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Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2019.15

Published by marco on

These are my notes to remember what I watched and kinda what I thought about it. I’ve recently transferred my reviews to IMDb and made the list of around 1400 ratings publicly available. I’ve included the individual ratings with my notes for each movie. These ratings are not absolutely comparable to each other—I rate the film on how well it suited me for the genre and my mood and. let’s be honest, level of intoxication. YMMV. Also, I make no attempt to avoid spoilers.

Weekend (1967) — 5/10

The movie begins with a couple (Corinne and Roland Dupont) who discuss how awful everyone else is and how they either wished the others would die or that they should plan to kill them. We see a fender-bender turn into a beatdown, outside an apartment. We see a man listen to his girlfriend somewhat clinically describe an impromptu three-way she had with other friends. They are nearly in silhouette, with vague details visible, she in bra and panties. The music surges oddly, sometimes nearly drowning them out. The scene she describes keeps getting kinkier, but her tone of voice stays exactly the same.[1]

The next scene sees the same couple trying to drive off for the weekend, at 10 on a Saturday. He can’t drive; he hits a parked car; there’s a kid dressed as an Indian pestering him; the lady who owns the parked car is the kid’s Mom; she comes out, ready for tennis lessons; drags the bad driver out of the car; his wife gets a spraypaint can out of the trunk of their car, gives it to him, then holds the lady’s hands while he sprays her and her car. The lady responds by hitting tennis balls at him. A man comes out firing a shotgun, but hitting nothing. The lady, man with shotgun and boy-dressed-as-Indian all chase the car out of the parking lot. Highly surreal but still somewhat meaningful, if you look for it. Certainly not formulaic.

The next scene is a traffic jam on a French country road. The couple roll by standing cars (Citroën 2CV, Fiat 500, etc.), then try to sneak in. There’s a car inexplicably flipped on its roof. Other cars litter the sides of the road. There are people playing chess. One lady’s car faces the wrong way. One truck has lions on it; another gibbons and a llama. Cars just bump into each other all the time. Nearly everyone (every man, at least) has a cigarette sticking out of their face. The only sound is honking horns and the man’s revving engine as he scooches forward. The horns are like an orchestra warming up. The camera finally pans from left to right and we see a woman and two children, a bloody mess by the side of the road. The man finally accelerates out of there.

They arrive in a small town. A sports car is nearly embedded in a tractor. The driver is clearly dead. The passenger is covered in blood and she’s berating the tractor driver—the farmer—in classist terms, saying everything working class is shit and it’s better to be rich. When he says that “Paul” caused the accident, she says that he was handsome, young, and rich and certainly had the right of way over a fat, poor, old man. They both ask the couple who was right, but the couple beg off and drive away. The farmer yells after them that Marx said we were all brothers and the young woman yells that they’re dirty Jews. The young woman and farmer commiserate as the car jets away, united in their hatred for the couple.

They drive on. Brief scenes and sounds of traffic jams. We see people reaching into their convertible and both the man and the woman biting those people’s hands. It starts raining. A woman hails them for a ride. Another traffic accident. This woman’s raving husband (who she’d hidden) has a gun and makes them turn around, going back the way they’d come. The rain stops; the top is back down. The two unwanted passengers (Joseph Balsamo, the son of Alexandre Dumas and God) are in the back. The couple hails everyone for help, but only half-heartedly. Joseph fires his gun and philosophizes. His girlfriend says nothing. He performs a miracle (conjures a rabbit from under the dashboard), then asks them what they want. They want things. He is disappointed and tells them they get nothing. Corinne swipes the gun and orders them out. They all Benny-Hill across a field of wrecked cars, Corinne yelling “Dirty Jew! I’ll kill you!” and firing the gun with endless bullets.

Back on the road. They drive cyclists and cars off the road, finally crashing in a fiery wreck themselves. Corinne is devastated as her Hermès handbag burns. They are walking across a field as a 19th-century French soldier accosts them. They reach a phone booth, occupied by a man who sings his whole conversation. They try to steal his car, but he fights them off, then only wants to take Corinne to the garage. A prolonged fight ensues. They lose and are, once again, on foot. We see them on a road covered in bodies lying in puddles of their own blood, and wrecked, flaming cars.

They meet a surrealist couple in the woods and argue with them. They continue, stealing clothes from more wrecked cars. It is Thursday. They left on Saturday. They hail a truck. Musical interlude. The truck driver plays Mozart on a grand piano in a courtyard. The couple is dropped off in a muddy field, thanking the truck driver. He piggybacks on her as they head off again, on foot. They pass the “Italian co-production” of the film in the woods.

They give up, stopping again by the side of the road. Corinne sleeps in a ditch; a stranger attacks her (presumably raping her) while her husband does nothing. He hails a passing car, but fails to answer a question correctly (chooses Johnson over Mao) and they drive on without him. The stranger exits the ditch, adjusting his clothes. They don’t speak of it. She hails a car, answers a question incorrectly (chooses Egyptians over Israelis) and they drive on. Piggyback again.

A garbage truck picks them up. They work for them for a while. More political commentary. Spoken by the black worker while the camera focuses on the white one:

“The optimism reigning today in Africa is not inspired by natural forces benefiting Africans. Nor because the old oppressor is behaving less inhumanely and more benevolently. The optimism is the direct result of revolutionary action, political and or military, by the African masses. […]”

It continues for about ten or fifteen more minutes. The Duponts sit on a rock wall, looking somewhat bored. The monologues are interspersed with prior scenes from the movie.

They are finally in Oinville (they’d been just outside the town for a while now). Corinne takes a bath while (presumably) Roland reads the story of the hippopotamus from the Bible. He returns from getting a rabbit with his mother-in-law, bargaining with her for the inheritance. She is resolute. He and Corinne kill her, then plan to cover up her body in one of the many car wrecks. They set her ablaze in an “accident” involving an airplane.

They’re on foot again. They encounter a picnic and are kidnapped from it by a band of rebels, motivations unclear. They’re at the rebel camp, which looks to be no more than a heap of old tires in the woods. And there’s a man with a drum set. They are portrayed as cannibals; the Duponts are chained to a tree, looking quite dead. The “chef” drops an egg on them. He does the same to a naked woman, aiming between her legs.

Roland makes a break for it, but is taken down by a rock to the head. They leave him. A pig is killed. A goose is killed. More revolutionary talk via two-way radio (TIL that “Over” is derives from the French “A vous”). There is an utterly unclear hostage exchange followed by a pitched guerrilla-style battle on a French farm. Roland is dead and the chef has cooked him into a meal that Corinne enjoys, asking for seconds. I guess Corinne was converted to whatever bizarre-ass form of Marxism the hippies in the forest think they’re practicing?

There was no payoff, but I didn’t expect one. I’m sure there’s deeper meaning behind the the drummer by the riverside and I appreciate them all trying something new, but it just didn’t grab me. Maybe a second viewing would be different. I subtracted a star for throwing in everything but the kitchen sink. (I’m looking at you, Godard.) I saw it in French with English subtitles.

The Belko Experiment (2016) — 5/10

For a movie that’s about a building in Bogotá that suddenly closes down on 80 employees, trapping them there with a disembodied voice exhorting them to kill each other, it’s kind of weird to say that it’s kind of predictable.

It stars John C. McGinley, Michael Rooker … and a bunch of other people who I vaguely recognized from their faces but not their names.

The evil voice from the speaker tells the people that they have to kill a certain number of the group themselves or the evil people in the speaker will kill twice that many by triggering the tracking device that they all had implanted in their heads when they entered employment with Belko.

The slaughter begins, some taking part reluctantly, some enthusiastically. The final stage is to reward the person with the most kills (who’s still alive, of course) with freedom. Pretty much everyone gets it and the office building looks like an abattoir. In the final scene, the office pussy Michael Milch thinks it’s a good idea to go mano a mano with the ex-Special Forces COO, who’s racked up way over a dozen kills already.

Michael vanquishes the COO, slaughtering his first and last person by bludgeoning with a tape dispenser and “wins” the game as the last remaining employee of Belko Industries. The guards show up and take him to the head of the experiment. Michael had picked up the pile of explosives that Marty (Sean Gunn) had extracted from victims’ heads and he’s planted them on all of the guards—and even the leader himself. He then lunges for the console and triggers them all. The movie is adorable in thinking that it could set up a sequel. Cool soundtrack.

Matinee (1993) — 5/10

John Goodman plays director Lawrence Woolsey, who’s making monster movies in 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He’s in Key West, 90 miles from Cuba, trying to release his latest movie Mant, about mutated ants (obviously, right?). Townspeople and national organizations are trying to stop him because he’s “causing unrest” and “scaring people” and “spreading filth”.

Woolsey’s just trying to entertain people—he’s even got what he calls “4D” devices, precursors to devices that would be popular at theme parks years later. It’s pretty unbelievable, though: at one point, a decibel-meter shows over 300, which is ridiculous. Everyone in the theater would have had their heads blown off.

The “moral majority” who’s out to stop Woolsey, though, had been hired by him to drum up interest. There’s a bunch of machination with high-school kids that I didn’t bother trying to unravel completely. There are some ironic bits where, for example, the scientist in the movie Mant keeps translating perfectly normal words for the woman in the movie, like magnify (“make bigger”) or accelerate (“speed it up”).

When the fancy movie effects convince a panicky bomb-shelter owner that the missiles are on their way, two of the kids end up getting locked in. Woolsey helps get them out, as his movie plays on. The balcony in the theater is too weak for all of the awesome effects and people get ridiculously worked up thinking that the world is going to end—especially once Woolsey’s mushroom cloud film is projected on-screen. Then they go fucking bananas and exit the theater, into broad daylight (it was, after all, a matinee).

It’s mostly a pretty lame movie, but I can always watch John Goodman work. And Cathy Moriarty is a perfect foil as his ingenue/wife. He leaves with her, at the end, with an absolutely gigantic cigar in his mouth. Her hat is spectacular, as well, though highly inappropriate for a convertible.

Mimic (1997) — 6/10

Directed by Guillermo del Toro, this movie is about a Manhattan that is just getting out from under a quarantine for Strickler’s Disease, which has a high infection rate among children and polio-like effects. Dr. Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino), an entomologist, puts an end to it by engineering a so-called Judas bug that wipes out New York’s cockroaches.

Three years later, there are stirrings of repercussions. People are going missing and there are … sightings of a man-bug. Susan with her husband (Jeremy Northam) investigate along with CDC colleague Josh Brolin. Much of the action takes place in Alphabet City, where a shoe-shiner (Giancarlo Giannini) lives with his autistic son, who has an affinity for the bugs. Charles S. Dutton is an MTA officer. F. Murray Abraham plays a fellow researcher of Susan’s.

Since del Toro is just directing (not writing), the action unfolds more-or-less predictably. Much of the action takes place in the dark tunnels of subways, where I can imagine the smell. If you’re even been to Chambers St. or, even worse, Canal St.station, then you can probably remember it, too.

Investigations continue on all sides: they comb the tunnels, finding signs of large-scale habitation; they find a fully-formed bug in a sewage system, a sign that there is a larger colony where it could have evolved and grown (it seems to be a soldier). Susan encounters a bug that disguises itself as a man—our first non-shadowed view of a full-grown bug. She approaches it, asking for the time (it was 1997, no-one had a cell phone) and it abducts her.

Their investigations uncover increasingly Cronenbergian creatures and scenes: everything’s wet, gooey, organic and chitinous. The first half of the movie with the buildup is more interesting than the finale, once the bugs are revealed. In the end, it’s Alien with a bunch of kid stuff thrown in, for good measure. It’s del Toro, so it’s meticulously nicely shot, but the story is very trite.

The movie inspired two straight-to-video sequels, both of which featured no-name writers, directors and actors.

Another Year (2010) — 7/10

Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) are the rock around which a coterie of alcoholics skirl. They very placidly have a dinner with a single guest who gets deep into their cups, until they almost collapse in the late evening. First her office companion Mary (Leslie Manville) and then his schoolmate Ken (Peter Wight) They are depressed because they have no-one to share their lives with. Tom and Gerri do more than humor them—they barely seem to notice how deep in their cups they are, speaking in a non-pandering manner throughout.

The two act as counselors for all of their friends. Tom is seriously concerned about his friend Ken who is a full-blown depressive alcoholic and chain-smoker. He is deeply unhealthy. Tom and Gerri, meanwhile, quietly tend their garden and enjoy the outdoors.

They have a garden party, with their son Joe (Oliver Maltman), Ken and Mary in attendance. Mary shows up very late because she drove—and then starts drinking immediately, as customary. She also splashes in to the party, describing her day in excruciating detail, as usual. She’s absolutely in tatters, in denial about being a smoker. Just a hot mess. Ken is also an absolute shambles, hitting on Mary, but only half-heartedly. Mary’s on her second mug of wine. Ken’s got his own bottle.

Mary starts hitting on Joe pretty hard, which is very cringe-y, but Joe’s got his parents’ gift for being able to utterly ignore how madcap and unhinged his conversational partners are.

They get ready to leave the party and Mary offers to give Joe and Ken a lift to the train station. Gerri isn’t thrilled because Mary is a terrible driver and she’s had too much to drink. Joe safely exits the vehicle, leaving Mary and Ken together. Ken makes a very clumsy move; Mary rejects it.

The next season is winter. They travel north, to Tom’s brother Ronnie (David Bradley), whose wife has just died. They attend the funeral and the wake and then bring Ronnie back to stay with them for a few days. Tom and Gerri are out when Mary shows up, looking even more discombobulated than usual, freezing from the weather. He lets her in and she makes a cup of tea. She wants a cigarette and Ronnie offers her one, but says they have to go outside. Mary doesn’t want to be cold and claims that Tom and Gerri wouldn’t notice. They continue an absolutely painful conversation outside.

The film just kind of peters out, ending as it started. Poor Ronnie looks very out of place—he’d just lost his wife and the family of his brother (the Londoner) has completely different topics than he’s used to. Mary is also more lost than usual, barely controlling her alcoholism and depression. It’s a well-made film, a cut out of any everyday family and group of friends as they age.

Five Deadly Venoms (1978) — 6/10

I’m watching this because the men from Kim’s Convenience claim that it’s the best martial-arts movie of all time. The style is somewhat comedic, but not so much as Jackie Chan’s movies. It’s also almost certainly not as deliberately comedic as it is campy. The fighting styles are ludicrous—Centipede, Snake, Scorpion, Toad, Gecko—the costumes are flamboyant, as are the wigs (head and beard). The main fighters sashay in and out of scenes—at first I thought some of them were played by women. There are no women in this movie (other than a few victims of the initial murder).

The story is of an old master who has trained five students (seniors), who are now out in the world. A fellow member of his own training cadre has made a fortune; the master is worried that his former five students will try to steal it. He’s right: the five masters are looking for him—and each other. The old master sends his latest acolyte (hair like an 80s headbanger) to find them all and prevent anything bad from happening—and from bringing further shame upon the house of the Five Deadly Venoms.

Honestly, the plot is not super-clear if you just have the subtitles to go by. People in pajamas kicking each other. It takes forty minutes for the first full-on battle between two of the seniors: Toad and Centipede; Toad vanquishes him and walks away from the police. The sixth acolyte (the youngest student) scampers away, still convincing everyone that he’s just a bumbling fool.

Machinations lead to alternate accusations and various arrest orders. Next, they frame Toad and attempt to arrest him. He agrees to come quietly, but then tears up the courtroom when Menfa (the supposed eyewitness) fingers him (although he was dead certain it was Centipede a day or two ago). One of the policeman is convinced that Toad is a good man and blameless.

Others plot to torture him until he succumbs to the coat of a thousand needles, which looks like an iron maiden). The other masters are as yet undetected—but brother Snake is forced to reveal himself when Toad easily escapes the coat. Toad (Meng Lo) has quite an amazing physique. Somehow Scorpion manages to sting Toad in the ears (I didn’t see how it happened) and Snake vanquishes him.

Toad continues to get the short end of the stick. Next, they burn his whole back with a torso armor that was heated over coals. His whole back is fried; the court asks Menfa to come back in and witness again. They make the unconscious Toad “sign” a confession.

Later, we see Snake and Centipede murder Menfa, to tie up loose ends. The police murder Toad by suffocation in his cell, then string him up to make it look like he’d hanged himself. Snake and Centipede show up to kill the police, tying up all loose ends. They wonder aloud where brother Gecko is.

The other police inspector, He, does not accept the ruling and regrets Toad’s death. Yang De (the acolyte) reveals that he knows that He is Gecko. Scorpion and Snake quarrel; Snake laments how far he himself has fallen and blames Scorpion.

Gecko and the acolyte advance on Snake and Centipede and fight them interminably (with laughable sound effects). His former captain looks on—until he reveals himself to be Scorpion and wounds Snake as he tries to run away. The fight continues, with Scorpion (now revealed) and Centipede together. Snake plucks out the shooting stars and wounds Scorpion before Scorpion back-kicks him in the forehead and sends him over the Styx.

In a truly impressive fit of histrionics, Scorpion succumbs to his Snake-inflicted wound, leaving only Centipede to be taken out by Gecko and the acolyte. They snag the map from Scorpion’s belt, babble something about doing good with the treasure and walk off. It gets an extra point for probably having invented most of the tropes it contains.

The Putin Interviews E04 (2017) — 9/10

Oliver Stone interviews Vladimir Putin about his life, his career and his politics in this 4-part mini-series. The interviews take place over the span of over two years, from June 2015 to September 2017.

This episode begins with a discussion of the recent presidential election in 2016. Stone asks him what changes when presidents change? Putin has seen Clinton, Bush, Obama and now Trump. What changes?

“Well, almost nothing. […] Everywhere, but especially in the United States, bureaucracy is very strong. […] And bureaucracy is the one that rules the world. […] But, in reality, we’re not waiting for anything revolutionary.”

Is he bullish on things getting more amenable under Trump?

“There is always hope…until they are ready to bring us to the cemetery to bury us.”

Stone asks why he hacked the election, but Putin answers that America has enough internal problems of its own—revealing true and available information is not hacking nor is it the world’s problem when America’s internal duplicity is revealed, even to itself.

Stone asks Putin about John McCain and his railing against Russia, describing it as an unholy beast. Putin’s answer is nuanced and erudite and interesting (I don’t imagine that Stone would have allowed it to be edited to flatter Putin, but you can’t be sure).

“Well, honestly, I like Senator McCain to a certain extent. And I’m not joking. I like him because of his patriotism, and I can relate to his consistency in fighting for the interests of his own country. […He is like] the Ancient Roman Senator, Cato the Elder, who routinely signed off his speeches, regardless of the subject, with the phrase, ‘Carthage must be destroyed.’ […] People with such convictions, like the Senator you mentioned, they still live in the Old World. And they’re reluctant to look into the future, they are unwilling to recognize how fast the world is changing.”

It’s that attitude that Putin wants to avoid because it’s a waste of time, instead he names “poverty around the world” and “environmental deterioration, which is the real threat to all humanity.”

Since Putin just laid out several reasons why improved relations between Russia and the U.S. would be beneficial to the world, Stone asks him whether he sees a way forward. Putin sees very clearly that Russia is a helpless catspaw for internal domestic squabbles in the U.S. The U.S. mainstream media will do what it wants—subsequent years have borne out this prediction—and there is nothing Russia can do to change opinion in the U.S. (despite allegations to the contrary with the minuscule Russia Today channel). “We know all their tricks.”

Next, he sounds like Bernie Sanders (unsurprisingly, I’m sure, for those who think Bernie and Putin are both communists and in cahoots), where he says about the U.S. military budget eclipsing the rest of the world, that “[t]here are other things to spend money on, like healthcare, education, the pension systems.” (N.B. Putin has reduced Russian military spending in the last several years in a row. See the book Russia Without Putin by Tony Wood for more information.)

Putin is really smooth. You feel sorry for him and Russia. They discuss cyber attacks and the prevalence of US hardware and software in Russia. They also discuss attacks on Russian banks and the stock exchange.

“Well, you will probably not believe me, but I’m going to say something strange. Since the early 1990s, we have assumed that the Cold War is over. We thought there was no need to take any additional protective measures because we viewed ourselves as an integral part of the world community.”

At another point, he says very carefully that the U.S. administration reminded him a bit of the Politburo—when they all gave medals to one another. “That was very funny.” Stone obliges by juxtaposing Brezhnev getting a medal from Honecker (or was it just a kiss?) with Obama giving a teary-eyed Biden a medal. Obama had also given one to Bush Sr.

Here’s where Stone looks a bit ignorant, when he says “I’m worried, because I believe that cyber warfare can lead to a hot war.” Cyber warfare can cause a lot of suffering and kill just as many as a hot war. Look at the sanctions, look at Iran. We’re kidding ourselves if we think we’re being moral as long as we don’t launch a “hot” war. We’re already at war with Russia. And Iran. Their people are suffering tremendously for it.

Especially as people become more and more dependent on technology—either voluntarily or through climate-crisis-engendered dependency—it will be more and more deadly to disrupt that technology, even if only for a few days. If you can remotely cut off the freshwater supply for a city for a week, what do you need a bomb for? How would a so-called hot war be worse than that damage?

Stone asks Putin about Stalin’s legacy. Putin laughs, calls Stone a “cunning man” then says he will, of course, answer now when Stone offers to let him answer the next day. He tells a long story of Winston Churchill (whom he terms “flexible” for his changing allegiances vis à vis the Soviet) and then Oliver Cromwell (slaughtered many people), Napoleon (same, also absolutely deified), all in a way to answer that countries around the world continue to revere mad bastards from their past. Why should Russia forget about theirs?

“I think that excessive demonization of Stalin is one of the ways to attack the Soviet Union and Russia […]”

He doesn’t want to forget Stalin, but to remember everything he did—including the horrific crimes. From that, a country grows (it’s the same in Germany, actually). The U.S. is the country that forgets all of the horrors it has visited on the rest of the world, blithely believing it is, and always has been, the good guy.

It’s clear why everyone in the chattering classes hate Putin. He makes them feel stupid and is onto their transparent scams. How can I, though, hate a guy who’s so erudite and well-read about history? He’s streets ahead of his interlocutors.

Stone finishes up asking him about his coterie of oligarchs and Putin’s own purported personal wealth. Putin responds,

“What is oligarchy? It is the integration of money and power with a view to influence the decisions that are being taken and the final aim being the accumulation of wealth.”

He laughs it off and says that he’s happy he’s not wealthy, so he doesn’t have to worry about managing wealth. Happiness comes from a good legacy, not from money.

He navigates Stone’s sometimes very Anglo-centric questions masterfully, never kowtowing or giving a pat answer that would satisfy. He knows nothing will satisfy, so he sticks to his own truth, not promising that Russia will become whatever the West wants it to become (a serf or vassal, as detailed in the first three episodes).

“Thank you for your time and questions. Thank you for being so thorough.”

[1] Someone who cares has catalogued nearly the entire scene the quotes section (IMDb).