well-dressed, well-to-do rival drives a lavish horse-and-buggy. This suggests that respectability and social prominence are linked to backward, anti-progress forces. Kit and her boyfriend eventually open a garage, while the hero is away at war. Such garages, run by the heroes of later Borzage films, are a principal locale of Borzage’s cinema: Big City, Three Comrades. They too are signs of technological modernity.

A. White for New York Press:

Comparing Lazybones to its contemporary literary landmarks The Great Gatsby, Manhattan Transfer and An American Tragedy helps define how movies transmit deep insight through visual power. Steve, a feckless young man at the dawn of the automobile age, anticipates the existential protagonists who wait for life to happen. Letting romance pass him by, Steve helps an unwed mother raise her child and then slowly awakens to passion. Borzage shows Jones and Madge Bellamy’s sensuality with startling erotic attention—throughout his career he was certainly a master of the romantic dual close-up—and this conveys a profound sense of lost opportunity, of everyday tragedy. And this insight compares well to 1925’s other cinematic landmarks: The Gold Rush, Greed, Seven Chances, The Last Laugh, Master of the House—less ostentatious but no less deep.

Lazybones doubtlessly influenced the Johnny Mercer-Hoagy Carmichael song that celebrated Southern ease; more proof that Borzage’s films once touched the core of pop mythology. (Just as Bad Girl and After Tomorrow are quintessential Depression-era films, containing emotional values the recovering nation still hurries to forget.) In its sublimely simple way, Lazybones epitomizes the potency of American pop art at its most morally sophisticated—the same greatness that is underrated in Spielberg.

A. Kendall for TCM:

Lazybones, made prior to Murnau’s arrival on the lot, helps illuminate the degree to which Borzage’s visual style was influenced by the emigre. Borzage is in full command of the emotionally complex characters and moments of bitter pathos that highlight his “prime” work, but it lacks the visual eloquence that Murnau brought to the studio. … The emotional texture of Lazybones is remarkable for a film of 1925, and it would surely stand alongside Borzage’s best-known works, were it not for a misguided turn in the final reel, when Lazybones falls in love with his adoptive daughter Kit, who has just come of age. The sudden shift from paternal affection to sexual desire derails our identification with the hero, and makes us aware of the filmmaker trying to pile more pathos onto the story than its narrative framework can support.

The “stars” are Ashley Judd (Frida, Heat) as a hopeless burnout and Harry Connick Jr. (Excess Baggage, Mad About The Mouse) as her abusive ex just out of jail, but the star performance here is by Michael Shannon as a single dude who shows up one day wanting to be Ashley’s friend and ending up in bed with her.

right: H.C. Jr.
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That’s when the part I knew from the trailer kicks in… new dude (Peter) sees bugs. They are in the hotel room, in the air and under their skin. He watches ’em with a kids’ microscope, sprays the place constantly and talks about the secret government project that unleashed the bugs upon him, while Ashley confides about her missing son and bad husband, and clings more and more to Peter.

Turns out there are (probably) no bugs – Peter is a bug-crazy paranoid lunatic, and Ashley is so love-desperate she starts to see what he sees. At the end after Peter knifes his doctor who comes to talk sense into him, he easily convinces Ashley they should set themselves on fire.

Doctor threatened with knife! Peter all bloody! Walls covered in tinfoil!
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Movie looks real good. Not particularly tense or scary, but the crazy, oh there is so much good crazy. Camera stays on our heroes, gets shaky and blue when Peter hallucinates helicopter-spies. Based on a play – no surprise there, given the movie’s single location (not counting a few flashbacks). As for Friedkin, he made French Connection, Exorcist, then ten+ movies that everyone’s either forgotten or wish they had forgotten. This is a good adaptation, an exciting movie, but nobody oughtta claim the Second Coming of Freidkin unless he pulls it off again.

Ashley’s head hurts from looking at imaginary bugs
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I’d heard this was a sequel to Suicide Circle, so I assumed it was a horror movie. A natural assumption, since Suicide Circle is very much a horror movie. But by no means is this a horror movie, nor is it any good at all, and it is almost three hours long, which means I could have watched two short, good horror movies instead of this one. Tragedy!

Lots of steadicam, with the low-budget video look of MPD Psycho. First hour is a bunch of teen girl crap, with Noriko getting tired of her family and wishing she was as accepted in real life as she is online, where her screen name is Mitsuko. The online community is related to the Suicide Circle cult (it’s the website with the colored dots), but besides a couple flashbacks to the intro train scene of that movie, some “Desert” posters on a wall and some dodgy explanations at the end by a group member, there’s no real mention of the events of the other movie. Instead, we are presented with a wholly different view on Sion Sono’s ideas of group and individual identity, life and death, and the social problems of modern Japan. Maybe it’s deep if you think about it long enough, but it doesn’t make for a very interesting movie, with its amateurish cinematography, excessive length and dull repetitive voiceovers about the boring family problems of teen girls.

Happier times. But WERE they really happy? Are the kids smiling? ARE THEY?
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So, right, Noriko/Mitsuko runs away and meets her online buddy Ueno Station 54 (named after a locker full of junk she found). That’s #54, as in the 54 kids who jumped from the train station… you can look for explanations all day long, but it’s not gonna solve anything. Noriko’s sister Yuka runs away a few months later, changes her name to Yoko, and the sisters meet up in the city. With US54 they work for a family-rental business pretending to be family members of lonely people for an hourly fee. Meanwhile, their real parents are crazy with grief over their disappeared daughters, and after a year the mother kills herself so the father (Ken Mitsuishi of The Pillow Book, Chaos, Eureka, Audition, Invisible Waves) starts combing their rooms for clues and finally comes to the city to find them.

Death is no big thing in Japan
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All is well in the family rental business. Sometimes a client kills a “family member”, as above, but there’s Kumiko/US54 on the left taking his money as if nothing special has happened. The dad gets a friend to help, moves all his stuff from the old house and sets up a new place just like it, then gets the three girls to come over, climactically bursts out of a closet and… stands there like a damned fool. Um, some cult dudes show up and pummel the friend, but dad kills ’em all with a knife. Finally the girls somewhat snap out of it, and go oh yeah it’s our dad. I think Noriko runs away again at the end. I’m probably forgetting something, but whatever.

Separated by sun
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Hints:
– the suicides kept going after the last movie ended… they did not stop with Dessert’s final performance.
– “What about the suicide club – it’s the result of Kumiko’s grudge, right?”
– “The world is the suicide club, with far more suicides than our circle.”
– “Being close to death gives living value”
– Dad is told by a club dude at a diner: “Feel the desert. Survive the desert. That’s your role.” Get it – Desert? Dessert? Get it?? Phthhhht!

What, no floss?
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If this was better lit you’d see “Kiyoshi Kurosawa wuz here” on the windowframe
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“Are you connected to yourself?”

Watching for the second time (and reviewing the plot on wikipedia), I abandoned the thought that the plot would make any sense or come together in the end (the writer/director is apparently a poet, so that explains that) and enjoyed it for what it is, a bloody and effective horror movie. Movie features high-school kids dying en masse as a muddled critique of society, which I guess is why it gets compared to Battle Royale. What with the unexplainable deaths around the country, mysterious websites and themes of interconnection, I’d say it’s more similar to Pulse.

The wiki does a good job on plot, so I’ll make this quick. Pop group Dessert (aka Dessart, Desert) has annoying hit song. Backstage at their concerts, fans who are connected to themselves have patches of skin shaved off and mailed to the police, then a few days later the fans kill themselves. Female internet informant The Bat is kidnapped by flamboyant male “suicide club” leader Genesis, but I’m not sure that either of them have anything to do with anything. The cops fail to figure anything out, but a girl named Mitsuko does. At the end, instead of throwing herself under a train, she enigmatically steps aboard it, smiling at a cop, as Des(s)aert announces their final performance.

left: Ryo Ishibashi, star of Miike’s Audition, also in Big Bang Love, Kitano’s Brother, and that Masters of Horror called Dream Cruise. right: Kimiko Yo of Hou’s Café Lumière
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Akaji Maro’s distinctive face has appeared in movies by Miike, Beat Takeshi and Seijun Suzuki, as well as the Maiku Hama trilogy and he is Ichi the Killer’s (the actor’s) dad.
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Masatoshi Nagase is Mike Hama, also in The Hidden Blade, Pistol Opera and Mystery Train.
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skinbag:
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sega genesis:
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