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Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2016.4

Published by marco on

Updated 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 over 900 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. YMMV.

Stalker (1979) — 9/10

Tarkovsky sets the mood without CGI, without effects, with a simple camera and the natural world. The eerieness and horror of a world that doesn’t behave by any known rules is elicited with the simplest means: acting, well-written dialogue. Ostensibly it’s some men stumbling through fields and forests overrun with the detritus of war—a war long ago. But Tarkovsky turns it into a sci-fi, horror experience where you’re on the edge of your seat despite the overall, aching slowness of the film. He circles the camera through 360 degrees—very slowly—to visually indicate that you may end up right back where you started in The Zone. The sound design is similarly exquisite and evocative.

It’s incredible to imagine someone being able to tell a story so visually with so little, to be able to see this film in the scenes as they are made, in the wet fields that could hardly have elicited in real life the dark romance they do in the movie. Very often, the camera drifts in on unknown shapes to have them slowly reveal themselves: guns, two skeletal lovers lying in eternal embrace. He builds so much strangeness out of everyday objects, imbuing them with vague menace. It’s all in your mind. Perhaps so is the Zone?

This is the story of a Stalker, a man who guides people through the Zone, to a room that grants wishes. They live in a black and white, a world drained of color. When they get to the Zone, the film is suddenly in color. Access is blocked by a high fence and guards, but the Stalker can sneak through relatively easily. We watch as he guides the Writer and the Professor through different hindrances. These hindrances are made such through the magic of Tarkovsky’s direction. He somehow convinces the viewer that a man walking slowly down a hallway is a gigantic achievement. The men make it through a tunnel—the Meat Grinder—and one of them survives the Pipe, which lets out into a factory floor covered with what looks for all the world like sand dunes.

Soon after, they are in a ruined house, on the second floor, when inexplicably a phone rings. The Writer picks it up and hangs up. The professor uses it to call his laboratory and brag to his colleague that he is within a stone’s throw of the room. The Stalker is horrified. He is nearly constantly much more afraid than the other two, presumably because he either knows what the Zone can do or because his many trips through the Zone have damaged him.

At least half of the film is filled with philosophical discussions. At the threshold, the professor unpacks a 20-kiloton bomb, with which he wants to cut off people’s access to the room, which has brought so much horror to the world (purportedly). The writer, on the other hand, waxes eloquently that perhaps the room doesn’t do anything at all, that the Zone is a figment of the Stalker’s imagination, of which he’s convinced others. This gels with the feeling that they are just going for a stroll through an abandoned industrial zone rather than navigating multi-dimensional space. That they are navigating a child’s view of this industrial zone, imbued with fantastical powers that don’t exist, but that pass the time. The Writer also supposes that the room, should it work as advertised can only grant an innermost wish, that the Stalker is afraid of having his innermost wishes granted. As the Writer is.

The professor dismantles his bomb. Does he realize that perhaps the Zone wants him to blow it up? Otherwise, why would it have let him through and deterred myriad others? Or were there really myriad others? Or was that the Stalker’s fantasy? Does the room actually work this way? Or is the Stalker’s game so convincing that people end up granting themselves their own wish? Or was the Professor convinced by the Writer’s theory that the room grants unconscious desires and is therefore useless to the power-hungry? If the Zone is all in the Stalker’s mind, then the danger of getting lost is also made-up. All of the dangers were made up. So cool.

The film is slow, there are no heroes, the central plot point is a sci-fi concept that is neither seen nor used, whose existence is doubted. There are three men discussing deep concepts for 2:45 as they take an afternoon walk. It’s amazing. I shudder to think of the remake, starring perhaps Jason Statham or perhaps Woody Harrelson as the Stalker. A younger Ed Harris as the Writer. Or Matthew Mcconaughey. It reminded me at different times of 2001, Moon, Solaris or Apocalypse Now, but it’s unlike all of those as well.

In the end, we catch only a glimpse of the room, as the camera backs into it to reveal a lovely, nearly impeccable shot of the three sitting in front of it. No-one goes in. Later, with his wife, both again black and white, the Stalker evinces despair that no-one believes. Does the room need belief to work? Finally, his wife breaks the fourth wall and talks to us of him directly.

“I knew it myself, that he was an eternal prisoner, that he was doomed. Only what could I do? I was sure I would be happy with him. Of course, I knew I’d have a lot of sorrow too. but it’s better to have a bitter happiness than a gray, dull life. Perhaps, I thought it all up later.

“We had a lot of sorrow, a lot of fear, and a lot of shame. But I never regretted it and I never envied anyone. It’s just our fate, our life, that’s how we are.

“And if we hadn’t had our misfortunes, it wouldn’t have been better. It would have been worse. Because in that case, there wouldn’t have been any happiness. And there wouldn’t have been any hope.”

Highly recommended. Thought-provoking.

Winter Soldier (1972) — 9/10

This documentary comprises 90 minutes of testimony/stories from American soldiers who’d served in Vietnam. They tell horrific stories of abuse, murder and torture. One man says on the first day, he watched as the soldiers in the truck he was riding in murdered a group of Vietnamese children who’d flipped them off. Another talks about how the U.S. Army used white phosphorous, a weapon expressly forbidden by the Geneva conventions. No-one disagrees with any of these guys, even when they tell stories of the most horrific and senseless acts. Is it because they aren’t surprised? Or that they’re well-prepared? Or that they’d experienced something similar? Are they all lying? Or is this all true? U.S. military behavior in the Middle East in the last 15 years corroborates that this behavior as pretty standard. So, probably not lying. Or even exaggerating.

Regardless of how earnest and honest the testimony appeared, there was of course a backlash. Such testimony could not go unchallenged because America is the greatest and is exceptional and is also a perennial occupier of the moral high ground. That these three-dozen soldiers all told more or less the same thing, that it jibes with testimony from soldiers in subsequent conflicts—those with more video and image evidence, like Abu Ghraib, lends a lot of credence to what they say happened, even if they didn’t present evidence.

This is deep, heady stuff and the interviews will either be difficult to watch—if you’re still a HOO-RAH American—or uplifting—when you see that people can change for the better—or depressing—if you see the exact same shit happening again and again and again, up until today. The points these soldiers make are nuanced and intelligent. They are many of the same points we still have to make today. The wheel of time crushes all hope.

 The complete transcript is available.[1] But it didn’t include the amazing impromptu diatribe of one of the guys out in the hall, a black guy who just laid it all down with such clarity—and heartbreakingly accurate for today’s America, over 40 years later—that I searched desperately for a transcript, in vain. So I cued that shit up and transcribed it to the best of my ability, to preserve it for posterity. It’s not all relevant, but I emphasized the blocks I found depressingly accurate and seemingly eternal.

Black guy: I’ve been in there listening to the whole thing. You know what, man? It’s relevant. But you know what? This whole thing you’re doing now? It’s only relevant to you, man. It ain’t relevant to me. You know how come? Because you fail to realize what the reason is. How come…you, dig, man…you go in there and you get all these reports on atrocities, yeah, man, ‘they was splitting this cat’s skull, they was splitting his skull’, but you know what? The real issue is, man, that the thing is racism. It’s racist. It’s racist, man.


They go after the Vietnamese, his resources. They’re also after Vietnamese because they’re racist, man. I had all the hell I had in the army because of racism. You know, like, dig, man, my orderly room, my first sizing man was a Ku Klux Klan, man. They had a motherfuckin’ Klansman right in the company.

White guy: Let me ask you something. What the hell do you think I have to gain out of this? What do you think I’m here for? What do you the rest of us are here for?

For your reason. Now dig this: your reason for being here is different from my reason.


The thing that gets me, the thing that gets me [smiles, reaches out to comfort other guy] don’t, don’t, don’t get upset. This is cool, this is cool, we can rap, man.

I don’t know, man, a whole lotta people, man, when there’s white and black people talking. They’re, like, you know, not wanting to say this [or that] because somebody might misinterpret it. Well, you know, say something … let me misinterpret it and then when I run it back on you, then go ahead and tell me, man. You know, don’t do one of these things here [mimes toning things down]You know? I go to school too.

People what I hear say is ignorant? They know a whole lot of what’s going on. Maybe they don’t know those terms, you know, that book, but the deal is, you gotta show ‘em somethin’, you gotta show ‘em that you are for real. You gotta suffer, man, you can’t just go out here and run your shit, man, and then don’t let no blood and, man, we bleedin’ every day. You gotta bleed with us, man, and then we start bleedin’ together and then we say ‘wow, that cat hurtin’ just like me’, you know, so we gonna get together behind that stand and we gonna axe that shit that’s out there cuttin’ us, you dig? Then you have it together, then you have it together.

White guy: we have the same enemies.

Now you say you went into the service because you couldn’t get into college, so you went into the army. Now, see, the reason we go in the Army is for a different reason. Now, dig, we get outta high school, ya dig, we can’t even get a job in the motherfuckin’ street, can’t go get a gig, you dig? ‘Cause yo black. Now being black is a deep thing. I know you’re getting tired of hearing it, but it’s the shit that is out there, man. The only way a brother can live when he get outta school—if he ain’t go no smarts—is to go in the Army, man. To go into the Army. Man, we only got one, or two outlets to go, man. You got three or four. You dig? Just like y’all runnin’ that double-standard thing. You see, you got these variables. We don’t. You can do that changin’. Even if we decide to change, to try to be a white person, we’d still be a niggah, we’d be lyin’ Uncle Tom motherfuckers and you’d still look down on us. You understand what I’m talkin’ about?We ain’t got nowhere to go, man, that’s how come we’re so fuckin’ desperate. ‘Cause we ain’t got nowhere to go: that high visibility is gointa keep you down all the time. See, you can always change your mind, man. You can always do what the rest of ‘ems doin’ if you want that our there, what they doin’. Ya dig? I mean, I was in there listenin’ and everybody was on about, ‘yeah, this dude was gettin’ his ear cut off.‘ You know, the atrocity thing. Everybody was in there…

White guy: [emphatically] …that ain’t that important, man.

Black dude: [agreeing emphatically] It ain’t important, man. You gotta look at how come people gettin’ cut up. And how come they’re gettin’ shot, man. That’s the whole deal right there. If you want to be for real, look at the reasons why. Why, why. You know what? I do a thing every day. I watch television, whenever I get the chance. I don’t watch for entertainment. You know what I watch? I watch all the whitewashin’ they throw on you every day, man. Like, uh, shit about Indians. Now they let the Indians win on television. For years they didn’t.

White guy: ‘cause they’re ain’t enough of ‘em to do nothin’ about it.

Black guy: [again, emphatic agreement] Right. Right. But now they be starting to say ‘wow, we can’t be doin’ this to the Indians’. The Indians tryin’ to get their thing together. So now the Indians win on television. But for years, when you’s a li’l kid, you just sat there and sucked that shit up, didn’t you? This is what you believed the real shot was, until you became old enough to see it. It took you a long time, didn’t it? Television is still like that. They still after dem li’l kids, man. Cartoons, with the violence, shootin’ bullets and shit, shootin’ ‘em in the face, turnin’ they face black.

Even connotations. Black people hate connotations. Things like the difference between angel-food cake and devil’s-food cake. The black plague. It’s the same shit, told in the same fucking way. The killin’ there [Vietnam] and the killin’ here. [in the U.S.]

White guy: [Indistinct]

Black guy: No shit, that’s how come you got no black people behind you. Because you forgot about racism, man. You forgot about it. That’s how come you ain’t got no black people down here. You got a few of us…and they rap to you just like I do, man.

See now, you’re runnin’ a thing. You wanna be human. You want to stop the war, stop the killin’, the whole thing, but you still ain’t took time to learn how to treat your other brother. Cool, can you dig it? You ain’t said nothin’ ‘bout them and the brother look at that and they say, ‘Why? Why do I wanna go down there and get involved? The shit ain’t for me. It ain’t for me.‘ Man, I just hope, man, that just by standin’ here rappin’ with you now, if you didn’t think about it before, think about it now. If you did think about it before, Goddamnit now do something about that shit!

Highly recommended.

Je ne suis pas Charlie (2015) — 9/10

This is a very well-made documentary about the political situation in France, post-Charlie Hebdo attacks. It features interviews with a lot of very intelligent people who’ve obviously given their opinions much thought. I would dearly love to get some of the subtitles because there was a lot of information in what the interviewees said that would is very much worth repeating and saving. The series of interviews starts off slowly with more prosaic opinions delivered for both sides, but it works its way up to very nuanced, eloquent and finally quite hopeless opinions that France (and Europe) will get worse before it gets better…and that we’ve seen all of this before. The lady interviewed outside of what looked for all the world like a construction site (Houria Bouteldja) exhibited an amazing coherence and logic, as did the professor interviewed in his classroom (Pierre Zaoui).

“I am a journalist and I really hold it against the mainstream media because, I am not going to say that journalists are racists, it isn’t racism when you have a journalist who has to write the editorial but who also has to pay their bills, I don’t hold it against them. It’s the thinking minds at the top who decree editorial lines from above.”
Nadia Henni-Moulaï
“It comes from its past and its present. The past is colonial history. It’s a history of colonial empire, France was a colonial empire.[…] But in reality there are still colonies, since imperialism has changed. It still exists. We are not in a post-imperial situation. We are still in imperialism. There was the the colonial empire, and then the nation state. The nation chose a legitimate social group, which is the figure of the Christian, White, European person. The most important powers will be distributed to that social group. The others are exlcluded.”
Houria Bouteldja (founder and spokeswoman for the Party of the Indigenous of the Republic)
“[People] want to make a connection with the Muslim population, taken hostage here in France, and to whom we say that they must speak out against the attackers who they had nothing to do with. And who have become a suspect population.”
Michèlle Sibony (Vice-president of the Union of French Jews for Peace)
“It’s kind of like totalitarianism. I cannot renounce myself. I cannot put my personality, my faith and my beliefs in the cloakroom before entering the public sphere.”
Houria Bouteldja
“Today we are witnessing a sort of blackmail by saying that if you are not Charlie, you are against the Republic, and against French values.”
young man, unidentified

“France is without a doubt the only country in the world where BDS participants are taken to court. […] At first, boycott actions posed no problems and then there was a political U-Turn. There is in France a memorandum put into force by (former Justice Minister) Michele Aliot-Marie, which demands for all those who call for the boycott of Israel must be taken to court for anti-Semitism.


“I will add another, very important element. During the recent bombing of Gaza […]and notably there were many young people from the lower-class suburbs who came to demonstrate, there were many people of Arab origin, of the Muslim faith, these young people were themselves also taken to court for having demonstrated, arrested at these demonstrations in support of the people of Gaza.”

Omar Slaouti
“The others are excluded. And when I say the others, I-m not just talking about the post-colonial subjects, I think the Jews are excluded too. That’s to say that neither the Jews are part of French national society. Both Jews and Muslims are excluded from French national society, but not in the same way. Pay attention: I said the Jews are not treated in the same way as the Black, the Muslim and the Roma communities. Those who are opporessed today be the French state are the Blacks, the Arabs, Muslims and the Roma. Those who suffer police repression for instance, those who are discriminated. For the Jews it’s something else, it isn’t discrimination, but they don’t have the honour of being part of the legitimate society. They are those who we ‘like to like’, if you know what I mean. We ‘like to like” the Jews, which means we pretend to like them. It’s what we call State philosemitism. Where does it come from? From the history of anti-Semitism, and from shifts in imperialism. There is a real, historic anti-Jewish state racism in France, which stems from the existence of the nation-state and imperialism too, both together. The Jews didn’t choose this situation, but the Jews as a social group were integrated into the imperialist project through the State of Israel. From the moment the Jews were brought into the imperialist project, they became closer to being white, they ‘whitened’. But the whites really really don’t want that to happen. So the Jews act as intermediaries. That is how anti-Semitism turned into philosemitism. But if I were a Jew, I would be very suspicious. Towards the State. Because I think that turns the Jews into a category dependent on a conjunction of factors. If Israel, tomorrow, no longer had any strategic importance for Europe or the West, the relationship towards Jews risks changing. Because I think that there still is a strong anti-Semitism in France. A European anti-Semitism, I mean. I think that a part of the Jewish community realizes that there is an absolute necessity to struggle against Islamophobia, since it will on day turn against the Jews.”
Houria Bouteldja

Her cogent arguments remind me of the late Edward Said.

“The National Front, for me, … I will no judge Marine Le Pen, even if she won’t be my friend anytime soon, she is clearly racist, she is clearly Islamophobic, I think she is also an anti-Semite, although I don’t want to defame her. But she is at the head of a far-right party. I will never hear her extol peaceful coexistence. It’s all just a political game for her. What poses a big problem for me is the way in which her political ideas have been picked up by all other parties. Today she has clearly set the new political boundaries, we are no longer asking ourselves whether we should deal with the deficit or not, we are asking ourselves whether we are Islamophobic or not, whether veiled women can go to university or not. Today France is losing its place. There is a global crisis, there are more than 6 million unemployed in this country, but the political agenda has crystalized around the choices of Marine Le Pen.”
Nadia Henni-Moulaï
“We must support the struggles of the weakest minorities. These days, we must support the Muslims of France.”
Pierre Zaoui (Philopher and Professor at University of Paris 7 − Diderot)

Saw it in French with English subtitles on Vimeo.

Hard to be a God (2013) — 8/10
This is a Russian science-fiction film, 13 years in the making, that was released after the death of the director/editor, Aleksey German. It was shot in high-definition black and white. The story is of an Earth-like planet on which a similar evolutionary track was followed by a very human-like race, but they never experienced a Renaissance. Their buildings are of poor quality, their sanitation is a horror and their hygiene is non-existent. The filth is omnipresent. You can almost smell this movie. It’s incredible how absolutely everything is covered with mud, food remnants and shit. The fog and rain soak everything. Everything is of primitive construction, people shit and piss and blow their pus-running noses everywhere. They spit, they taste things, they scratch, they pick and they flick.
Slaves have boards around their necks—almost everyone we see is a slave of some kind. People have eyes missing. Instead of a Renaissance, a Khmer Rouge-style revolution has occurred: all books and learning and instruments and advancement have been destroyed and their purveyors and inventors put to death. One form of execution we see is upending in a latrine.
We follow the story of Don Rumata, an Earthman sent ostensibly to study these people but who has taken up as a God among them. We follow him from his “palace”, interacting with the various psychotic locals, to a local market (?) where he meets up with a group of other Earthlings. It is not hard to imagine that the people find him to be a God—he is so much cleaner than the others, with metal greaves and vambraces pretty much the only thing they see of him.[2]
There are incredibly long and detailed and close-up takes through the filthy confines of his castle. Activity is everywhere…in every corner there’s someone doing something, whispering something, imparting details of the kind of life there is to be had on this planet. There is a dispute, a man has his eye ripped out, he stumbles forward, spilling braziers everywhere, others follow, beating him. In the corner, we see what appears to be rutting in an ornate bed—the decorations depict sexual positions. The level of detail is almost overwhelming. There’s always something going on in the foreground, the middle and the background. Many of the non-speaking extras break the fourth wall to show us things.
This is the true idiocracy—the people are fixated on the back-ends of animals. They make rude gestures to each other, to the sky. It’s an exquisitely rendered madhouse, each mini-scene—a few seconds—with an incredible level of detail and attention. The sounds, too…always a fire or something splooshing or cracking or animals or people grunting. All without CGI, all made with practical effects, some in very long shots. The world is so visceral and convincing, large and endlessly depressing and broken. Smoke and fog and incense are everywhere. And always the coughing, the sniffing, the compulsive wiping of the nose by everyone—presumably because of the nigh-intolerable smell of the world.
Everything’s in a terrible state of disrepair and we see the only minds allowed to work involved in building new torture devices. The “bookworms” have all been hanged and left to rot on a gallows. The dialogue is also scattered, nonsensical, but enough sense can be distilled to follow a story. Everyone is near-mad, the actions unexplainable, the destruction they wreak on their environs chaotic. Random, wanton, childish. An unenlightened world of fools. It’s impossible to imagine how such a society survives, how it feeds itself, how it staves off disease. Every scene reflects their actions, implements and armor and chains and animals and fowl and bells pinned and tied and roped and chained everywhere, covered in filth and dripping water. The level of detail is Mad Max: Fury Road-esque. It’s a bit of a mystery where all the metal comes from, as they don’t seem capable of smelting or smithing.
Even Rumata succumbs to the filth of the world, drinking himself into stupors, obsessively picking his ear. Soldiers from the Grays some to arrest him and he fights them off, but they capture him in a net and take him to his enemy, Don Reba. Don Rumata threatens him and cajoles him and eventually leaves with an imposter doctor Budakh in tow (the man he sought?). It’s a mystery where Rumata gets his clean cloths to wipe his face, or the endless vials of perfumed water he splashes everywhere.
When he discovers that Budakh is an imposter, Rumata continues his search, in the process rediscovering his friend the Baron in a cage and freeing him. The Baron is attacked and rides off, triumphant, only to later be felled by a dozen arrows. We find his body lying on a midden heap, with Budakh admonishing it that he will now never be able to teach the Baron how to read. Surreal. Rumata interviews Budakh, to his eventual disappointment.

Rumata: What advice would you give to a God?
Budakh: I’d say “Creator! Give people everything that which separates them.”
Rumata: No, that wouldn’t do them any good. Because the strong will take everything from the weak.
Budakh: I’d say “Punish the cruel, so that the strong restrain from being cruel”
Rumata: As soon as the strong and cruel are punished, the stronger ones of the weak will take their place.

Budakh responds that the Creator should eradicate everything, to which Rumata responds that “destruction is easy”. He is anguished at all of the misery around him, after having spent 20 years on that Godforsaken planet. He returns home to his castle in Arkanar. There are warring factions, the Blacks are religious zealots who attacked his castle in his absence, the Grays (the Order) are poised for attack. They are Reba’s troops, the man who just released a prisoner to Rumata and let them both walk free. Because he’s considered a God? It’s all a bit muddled.
Rumata discusses further with Arata (his chief of staff?). Arata says what he would do to free the people and take over.

Rumata: Tell me, Arata. So you have given the land to your men. Who needs land without slaves? There’ll be new slaves. New scaffolds [gallows]. New golds. New blacks. Everything will start again. And a new Arata. And a God won’t be able to do anything. That’s sad.
Arata: I’d never allow that, you louse.
Rumata: You wouldn’t be able to prevent it. You’d allow it, like everyone else has and always will. For thousands of years.
Arata: What do we do then?
Rumata: The same as always.

The wheel turns and even an omnipotent God is helpless to stop mankind from realizing its pitiful goal.
The Grays attack the castle and kill Rumata’s “wife” Ari with an arrow to the back of the head. Absolutely out of the blue. Rumata puts on his war helmet—a fancy affair with bull horns—and prepares for war. Before he can go anywhere, though, a bird shits on his helmet. A fitting sentiment.
Rumata exacts revenge on the Grays’ leader. They seem to be negotiating, after a fashion, when Rumata stabs him with his helmet, then later disembowels him while still his heart is still beating. The aftermath of the ensuing battle takes the lives of all the soldiers in Arkanar, making it even more of a hellhole, if that was at all possible.[3] More “scientists” from Earth arrive to dissect the aftermath of the battle. They find Rumata without armor, sitting in a puddle, the lone survivor of both armies. They offer to take him back to Earth, but he refuses.

Rumata: They say…you write books, but have no thoughts. Here’s one for you. Where Grays triumph, Blacks inevitably come. There’s no other way. Remember. Now leave. Hey, if you write about me, and you’ll probably have to. Write that it’s … it’s hard to be a God!

Months later, we see Rumata with his retinue on the move through winter. He ends the film as he started, playing haunting Jazz on his clarinet. The scene of wintry bleakness at the end is welcome respite from the rotten oleaginous horrors of autumn.
The detail, the world is incredible. It’s a long film and difficult to follow, but the absolute dedication and consistent quality throughout the nearly three hours is remarkable. It’s a fully realized world. Recommended.
Betty Blue (1986) — 7/10

Zorg lives at the beach in a run-down bungalow, working as a handyman for the owner. We meet Betty enthusiastically writhing under Zorg, almost as if the film wants us to see right off the bat why Zorg is about to put up with all of the ensuing shit she has to offer. They go at it with such gusto, skill and utter joy, and the camera is so loving as it slowly zooms in to their crescendo, that these two minutes should be shown in health classes around the world.

Alas, she’s not stable. Some would generously call a free spirit. She likes to throw shit. She’s not super-smart. She’s convinced that Zorg is underselling himself and she hates his boss, so she attacks the boss at every opportunity. They are charged with painting the other bungalows and they paint one very nicely.[4] Betty discovers Zorg’s book that he’d kept hidden and falls more in love with him—whatever that means in that rats-nest of a mind of hers. She has enough of this life of servitude at the beach, throws every last bit of furnishing out of the bungalow and sets it on fire.

They flee the premises and hitchhike to Paris. There, they move in with a friend of hers—Lisa—in a small hotel, where he does odd jobs and she starts typing up his manuscript. A Sisyphean task as she doesn’t know how to type and rips out the page whenever she makes a mistake. It’s painful to watch.

On a side note, neither Zorg nor Betty is particularly fond of underwear. They befriend Eddy, Lisa’s boyfriend and have a few nice evenings together and mornings.[5] Betty’s mood quickly drops when she doesn’t get a response from any of the publishers to whom she’s submitted Zorg’s manuscript. Betty and Zorg start working at Stromboli’s, Eddy’s restaurant. So far, this is a typically quirky, cute French romance film—except for Betty’s uncontrollable anger, lowering perpetually at the edges of their existence, until it springs to the center in a fit of pique.

You’re tempted to think that her fits are acts of passion, of a person full of life, but she really seems to be mentally ill. The only reason anyone puts up with it is that it’s packed into a pretty, sexy package, so everyone does their best to ignore it for much longer than they should. An ugly girl would have been committed immediately.

At any rate, Eddy’s mother dies and they attend the funeral. Eddy offers Betty and Zorg his mother’s house if they’ll run the music store. Zorg is happy with the provincial life.[6] Betty, of course, is quickly bored. Zorg, however, is not bored. The wife of a man he helps in town throws herself at him in a fit of positively epic horniness. Instead of taking advantage, he counsels her and resists her wiles. When she yells at him “I don’t turn you on!”, he responds that “Sometimes I resist my desires
in order to feel I’m free.”

Betty’s boredom continues, so she distracts herself with a fake pregnancy. Zorg does his best to make her happy, but she wants to move, to not be bored. And settling down in bucolic bliss will not last. We see it in her face that she knows she can’t be happy with what he’s offering but she’s dying to try, knowing that it will fail. During a lovely night in front of a roaring fire, he spills her purse and finds sedatives she’s been taking.

After finding out that it was a phantom pregnancy, her condition worsens. The fugues increase until Zorg comes home one day to find blood and detritus everywhere and Betty’s been taken to the hospital because she’s poked her own eye out. Zorg gets a call from a publisher who’s willing to publish the book she submitted. He goes to the asylum to tell her that he’s being published and he’s working on another book, but she’s strapped to the bed, catatonic. Zorg blames the drugs and denies the reality he’s known for a while. Zorg is thrown out of the asylum.

He sneaks back in, dressed as a woman. After telling her how much he misses her, her voice, he puts her out of her misery with a pillow. He leaves. We see him in his apartment above the music store, eating chili from a pot, as he did at the beginning of the film before he met Betty. He is writing a book.

Dallas Buyer’s Club (2014) — 7/10

We meet Ron Woodruff, played by Matthew McConaughey, at a rodeo, where he’s clearly in the grips of HIV. His cheeks are sunken, his belt flaps loosely, clearly tied much tighter than it used to be. He’s having sex with two prostitutes under the stands. A little while later, he passes out and wakes up in a local hospital, receiving a diagnosis of full-blown AIDS with a T-Cell count of 9. AZT is just being tested, but it’s efficacy is unknown. He finagles his way into getting some, then overdoses on it, taking his usual panoply of drugs and alcohol. He ends up in the hospital again and storms out after they tell him he’s going to kill himself.

He goes to Mexico for treatment, where he meets a kindly doctor who not only helps him, but goes into business with him. Woodruff smuggles a ton of goods with him, telling the customs authorities that it’s all for himself.

He meets Rayon (a transvestite played by Jared Leto) in the hospital. They soon form a partnership, the Dallas Buyers Club and she helps him sell it, because her connections to the community most likely to need it are better than his. Along the way, he earns the grudging respect of Eve, a doctor played by Jennifer Garner. Steve Zahn plays Tucker, Woodruff’s old cop pal.

Woodruff survives much longer than the 30 days he was given, cleaning up his life—more or less—and surviving over seven years and helping hundreds of people. The actors all play well, with Leto’s transformation and comfort in his role exceeded only by McConaughey’s. The story was interesting as history, but the strength of the film is in its characters.

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) — 8/10

Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are Adam and Eve, very long-lived if not eternal beings who need blood to live. They are apparently low-key vampires. Eve lives in Morocco where she is friends with Christopher Marlowe, played wonderfully by John Hurt.

Adam lives in an old, abandoned-looking home in Detroit, surrounded by musical, electronic and recording equipment of varying age. None of it particularly new—most looks to be at least 40 or 50 years old, while some of the violins are probably centuries old. He has a friend, Ian, who helps him get supplies Ian is quite friendly and asks no questions. Adam calls non-vampires “zombies”. Ian is a “good zombie”.

We see the three of them obtain and imbibe quality blood to slake their thirst. Soon after, Eve calls Adam to say hello. She calls on an iPhone with FaceTime. He connects via a Rube Goldberg contraption of relatively ancient digital devices that pipe her image to an analog television. Adam expresses melancholy; Eve agrees to visit. She packs only books from her wonderfully overcrowded house crammed full of them. We see her packing famous books in multiple languages, sitting in a pile of money in multiple denominations, making reservations for two flights, both at night.

They both use quite stilted language, naming creatures and trees in Latin, indicative of their long lives and the decades they could devote to learning such trivia. When together, they discuss the zombies and, in particular, as she puts it, “the litany of all zombie atrocities in history”. He lists the scientists who’ve been thwarted, ignored and ridiculed or otherwise poorly treated by humanity, with special emphasis on Tesla, of course.

Jim Jarmusch directed, so it’s not surprising that it’s a languorous film, but this time the pacing serves a different purpose: it puts us in the mood of beings who’ve seen everything multiple times, seen the wheel of time turn and turn again, who discuss how Detroit will bloom again when the “cities in the South have burned up […] because it’s near water”. The film is at least partially a love letter to Detroit, lamenting the rot and destruction and decay there. More evidence of the zombies’ lack of appreciation for anything good, for anything lasting. When you live forever, you can spend so much time on everything, you in fact must because otherwise boredom would overtake you. But the quotidian concerns of the zombies frustrate.

When the power goes out, we accompany Adam and Eve to his fusebox, where she observes that his wiring is shit and isn’t even properly connected to the grid. He smiles and opens a panel in the ground to reveal a version of Tesla’s wireless electrical transmitter to power his home.

Eve discovers the special bullet Adam’s ordered with which to commit suicide. They re-hash old arguments about whether it’s worth it to go on. She argues for enjoying life, he wonders what the point of it when the zombies seem determined to ruin everything. She plays an absolutely beautiful recording of “Trapped By A Thing Called Love” to convince him subtly that the zombies can also create beauty (when they’re not so busy being ignorant assholes).

They talk of “others”, in particular Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska), of whom they’ve all recently dreamt. She is a vampire like them, but with the attitude of a zombie. She drinks up their supply of blood, thinking nothing of it, of course. Adam is exceedingly unexcited to see her. Eve is accepting and mostly ambivalent. Ava, though, is a greedy, useless piece of shit bent on ruining everything they have. Obviously, I was enjoying this movie much more before Ava showed up, but that’s probably the point. Ava is constantly “thirsty” and doesn’t seem to have any of her own supply chain (which is probably why she ended up there). She drinks Ian, Adam’s friend and helper, then says she feels “sick”. Eve reminds her that 21st-century blood isn’t safe (probably not for the first time). They throw Eva out, “you guys are condescending assholes; you have no idea!” Of course. They are left to deal with the body and the aftermath of her destructive orgy. I suppose this is to show that vampires, like humans, run the gamut of behavior from sophisticated to utterly useless and glomming.

Adam and Eve relocate to Tangiers, leaving all of his stuff behind—she tells him she’ll find him wonderful instruments there. Of course, beings that are centuries if not millennia old would be much more comfortable with throwing away everything to start anew. They have trouble finding Marlowe and his connection to “good blood” and seem quite incapacitated. This makes for a bit of tension, but it’s hard to imagine that they could survive so long if a seeming bump in the road like this threatens their existence. They find Marlowe, who’s been poisoned by bad blood and expires before their eyes. So much experience and learning, lost forever. Marlowe whispers (Wikipedia) “What a piece of work is a man…” and Adam responds “[a]nd yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?”

At the very end, we see Adam and Eve starting from nothing, reduced to “15th-century tactics” (i.e. drinking blood directly from victims), but only slightly concerned about their ability to survive. They see an expanse of time and our highly focused view on it is boring.

Adam: Have the water wars started yet? Or is still about the oil?
Eve: Yes, they’re just starting now.
Adam: They only figure out when it’s too late.

The soundtrack is lovely. Recommended.

Ant-Man (2015) — 6/10

Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang, a burglar who’s just gotten out of prison for having burgled a large, high-security corporation. This feat catches the attention of Henry/Hank Pym (played well by Michael Douglas). He’s a genius scientist-engineer who’d invented miniaturization technology 40 years ago, used it as the Ant-Man to fight the commies, then buried it before it could be further weaponized or misused. His protégé Darren Cross is, forty years later, finally very near a breakthrough in re-discovering the “Pym Particle” that will allow him to duplicate Pym’s achievements.

Pym recruits Lang to become the Ant-Man for him, to sneak into Cross industries and steal the formula before Cross can sell it to arms industry. This is kind of lame because how would there not be backups everywhere? At any rate, Pym’s daughter reluctantly helps Lang get ready for his mission, teaching him how to fight and use the shrink/grow technology.

They proceed with the heist, including Lang’s three-man team for help. This is a good thing because that team includes Michael Peña as Luis, a guy who can’t tell a story without including every last detail. His two stories are the most amusing and nicely filmed parts of this movie.

The action scenes are decent and the use of the ants is relatively clever, but the motivation for the characters is all over the place. Douglas starts off strong, but the dialogue for Pym wilts as he’s increasingly called up to inject chunks of history. These parts could have been more interesting but didn’t really grab my attention. I thought Cannavale was pretty much wasted, which is a shame.

Ant-man could have been cooler, but he was served up in this standard film with a story that didn’t even bother to cohere very much.

[1] These notes are also interesting.
[2] The only sign we see of any technology is when something that looks like a tank/land-boat towing a wagon with two guys on it, one playing a guitar, drives by at 28 minutes in. The occurrence is entirely anomalous, unremarked and unexplained. We never see anything that looks like post-Renaissance technology again.
[3] Game of Thrones has nothing on this film in terms of depiction of medieval filth, death and suffering.
[4] Well, everyone says that they did a great job, but they just paint over the old, peeling paint without stripping any of it or even priming the sun-and-surf-damaged wood. Fucking amateurs.

[5] It’s funny to see how many things from 1980s France have survived until today nearly unchanged. The Mocha/Bialetti coffee maker they use is just like mine. They eat Bonne Maman strawberry preserves, they drink 1664 beer and Ricard Pastis. In the countryside, it’s Chimay and Leffe. All the labels still look the same.
[6] The French countryside is completely unchanged over the last 30 years since they made this movie. The buildings, the low walls, the church and castle in town, the little stores, the Boulangerie, the run-down but pragmatic little kitchens: all of it looks like Cluny and Sirot, where I’ve stayed with friends many times. The market store looks just like the ones in Bussang.