Anomalisa

“What this world needs,” I was just slurring drunkenly over the bar where I don’t go because I don’t drink, “What this world needs is more stop-motion animated penises.” Fortunately, we have Anomalisa, filling the gap (heh) left by Ray Harryhausen, Rankin-Bass, Henry Selick, Aardman, Laika and others. And it’s fitting that it should be filled by Duke Johnson, one of the brains behind the crude, funny “Frankenhole”.

And, I suppose, it’s fitting that we have, as the other half of this phallic-phulphilling-phantasie Charlie Kaufman, writer of Being John Malkovich, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and “The Dana Carvey Show”. I don’t like any of those things so I knew I wasn’t going to like this going in—The Boy haled me to the early showing—but I thought if I could just lower my expectations enough I wouldn’t hate it.

Me, watching this.
I know how you feel, buddy.

Nope. Although “hate” isn’t really the right word. For Malkovich and Spotless, it was a sort of Woody Allen thing for me: I see the technique, and am somewhat entertained by certain aspects of the premise, or some of the jokes, but I become increasingly uncomfortable with the worldview which looks, to me, like we’re looking into someone’s special suitcase of crazy. Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda?, or any of his writing, is like this, as is Melancholia.

It’s that point on the scale where you externalize your neuroses while pretending you’re looking objectively at the world. Like, Tim Burton’s got Daddy Issues—but he knows he’s got Daddy Issues, so even if he has to inject that into films inappropriately, he’s at least aware that that’s what he’s doing.

Anyway, I get that sort of feeling from Kaufman’s stuff. I note that after Michael Gondry started doing his own writing (Mood Indigo, Be Kind Rewind, The Science Of Sleep), a lot of the elements of whimsy and magical realism were still present, but not the creepy feeling.

This isn't respectful, is it.
We’ve actually seen The Penis at this point, but she hasn’t.

Anyway, back to the penises. David Thewlis (I thought it was Pierce Brosnan) plays Michael Stone, a successful Customer Service Guru delivering a speech in Cincinnati on the merits of his philosophy (“productivity went up 90%” is a common refrain in this film, although customer service has scant to do with productivity). He’s obsessed with this broken relationship—a woman he abandoned in Cincinnati in 1995—and is apparently looking to rekindle something with his old flame, despite a new wife and young child back home in Los Angeles.

By sheer happenstances, he stumbles across a girl named Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh, though I thought maybe Tina Majorino) and falls madly in love with her. That’s where one of the penises comes in. We get to see awkward, graphic stop-motion sex between the two. Yay.

So, the twist here is that apart from Michael and Lisa, all of the voices in the movie are done by veteran character actor Tom Noonan. I don’t mean “Tom Noonan does an amazing array of voices to populate the rest of the cast,” I mean, literally everyone else in the movie has the same voice. Most, or all perhaps, have the same face as well.

And I don't care.
Behold. Not sure who’s face.

Nobody notices this. Michael doesn’t even notice it per se. He knows there’s something about Lisa he likes, something anomalous about her. He loves her voice. She actually sings “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” (although it was originally going to be “My Heart Will Go On”) at his request, shy and battered though she is.

So, there’s your hook. Seems like the sort of thing I might enjoy but, no. Besides the incipient feeling of creepiness that I had, I started (despite myself) wanting the movie to open up somehow into something different than what, by virtue of its Kaufmanity, it needed to be. (And, by the way, this is not meant as derogatory; if you like Kaufman’s work, this is going to be right-on-the-nose for you, as evinced by its amazingly positive reviews calling it “perfect” and “human” and its 91% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes.)

Your options here are: 1) Michael’s crazy; 2) Michael’s is incipiently aware of a greater evil, like a Dark City thing. The latter leads to all sorts of interesting-from-an-action-movie-standpoint possibilities, though less chance at making a Dramatic Statement About Humanity. The former gives you two options: 1) He stays crazy; 2) He snaps out of it. Either can be done well, though the latter pulls you back into that dour, “Why? Why make this movie?” territory.

This was actually the best scene.
Me, leaving the theater.

I won’t spoil it by telling you which way Kaufman goes. And, in fairness, you maybe couldn’t guess it from his previous stories, which a mix of endings.

But I didn’t escape my distaste for it. The Boy felt it was huge wasted potential, much like Son of Saul. And I couldn’t drag The Flower to see it: She loves the medium and objected to it being used for such depressing purposes.

Good score by Carter Burwell. Technically nice stop-motion and interesting camerawork. Nominated for an Oscar, and likely to win, I suspect, based on how screwed up the Academy is.

No symbolism intended.
A nightmarish thing that goes nowhere and means nothing.

TCM Presents Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

It can be hard to get The Flower to a movie these days. She has so many projects going, it becomes a challenge to get her out of the house for anything that would slow her down. But I insisted she come see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with The Boy and I, because I knew she would like it—and she’s already sold on next month’s TCM movie The Maltese Falcon.

This movie is kind of a marvel. It’s so 1969 it hurts at times. The anti-heroes, the promiscuity, the abuse of the zoom lens—though actually not as bad here as in many films of the day—oh, and the music. Good lord, the music. If you haven’t seen it in a while, besides the inexplicably wildly popular “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”, it also features—I am not making this up—a choir of white people scatting chorally. I mean…whoa. George Roy Hill, Katherine Ross, montages, including a campy turn-of-the-century tintype montage, Eastman Color…

Probably doesn't apply to the stills, though.
Love that glorious Eastman color…

Despite all this, it’s a good movie. From a distance, it’s oddly nihilistic, or given the time period, oddly light-hearted for a movie whose underlying premise is nihilistic.

Butch Cassidy and Sundance are buddies who are making a living robbing trains, along with their none-too-bright Hole-In-The-Wall Gang. Really, nobody in this movie is very bright, which makes for a lot of the comedy. Butch fancies himself as having vision, of course, which supplies a lot of comedy as well.

Anyway, their repeated hits on a particular wealthy man’s train line causes the two to flee from a group of dedicated hired guns, ultimately to Bolivia where they—well, they actually never meet these assassins. We never even see them close up; they act, rather as a sort of boogey man to motivate the characters.

Where's Waldo?
This is about as close as we get.

Why does it work? A lot of reasons: First, it never takes itself too seriously, which means that the nihilism (a prevalent theme of the late ’60s/early ’70s) doesn’t really come through; second, it’s glamorous, with Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Katherine Ross all in full flower; third, it’s quotable and funny; fourth, William Goldman spent eight years researching the story and then wrote…well, he wrote this, which can’t possibly be the truth, except in the broadest strokes.

Where it doesn’t work is the too-cute-by-half and too-long-by-half montage of the three principles on the set of Hello, Dolly. They were actually going to shoot on those sets but the studio nixed it because the Hello, Dolly sets were apparently Top Secret. The Eastman color is washed out, though not as bad as many films from the era. These days, a lot of the outdoor lighting looks so patently fake, like, “You’re standing in the dark, yet you’re both clearly illuminated from a source offscreen.” I don’t know why that jumped out at me, but it really did. Lighting is a bit smoother these days, probably due to post-production techniques.

One of approximately 300 pictures used.
See, they’re modern, but they’re dressed up Old Timey. It’s hilarious.

Also, it doesn’t really have any character arcs, or really any shape to the story. It wanders vignette to vignette, and you could probably scramble the sequences up in a lot of different ways without hurting the movie too much.

Its 1:50 runtime seemed longish back in the day, but nowadays breezes by. It lost the Best Picture Oscar to Midnight Cowboy, which probably tells you everything you need to know about 1970 and the Oscars.

I kid.
“Told you we should’ve had sex with each other, Butch.” “We did!” “On screen, I mean!”

The Peanuts Movie

I definitely had a negative reaction on hearing about the Peanuts movie. This was one of the big strips of my childhood, along with B.C., Wizard of Id and Garfield. Of course Bloom County, The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes took over from there, but Peanuts had a fairly special place in my heart. My sister and I bore no small resemblance to Lucy and Linus, it was often noted.

Putting the simple drawings into a 3D CGI format seemed like a disastrous idea, and to be honest, my kids don’t like Peanuts (based on the TV shows) because it’s “depressing”. And it sort of is—certainly, it’s more melancholy than Garfield (though not as existentialist as Garfield Without Garfield), or any modern cartoon or strip.

But then, I'd like to think Lucas planned for Jar Jar to be the Evil Mastermind.
I’d like to think Jim Davis had this in mind all along.

But for all of modern pop culture’s fascination with “dark” things, Peanuts is probably the best indication that, nah, we just foolin’. Because the underlying message of Peanuts is that, you may—you must!—keep trying, and with failure after failure, you’ll finally discover that, well, you’ve failed again.

But you’ll also discover that life was in the trying.

Charlie Brown doesn’t win, in the material sense: He doesn’t win the baseball game, the hockey game, the football game, he doesn’t fly the kite, he doesn’t achieve scholastically, he’s not good with his hands, he’s not musical, he’s not graceful, and to him, The Girl is aspirational.

I never got the kite-eating tree thing. (Maybe in Schulz’ day they were much harder to fly.) But I loved the notion of a tree actually eating things.

But he does win, because he plays hard. He plays fair. He’s fundamentally decent and kind when all around him are cruel and petty. He does the right thing even when he knows it’s going to hurt, a lot, and he will be reviled for it. Which acts a rebuttal to Glaucon in Plato’s Republic, who demands to know who would behave justly knowing that unjustness gives greater rewards.

Is that pretentious? To bring in Plato when talking about Peanuts? I don’t think so. In fact, there’s an interesting book called The Gospel According To Peanuts that talks about all the Biblical references in the strip. And while Shulz probably didn’t read Republic and think “I’ll show you, Glaucon!” his melancholic worldview stands as convincing rebuttal nonetheless.

Because we like Charlie Brown. And for all his failures, Charlie Brown—I won’t say he likes himself, because that’s too strong—has some sort of inner strength that keeps him going, and on the straight-and-narrow.

Charlie Brown keeps trying after the rest of us have gone in to watch TV.

Surprisingly, perhaps, this movie really captures that. Oh, it’s not as dark as the strip—modern kids wouldn’t accept it, or at least modern movie executives wouldn’t. And in the end, Charlie Brown manages (momentarily, at least) to accomplish a few things that eluded him throughout the movie, including winning the affection of the Little Red-Haired Girl. The latter delivers the most clunky aspect of the film, which is the final exposition saying more-or-less what I’ve said here: That Charlie Brown is decent and pertinacious at every turn, and that is worthy in and of itself.

That’s about half the movie, delivered in an animation style that exploits CGI by forcing it into flat 90-degree angles and maintaining Shulz’ characteristic expressions. There’s no smoothness here, which is really great.

Don’t be fooled by the shading: Note the limited angles used for the characters.

The other half of the movie is about Snoopy vs. the Red Baron, with Snoopy engaging on an imaginary quest to rescue his French girlfriend, Fifi. This doesn’t work as well, at least not for me. And I’m not one of those who believe that Snoopy ruined Peanuts. If you’ve read all the ’50s stuff, you’ll come to appreciate the the ’60s era, with its flights-of-fancy—not just Snoopy, but the living “security blanket” and “kite-eating tree”—gave Sparky a chance to play creatively in great ways. These ways don’t really change the Charlie Brown story. Does it really matter that this was still called “Peanuts” and not “Snoopy and Pals”?

Nonetheless, I found my attention drifting during these parts. The CGI is a bit more florid, which maybe didn’t work as well for me. Note that Shulz did this stuff without a lot of artistic flourish, just like the rest of the strip. A few curlicues for barbed wire, some billows of smoke, stuff like that.

Some of my favorite aspects of the comic didn’t really translate well.

Whatever, it didn’t work great for me.

But the look is great, overall. The voice-acting is great—well, it’s kids, so it’s not always great, exactly, but it’s authentic feeling. Actually, it’s kind of uncanny how close Lucy and Linus sound to the TV originals. The visuals are a mix of dead-on Peanuts humor, and stuff that’s…not…which stand out a bit. Not bad, just very clearly not from the same source. The music is great, too. They kept some Guaraldi, and mixed in a bunch of other stuff, staying away from uber-pop.

The only thing I missed was the Biblical passage, which wasn’t really a thing in the TV/movie realm, except for the Christmas one. Interestingly, they used Violet, a little bit of Shermy (who looks a lot like Schroeder), Frieda (with her naturally curly hair), Franklin (the black kid), and non-Peppermint Patty, who were phased out by the ’60s.

The Barbarienne loved it, ranked it up there with Tangled or Frozen or whichever her favorite princess movie is. The Boy also really liked it, after expressing his initial reluctance toward seeing it. The Flower wanted to go see it, but she had spent the weekend testing for her high school diploma, so her eyes were tired of looking at screens.

It’s probably not for you if you’re a hardcore purist, but I think the presence of members of the Shulz family on the writing team had a big influence on keeping things pretty close to home.

Not nominated for an Oscar.

SWIDT?
Rats.

Son of Saul

This Hungarian film is probably going to win the Oscar, and it’s probably going to be win the Oscar because you sit there in a marvel of technique wondering “Why? Why tell this story?” Like Raging Bull: You have all the talent in the world and you use it to tell the story of a degenerate, moronic wife beater whose claim to fame was being too dumb to fall down. Which, you know, if you’re one of the millions of film fanatics who love that movie and think it’s the best ever (Roger Ebert, or maybe it was Siskel), you might take this guy’s opinion with a grain of salt.

It’s well shot—very well shot, in a claustrophobic style best represented by one of last year’s nominees, Mommy—a style which I hope doesn’t become too popular. It would be so easy to abuse, but it works well here because Saul is both imprisoned in a camp and a victim of his own obsessions. The acting is good too, pretty much carried by the guy playing Saul, whose name I’m not going to put in here because, let’s face it:  You won’t remember it and we’ll never hear from him again.

This is our first Holocaust film of the year!
Let’s just call him “Norm MacDonald”

There’s also suspense, drama, all sorts of pathos, and other signs of quality movie-making.

Saul is a sonderkommando, which was a guy in the Nazi concentration camp whose role was to trick the newcomers into thinking they were getting a shower rather than being gassed. Then having killed them, they had to stack the bodies up by the furnace. Once stacked, they had to be thrown into the fire. After being burned, they had to be wheeled out to the river and disposed of.

Those Nazis were not good guys. Whatever you say, Mr. Verhoeven.

The story is that one of the boys of a batch of Jews survives the gassing, and is promptly dispatched (by hand) by a Nazi officer, and Saul becomes obsessed with giving him a proper burial. And there’s your movie. Now, we see a lot of difficult to watch movies. A. Lot. And some of them are worth watching because of what you take away, just leave you wondering why the filmmakers bothered.

This is not a rabbi.
Norm looks for a rabbi.

You could get the idea from the various synopses that this is a movie about a man struggling to have some tiny amount of ethical, moral, cultural truth in what may be literally the worst possible scenario one could be in. It’s not that. If you go in expecting that, you’ll be disappointed. This is the sort of movie that exists to extinguish all hope. If you know that going in, you can have a good ol’ time.

Well, okay, not really. It is a good movie, though, just not one that I’d recommend. Interestingly enough, The Boy had the same reaction to this as I did, but bristled when I said “we didn’t like it” (when someone asked). I guess that’s too simplistic a way to look at it.

But if someone asks me “Will it win an Oscar?”, I’d say “signs point to yes”.

This would be more fun than watching the Oscars.
Norm is forced to watch the Oscars.

Best of Rifftrax: Starship Troopers

The riffing tradition has historically been one of mocking shall-we-say modest films, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that rights must be secured for most other films, and those rights can be very expensive. Rifftrax has really mainstreamed the major-movie-riff with things like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and, as previously reviewed here: Godzilla. If you recall that one, I actually found it a bit depressing—independent of the riffing, which was quite good.

Fortunately, Starship Troopers—which Rifftrax assures us CAN NEVER BE SEEN AGAIN! due to expense of licensing—is a much more enjoyable experience, though not without some problems. The main problem being hearing the guys riff during the big, splodey set pieces, of which there are quite a few. When the volume went up in the movie, it pretty much drowned out Bill, Mike and Kevin, alas.

POWPOWPOWPOW!
I assume they were hilarious, though.

But the thing about Starship Troopers is that it’s not a bad watch. Like (the lower budget) Anaconda, it’s what might be called “uneven”: The film is entertaining, albeit profoundly dumb in a way that outraged fans of the original Heinlein novel. It’s hard to remember now, but Troopers was on the downslope of once-wildly-popular Dutch director Paul Verhoeven’s Hollywood career, which rocketed from the modest Flesh + Blood to Robocop, Total Recall and the crazy influential Basic Instinct. He followed the last with the career-smashing Showgirls, taking out himself, screenwriter Joe Esterhaz and ingenue-turned-power-slut Elizabeth Berkley. In fact, Berkley was so tarnished by this role, you’d think subsequent escapee’s from children’s programming would be more circumspect about portraying themselves so grossly sexually but, nope, ain’t nobody learnin’ nothin’.

Anyway, the thing about Verhoeven is that he’s conflicted. Or, perhaps more accurately, subversive. I mean, this is the guy who’s latest film that I’ve seen, 2006’s Black Book, featured a love affair between a Jewish spy and a Nazi. I mean, most filmmakers take the easy way out and consider the Nazis the bad guys when it came to their occupation of foreign nations, but Verhoeven is really on the fence. Jews, Nazis, Dutch—there were bad people on all sides.

One of Futurama's Weakest Episodes was a take off on this.
Jews, Nazis, Dutch, Giant Brain Bugs—they all have their own perspectives.

And so, Robocop is this ultra-violent superhero movie with scatching attacks on American culture, and Starship Troopers is Verhoeven reading (or hearing about) the book and saying, “Well, this is fascism, straight up. But let’s make a dumb space opera for the vulgar Americans.” And he and screenwriter Edward Neumeier (also Robocop‘s scriptwriter) thought it would be a grand old time to satirize militarism without letting anyone else in on the joke. Well, except, presumably the costume designer who, as our riffers note, had to put Neil Patrick Harris in what was basically an SS uniform by the end of the show.

Anyway, the movie isn’t unwatchably bad, and the riffs (when you can hear them) were very funny for the most part. They beat the tar out of poor Denise Richards for her acting, probably too much. They mocked Dina Meyer’s character, on the flipside, which was pretty funny. (Although Dina Meyer was better, and her character more endearing than I recalled.) Apparently Meyer, Harris and Casper van Dien were strongly encouraging Rifftrax’s efforts here (I actually remember this from Twitter) which meant a cruel barb was often followed by a mouthed “Sorry” on stage. This was actually also kind of endearing.

Is it really her fault?
Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful, hate me because I’m horribly miscast—constantly.

Overall it was a very enjoyable time, though too long for any shorts at the front, which is a shame given how fun those can be. They came up with a new twist on the old “how do we not show the nudity?” gag that they used on Mystery Science Theater 3000, which I liked. We were quite pleased.

The next movie up for the “Best of” series was The Room, which we loved but you probably couldn’t pay us to see it again.

 

Mustang

I hate Turks. I just wanted to get that out of the way. No, I’ve never actually met a Turk that I know of, except in Western literature, where they have been universally reviled. I should probably add that it’s always Turkish men in the books. Turkish women don’t make a lot of appearances. And, after Mustang, I’m okay with Turkish women.

Turkish women at the bath.
Which is actually a pretty traditional double-standard.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you know that Mustang is the story of five sisters who are suddenly taken from a pretty liberal lifestyle to one of near imprisonment in their own home. What you don’t know is when this is or why this is. We’ve seen a number of films about the Iranian revolution, where this sort of thing happened on a national basis back in the ’70s, but nothing about Turkey. So I was curious about this film.

Which brings me back to hating Turks. Though, in fairness, they probably aren’t exceptional in this part of the world. As it turns out, Mustang is the story of a modern Turkish uncle that has taken in his five orphaned nieces. After a little anodyne horseplay with some boys at their school comes back to their grandmother as obscene behavior—bizarrely obscene over-the-top behavior—the uncle has a fit and starts erecting a prison around the house until he can get them all married off.

Water Play?
This is what they’re doing that gets them in trouble, the harlots.

The girls seems to be between about 11 and 17 in age. The story is told from the point-of-view of the youngest, feistiest one, who has the right idea by immediately calling out the witchy old gossip who lied to their grandmother.

And so these five beautiful young girls are systematically destroyed by the uncle, whose behavior seems somewhat comical at first, but becomes increasingly sinister as the movie wears on. This is well supported in terms of both how he reacts to each new outrage, and as his character is revealed over time.

Yeah.
Turkish Girls In Prison

The Boy and I both really liked it. Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven (who co-wrote with Alice Winocour) puts together a very plausible scenario she claims is based on her hometown, and I suspect the offense some Turks have taken to it are precisely because it’s right on the nose. On the other hand, it doesn’t change my opinion of Turks one way or the other, really: I’m just as shallow and ill-informed as I was before seeing this movie.

So, as a movie, it’s pretty darn good. A lot of suspense. The girls are lovely and the movie manages to flesh them all out in its hour-and-a-half-ish runtime. The ending may have been too good, but I’m not going to complain. This is a rare situation where we’ve seen all the foreign language Oscar nominees (except one, A War) before the actual ceremony, and it would probably be my pick. Maybe Labyrinth of Lies. Theeb, while also good, kind of petered out at the end. Don’t get me started on Son of Saul.

I’m going to go into spoiler territory now, so stop reading if you wish to be as pristine as a Turkish bride on her 11th birthday.

As most are.
If the sight of five girls upsets you, you’re deranged.

Seriously, very spoilerrific. Turn back now lest ye read stuff you don’t wanna.

The matter of the girls’ virginity is a big deal in this movie (and in Muslim culture, generally) but there’s a jarring moment when one of the girls confesses (to her sister) to having sex with her boyfriend. But it’s okay, she reassures her, because it’s anal sex, which preserves the virginity. This was sort of shocking as the girls really do seem very innocent—and the play that got them into trouble very much was.

Later, however, we learn that the uncle has been molesting the girls. We don’t get details since the story is told from the youngest sister’s point-of-view, but it all falls into place: The uncle is deathly worried about the girls’ virginity while at the same time raping them. So where does a young girl (without a lot of exposure to Western media) get the idea to get around the virginity problem by having anal sex?

Later, the middle girl has shockingly casual sex with a random guy. That also falls into place with the sexual abuse. So, in essence, the irony is that the guy most paranoid about the purity of the girls is the guy busy sullying them. Maybe not irony so much as “yeah, that’s how it goes”.

Anyway, check it out. Despite the dark moments, and the ridiculously medieval world, there’s a lot of positivity and optimism here.

So, there's that.
And at least one gets a happy ending.

The Revenant

A bear is murdered by an out-of-control furrier and comes back to life to stalk down his killer in The Revenant!

Nah. Can you imagine?

We have to admit though that when we heard Leonardo DiCaprio got raped by a bear (twice!) in this new film, we were rooting for the bear. Nothing personal, just that Ursine-Americans are rarely (and unfairly!) portrayed by the elite hairless apes in Hollywood.

Oh, Elinor. Fergus likes a bit of hair.
You know?

Anyway, The Revenant is Inarritu’s—he’s lucky if I get the number of “n”s and “r”s in his name right, so don’t be talkin’ to me about them funny foreign squiggles in his name—follow up to the 2014 Best Picture, Birdman, and it’s about as far as possible from that film, content-wise.

This is a bloody, brutal film with all kinds of violence, as well as a not soft-soaped view of life in the 1820s West. Animals are killed and skinned. People are killed and skinned, or at least scalped. Arrows hurt. Guns are inadequate to many of the tasks they’re called on to perform. Vegetarians are forced to eat raw liver! Well, okay, DiCaprio (a vegetarian) ate raw bison liver (for real, they say), but it’s unlikely that the real Hugh Glass was a vegetarian.

Because, you know, how freaking ridiculous would that be?

The bear doesn't call him afterwards.
He’s not even hungry. Just pissed.

And, look, I love Dances with Wolves as much as the next guy (unless the next guy is James Cameron) but I agree with the L.A. Weekly critic who refered to it as “a goofy fairy tale”. The Indians in this movie? They’re freakin’ scary. They’re not demonized: Some are good, some are bad—at least from particular perspectives which might easily shift—and at least one tribe is a candidate for the eponymous revenant, quite apart from Glass.

But they’re not candy-asses. If the Indians have been slandered by white, western culture, the worst slander has to be this notion that they were mystical, peace-loving earth-worshippers as opposed to tough-as-nails bastards living in a post-apocalyptic (at least to them) world.

The story, dressed up a bit from the true one, is that Glass and his half-breed son are on a pelt gathering trip that goes bad when they’re raided by some tribe (the Arikari) and must abandon their pelts in the hopes of getting to “civilization” alive. (And while I don’t question western civilization’s superiority in general to what was left of Indian culture in 1820, there’s not much to the fort they’re trying to escape to apart from high walls.)

He's practicing his fireman's carry.
This is from a flashback, actually.

A troublemaking furrier, Fitzgerald (played by Tom Hardy, whom I once again did not recognize) gets pissed off about not making the money for the furs, then even more pissed off when Glass is nearly eaten by the (now famous CGI) bear. Nearly eaten being the problem: Trying to bring him along slows the party down, and Fitzgerald contrives a way to kill Glass, deceptively roping a young man (Will Poulter, Maze Runner, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) into his plot. The movie juices this up by having Fitzgerald kill Glass’ son.

This is all in the trailer by the way, and not really the point. The point is Glass’ amazing journey to get revenge.

The title, the trailers and all the buzz are focused around the revenge plot, but this is not, I repeat, not a revenge picture. It’s a survival picture. And it is amazing in that aspect: South Dakota—well, south Argentina, due to scheduling issues—is a barren, inhospitable land that is as strikingly beautiful as it is completely hostile. But I realized, probably an hour-and-a-half into this 2.5 hour film, that there was no way the act of revenge itself could live up to the struggle for survival.

Apparently.
Argentina is dotted with mountains of skulls.

And it doesn’t. I found it adequate. The Boy thought it was too Hollywood. I would concur with the “too Hollywood” notion if I could think of a single way to fix it. It was anti-climactic as it was, anything more realistic would’ve been even moreso. (Interesting note: The real Glass killed neither of his two companions. He forgave the first because he was so young. And the real villain, he forgave because he didn’t want to face the music for murder.)

Anyway, it’s beautiful. And Inarritu, while not doing the “all one shot” trick of Birdman, lets the camera float around the proceedings in a similar fashion, which (while occasionally feeling a bit pretentious) has one very salubrious effect: In today’s quick-cut world, directors tend to fail to communicate to the audience the actual space the action is taking place in. This makes it very hard to get invested in the action. Furthermore, because of the quick cuts, they can cheat about where things are—I’m thinking of Run All Night, from about a year ago, where this was egregiously done—and because they can, of course they do. In fact, I think, these days, they don’t really map things out to make sense, because they know they can just edit everything together.

I liked the score. Well, part of it. Sometimes it was just ambient tones, which worked in some places and not in others, I thought. (There are no less than three composers credited. I think they may have even been mixed together, post-facto.)

This is probably my favorite diCaprio role. I think it’s because he doesn’t talk much, and I find that when he talks, whatever airs he’s putting on (Boston accent, say) are a distraction. Hardy is fabulous. Domhnall Gleeson (Ex-Machina, Brooklyn, Calvary, etc.) is so good, you once again forget he was a Weaselly.

The bear was great. Oscar for him.

Actually, the bear was a nice bit of CGI. The scene could not have been done effectively any other way. At the same time, I don’t expect it to age well. There’s a fair amount of shock in it, and even so, you can see the “cracks”. Once the shock wears off, it may even look hokey. But again, it was very necessary.

That’s a brutal scene, by the way. It was impossible for me to not think of Timothy Treadwell.

Wrongest statement ever.
“The bears are my friends.”

The Boy and I liked it, but we weren’t really blown away. The ending was just not up to the sparsely-but-effectively drawn characters, the stunning scenery, and the otherwise gripping action.

Clerks (1994)

I’d been meaning to take the kids to see Clerks, so when it popped up last Thursday at one of our theaters, I did. So, how does a $27,500 shot-on-video static, talk-heavy movie hold up after over 20 years?

Solid. Very solid indeed.

Ooh! Seal Team Six!
To this day, whenever the topic comes up, I say “Ooh! Navy SEALs!” just like this guy.

Dante’s still whiny and Randall’s still a A-league jerk, but they’re distinctive characters with a distinctive voice. That voice is Kevin Smith’s, of course—every single character at every turn talks like him, but that’s not a bad thing. I mean, if you find it amusing, which I do.

As did the kids. The Flower found it very funny while The Boy was also impressed by the editing and—after a fashion—camerawork. Smith is rightfully chided (and chides himself rightfully) on his atypical-for-his-generation lack of fluency with the camera. In fact, there’s a great moment in the commentary track on Dogma where he says something to the effect of “Some filmmakers even use the camera near exclusively instead of relying on dialogue”, and everyone else laughs, so he follows up with “No, seriously!”

Of course, he holds the camera here for half-an-hour.
But this is a good shot: Tells us about the characters.

But that’s really more an issue for later films. In this one, this hard-scrabble pay-for-it-on-a-credit-card gonna-take-my-shot melodrama, we have a clear picture, clear sound, and some reasonably good (if static) shots, and almost no wasted time. It was nice to see right after 45 Years, actually, because it had so much that that far “better” (technically) film didn’t have. For example, both films have very representative soundtracks of their era, but you get whole songs in 45 Years while people are, sort of, emoting. Meanwhile, Clerks gives you a quick stinger and possibly some action (shoplifting, e.g.) or the song immediately gets pushed into the background again.

I’m reminded of another thing Kevin Smith said about brutally cutting down runtimes: That you do it for the audience, Paul Thomas Anderson. We could probably safely say that PT Anderson is a far more skilled director than Smith. And yet. Smith is trying to entertain the audience while Anderson “DGAF”, as the kids type into their phones these days.

If your job was that pointless...
I feel as though Smith had some run-ins with guidance counselors.

Anyway, the story here is that whiny loser Dante is browbeaten into going to open up the liquor store where he works on a day he is supposed to be off. While there, he is insulted, humiliated, nearly lynched, and tricked. He gets into a fight with his girlfriend over sexual histories, but also is conducting a clandestine (though currently non-sexual) relationship with a high-school ex.

In the mix of all these trivial hijinx, there’s a ton of humor, good “dialogue” (I mean, it’s Kevin Smith monologuing, but still), and genuine character establishment with real arcs for Dante, and even a lesser one for his pal Randall. It’s got a lot of heart.

It’s also got a ton of swearing, salty language, sexual dialogue that probably should make you blush—to the point where this no-violence no-nudity film originally was rated NC-17—that’s actually still pretty raunchy over 20 years later. I was pretty shocked when I saw it the first time, not just due to the explicitness of the language but because sexuality is treated so cavalierly, even moreso than in the awful, awful teen films of the ’80s (which tended to celebrate promiscuity, where this is more ambivalent about it).

This was foreshadowed by an earlier story of a party mixup.
The ill-fated Caitlyn.

The acting is not as bad as I remember. Brian O’Halloran doesn’t seem quite as whiny as I remember him—might be a big screen factor. And the Jersey twang of Marilyn Ghigliotti (as girlfriend Veronica) didn’t strike me as harsh as it did originally. Jason Mews and Smith, as Jay and Silent Bob, actually seem more amateurish than I remember, probably because they ended up doing five more movies (with a Clerks III in the works, I think). Jeff Anderson probably does the best with the sometimes awkward dialog (“Why are you upset at its destruction?”).

It’s not for everyone, of course, and it’s not really a classic, in the sense that (I don’t think) people will be watching this 55 years from now like they do Casablanca. But it is still very watchable.

Look at all that junk food.
Especially if you’re bored on the job.

45 Years

I really didn’t want to see this but you know what time of the year it is. That’s right. It’s the queer time of year when the grannies of the popcorn movies and the fetid sludge of Oscar-bait flicks combine to make an unholy goulash designed to punish two main groups of people:

  1. Those who don’t go to the movies very much.
  2. Those (like us) who go a lot.

There’s something to appall everyone this time of year. We see about 12 movies on average a month, The Boy and I, but January of 2015, we saw five. Just for example, this week, our “fresh” options are the lesbian movie, the transexual movie, and the communist writer movie. Oh, and the dysfunctional old couple movie. None of these were on my list, but we ended up at the dysfunctional old couple movie, 45 years, anyway.

I expected to really, really hate it. And, well, I didn’t like it. But I didn’t hate it. And I didn’t dislike it in the way that I thought I would. So, there’s that. And, at about an hour-and-a-half, it was only forty minutes longer than it needed to be, rather than ninety minutes longer.

Direction!
“You’re walking…you’re walking…you’re sort of annoyed…and walking some more…”

Basically, what we have here is a love triangle. Kate and Geoff have been married for, you guessed it, 45 years. They’re having a big party to celebrate, because on their 40th, Geoff had some health problems that interfered with any possible celebrations. Then, the other woman shows up.

Well, sort of. Geoff gets a letter that says they’ve found the body of his lover, who perished in the icy Alps 50 years ago. And he gets a little wonky about this. Kate gets wonkier. And there’s your movie.

Let it go.
I guess she is kind of intimidating.

I’m not really kidding. That’s the whole thing. There are details slowly—excruciatingly slowly—revealed. And then they are pointedly not talked about in that English fashion where Things Are Not Talked About. And there are long scenes of, well, nothing really. Kate walks across a field. Kate goes to the mall. Kate—she’s the lead character, in case you hadn’t guessed—looks meaningfully at the attic. Sometimes these long scenes end in some new fact, while other times, they seem to neither reveal any new plot points nor aspects of character nor even make a symbolic or thematic statement.

Like Kate walking the dog across the empty field in long shot. That’s a scene. Maybe 2-3 minutes long. Why? The only thing I could think was that they were establishing she was in pretty good shape, while Geoff was rather doddering. But they established that repeatedly, with virtually every scene involving the two of them. There’s another scene where she plays piano for 2-3 minutes. I guess that was to show…hell, I don’t know, a reconnection with the past, or something.

It's a staple.
In case you were wondering: Yes, there is Old People Sex in this.

I ended up not particularly liking either of them—I think Kate even less than Geoff—but that was refreshing in the sense that I expected to hate them both from the get-go.

So, this is an actor’s film. Highly feted Tom Courtenay (last seen by us in the much better Quartet) and even highly-er feted Charlotte Rampling (whom we last saw in Melancholia) apparently do some acting here. I mean, I don’t know what to say. I’m sure they were acting, in the sense that they haven’t actually been married for decades, but the acting isn’t the Award-winning Jumbo Ham-On-Rye style—and it’s also at the same time completely lacking in subtlety.

Director Andrew Haigh may have been going for the latter, but there’s a big difference between subtlety and ambiguity. In the end, we’re left with not really knowing how Geoff feels about things, which makes it impossible for us to assess Kate’s actions. There’s a lot that could’ve been done here, in terms of drama. For example, Kate and Geoff have never had children, and this past love may have been a hidden factor in that. But maybe not.

There’s even the fact that in the circumstances of her demise, the story Geoff tells sounds very close to one of a cheating girlfriend, or potentially so. Again, maybe, maybe not.

Sadly, no BAFTAs were to be had.
We’re not doing this to be popular. We’re doing this to win a BAFTA.

I don’t need things spoonfed to me, but I do need something to chew on while the camera is slowly following characters who aren’t really doing much of anything.

Maybe don’t try to make a feature film out of a short story next time? Or flesh it out a bit more? I dunno.