Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2020.3
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.
- Margaret (2011) — 9/10
A self-satisfied shit named Lisa (Anna Paquin) thinks her shit don’t stink and that she’s God’s gift to the world. A standard teenager, in other words. She’s going to a ranch with her dad, so she needs a cowboy hat. She can’t find one she likes, but she sees a bus driver Maretti (Mark Ruffalo) with a nifty hat. The doors of the bus close, so she chases it, waving to get his attention and to ask him where he’d bought it. She distracts him enough that he runs a red light and absolutely slaughters a middle-aged woman, Monica. Lisa holds her as she bleeds out in the street. Both Lisa and Maretti say the light was green.
Lisa’s mom Joan (J. Smith-Cameron) is an actress. Ramon (Jean Reno) is a fan of hers. He asks her out. She demurs. Lisa goes out with her mom and her friends. One imitates Bobcat Goldthwait; her Mom imitates Shirley Temple and a baby. It’s mortifying.
Lisa attends a drama class with Matthew Broderick teaching. She wears miniskirts everywhere, even though everyone else is wearing jeans.
These are terrible people: Joan advises Lisa to lie to the police to protect the bus driver’s job. The next day, in some sort of government class, they discuss politics, but at the level of a Reddit /r/politics discussion, which isn’t surprising, since they’re just teenagers. Then they head to the police station, where Lisa lies point-blank about the lady who crossed the street. I suppose it’s a comment on the amorality of modern quasi-progressives who are so happy with their lives and their opinions and just being right about everything.
The neat part is that her parents are just as shallow and self-centered as she is, despite being older. Everyone is just so spoiled and stupid. The only redeemable people so far are a few of the teachers at the school. But even Mr. Aaron (Matt Damon) is a moron: he actually goes to get a cup of coffee with Lisa because she wants to talk. That’s not dangerous at all.
Now there’s an interminable conversation between Lisa and her mother that’s nearly literally painful. I understand that this is when a stupid person has stupid children and their societal position is such that nothing bad or real ever happens to them, so they have a ton of free time to burn. Her mom called her a cunt and she’s 100% right.
Lisa’s got one guy wrapped around her finger—she makes him do her math tests for her—and another is her coke dealer. That’s the one she wants to sleep with. She propositions him and invites him over to nail her. He’s actually one of the less-terrible young people in the movie (another one was Angie, a young lady of Syrian descent who actually had her politics right). They seem to be pretty clinical about it. She could have done much worse with her choice of partner. Except for right at the end, where he didn’t put on a condom and then “it kind of got away from him.” So, actually, a terrible partner who didn’t pay attention in health class, at all.
Lisa’s mom is out with Ramon, at the opera. She tells him she thinks it’s pretentious that people yell “bravi” or “brava” instead of “bravo” … because “bravo” is all she knows. He’s confused, because that’s just how romance languages work, so he doesn’t understand why anyone would think that was pretentious. He’s underestimating the anti-intellectual climate in the U.S.—almost especially and deliberately amongst those who think the most of their own intelligence and basic goodness..
It would be easy to hate this movie because of the people it depicts…but, it depicts them well. The self-interest, the lack of moral compass. Lisa is now on a mission to clear her conscience. She visits Maretti at his home. He’s not impressed. She goes to the cops to amend her statement. She finds them to be exasperatingly uncooperative—just like anyone else who doesn’t immediately agree with her or do what she says.
She talks to Detective Mitchell, who was in charge of the (now closed) case. He’s fantastic. He is calm and doesn’t rise to her histrionics. She’s appalled that she would go to all this trouble (to herself) and it would only result in reckless driving. That it was, in fact, just a stupid accident, a tragedy. She asks about “manslaughter or second-degree murder”—because her admission must lead to grander things.
“Lisa: That’s unbelievable! What does he have to do? Kill her on purpose?
Detective Mitchell: Yes. Because that’s the definition of murder.”
The detective says she can give another statement, for which she’s super-grateful. They’ll pull in Maretti again. Immediately afterward, she’s joking and smoking a joint in the park with her friend. Her heart is lighter and she doesn’t seem worried about Maretti at all anymore. She meets her teacher Mr. Aaron (Matt Damon) and clumsily flirts/appallingly insults him, again convinced that she and where she lives is the center of the universe, that she knows everything, that there is nothing for her to learn or the world to teach her. She has everything under control. Teenager. Immature adult. Most adults.
Her character is really well-done: she then asks him to let her ride her bike. This is such a bizarre request, but it’s a way of maintaining control, of getting others to do things for you. Of putting others on the back foot so they can’t get you first.
Next, she meets with Monica’s (the dead woman’s) best friend Emily and her lawyer Dave, to whom she also tells her “real story”. Honestly, it’s hard to even believe that the fantasy we saw at the start was what really happened rather than just the unreliable narrator of Lisa’s fantastical filter. But now she wants results. The lawyer starts to explain the different between statutory law and criminal law and she cuts him off with “I thought we going to get the police to arrest this guy”, which matches her personality: she supposed to want stuff and then everyone jumps and does things to please her.
Now we’re hearing what kind of shitstorm of lawsuits might get triggered as a result. Dave is being honest and informative, but Emily and Lisa are on a jihad now: something has to happen. The driver needs to be arrested or fired—all to assuage guilt or to exact revenge. Lawsuits will fly in all directions, leading to more useless laws that won’t do anything to hinder self-absorbed people ruining things for no good reason. He tells them straight out: it’s a terrible case because it’s Maretti’s word against Lisa’s and Lisa would already be admitting that she’d lied once.
Emily’s super-pissed at Maretti, which leads me to believe that Lisa didn’t tell Emily about how Lisa distracted him. Fucking Emily then slams into Dave because he’s speaking too technically and he’s doing it wrong. They’re sitting in a café, eating salads. Emily finishes with: “I would just like somebody to take responsibility for what happened.” Understandable. Lisa?
Next, we’re back at school, watching a classroom discussion that’s on a level that would bring tears to the eyes of actual teachers, but almost certainly doesn’t happen in real life. There’s a pretty good discussion with David, who makes an interesting point about Shakespeare’s comparing humans to flies. But the teacher (Matthew Broderick) dismisses the interpretation because “it’s wrong.” It’s funny, because on the one side is a young guy who thinks his opinion is valid (it is) and on the other is the adult authority, who’s preaching orthodoxy rather than a search for truth or insight. When Lisa does it, her opinion isn’t as well-articulated and is clearly manipulative. When David does it, it seems acceptable. There’s no way to decide who’s “right” without knowing the exact situation.
Lisa calls Detective Mitchell, telling him that he obviously didn’t interview Maretti forcefully enough “because he’s white”. With this film having been made in 2011, it’s possible that this is already a comment on the first wave of entitled so-called SJWs, who are actually just forcing the world into a mold that suits them, to keep themselves from having bad feelings. Lisa is currently on a jihad to exorcise her bad feelings about having caused the accident, but without, naturally, taking responsibility herself (because that would be unfair to her, a girl with such prospects). Maretti, who’s implicitly a dead loss, can take the fall.
Meanwhile, Joan is still with Ramon, who is a saint. But you can see Joan’s wheels spinning whenever he talks about himself or Colombia or his family, wondering how to steer the conversation back to herself. She’s her daughter’s mother, all right. There’s also Emily, who is an adult version of Lisa: she interrupts all the time and wants people to only say the things that she wants them to say. People are tools to use, but they can misbehave. Dave the lawyer has found out that Maretti had priors. Emily and Lisa are delighted, but I think because they’re “winning”, not because of any sort of good thing that might happen. Lisa is doing good in this world, shut up and be happy for her.
Emily meets Joan and we hear that Joan is modest about “getting recognition”, but it’s obvious that’s why she’s an actress (which is no surprise). But it’s also obvious that that’s what Lisa wants, as well. That’s why Lisa was shocked that they wouldn’t be allowed to go to the press with the case afterwards.
Lisa keeps provoking Joan. Now, we meet Abigail (the dead woman’s cousin), who is very upper class. She wants to get a better lawyer because she doesn’t want a lawyer no-one’s ever heard of. Lisa has now adopted Emily as her new “mom”. But Emily doesn’t buy her bullshit when Lisa tries to make the death about herself.
“Emily: I don’t give a fuck what you believe in.
Lisa: Oh my God! Why are you so mad at me?
Emily: Because this is not an opera!
Lisa: Because I think it’s dramatic?
Emily: I think you’re very young.
Lisa: What does that have to do with anything? If anything, I think it means I care more than someone who’s older, because this kind of thing has never happened to me before!
Emily: No. It means you care more easily. There’s a big difference. Only it’s not you it’s happening to.
Lisa: Yes, it is! I know I’m not the one who was run over by the bus…
Emily: This first-blush, phony deepness of yours is worth nothing. Do you understand? Because it will all be troweled over in a month or two. And then, when you get older and you don’t have a big reaction every time a dog is run over, then we’ll find out what kind of person you are. […] She was my real friend, and I don’t want that sucked into some adolescent self-dramatization. […] I’m a human being. Monica was a human being. So is your mother. We are not just supporting characters in the fascinating story of your life.”
Lisa goes to Mr. Aaron’s apartment. She starts smoking (again, setting the tone, running the show). She tells him she likes his apartment. The camera swings to show that it’s not nearly as big as the first angle suggested. He’s a teacher. He’s basically poor. He has no windows. Unlike everyone else we’ve seen in the film, who are all upper/middle-class New Yorkers with nice, spacious apartments. She hits on him; he lets her. She sucks him off. When he’s chagrined about it, she accuses him of making a big deal out of sex.
Next, we see another discussion in class where Lisa accuses Palestinians of being Hitler Youth (basically) and then gets thrown out because she can’t follow debate rules and is highly disruptive. This, after one of her classmates just finished expounding that “[t]eenagers should run the world because they’re not burned out on reality.” At a dinner with Joan, Ramon, and Emily, Joan immediately asks who’s running the discussions (because the incident is obviously not Lisa’s fault, despite it reflecting exactly how their discussions at home go). Ramon (and keep in mind that Ramon is from Colombia and has actually seen shit, as opposed to anyone else at the table) says,“The oppressor uses violence to maintain his position and calls it the rule of law. But when the person underfoot uses violence to change his status, he’s called a criminal and a terrorist. And the violence of the state is called upon to put him down.”
Emily, of course, takes immediate offense and goes to 11. Ramon tells her that’s the “typical Jewish response”. She storms out. Later, on the phone, “Joan, if you’re going to break up with me because I used the wrong adjective, then what can I do? I’m not going to beg you.” Fein raus.
All the way out, actually: Ramon dies of a heart attack soon after. Joan and Lisa tangle again. Lisa: “I’m not trying to hurt your feelings. It’s just a general observation.” No, of course not, offense neither intended nor taken. They use already-purchased opera tickets. Lisa comes in late, making everyone in the row stand up to let her in. Still making people dance to her tune.
Lisa’s dad calls to cancel both a week-long ranch vacation in New Mexico and also cancels her move out to California because she doesn’t get along at all with Annette, his girlfriend. Things are falling apart—but also getting more dramatic. Lisa blows up on all fronts, freaking out on the call when the settlement is announced with a cash settlement, but no repercussions for Maretti. She storms off, burning all bridges, then finds Mr. Aaron to tell him she’s had an abortion. Stirring up drama wherever she can, building an exciting narrative—around herself. You could forgive her—she’s just a kid, after all—if it wasn’t for how much negativity she creates for everyone else.
To be sure, I’ve colored the interpretation of this movie with my own filter, but I honestly feel that it’s the only way to enjoy a film with so many shallow people in it. There are good people in it, but they are window dressing for the raging egos. I can’t imagine that any of the main characters have ever cleaned their own toilet. A shout-out to Scout Tafoya for the recommendation as part of his Unloved series (Vimeo). I actually take a lot of recommendations from him. My rating kept rising through out the movie, the way it should be.
- Fahrenheit 11-9 (2018) — 8/10
This is a Michael Moore documentary about the 2016 election and its aftermath. It starts with the celebratory, all-over-but-the-shouting mood on election day: Hillary was a shoe-in. Women were in tears about being able to vote for a woman. “We finally made it!”
Then, things start to tip the other way. “How the fuck did this happen?” The credits roll. Moore shows the artists making a wax doll of Donald Trump for Madame Tussauds museum in New York.
Moore presents his case: Trump was jealous of Gwen Stefani making more on the Voice than he made on the Apprentice, so he staged a fake presidential announcement press conference with hired fans, to “prove” to NBC that he was worth more. His impromptu speech goes off the rails and NBC fires him. His sons convince him to do his two planned rallies. They go over big. He likes the feeling of adulation. He’s in.
The media were in, too. They loved his ratings. Moore then presents interviews with personalities, all of whom ended up being sexual predators (Matt Lauer, Bill O’Reilly, Charlie Moore, etc.) But who is Trump? Moore provides a series of clips and commentary on Trump’s “uncomfortable” relationship with Ivanka.
The next segment focuses on Flint, Michigan and the corruption associated with the water crisis there. He tells the story of corruption well: once the problem with the water was clear, they fixed the water for GM and continued to poison the poor populace. How does this relate to Trump? It’s unclear. Moore binds it together by saying that Flint gave Trump the confidence to be even more openly racist than he’d already been.
Moore shows how leftist hippies actually should have won the day:“If America is us and we’re the majority, why is it that we do not hold a singe seat of power? Not the White House, not the Senate, not the House, not the Supreme Court, of 50 of our state capitals, Democrats only control 8 of them. Yet, in 6 of the last 7 presidential elections, the popular vote was won by a Democrat.”
But this doesn’t help when the Democrats act like Republicans. Then, it doesn’t matter who gets into power. So, millions of Americans dropped out of politics—because it doesn’t matter. Until Bernie Sanders arrived on the scene: then the Democrats needed to make sure that they controlled the narrative. Moore relates how Sanders won all 55 county primaries in West Virginia, but was granted less than half of the delegates at the convention. This would repeat for almost all of the States. Sanders was robbed. Moore shows all of the states…and then he shows Bernie capitulating.
Moore goes back to Flint—then to West Virginia—to interview people. One is a brawny dude, “I’m sick and tired of people saying America’s the greatest. Why? Because we can whip your ass? We don’t have health care for everybody. We have homelessness everywhere. We have an opioid epidemic.”
Moore wonders where these people are on election day? He shows how things are changing a bit, with several Freshmen congresspeople running
as Democrats. Rashida Tlaib and Allesandra Ocasio Cortez and so on are “ready to take over the party.” There is hope.
Next, we hear about the successes for schoolteacher strikes. Then, there’s the Parkland Shooting, which triggered a groundswell of teenaged activism. This part hasn’t aged well, as “these fearless kids” have, unfortunately, disappeared. The kids, even at that time, claim to have been raised by their phones, which bring them the truth. At that, the powers-that-be were no longer concerned. If you control their information, then you control their activism.
Moore goes back to Flint, where Barack Obama showed up and insulted everyone by pretending that he’d also been poisoned by lead as a kid—and that it was no big deal. Unreal. Over a year later and the Obama administration did military exercises in Flint, Michigan—to practice urban warfare. Moore shows trains full of tanks driving toward Flint. During the 2016 campaign, Trump was the only one who visited the water-treatment facility in Flint.
Oh Jesus, now he’s interviewing that absolute idiot Timothy Snyder. He says that the Hitler comparison is valid (which Moore accompanies by showing a Trump speech superimposed on a Hitler one). Moore spends a ton of time on the comparison, as if it’s relevant. It’s not. Just focus on Trump and the situation today. It’s not like we need to compare Trump to Hitler in order to grasp that there’s something wrong with America, for God’s sake.
I mean, I understand that history repeats itself, but you’re moving your focus to the comparison, so defenders will simply have to show that you’re wrong about the comparison to kill your argument and also to shed doubt on everything else you say. It weakens your argument.
Moore follows up the spurious Hitler comparison with a listing of the actual stuff that Trump has done in his first two years. This is more useful. What’s less useful is to show a bunch of racist phone videos that people made and then try to associate that with Trump, as if American racism bloomed with Trump as President. Do those people feel legitimated? Perhaps. But having an Obama in charge made everyone feel like the problem had been solved. It is well-done, though. Moore is quite a propagandist (it’s a good thing he’s not with Trump).
It’s a decent summary of where we stand, with a bit of a kitchen-sink feel to it. But it’s ok, because things really are dire. And he’s spot-on with his analysis at the end. He ends with the false Hawaiian missile threat, showing the terrified populace. “Make no mistake about it; this is the world we live in.” That Americans live in. But they’re a dangerous, cornered animal who are probably going to drag the rest of us with them, as they fly, snarling, foam flying from their lips, off the cliff. Goddamn that place is a madhouse, full of dangerous, unhinged people.
- The Square (2017) — 9/10
This is a Swedish film about the definition of art. Anne (Elizabeth Moss) interviews Christian (Claes Bang), director of the modern art museum in Malmö, Sweden. They banter a bit about what makes something art. Outside, they dismantle a statue and install a “square” in the cobblestones in front of the museum. Are the artisans who do this artists? The main exhibition is called “Mirrors and Piles of Gravel”. The name neither over- nor undersells it.
Christian walks through the city, with a lot of other beautiful, well-off people when he hears a cry for help. A woman runs toward him, yelling that a man is trying to kill her. The man shows up, but is very easily repelled by the director and another guy. They hug, celebrating their victory. They part. The director’s cell phone is gone. So is his wallet.
They’re at a meeting about how to promote “The Square”, with some guerrilla marketers. They bullshit about that a bit, with the older director of the company dandling a baby the whole time. They agree to meet next week, all happy, though they’ve accomplished nearly less than nothing.
He’s tracking his phone and showing his work colleagues, all delighted with how clever the robbers were. He practices a speech that he has written to seem extemporaneous. He presents “The Square”, a 4x4m area where, whenever someone is in it and needs help, people are obligated to help. It is a social contract.
With the help of Michael, a colleague, Christian writes a threatening letter to all of the apartments in the building where he knows his phone is, asking them to deliver the stolen goods to the nearby 7-11. They print out the letters and Christian is forced to deliver them himself; Michael won’t do it for him. Michael lets him borrow his jacket, though, so he won’t be recognized. There is no-one in the building hallways anyway. Nor would they know who he is since he travels in completely different circles.
Downstairs, the locals have discovered the nice car in the parking lot and have started harassing his coworker. Christian comes running out of the building, yelling that he should go. right now. That evening, he takes off his shirt and discovers that his cufflinks haven’t been stolen at all. Does he still have his phone and wallet, as well?
There are scenes of suffering and homeless people in Malmö. Christian is in the 7-11 and buys a sandwich for a woman down on her luck. Obviously, we’re supposed to notice how the museum wants to encourage people to care for each other within the square—but what about without it?
Dominic West is Julian, the artist behind the piles of gravel. We see an interview with him. There is someone with Tourette Syndrome in the audience. Instead of throwing him out, they ask for everyone to ignore him, as he can’t help it. The interview can’t really proceed in any sane manner, though.
Christian is still on the hunt for his phone, in the garage with another phone, taking pictures of cars. Holy shit. He got his wallet and phone back. He’s delighted. He sees the women for whom he bought a sandwich on the ground outside of the 7-11. He gets back out of his car and gives her a couple of notes, then shakes her hand when she offers.
Psychotic techno party. At the royal palace. Christian dances with abandon. Christian plays a harpsichord, trying to woo a girl.. It doesn’t work. Christian ends up going home with Anne (although he swore to himself in the bathroom mirror that he wouldn’t sleep with her). She has a bonobo in her apartment. They undress very matter-of-factly. She closes the doors to the living room, locking away the ape. They start quite dispassionately, but put a lot of energy into it. They fight over who gets to dispose of the condom. She wins.
This is such a sarcastic and cynical movie, with a ton of subtle digs at everything: the rich, the self-satisfied, artists, art-lovers. We see a guy driving a floor waxer/vacuum around Julian’s piles of dirt and see him swerve the steering wheel, as if he’d cut a bit too close.
There is a long presentation of the the PR team’s idea to promote “The Square”. They will piggyback on the public’s pity for beggars—but make the beggar a relatable Swedish-looking person. Meanwhile, Michael has gone to get a second package for Christian—and it turns out to be an extremely angry Swedish/Arab boy, demanding an apology for having threatened him and his family. He is out of control and cows Michael for having dared to carpet-bomb his threats to the whole building. The boy throws over a whole display of soda.
Back at the museum, there’s an emergency. The piles of gravel no longer look the same…and there’s a bag of gravel lying near maintenance. Christian proposes to use a picture to put it back the way it was (looping back to the initial interview question with Anne, i.e., what is art? Is it still the same art as it was if it’s been “restored”?)
He is interrupted by Anne, who seems to have misinterpreted their one-night stand. “I like you. And I have an emotional connection to you and I’d like to explore that, because that’s important to me. I don’t just go have sex with just anybody. You know? I have to have that. Do you just go have sex with lots of other women?”
That’s all well and good, but she interrupted him at work to announce this to him in public, after shaming him for not describing the other evening in the fashion that she expected. So, she doesn’t do this with anyone, but she’s mad at him because he might have slept with other women … but she didn’t bother to determine all of this before she slept with him. She’s incredibly judgmental, but actually just … mental. Great scene.
So Christian has got Anne the American pretending that she has the moral high ground, a Swedish/Arab boy is threatening him with “chaos” and now his daughters are staying with him for the weekend. They storm in like demons, fighting and yelling. The next day, he takes them through the exhibit: they have to push a button to decide whether they trust or mistrust other people. In the next room, a sign asks them to put their wallets and phones in a square on the floor. “Does it feel strange?” This is fascinating. He tells a story he’s heard from his grandfather. He knew a boy whose parents, when he was six, sent him out to play with a tag around his neck with his name and address on it.“[…] Attitudes change…back then, people trusted other grownups to help their children if they had problems or had lost their way. But nowadays, you tend to regard other adults as potential threats.”
YouTube calls him to ask if he wants to turn on ads on his popular video, the one of a blonde beggar child being blown up in “The Square”. He grabs his expensive-looking shopping bags and ascends into an Escherian mall of escalators—the scene oozes opulence. He has lost his daughters. He engages the beggar who’d asked him for change before to watch his bags and stay on the spot where he was supposed to meet them. His trust is admirable, but seemingly not unwise.
The video is next. The child is holding a kitten. In the office, the team says “at least we got people talking.” Christian arrives with his daughters and bags and starts damage control. He thinks they should stay strong, to defend a museum’s right to push boundaries. His boss is not convinced—she sees sponsorship disappearing.
At a fundraising gala, there is a special guest, a performance artist named Oleg (Terry Notary). He acts like a silverback gorilla, storming around, threatening, establishing dominance. He scares Julian away. Christian thanks him for his performance, but Oleg is done when Oleg says Oleg is done. Before, they were watching a performance; now, they’re not so sure. They are cowed. Oleg ramps it up, jumping on a table, cozying up to a woman, pulling her hair, dragging her from her chair, across the floor and simulating a rape. Finally, an older man stands up, dragging him off of her and pummeling him. Her boyfriend comes over, too, but … more slowly. Obviously, Oleg lets them do this, as he is far more powerfully built than an old, rich, Swedish man.
Segue to homeless people in the rain. One man is wrapped in a plastic bag and looks like a corpse. He is probably dry, though.
Christian returns home with his daughters. The Swedish/Arab boy is waiting for him, demanding an apology. That’s all he wants. “Apologize to me and I’ll go. My parents think I’m a thief.” It’s legitimate. Christian finally apologizes, but the boy is still not satisfied. The boy’s behavior reminds me of Oleg, from minutes before—trying to look more intimidating. Christian out-intimidated him. His daughters are silent, all eye-whites.
The boy starts slamming on doors and causing “chaos”. Christian grabs him, then loses him and the boy falls down a flight of stairs. We only hear him sniffling to himself. He’s alive and conscious. Christian does not go to him. The boy starts to cry for help. Christian goes back and forth between the stairwell and his apartment. Torn.
He wants to call the boy, but has lost his number. In the rain, he searches the trash bags for his apartment building—this also looks like an art display—and finally finds it. He can’t reach anyone, but records a video apology. It starts off as an apology to the boy, for his family, but becomes an apology from his society, then a relativized argument that everyone is prejudiced. “So suddenly it comes down to politics and how assets are distributed.” Doesn’t it always, though.
Christian (apparently) resigns in a press conference. The reporters ask extremely ignorant questions about free speech (the issue of the video has nothing to do with free speech). By the end, though, Christian has turned it around and they’re asking him which exhibit the video was meant to advertise. Given how he’d rehearsed a similar “turnaround” speech earlier in the movie, it’s likely the whole press conference was a sham. The museum dominates the papers the next day.
Christian goes to his daughters’ cheerleading recital. He stops by the boy’s building on the way home. He and his daughters go to the top floor, to find the boy. but he and his family have moved away.
This movie, like Margaret above, is about people who I can’t imagine have ever cleaned their own toilets. It was a super-interesting and quintessentially European movie. It has a lovely soundtrack with Bobby McFerrin. I saw it in English, Swedish, and Danish (with subtitles, of course).
- The Guilty (Den skyldige) (2018) — 8/10
Fade in on a police officer with alarm-dispatch duty, handling routine calls. A young lady calls, but seems quite confused. She calls the dispatcher “sweetie”. She’s not confused, though, she’s being cagy, pretending she’s called someone else, so the person she’s with doesn’t get wise to her. The cops have got a bead on her; she’s been kidnapped. He tells her to talk to him like she’s comforting her child.
He’s fully alert, but not panicking. Cool. Calm. The lady he calls to dispatch a car to help a kidnapped lady, as well. He extracts the color of the vehicle and that she’s in a van. He communicates the info. It’s pissing down, hard to see for the cops in pursuit. We only hear the patrol. We see only the dispatcher’s head, his face. He has a bandage on one finger of his left hand. He’s drinking an effervescent medicine (like Alka Seltzer).
He calls the woman’s home number and gets Mathilde. She’s six years and nine months old. Asger manages to get her father’s name and that he owns a large, white vehicle. She also knows his phone number, by heart. Officer Asger Holm tells her she’s been very clever. She breaks down and tells him what happened. He keeps her company—tells her to turn on the TV, maybe. It’s broken. He tells her to go in with her brother Oliver for company.
He gets the plate number from the database, passes it on and also orders a patrol to the kids. He starts to lose his cool. He’s off-shift in 15 minutes, so he moves to a different machine, where he won’t be replaced by the next shift. He calls his buddy and tries to get him to go to the Dad’s house, but his friend interrupts. It seems Asger has something important to do in the morning, at a courthouse. It seems his desk duty is a punishment for something.
Asger calls Michael, pretending that the police just want to notify him that his kids are at home alone. He ups the ante and tells MIchael that he knows Michael has Iben with him. Michael hangs up. Asger calls his partner Rashid, to check up on him. He finds out he’s been drinking—although he has to testify in court the next day, as well. Asger sends him to Michael’s apartment, even though he’s been drinking.
He’s short with everyone, then apologetic. He’s trying to keep himself under control with the stress of Iben’s kidnapping and his court date the next day. Mathilde calls back to tell him that the police are there. She lets them in and they tell Asger that she’s covered in blood. She says it’s not her blood. “Find Oliver.” … “The baby is dead.[…] he’s been cut open” Mathilde had obviously gone in there, to keep from being lonely. The call is cut off.
Asger calls Michael and practices Jedi mind tricks, ordering him to stop the car. Asger lets his anger get away from him and Michael hangs up. He’s back on the line with Rashid, who’s at Michael’s house, looking for clues as to where he’s headed. The house is nearly empty. Rashid finds a pile of letters; Asger orders him to look through them all, to find out where Michael might be headed. Asger calls Iben and tells her to pull the handbrake. She does it, but is immediately disconnected.
Asger gets another call, from a different accident. It’s a lady who crashed her bike and hurt her knee. He tells he doesn’t have time. She tells him to send an ambulance. He tells her to take a taxi and to not ride her bike when she’s drunk. Click.
Asger encourages Iben to take out Michael herself, using a brick she found in the back of the van. She starts to panic; he talks her down. They talk about her trips to the aquarium with her family.
Oliver had snakes in his belly. She cured them. Asger turns white when he realizes what happened. Michael opens the door. Thump. Click.
Rashid calls back. He tells Asger that Iben had been committed before. Michael was taking her back to Elsinore, to the asylum. He calls Michael, who’s at the end of his rope. Asger tells him they’ll help, asks why he didn’t call the police. Michael laughs bitterly.
Asger tries Iben again. Nothing. He loses his shit and smashes his keyboard. Rashid calls. Asger tells him he doesn’t have to lie the next day, in court. Rashid tells him that’s ridiculous—he can’t just change his statement now. Rashid tells him to go home.
Iben calls. Asger takes the call in the main room. She asks Asger if she’d killed Oliver. “You didn’t mean to.” He tells her the story of the man he killed, for which he’s standing trial the next day. “I claimed it was self-defense, but it wasn’t. I’ve lied and I’ve killed.” He says he’d had enough, that he was trying to excise something. “Was it snakes?” “Yes, but I knew what I was doing. You didn’t.” Sirens. “You’re a good man.” Click.
“We have her. Good job, Asger.”
I am definitely a fan of these one-person-show movies. I saw it in Danish with English subtitles.
- On the Beach (1959) — 7/10
The movie is based on the book of the same name by Nevil Shute. It is 1964. The world is coming to an end due to nuclear war. The war is over and there are no signs of life from anywhere north of the fallout line, which is moving southward. Australia will be the last to go. We start in a submarine where American Cmdr. Dwight Towers (Gregory Peck) is surfacing near the coast. Australian Pete Holmes (Anthony Perkins) is waiting for an assignment.
The world is coming to an end, but the navy stiffly sticks to their missions, as if nothing is going on. They will ship out soon, to investigate whether there is anything left in the world. Pete will have to leave his pregnant wife Mary (Donna Anderson) behind. Before he ships out, though, they’re to have a party. He invites Dwight and their friend Moira (Ava Gardner). Moira picks Dwight up from the train station in a horse and buggy. She is devastatingly charming.
At the party, we meet Julian Osborn (Fred Astaire), an engineer who gets into his cups and explains to everyone who’ll listen that there is no hope. Mary takes exception, because she doesn’t want to hear it. She was already mildly infuriated with Pete earlier, when he dared to mention that the milkman wasn’t coming anymore. She wants to be able to continue pretending that there’s nothing happening—and that nothing will happen.
Dwight and Moira hit it off, with them drinking an incredible amount of liquor and him tucking her in like a gentleman. Dwight gets the news that his mission is to be delayed, so he takes up sailing and racing. He’s excellent at it. He takes Moira along, who spoils everything on purpose, for which she gets a good paddling. Pete is shopping around for “pills” (cyanide capsules) that he wants for his wife and child, in case he’s not around “when it happens”. At a local gentleman’s club (when they really were for gentleman) where someone important-sounding pontificates that there are “400 bottles of the best port left and only 5 months left to drink them.”
Pete talks to Mary about the pills, but she’s not having it. She won’t. Anthony Perkins was so young. Dwight and Moira talk about Dwight’s dead wife. Moira leaves him at the train station and heads to Osborn’s instead, showing up drunk and asking him whether he’s still in love with her. He’s tinkering with his Ferrari roadster that he plans to drive in the Australian LeMans.
Moira acknowledges that she has no-one to spend the end of the world with. Dwight is still married, with two children. They’re all dead, but he’s still married and therefore out of reach for her wiles.
Dwight and Pete ship out on the sub, doing research things (reading numbers out loud) and discussing death and accepting it (Pete and Osborne). The periscope goes up. It goes down. They get to San Fransisco. Ominous music indicates that the view of San Francisco is somehow wrong: there are no people. At all.
A guy named Swain swims away from the sub, heading home to San Francisco. He’s decided he’d rather die there than in Australia. The sub moves on.
They discuss how the war started. They ask Osborne “the egghead” to illuminate them.“The trouble with you is you want a simple answer. There isn’t any. The war started when people accepted the idiotic principle that peace could be maintained by arranging to defend themselves with weapons they couldn’t possibly use without committing suicide.”
They roll on, to investigate a mysterious morse code coming from a telegraph somewhere on shore. They send a man to investigate. He finally finds what it is: a window shade has gotten tangled up in a tipped-over coke bottle over the telegraph signaler. There is no-one left alive. The sailor stops the transmission and reports back.
They return to Australia. Moira reunites with Dwight—they’ve missed each other terribly. Osborn stops by with his new Ferrari, scaring all of the animals. He’s got a race on Saturday. On Saturday, there are many deaths and many horrific car wrecks, but none of them involving Osborn. He wins the Australian Le Mans.
Dwight learns that Moira has managed to move trout season earlier. They go fishing with nearly all of the rest of the town. Much “Waltzing Matilda” is sung. That night, it rains—it pours—and Moira and the Captain share a lovely evening, serenaded by their nearly supernaturally drunken neighbors who continue to refine their phrases of Waltzing Matilda until one, magical verse comes out just right.
One of Dwight’s ensigns falls ill. It has begun. At a Salvation Army event, they start handing out pills. Dwight’s other men decide that they’d like to “head home”. As captain, he has to go with them. At least he thinks he does.
People start disappearing. Moira races toward Dwight, hoping to catch him before he leaves. Osborne offs himself with his car, in a garage. Pete’s daughter gets radiation sickness. Mary’s in shock, in the hospital. Moira understands Dwight’s decision (but, seriously, he’s a moron). The butler at the club plays billiards by himself—there are no more orders for well-aged port. Australia is nearly empty. Pete and Mary are the last to go.
There are some good bits and it’s a heartless end-of-the-world movie, but the book is better. The movie is a bit long and has a few too many tête-à-têtes with professions of love for my liking.
- Mandy (2018) — 8/10
We start in the Shadow Mountains in 1983. A couple, Red (Nicholas Cage) and Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), lives in the woods, in seclusion. Mandy produces fantasy art and works at a small shop. Red’s a logger (Nicholas Cage), commuting via helicopter. He smokes.
We meet Jeremiah, who appears to be the leader of a cult. He demands a new sacrifice from his acolytes. He’d recently seen someone who’d caught his fancy: Mandy. He sends his disciples to find her and bring her to him. They, in turn, call what looks for all the world like the Hellraiser gang on motorcycles. They descend upon the couple’s house and kidnap Red and Mandy. They will use Red as leverage to force Mandy to join the cult. She gets something from an eyedropper (presumably a hallucinogenic) and a sting in the neck from an ugly-looking insect.
Things were spacey before, but now it gets downright Whitney Museum–featured-exhibit-spacey. Jeremiah introduces himself to Mandy. He plays his own Carpenters-like album for her. He accompanies the music with a sob story about how no-one appreciated the unadulterated genius of his music. But that’s OK, because it leaves him time for his true calling, being a cult leader. Seriously, Jeremiah’s sermon is about Jesus thinking that Jeremiah’s the coolest guy in the world and that he can take everything, because everything already belongs to him.
Alles klar? Good. He undoes his robe and exposes himself to her. She laughs at his stupid song about himself (or maybe his flaccid member), throwing off his whole game. Mandy’s positively screaming with hallucinatory laughter.
Jeremiah is pissed and he goes out to Red, stabbing him with a sacrificial knife while his henchman mutters mumbo-jumbo. They dump Mandy in a bag on the lawn in front of him, pull her up with a rope like a dead animal, dowse her with gasoline and … set her on fire.
The first thirty minutes before the kidnapping were a really eerie buildup. It stays eerie, with nearly everyone showing tremendously enlarged pupils, but, as with any horror/revenge movie, you have to get down to nuts and bolts. And Nicholas Cage gets down to doing what he does best: overacting but still selling it.
Red escapes and takes leave of his wife’s ashy corpse. He somehow gets home, then finds an old alcohol stash and very theatrically guzzles it. The next day, the light is yellow (not red or blue). He visits his friend Caruthers (Bill Duke) to retrieve his crossbow, which he names “The Reaper”. Red hears from Caruthers about “The Black Skulls”, a biker gang wreaking havoc locally. Caruthers goes on to explain that they’re completely messed-up from the drugs they’ve taken and in a lot of pain, “But they fucking love it.” So, sadomasochistic hell riders.
This is no problem for Red, who can forge a Klingon-like battle-axe in his basement—all while wearing sunglasses. He storms off in his kick-ass wheels, roaring up the road, all lit up in his color: yellow. The screen goes red: a biker is nearby. He takes one out, but crashes his car doing so. Red is captured again. The screen goes animated to show this.
He awakens tied to a radiator and with one of the Black Skulls is working him. He frees himself and disposes of it. One down.
He roams the absolutely disgusting home of the Black Skulls and comes upon another one who’s watching an old-school porno and snorting a whole pile of something clearly psychoactive. This one is much larger. Red tries to sneak up on it, but he gets tossed and has to take a shot before he slices its throat. Blood gouts all over Red and he goes a little mental. This may very well be because that thing’s blood went all in his eyes, nose and mouth, so he’s tripping on whatever the Black Skull took.
The porno is still on TV—but is then abruptly shot out. The first Black Skull has crawled out of the deep pit into which it fell—this one is smaller, but fast. Red is riding high—“You ripped my shirt!”—and snaps its neck forthwith. He takes a prodigious snort from the pile on the ruined coffee table and then finds his Klingon battle-axe mounted up near the ceiling. What luck.
He finds a jar of something on a table and takes a fingertip-taste (because why wouldn’t you just do that with a jar of silver goop that you find in that disgusting kitchen). He’s flying-high-and-will-never-die, though, so he goes for it. The stuff is impressive—he trips hard and fast and is soon exiting the house through a second-story window, hunting more.
He fires an arrow through the back of one of these thing’s necks, but it barely fazes it. That silver goop must be potent. Its fighting strength is undiminished. Red prevails, while it intones “She burns, she burns, she burns” until Red cuts its head off.
He finds a cigarette on the ground, lights it from the thing’s burning head and moves on, stealing an ATV. His color is now red.
He finds the drug lab. There’s a tiger in a cage. “Lizzy”. The cook turns, “Joe van Warrior sent forth from the eye of the storm.” He frees the tiger, then tells Red “north”.
Red finds Swan in a truck with the youngest girl. He slaughters an unrepentant Swan. The next one is washing his car in the woods in an 80s-metal-video spotlight and listening to Cielito Lindo (“Aye-yi-yiyi”). Flying axe to the head.
Red finds a chainsaw. Chekhov would have known what’s going to happen with that. The next guy is a bruiser. He also has a chainsaw—with a much longer blade. Red gets his started—and draws blood. Bruiser drops his chainsaw. So does Red. Bruiser picks up Red’s chainsaw. His delight is short-lived. Red throws a chain to pull him down onto it.
Creepy-ass red-lit church with a tree-trunk altar. There’s a trapdoor behind the altar that oozes red mist. The tunnels seem to go on forever. Red is now permanently in Red Light. He comes upon the older acolyte. Red ignores her salacious offers and takes her head.
Finally: the boss. Jeremiah, in his underwear, in what looks like a red-lit underground cistern. He babbles a bunch, but Red responds with “A psychotic drowns where the mystic swims. You’re drowning. I’m swimming. […] I’m your God now.”
There are several really nice-looking shots (the collapse of the burning church at the end reminded me a bit of the burning house in Zerkalo). The final scene where Red drives into a night that morphs into a fantasy planet from Mandy’s drawings suggested that Red had taken leave of reality for good. Before that, he’d only seen her animations/drawings while unconscious.
This is an initially slow-moving movie that does a lot with atmosphere, lighting and music. It’s all red and blue, with swelling strings. I thought it was much better-done that other films of its kind. it’s eminently quotable and almost certainly due to become a cult classic. Nick Cage almost guarantees it.
- The Lighthouse (2019) — 9/10
Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) arrive on an island with a lighthouse on it. They trudge up toward the light-keeper’s house, passing the two men they’re replacing. Their shift would be one month alone on the rock. Wake is older, experienced and is in charge. He has a bum leg. Winslow will be taking care of everything—shoveling coal, sweeping up, cooking, washing up, oiling the machines, cleaning the pipes—everything, except for taking care of the light itself. That area is off-limits to him; only Wake is allowed up there.
Winslow is pestered by a gull that Wake forbids him to molest in any way because it’s “the soul of a sailor who’s met his maker”. There are strange goings-on, with Winslow dreaming vividly about mermaids. Wake is a right bastard of a boss—possibly the worst ever. He thinks he ownsWinslow and delivers the following tirade when Winslow claims to have mopped and swept, but not to Wake’s satisfaction:“And I say you swab it again and you swab it proper-like this time and you’ll be swabbin’ it ten times more after that. And if I tells you to pull up and apart every floorboard and clapboard in this here house and scour them down with yer bare bleedin’ knuckles, you’ll do it! And if I tells you to yank out every single nail from every mouldin’ and nailhole and suck off every speck of rust ‘til all them nails sparkle like a sperm whale’s pecker and then carpenter the whole light-station back together from scrap and then do it all over again, you’ll do it! And by God and by Golly you’ll do it smilin’, lad, ‘cause you’ll like it! You’ll like it ‘cause I says you will!”
At two weeks—halfway—Winslow asks Wake to use his name, to stop calling him “lad”. Winslow wakes from a dream and wanders up to the lighthouse to find Wake up with the light, tending his shift, but masturbating feverishly. Winslow sees a giant tentacle swing by.
The next day, Winslow finds that the water cistern has become fouled. He goes out to find a gull stuck in a giant pile of gunk, still alive but dying. Another one lands right in front of him, cawing. It’s that same bastard gull. He catches it and beats it to death with extreme prejudice.
The wind changes.
Wake fears “something dirty knockin’ about” and tells Winslow to board up the windows. He wonders at Winslow’s mood since he’s getting off the rock the next day. They catch a mess of lobster and Wake cooks them. Winslow partakes in the nightly glass of rotgut for the first time, but can’t speak the words of the incantation, “Should pale death, with treble dread, make the ocean caves our bed, God who hears the surges roll deign to save our suppliant soul.”
They trade stories, get roaring drunk together, and are more friendly than they’d been the whole time. Winslow wakes up on the floor with a debilitating hangover. Both chamber pots are full to the brim. He’s got to bring them out before he can piss.
Hauling coal in the driving rain.
Shoveling coal into the maw of the furnace.
Winslow finds a mermaid asleep on the rocks. She wakes up laughing and screaming.
They wait in the driving rain out on the rocks with Winslow’s bags. The storm is here.
Winslow works on. Wake announces that “the damp’s got to the provisions” and says he’s been saying for weeks that they should be rationing, ever since the boat failed to appear. Wake and Winslow have a different sense of time now. Wake takes him out in the rain to dig up rations: crates of booze.
After teetotaling for so long, Winslow is hammered. He’s acting a bit like Wake did, at the beginning (e.g. farting). They fight, with Wake almost the more reasonable, until he demands that Winslow admit that he likes his lobster with the following speech,
“Wake: Hark Triton, hark! Bellow, bid our father the Sea King rise from the depths full foul in his fury! Black waves teeming with salt foam to smother this young mouth with pungent slime, to choke ye, engorging your organs til’ ye turn blue and bloated with bilge and brine and can scream no more − only when he, crowned in cockle shells with slitherin’ tentacle tail and steaming beard take up his fell be-finned arm, his coral-tine trident screeches banshee-like in the tempest and plunges right through yer gullet, bursting ye − a bulging bladder no more, but a blasted bloody film now and nothing for the harpies and the souls of dead sailors to peck and claw and feed upon only to be lapped up and swallowed by the infinite waters of the Dread Emperor himself − forgotten to any man, to any time, forgotten to any god or devil, forgotten even to the sea, for any stuff for part of Winslow, even any scantling of your soul is Winslow no more, but is now itself the sea!
“Winslow: Alright, have it your way. I like your cookin’.”
The rain doesn’t stop. It leaks through the roof. Rather than coal, Winslow hauls his bottle of booze in a rain-filled wheelbarrow. The machine drives on regardless. He masturbates feverishly to the mermaid figurine he found, dreaming of the one he (thought he) saw. He makes love to her on the rocks. He pulls up a man’s head in the lobster trap. He’s off his head. They guzzle rotgut and dance mad jigs, slurring eldritch lyrics.
An unknown time later, they lie in each other’s arms. More time passes. Winslow confesses to having watched a colleague die in a logjam when he was still a lumberjack, then taking his name and identity. His real name is Thomas Howard.
Winslow hears Wake’s disembodied voice saying “Why’d you spill the beans?” then charges for the lifeboat. Wake catches him, shatters the lifeboat’s prow, then hounds Winslow back to the house. Winslow confronts him on the head he found in the lobster trap: it’s his predecessor. Wake counters that it was Winslow who shattered the lifeboat. Madness.
“Wake: You’re so mad, you know not up from down.
“How long have we been on this rock? Five weeks? Two Days? Where are we? Help me to recollect”
They’ve run out of drink. They mix turpentine with honey. The storm rages unabated.
The men are huddled under a table, cackling maniacally. A wave surges over the whole house. It’s raining inside. They pass out. They wake. The storm has stopped.
“Winslow: This place is a sty.
Wake: Mornin’ to you, too.”
Winslow finally blows up at Wake.“I’m sick of your laughin’, your snorin’, you’re goddamned farts. You’re. God. Damned. Goddamned farts! You smell of piss. You smell of jism. Like rotten dick. Like curdled foreskin. Like hot onions fucked a farmyard shithouse!”
Thomas gives it right back.“There ain’t no mystery. You’re an open book. A picture, says I. A painted actress screamin’ in the footlights, a bitch what wants to be coveted for nothing but bein’ born, cryin’ about the silver spoon what shoulda been yers!”
Winslow is trippin’ now, beating on Wake, imagining him as the original Winslow, the mermaid, then Wake as a kraken. He commands Wake to “Bark!”, then takes Wake for a walk outside, on a leash. He buries him, then digs him back up—because he needs the keys. Inside, Winslow catches his breath. Wake storms in with the pickaxe, wounding Winslow in the shoulder. A kettle to the temple and down goes Wake. A pickaxe blow finishes him off. Winslow lights a cigarette. He intones their drinking incantation. He takes a swig of turpentine.
He crawls up the stairs to the light. The trapdoor opens. It’s beautiful up there. Clean. Otherworldly. The door of the lamp swings open. He reaches out.
He screams. No. He shreds his vocal chords. He falls through the trapdoor and down the stairs. He is lying on the rocks, outside, one eye gone. The gulls pluck his innards, like Prometheus.
The movie is in black-and-white with an uncommonly narrow aspect ratio. It features only two actors (plus a non-speaking Mermaid), who each have different, strong and occasionally nearly impenetrable accents. It takes place in a single house on a small island. And it’s riveting.
- Citizen Kane (1941) — 7/10
We fade in on an old mansion on a hill, passing the dilapidated gates and an abandoned golf course until we finally pass through a window and see a face whispering “Rosebud”. A nurse covers up the man who said it.
We see a news broadcast about a pleasure park called Xanadu, whose proprietor has just died. Charles Kane (Orson Wells) had built a media empire unlike any the world had ever seen. We learn about Kane in more newsreel footage.
The footage stops and we meet the men who made it. They want to know about the real Charles Kane. They know his last word. But what does it mean? They search for his ex-wife Susan Alexander Kane (Dorothy Comingore) and find her drunk in a restaurant.
We flash back to Charles’s boyhood, raised in Mrs. Kane’s boarding house. His mother sets up an adoption by a rich man Walter Parks Thatcher (George Coulouris) to get him away from his father. But the boy doesn’t, of course, want to go. He’d been playing in the snow, making a snowman and sledding about; the next day, he would be on a train to the East.
Flash forward to Kane’s youth, when he was in charge of his first newspaper: The Inquirer. He was also an heir to the Thatcher fortune. He is idealistic and philanthropic. But he sees the power of controlling media. When Thatcher says he’ll go out of business, Kane replies, “You’re right: if I lose a million dollars per year, I’ll go out of business in 60 years.”
Kane is now much older, hearing the elder Thatcher and his associate Bernstein cite his investments and holdings. Kane says,
“Kane: You know, Mr. Thatcher, if I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been a really great man.
Thatcher: Don’t you think you are?
Kane: I think I did pretty well under the circumstances.
Thatcher: What would you like to have been?
Kane: Everything you hate.”
Flash back to Kane’s initial purchase of The Inquirer. He writes out his declaration:“I’ll provide the people of this city with a daily paper that will tell all the news honestly. I will also provide them with a fighting and tireless champion of their rights as citizens and as human beings.”
We flash forward to the Inquirer having taken the lead among all newspapers in New York City. It is a different Kane: he’s influencing politics and policy rather than just reporting. “Are we going to declare war on Spain, or are we not?” As we heard from him in an earlier scene, “you provide the prose poems. I’ll provide the war.”
We flash-forward again to the modern day, after Kane’s death. His executors and journalists are still trying to find out about Rosebud. They talk about his first marriage—to the current president’s niece. She’s accustomed to the opulence he can provide, but they’re very much a “talk at breakfast” kind of couple.
We flash back to his first political campaign: for governor of the state. He’s running against a real crooked piece of work, James Gettys (Ray Collins). Kane loses to him because he’s caught in an affair with a certain Miss Alexander. He leaves his wife and marries Miss Alexander. He then presses her into an opera career that she doesn’t really want. He even builds an opera house for her. She flops (as expected) and he ends up writing the panning review himself (just to prove that he’s an honest man). Still, he forces her to continue, using his newspapers to promote her. Finally, she tries to take her own life, just to escape the singing and … him.
She sticks with him, though, despite his drawing back into seclusion—into his Xanadu palace. She does jigsaw puzzles. They’re older now, in a bedouin’s tent in a private jazz club (exceedingly decadent). They fight. He slaps her. The next morning, she packs her bags. She’s done being a plaything on his chess board. He even says “you can’t do this to me”—as if he’s the center of the story and other characters “do” things to him instead of simply living their lives. Her goals and dreams were never important. She leaves him, but feels sorry for him.
Flash forward to an interview with the Italian butler of Xanadu—he claims to know what Rosebud is. He names his price. He starts the story by taking us back to when Miss Alexander left Kane. Charles Foster Kane pitched himself a fit—busting pretty much everything in her room—except for the snow-globe. He stashes it in a pocket and walked, stiff-legged and wide-eyed out past his staff, who’ve all gathered to watch the fireworks.
We’re back in the modern day, where people are photographing the gargantuan hoard he’d amassed—statues, paintings, piles and piles of bric-a-brac. Among them is a sled—the one he was using when he was shipped off from his mother and father. It’s called “Rosebud”. Um. Ok.
I feel like I’ve missed something—this film is supposed to be legendary, but it seems kind of empty and predictable. It’s fine. There are some nice shots. The makeup is good (especially to age people). Some of the giants sets are impressive. The out-of-order storytelling was almost certainly innovative for the time. The acting is so-so—the story and dialogue as well. It’s a movie about a man who came to his wealth by adoption. He has an oversized ego and he means well, but only on his own terms. Other people are to be cared for, but never considered equals. I may need to see it again, but I’m not in a hurry.
- Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) — 8/10
This is a David Mamet screenplay with a hell of a cast. We fade in on Shelley Levene (Jack Lemmon) using a pay phone. Next to him is Dave Moss (Ed Harris), pushing a real-estate sale. John Williamson (Kevin Spacey) picks them up for a sales meeting. They meet Ricky Roma (Al Pacino) and James Lingk (Jonathan Pryce) at the bar. Shelley heads back to the office, where George Aaronow is already there, ready for the meeting. Blake (Alec Baldwin) shows up—he’s going to be leading the meeting. He’s not gentle, “put that coffee down. Coffee’s for closers only.”“Do I have your interest? Of course I do: because it’s either fuck or walk. It’s either close or hit the bricks. […] I’d wish you good luck, but you wouldn’t know what to do with it if you got it.”
Blake leaves. The others bitch, but they get down to work—even though the leads are garbage. It’s pouring out. It’s dark. It’s getting later at night. They have to go make sales that night. Aaronow and Moss drive off together, scurrying through the pouring rain to the car, in a nice wide shot. They’re discussing how getting just 10% is chump change. Especially when the leads are shit and they’re paying 90% for them. They should go into business for themselves. It’s probably a conversation they’ve had many times before.
Levene haggles with Williamson to get the good leads—the Glengarry leads. Levene is trying like hell, but it’s pouring rain and he’s staying out there, so his bargaining position isn’t great. He’s forced to shell out $50 a lead and 20% of the back-end of each sale. Levene calls on one of them, pestering the husband very, very hard, but there’s just no chance. Moss and Aaronow are still cruising around. They still haven’t done anything but gotten a snack and driven back to the office. They discuss robbing the office to get the good leads.
Roma and Lingk are in the bar, with Roma leading the conversation–a spiel that sounds like he’s delivered it many times before. Nothing came of the robbery—Moss and Aaronow are also at the bar. The robbery idea is back on the table. Roma is more interested in talking about his sex life. Moss is going to make Aaronow steal the leads—because he came up with the idea; the least Aaronow can do is to steal the leads. Roma closes a property with Lingk.
The next morning, the office has been robbed. Roma shows up, in a fury, demanding a car because he closed a deal and therefore he won. Levene comes in, happy as a pig in shit: he closed eight units and sold $82,000. He’s on the board. Dave Moss is full of negativity—he hasn’t made a sale in a month. Moss leaves in a huff. Roma invites Levene “The Machine” to continue with his story of his titanic sale. The story goes on for long minutes. Roma: “Great sale, Shelley.”
Williamson is doubtful that the sale will stick—Shelley spends a long time intricately yelling at him and telling him just where he can stick it. Lingk walks in; Roma grabs Shelley and makes him pretend he’s a customer, trying to build interest. But Lingk is there to tell him that the deal is off: his wife doesn’t want to do it. Roma is rolling hard, putting on pressure, pretending he’s too busy to deal with him. Lingk is adamant that he needs to get his money back. Roma is trying everything he can to keep the sale open—he wants to do dinner on Monday. Linqk is upset because he’s not allowed to negotiate. he really just wants the check back. Roma is trying to work the masculinity angle and it almost works, but Williamson comes in and assures Linqk that the check is cashed. The deal blows up. Roma rips Williamson a new one:“You stupid fucking cunt. You wanna know the rule? You never open your mouth until you know what the shot is. You child.”
Roma goes in with the police to talk to them about the robbery. The Machine takes over ripping Williamson. He ends with the Mamet twist:
“Levene:: If you’re going to make something up, John. Be sure that it helps. Or keep your mouth shut.
“Williamson: [long pause] How do you know I made it up?”
Why is this the Mamet twist? Because the contract had not gone to the bank, so he was lying to the customer. But Levene knew that because he’d gone back to the office and robbed it and seen the contract on Williamson’s desk.
Levene folds. He did make the sale that morning, but he also robbed the office the night before. Williamson also tells Levene that the people to whom he sold the property? They’re insane. They don’t have money. They just like talking to salesmen. Williamson gave Levene the lead because he doesn’t like him.
Roma gets back on the phone, hustling. The cops call Levene back in. Levene wants to tell Ricky himself, but he can’t get a word in edgewise. Levene trudges into the office. The door closes.
I gave it an extra point for the writing and the pile of great actors. Not a single woman in the movie, though.
- Velvet Goldmine (1998) — 9/10
It’s the 1970s in London. Young, fabulously dressed people are running through the streets to a concert. Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is on stage, in an angelic costume. Feathers settle onto the roiling crowd. He is gunned down with a single shot. They interview people, including Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor), who wonders out loud whether the trend to being bisexual (like Slade) is just a fad.
Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale) is a reporter who’s given the job of finding out what really happened, ten years later, in 1984. He harks back to when he’d first heard of Slade, when he was still in secondary school, with a shag of hair and a head full of Brian Slade.
Arthur collects interviews from Brian’s former manager Cecil (Michael Feast), who lost Slade to a more high-powered manager in the form of Jerry Devine (Eddie Izzard). Cecil tells of Brian’s early appearances as a folk singer and then of his epiphany when he saw Curt Wild for the first time. Slade changes his style and woos Devine’s company with a completely out-there video starring a lizard-person.
Cecil sends Arthur on to Mandy Slade (Toni Collette), who tells of how Slade met Jack Fairy, a breakout transvestite star of the time. At his next press conference, he didn’t exactly come out, but he just acted as if he’d never been in. It was pretty epic. It was telling how Mandy says (in 1984) how something like that would cause riots whereas in 1971, it caused dancing. Slade’s music is all over the place—no clear style: in one, he’s like Bowie; in another, like the Clash.
Slade gets a chance to go to America and he wants to meet Curt Wild. Meet him he does: on the nod. They get him cleaned up and offer a collaboration. It happens—both in the studio, on stage and in the sack.
His next album is Maxwell Demon—a persona of his, as well. The sets are lavish, intricate, opulent. The press conference for the release takes place in a fake circus. One reporter asks him if the Demon is him, to which he replies, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person… Give him a mask and he’ll tell you the truth.”
A concert. Slade slinks around elegantly. A montage. An orgy with dozens in the suite. Arthur at home, masturbating to Slade and Wild. His parents catch him. Wild’s guitar solo shreds onward. Devine is with Shannon (Emily Woof), the ad-hoc seamstress. Mandy is with three or four people—the nest of limbs is impossible to untangle. She watches first Wild, then Slade, leave the room. She finds them together later.
Wild’s talent runs out and Jerry gives up on him, forcing Brian to give up as well. Wild storms off, ending up in Germany. Slade spirals out, sinking into a giant pile of cocaine. Mandy serves him divorce papers while he’s snorting cocaine off the ass of a sleeping hooker (or groupie). Brian couldn’t care less about Mandy. Shannon has very much gotten into the lifestyle, playing Brian’s acolyte perfectly.
We’re back in the bar, where Arthur is interviewing Mandy. She tells of the last time she’d seen Brian: he was at a concert starring Jack Fairy and Curt Wild. Segue to the concert. They’re mourning the death of glitter. Jack sings 20th Century Boy. Arthur is there, going nuts, dressed to the nines. Curt Wild is fantastic in concert (in a way that he absolutely wasn’t in studio). Arthur is transported. He spots Mandy in the crowd. Mandy is watching a man in the shadows in a doorway. It’s Slade.
After the concert, Mandy congratulates Wild, then tells him that she hadn’t seen Slade. Arthur meets Wild as well, on the roof.
Back in 1984, Arthur thinks he’s found Brian Slade. He runs to tell his publisher, but the story’s been cut. He’s on the Tommy Stone show now. “But that’s it!” Slade has rebooted his career as Tommy Stone. Tommy Stone’s song is spectacular; the soundtrack overall is very tight. Arthur meets Wild in a bar after the show, but Wild doesn’t recognize him.
This is at least as good as Bohemian Rhapsody, if not actually better. The acting is fantastic, with Rhys-Davies putting in a particularly good performance.
According to IMDb,
↩“Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Ewan McGregor sang their own songs in the movie. (Some of Rhys Meyers’s songs were overdubbed by Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke.)”