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Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2016.10

Published by marco on

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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 almost 1100 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.

Auf der anderen Seite (2007) — 8/10

This starts the story with a Turkish widower Ali, who lives in Germany. He has a successful son Nejat, a professor. Ali likes betting on the horses, getting plastered on Rakı and visiting prostitutes. When he meets a Turkish prostitute Yeter, he kind of falls in love and offers to take her away from her job and put her up in his home. They make this arrangement and she moves in with him. Nejat likes Yeter but seems to wonder whether she’s too good for his father, who has very old-world ways about him, especially when he’s paying the woman he lives with.

After an inaugural party, the old man has a heart attack. He keeps asking Nejat if he’s slept with Yeter, thinking that that would be the most logical thing to do. After Ali gets royally drunk again and tries to force her to provide the service he thinks he’s paid for, she packs up to leave. Ali tries to stop her, she slaps him and he clubs her back, knocking her to the floor and killing her when her heads slams into something. A freak accident, but murder nonetheless.

The old man goes to prison. German prison looks like a dorm room, as I’ve remarked about Swiss prisons in the past. The level of privacy and lack of crowding would look like paradise to most U.S. prisoners.

Nejat, meanwhile, travels to Turkey to look for Yeter’s daughter Ayten. His first stop at Yeter’s family yields a picture of Ayten at about six years old. They are friendly but have no idea where she is, are not even sure what she studied or where she might be. His next stop is the police, who try to help but wonder why he wants to help specifically her. One detective asks if he wouldn’t rather finance the education of a Kurdish child instead.

With the help of a cousin of his, who also lives in the area, Nejat plasters photos of Yeter all over Istanbul, then stumbles into a German bookstore. It happens to be for sale and he inquires as to the asking price. The current owner laughs when he hears that a Turkish German-language professor from Germany wants to buy a German-language bookstore in Istanbul from a German ex-pat pining for the fatherland.

The search continues as Nejat drives through the Turkish countryside. Next, we are at a protest during which a police officer is attacked and his gun sent spinning. A balaclava-ed woman picks it up and runs. She is pursued by a plainclothes detective as well as a horde of uniformed cops. in her haste, she drops her cell phone and the detective picks it up. She escapes, hiding the gun on a roof. Though the police pick up her cohorts from their apartment, she escapes and flies to Bremen, Germany to pick up with a new resistance cell. This is Ayten, Yeter’s daughter. She borrows money to go in search of her mother, but comes up with nothing.

She can’t pay back her comrades, so they toss her and she wanders the streets, finding warmth in a university. We re-see a scene where Nejat is teaching and there is a sleeping student in the foreground. Now we know who this sleeping student is and how the timelines mesh. Nejat is searching for Ayten in Turkey while Ayten searches for her mother in his hometown.

Ayten meets a young woman Lotte, a student, who helps her with food and lodging. They go to clubs and become best friends and lovers, to Lotte’s mother’s disapproval. Lotte asks her what Gül means, because she thinks that’s her name. In Swiss German, Gülle is Jauch, which is liquid manure. Aren’t languages fun?

One morning, Lotte’s mother and Ayten have a discussion about her former political activities, the ones that led to her fleeing Turkey. Ayten seems to be reasonably fighting for free speech and free education and against the 1%. The mother has, well, the exact opinions that you would expect a person of her age living in a privileged EU country to have. “Maybe everything will be better once Turkey joins the EU”. Ha! It’s possible that even her character wouldn’t be making that argument today.

Lotte and Ayten are pulled over by the German police and Ayten is put into a refugee home. After this, she is shipped back to Turkey. Lotte follows soon after, trying to find her, to see her. She finds out she’s in a woman’s prison and will be there for 20 years. After Lotte argues with her mother by telephone, we next see her in the same German bookstore, now manned by Nejat. She pins a note looking for a room up right next to the picture of Yeter, still hanging there. Nejat offers Lotte a room for 200 euros per month.

Lotte gets in to the prison to see Ayten and receives a map to get the gun Ayten’d hidden months ago. On the way back from the stash, street urchins snatch her purse and she gives chase. They lose her temporarily and root through the bag, finding the gun. They’re fighting over it when she finds them again. One of them points the gun at her and shoots her. Not maliciously, just because.

Next we see the police interrogating Ayten, asking who had visited her the day before (as if there’s no log of entry?) Clearly, Lotte has been found murdered with a police officer’s weapon. They tell her that Lotte is dead. We see the coffin at the airport, being fed by belt into the belly of a plane.

Part III starts with Lotte’s mother Susanne traveling to Istanbul. Next to her at customs is Nejat’s father, who was shipped back to Turkey from Germany. She meets with Nejat because the German consulate tells her that he was her daughter’s last landlord. Nejat is the nicest guy, letting her stay in his spare room, where she is finally able to sleep. His father, meanwhile, has moved on to Trabzon. Next we see Nejat and Susanne in a restaurant, a pile of mezze and glasses of rakı in front of them. Susanne takes up Ayten’s cause, in the name of her daughter.

Nejat discusses family with Susanne, is reminded of how much he loves his father and decides to visit him, leaving his bookstore in Susanne’s hands for a few days. We are back in the gas station from the start of the movie. He is on his way to Trabzon, by car. His father is out fishing. Nejat sits by the beach, waiting for him.

Ayten takes her right of repentance and is freed. She meets Susanne and stays with her in the small room at Nejat’s place.

It’s an interesting story of people being people, regardless of their country of origin, of love, of trying to fill that void, either as proud German or Turk or person with no land. A story of criss-crossing paths and unknown connections.

Saw it in Turkish, English and German with German subtitles.

La Jetée (1962) — 8/10

This is the movie that inspired 12 Monkeys. Well, it’s a short—30 minutes—and it’s not really a film, more of a slide show with voiceover. Still, it’s very well-made and the story is so enticing. It’s not hard to understand why Terry Gilliam couldn’t resist remaking this concept. The story is of a prisoner living beneath the ruins of post-WWIII Paris.

This prisoner is one of the few who can stand the mental stress of time travel, after 30 attempts, he is able to choose where to go and appear there stably. The technology is mercifully not discussed. The prisoner achieves this where no-one else could because he has a very specific memory of a woman on a Jetée (an airport observation platform) from his childhood. The memory was so fixed in his mind because, soon thereafter, he’d watched a man die.

On one of his trips, he meets this woman and becomes romantically involved with her, each journey into the past helping him build out this bizarre, extra-temporal relationship. After 50 journeys, the scientists send him to the future, which is more difficult. He manages it, and meets with four individuals from a future humanity, eventually managing to get them to give him a power unit to take back with him (again, manner of transport completely undiscussed). When back in his “normal” time, his mission accomplished, he realizes that he is now expendable. The people from the future offer him a way out, to come to the future with them. Instead, he asks to be taken to the past permanently, away from the false perfection of the future, to a time before the war and where the woman still lives.

He arrives on the jetée, spots the woman exactly where she should be and hurries toward her. At the same time, though, he spots one of his jailers, who shoots him. He realizes in his final moments that the man he’d seen killed as a child was himself as a time-traveling adult. The circle is closed.

Chris Marker did a tremendous amount with very little. Saw it in French with English subtitles.

He Never Died (2015) — 6/10
Henry Rollins stars as a strange, silent man named Jack. He is, apparently, immortal. He spends most of his time lying low, avoiding human contact, especially contact with evil people, who awaken his hunger. You can’t harm him, and you most certainly can’t kill him. Even a point-blank bullet to the head doesn’t phase him. On his back are scars, where wings have clearly been removed. He has a 19-year–old daughter Andrea. She intrudes into his life, and he reluctantly lets her, but must send her away when his bloodlust settles on him.
Cara works at the diner he frequents. She is soft on him, although he’s weird as all get-out. Rollins plays him as a monosyllabic, somewhat shambling man-thing. When Andrea is kidnapped to get to Jack, he misses the deadline they set for him. She may or may not already be dead, but others show up at his diner and cause trouble. He takes Cara home with him, to help him out and she sees the trunk of money and memorabilia he has in his room. She starts to have an inkling of how old he is. The discovery gels with the extensive list of prior occupations he’s had, which sounded like he’d lived for centuries. He reveals to her that he was in the Bible; there he was called Caïn, or Cain.
He offers her a million dollars to give him a ride home—then makes good on it. When she calls him a vampire, he cuts her off with “don’t speak of it”. He does get sustenance from human flesh, though. He actually reminds me a bit of Moro from Octavia Butler’s Mind of My Mind. He goes after his daughter’s kidnappers, tearing a swath through the whole room, as only a man who cannot be killed can.
Just before he can take his final victim—Alex, the ringleader who orchestrated his daughter’s kidnapping and made him “fall of the wagon” and start eating people again—he is stopped by the appearance of a silent figure sitting at the bar. Jack starts yelling at him, asking why he shouldn’t take Alex. The man stays silent. Caïn asks the man to let him die, to stop this cursed wandering of the Earth. Cara bursts back in, stopping his tirade against shadows and begging him to come help with Andrea. He leaves his final victim alive. The silent man is gone, but reappears to collect Alex’s soul as he expires.
It was OK. Not very tight editing, not enough material, too many loose ends. Felt more like a series pilot. I like Henry Rollins, though.
Hahaha (2010) — 8/10

This is the simple story of two old friends who meet for drinks and share stories about girls they met in the seaside resort of TongYeong. Gunbeh! Directed by Sang-soo Hong, from who’ve I’ve already seen and liked Oki’s Movie and The Day he Arrived—this movie has a similar feel. It’s stitched together from scenes that are memories of the two guys, occasionally talking shit, but sometimes letting a real feeling or two slip out. Gunbeh!

It’s a simple. sweet film, mostly featuring two people on-screen, composed of conversations centered on relationships, both real and imaginary. The men write what seems like an inordinate amount of poetry and seem to be largely unemployed. There are primarily three men and two women: one solid couple and another a bit shakier, with one guy doing a great job of wooing the girl away from her current boyfriend.

Some of the situations are utterly comical. One conversation during what seems like the tail-end of a meal with four attendees:

Kang Jeong-ho: Mum, this is the woman I’m dating.
Mum: I was wondering who she was.
Kang Jeong-ho: She’s a good person.
Mum: That’s what you think. I’ll have to see. [to her:] You seem reliable. Do you like him?
Wang Seong-ok: Picking him was a hard decision.
Mum: Oh dear…
Wang Seong-ok: Try to be a better man.
Kang Jeong-ho: There’s nothing wrong with me.
Wang Seong-ok: Can’t you try harder?
Mum: He’s all right.
Wang Seong-ok: How can we live with such pathetic men?
Mum: That’s why I live alone.
Wang Seong-ok: Oh! Good for you.
Mum: You’re a sweet girl.
Wang Seong-ok: Thank you.

As usual in Sang-soo Hong’s movies, everyone drinks alcohol all the time. Also he has his signature camera move: a quick zoom-in, then back out. So they’re either drinking or they’re shockingly hungover. When Wang Seong-ok breaks up with Kang Jeong-ho, she demands that she be allowed to give him a piggyback ride before they officially break up. Wang Seong-ok and Jo Moon-kyeong meet again and again, with him bullshitting away and her alternately loving it and telling him he’s full of shit. They get really drunk again and this time she goes to a hotel with him, protesting that she normally doesn’t do this because “it’s never good”. She was wrong. He’s awesome, follows up with a proposal that she takes under consideration.

Next, we’re back at the same restaurant, but it’s the two other couples, including the jilted lover with a new girl. The two men—Bang Joong-sik and Kang Jeong-ho—argue about philosophy and charity and beggars, while the womenfolk titter and try to smooth ruffled feathers, defusing the situation. Here, Sang-soo Hong very clearly parodies women as thoughtless creatures who leave the big philosophical questions to the men. Next we see a few of them at a play about—guess!—drinking! I had no idea that Koreans drank so much. Kang Jeong-ho confronts Jo Moon-kyeong and starts beating on him. Jo Moon-kyeong just laughs while Wang Seong-ok shrieks at Kang Jeong-ho to stop. It’s a great strategy because he looks like a hero. He takes Wang Seong-ok to meet his Mum, she balks at the last second because she finally recognizes the place and realizes that she already knows “Mum”.

The movies are a bit bizarre, but they always end up growing on me. Almost purely dialogue-driven. He’s like a Korean Woody Allen or maybe Jim Jarmusch. The movie ends with a Gunbeh for the last round and a hearty “HAHAHA”. Recommended.

Il y a longtemps que je t’aime (2008) — 8/10

Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) has just been released from a 15-year stretch that she served in prison. She is picked up at the airport by her sister and taken into her sister’s home and family. She joins her sister, her sister’s husband, her mute father-in-law and their two adopted Vietnamese children. She meets with her parole officer as well as her job-placement social worker and tries to find a job. She also gets to know people in the area, including a teacher with whom her sister works, Michel.

She slowly starts to fit into their lives, even though the husband is put off by the horror of her crime—she killed her own six-year–old son. He is at first leery to let his children interact with her, but the older one takes a shine to her immediately. Juliette is quite…melancholy.

They take a weekend together with other families and this part of the movie is even more French than the first several minutes (where we observed Juliette silently smoking at the airport). This is family life on the terroire, eating, cooking, washing up and reading really old books that look like they’re falling apart. It was 2008, so perhaps this is the last French movie without smartphones or e-readers.

Juliette’s friendship with Michel deepens. She’s also getting on better with her brother-in-law, whom she helped when he wrenched his shoulder out of its socket. He even asks her to babysit the two kids when no-one else is available—a remarkable indication of trust.

The next day, they are off to visit their mother in the hospital. Mother suffers from dementia and doesn’t recognize Léa, the younger daughter, at all. She doesn’t recognize Juliette either, until Léa leaves to find a vase for her flowers, then Mother stops complaining and brightens, recognizing Juliette and addressing her as “ma petite Juliette” and then continuing in English. Juliette knows its just the dementia speaking and she continues to stare off and be melancholy. As soon as Léa returns, mother yells at them both in French to leave.

Juliette tries to open up a bit more with Michel, but he is uncharacteristically abrupt on the phone. She heads out to a bar, drinking red wine, smoking a cigarette. She heads home to a dark foyer and is then surprised by all of her friends and family—including the crafty Michel—wishing her a happy birthday.

At first, I didn’t see the appeal of Kristin Scott Thomas but she has a certain style, a quiescence, a patience about her, an insouciance in her bearing, as if she can take or leave you. A certain … je ne sais quoi. She’s a very beguiling actress.

Juliette and Léa go out for a night of dancing, but Juliette can’t stand the crowd and flees, having a silent breakdown. Her sister implores her to talk to her, but she cannot.

Next we see Juliette reading a high-falutin’ book at the police station (Des Orphelins by Gilles Ortlieb)—there’s definitely a defiant theme of “we are French and we still read significant literature”—and she meets her new parole officer. She discovers that the captain with whom she’d been friends, who’d spoken of going to the Orinoco and who’d hinted heavily that he was desperately lonely, is no longer on duty not because he’s in Brazil, but because he’d committed suicide with his service revolver.

Juliette gets a permanent contract at the hospital—which is a big deal in France—and we see a heartening, family moment which would feel more heavy-handed if it wasn’t so well-earned. She used to be a medical doctor and now she’s a permanent records-keeper in the hospital. We next see Juliette and Léa in a new apartment, where Juliette hopes to move in, and move on.

Soon after, when Juliette leaves in a hurry, she drops an old letter and picture on the floor of her bedroom. Léa finds it while vacuuming. It s a picture of Juliette’s son Pierre and what looks like a final note, signed by him (though it’s too advanced for a six year-old—he was perhaps a precocious French boy, destined to read weighty tomes while waiting on his parole officer). However it’s written on the back of what looks like lab results indicating cancer. Léa takes the results to a doctor colleague for confirmation that the diagnosis was fatal—so that she may finally know that her sister had killed her son out of mercy, that the world makes sense. When she knows for sure, though, it becomes about Léa, about how she could have helped, how Juliette’s actions were selfish. Juliette screams back at her that she couldn’t have done anything, that her son was suffering and that he was choking to death on his own cancerous bile. What could anyone have done? She put him out of his misery.

Brilliant ending; well-struck. Recommended.

8th Wonderland (2008) — 6/10

This is the story of a world suffused in confusing and deliberately misleading media. We start off in the offices of the leader of Central American country, just as he’s about to be elected. His top advisor shoots him to death, minutes before the election results are in.

The next scene is of two people robbing a church. Then we switch quickly to media coverage of how the Catholic church is incensed at the appearance of condom dispensers everywhere, including in Africa, where the church has long sought to suppress them. There is then a long segment on the annual pardoning of the Thanksgiving turkey, this one named Paris. The world erupts in protest, wondering why the U.S. can only pardon a turkey and no-one else. The online “activists” of the 8th Wonderland continue to expound their ideals and continue to subvert with real-world actions, eventually catapulting the 8th Wonderland to one of the most influential entities on the planet.

The story is basically that there is an online world which is truly democratic, where the participants can actually change things—and these participants start trying to effect change in the real world as well. The depiction of how people would interact and cooperate online turns out to have been utterly laughable. A lot of the movie is a discussion taking place in a 3D virtual chat room, in which the high-level participants of the 8th Wonderland discuss the “true democracy”. This is not at all how the Internet turned out—instead, we got flamewars, memes and porn.

The production quality was pretty low in places—it looked and felt like network TV—and the script was also kind of all over the place. It’s basically a broad collection of skits and ideas—many anti-church, pro-evolution, etc.—with kind of a common thread, but pretty chaotic. 8th Wonderland continues to affect events, in one case by posing as a translator at a Mideast peace conference and completely mistranslating everything to provoke discontent, but in the end getting credit for having avoided disaster. The film is a pastiche of clips, fake news, fake commercials and what feel like online skits.

If you squint real hard, you could see some common concepts with Mr. Robot and Fight Club and/or Strange Days but, unlike those, in the end of this one, the 8th Wonderland is shut down by an elite S.W.A.T. team that infiltrates and shuts down their physical servers. Or is it dead? Over the credits, we hear newscasts about a “Ninth Wonderland”.

Saw it in French with French subtitles for the myriad other languages used (Spanish, Italian, German, Chinese, Arabic,Russian, Swahili etc.).[1]

Cop Land (1997) — 8/10

Sylvester Stallone is Freddy Heflin, the hapless sheriff of a town in New Jersey, just across the George Washington bridge from New York. The town was built by cops, most of them crooked, as a sanctuary from the law, where they can keep their ill-gotten gains and get away with anything, even murder. The cast is jam-packed with other top-notch talent (and also kind of the usual suspects): Ray Liotta, Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, Peter Berg, Janeane Garofalo, Robert Patrick, Michael Rappaport, Noah Emmerich.

Harvey Keitel and Robert Patrick are the evil ringleaders. Sylvester Stallone is the sherriff who goes along to get along for ten years. All the while, the mob owns the town—and all of the cops living in it.

Freddy finally gets fed up with being treated like a foregone conclusion, is tired of the murder and the corruption and the cover-ups. He decides to do something about it. He goes back to De Niro, the IA cop, who turns him away, telling him it took him too long to come around. He tries to help a good friend/love interest get over the loss of her cop husband, who was allowed to be murdered by his fellow cops because, though pliant, he was starting to get opinions of his own. The wife also snubs Freddy, accusing him of trying to jump into her husband’s shoes.

He leaves, not dejected, but resigned to a world full of people who are all the same. He can’t blame them, though: until very recently, so was he. Stallone plays this character very well—I remember that from the first viewing. Again, Stallone stands even with or above other, more highly acclaimed actors. Truly an underrated talent.

Freddy also discovers that Figgs (Ray Liotta), who he thought was his friend, burned his own house for the insurance money. Another crooked cop on the bomb squad got him the accelerant he needed to do the job. Freddy decides to bring in “Superboy” (Rappaport), the cop who’s on the run from all of the others. They hid him from justice at first, but now they need his body to appease investigators. So they’re ready to sacrifice him. His aunt Rose (Cathy Moriarty) tells Freddy where he is—hiding in a water tower.

Freddy and Superboy are ambushed by three cops and they snag Superboy away from him. They even shoot near his good ear to make him totally deaf. Freddy has had enough. He takes out two of them, then is ambushed by a third before Figgs shows up again, his guilty conscience having driven him back to help out Freddy. They face off against Ray (Keitel) and Freddy gets him in his own home, his own bedroom.

Freddy and Figgs drive Superboy back to the main precinct in Manhattan. Freddie is deaf, covered in blood from a gunshot wound to his shoulder—but he brought Superboy in. He doesn’t know who to trust anymore, although he thinks he can trust Moe (De Niro).

Caligula (1979) — 7/10

This is a surprisingly good biography of the Caligula’s succession to Caesar of Rome. That it is somewhat pornographic[2] is wholly appropriate to the subject matter of depicting the debauched life of Caligula. Malcolm McDowell stars as the eponymous leader, utterly unchanged in his mannerisms from his outing as Alex in A Clockwork Orange. Gore Vidal wrote the screenplay, Bob Guccione—the founder of Penthouse magazine—produced the film and Helen Mirren and Peter O’Toole lend their gravitas to the film.

The story follows a sycophantic Caligula as he cavorts with his uncle Tiberius (O’Toole), who is clearly ludicrously syphilitic and at death’s door. Macro, Caligula’s devoted praetorian and brother-in-law, chokes Tiberius to death but is then betrayed by Caligula for his troubles. Caligula takes his own sister and Macro’s wife for a lover but cannot marry her. He choose the most promiscuous woman in Rome—Caesonia (Helen Mirren)—as his bride.

The sets are wonderfully elaborate—at one point, we see a gigantic head-chopping machine making its way forward over people buried up to their necks in the ground—there are dozens, if not hundreds, of extras, most in various stages of dishabille and engaged in assorted depraved acts. The orgy scenes are so prevalent that they almost (but not quite) fade into the background. Caligula sees an officer Proculus, betrothed to a lovely girl who he’d almost chosen for his own and decides to amuse himself with them both. He arrives at their wedding, asking innocuously “was the ceremony beautiful?”—he looks at the slaughtered lamb—“the augury was good?”

Even if you hadn’t already known, you would, at the very least at this point, have suspected that someone with the literary credentials of Gore Vidal was at the helm with Guccione.[3] Where the former wrote a script utterly foreign to what most would consider appropriate fodder for pornography, the latter supplied a seemingly endless stream of nubile and willing bodies of both genders. Caligula leads his betrothed Caesonia on a short, golden leash between two giant cakes, one shaped like a penis, the other like a vulva.

He greets Proculus as a “Roman hero”, then proclaims he will “now bestow the special blessings of almighty Caesar upon this … happening”. This is clearly all a pretense to bugger one or both of the newlyweds. He exercises lus primae noctis, first with her—“open your eyes, Proculus!”—then with him, taking his virginity as well. It’s hard to imagine anyone but McDowell playing this role, “you see how I’ve exhausted myself to make your wedding holy. My blessings to you both.” He chuckles and walks away, leaving them in a sobbing heap.

Caligula doesn’t feel he has to choose and has a three-way with his sister Drusilla and his bride Caesonia. They are observed by two women, who are driven to engage in sapphic ecstacy themselves. Soon after, Caligula rids himself of the treacherous Gemellus. Still, Caligula descends ever further into debauched, depraved madness, now afraid that Drusilla is going to kill him. He wakes from a fever dream, surround by his advisors, in bed with his horse.

He recovers and continues to torture his subjects, taking joy in torturing Proculus, whom he calls a traitor. “You’re an honest man, Proculus, and therefore a bad Roman and therefore…a traitor!”, he titters. Caesonia gives very public birth to his heir, but his first heir is a girl. He rallies, though, and declares that the child is a son. How can he do this? He. Is. A. God. But even he cannot save Drusilla from fever and she dies in his arms, driving him around the bend. He wanders the streets a beggar, then ends up in jail.

After a short stay there, he returns to power and has the Senate unanimously declare him a God. Needing money, he declares that the Senators’ wives will staff a brothel in order to replenish the state coffers. “Only five gold pieces for every twenty minutes! And that’s a bargain! Look at them. Aren’t they beautiful. Superb! The most lascivious ladies of the Roman empire have come today to perform their patriotic duties for all. … All aboard the imperial bordello and you’ll have your choice of the finest flesh in the empire.”.

Next he takes the Roman army to conquer Britain, where he collects papyrus cane to “prove” he was there. He descends further into self-destructive, heedless madness. He is accompanied on this journey by a simple man he met in jail, who is his constant companion now. All around him is intrigue and silent plotting. The plotting comes to fruition: Caligula is struck down by his royal guard, Caesonia is killed and his daughter (“son!”) is dashed to death on the steps of the temple. Caligula sees this all before he is piked to death by a hundred blows. The final scene is of the slaughtered family on the steps, blood running a river down them.

McDowell delivers a standout performance, seemingly a role he was born to play. I don’t understand how anyone can say this is one of the worst movies ever made. Not so: it’s absolutely elaborate, over the top and madcap and filmed quite well. It achieves its goal of making a relatively highbrow movie for which hardcore pornographic scenes are occasionally appropriate.

Patton Oswalt: Talking for Clapping (2016) — 7/10
I’ve liked his other specials better than this one. It felt like he was being too careful, addressing too many Twitterstorms, pandering to his San Fransisco audience. The bits lacked integrity, in the sense that they were separate from one another. He discusses how we really need a woman president then, twenty minutes later, discusses how little girls are much more devious and brutal with one another than boys, where direct violence is quickly over. He told a lot of stories about his old days as a comedian. It had its moments, but he was missing too much fire. I would rather re-listen to his older stuff.
Page Eight (2011) — 7/10

Bill Nighy is a calm and sedate and long-serving MI5 officer. Michael Gambon is his even longer-in-the-tooth boss. Rachel Weisz is his neighbor, who chooses to make his acquaintance on the same day that a highly classified and explosive file lands in his lap. The file describes how the U.K. and the U.S. are complicit in torture, with the most damning information showing up at the bottom of “page eight”.

Judy Davis plays another of Nighy’s superiors, who flips her wig after Nighy tells the Home Secretary of the incriminating evidence in the file. Davis tells Nighy that he’s a fool for believing the report, to which he responds with stunned silence, because it hadn’t occurred to him to doubt its veracity—because his buddy Gambon vouchsafed it. Davis tells him there’s a war going on in MI5 and that Brits are killing Brits (presumably referring to 7/7, of which mention is made several times) and otherwise going off the deep end with paranoid frustration.

Next, he talks to his ex-wife, who tells him that his daughter was justified in being angry with him because he wasn’t nice to her when she wanted to tell him that she was pregnant. The ex-wife wastes no time telling him he’s old and outdated and doesn’t understand anything. He can’t help but note that a lot of people seem, of late, to want to convince him that he’s useless and stupid and outdated.

Things kick into high gear when Gambon has a heart attack and Nighy’s ex-wife calls him to let him know (Gambon was his ex-wife’s new husband as well as his best friend).

He meets with an old friend/informant (Ewen Bremner, or Spud from Trainspotting), who also tries to tell him how the world works, that intelligence is what the powers-that-be want, that intelligence delivered communists when the pols wanted communists and now it delivers Arabs when the pols want Arabs.

Nighy is of a different mind, channeling Snowden, saying that, even though we all knew that there had to be black sites where Americans and Brits torture prisoners, having evidence of it is different—and can also be used to implicate those who can be proved to have known, including but not limited to the prime minister of England, played by Ralph Fiennes. The PM meets with Nighy at Gambon’s funeral and, after trying to butter him up, asks for the file back.

Nighy refuses, quits, goes on the run with Weisz, to whom he reveals that the report says that her brother was tortured to death. Intrigue and lies and government secrets. Nighy finds out that he’s been surveilled, and that, by a young man who was also surveilling Weisz. Everything’s intertwined as this “Ralph” then turns out to be the son of Nighy’s superior at MI5. It turns out she’s running a parallel intelligence unit for the PM, who was dissatisfied with the lack of cooperation between MI5 and the Americans. He preferred a more…corroborative and submissive agency. She tries to deflect her guilt in this venture by saying that MI5 was ineffective because it’s an old-boy’s club. She then threatens him with jail. But he calls the bluff—they actually bluff back and forth. Nighy is really spectacular here.

When she doesn’t agree to a deal, Nighy calls his source in the media, to whom he’s already given everything, and gives her permission to publish. He returns once more to Weisz to give her his car and one of his nice paintings she’d admired. She asks if she can go along on his ex-pat adventure. He demurs and they kiss, then leaves without her. She hears on the news that Nighy released the report that her brother had been slaughtered by the Israelis in the occupied territories. He’d also arranged it just right so that she was free to pursue justice. The movie ends on the same jazzy, upbeat note with which it began.

[1] While I understood quite a bit, I freely admit that my French isn’t good enough to have understood every nuance. I don’t think a better understanding of the dialogue or the plot would have changed my overall impression.
[2] I say somewhat because, while there are hardcore scenes, they are scattered throughout long stretches composed of plotting, intrigue and long discussions of Roman politics.
[3] Although Vidal would disavow the script, claiming it had been changed too much. He even refused credit on the film. Still, some of the dialogue made it through.