Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2020.1
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.
- Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) — 8/10
Michael Keaton is Riggan, an actor who played Birdman in several very successful super-hero movies. He’s now involved in the production of a Raymond Chandler play on Broadway that he’s adapted for the stage himself, that he’s directing and he’s starring in. He’s involved with one of the leads Clara (Natalie Gold), his daugher (Emma Stone) is his assistant, Jake (Zach Galifianakis) is his production assistant, and Naomi Watts is Lesley, the lead actress. The play is in trouble when it takes on Mike (Ed Norton), a well-known lead actor, to save the show.
They’re barreling toward opening night with Mike slowly taking over the production. At the same time, though, Riggan is unraveling. His life has a drums-only soundtrack that gets louder and louder until he starts to hear his inner voice again, a voice that expresses his inner doubt. It is the voice of Birdman? Does he have telekinesis? He is racked with doubt and doesn’t know who he is. “Birdman” intones: “All that’s left is you, a sad, selfish, mediocre actor grasping at the last vestiges of his career.”
Jake witnesses Riggan’s absolute freakout just one hour before curtain. In the middle of the final preview show, he gets trapped outside when he steps out for a smoke, pinning his bathrobe in the door. He ends up doffing the bathrobe and striding around the building in the rain in his underwear, to re-enter the play from behind the audience, doing his scene, but very impromptu. Lesley and Mike roll with it.
The audience seem to enjoy it, but Mike is unraveling further, noticing that the play seems to be a simulacrum of his life, a weird homunculus that “follows him around, pinging him in the balls”. After the final preview, he’s in the bar next to the theater when he encounters the one reviewer whose opinion matters (according to Mike) and they go toe-to-toe, with her swearing that she’ll kill his play no matter what because she “hates him”.“Because I hate you and everyone you represent. Entitled, selfish, spoiled children. Blissfully untrained, unversed and unprepared to even attempt real art. Handing each other awards for cartoons and pornography. Measuring your worth in weekends? Well this is the theater and you don’t get to come in here and pretend you can write, direct and act in your own propaganda piece without coming through me first. So break a leg.”
At first I wasn’t sure whether she was a manifestation of his insecurity and whether the scene was happening at all. Riggan drinks the martini he’d bought for her, then stumbles across the street to buy a pint of whiskey from a liquor store strung with Christmas lights everywhere. A man is outside delivering Macbeth’s soliloquy from Act V. Riggan brown-paper bags it, spiraling even more out of control (perhaps channeling closer Raymond Chandler). The night passes. Birdman wakes him from his hangover, lying on a doorstep, trying to convince him to turn his back on the theater.
After the first act of official opening night, we see people spilling out, excited about it. Riggan’s in his dressing room, talking to his ex-wife Laura (Andrea Riseborough). He admits to his weakness, to mistakes from the past. They kiss. He has to get back to the play. I still don’t know if this part is real or in his head. He grabs his pistol for the final scene, uses telekinesis to open the door to his dressing room (also not sure if real), walks out past the drummer banging the soundtrack louder and louder (real?), and gets ready to go on. He seems to be riffing the scene, going slowly mad, then shoots his own nose off. The entirely white, rich crowd gives him a standing ovation.
He wakes in the hospital, his nose reconstructed and bandaged. The Times is ecstatic. The country mourns him. He peels back the bandages to see that he now has a beak (pretty much). He goes to the window, watching the birds. The window slides, he steps out. His daughter comes back to an empty room. The window is open. She looks down in horror. Then, she looks up. And laughs.
The movie was directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu and he imbued it with a very unique feel. It takes place almost entirely in the theater itself and is about 90% one-on-one discussions in extreme closeup between very good actors delivering lines written to be delivered in this way. Real people don’t talk like this, but then, maybe the point is that actors aren’t real people—Riggan and Birdman alike.
- Ran (1985) — 9/10
Lord Hidetora Ichimonji is old and has fought for over fifty years to consolidate power over his lands, holdings, castles and title. He has three sons. He makes a decree delivering his authority to the eldest but also lands and titles for the younger sons. He announces this on a boar hunt. His youngest son Saburo refuses to play along, calling him a fool. Hidetora disowns him.
The eldest son Taro moves in to the main castle as his father moves out. The father is only slowly learning the full ramifications of what it means to cede power. Taro’s wife Kaede knows exactly what she wants and will manipulate Taro into taking full power, seemingly especially if it means punishing and perhaps killing his own father-in-law.
Though Taro does not see this yet, Hidetora sees it very well, “Is this a son’s attitude? The hen pecks the cock and makes him a crow.” It won’t help, though, as the bureaucrats will take over the kingdom from he that formed it. He may not be a nice guy and he may be crude, but that which comes after his reign doesn’t necessarily deserve it more. On the other hand, he seized the lands by force—he has to expect that someone will eventually seek to seize them back. Kaede’s actions are revenge for old familial hurts.
Taro—and Kaede through him—continues to turn the screws on Hidetora. Next he is ordered to keep his unruly retinue out of the castles—even when visiting his other son Jiro. He sees that the sons are in cahoots and leaves. “I will not see you again. Ever!”
Hidetora is now with a retinue of 30 men, plus an advisor and a rather clever fool Kyoami, starving in the outer lands. The peasants and their food stores have pulled back (or been pulled back). The third castle (ostensibly still Saburo’s) is the only place they could pull back, but Hidetora refuses. Instead, Taro’s troops (under Ogura) take it over, with Saburo’s retinue abandoning it.
Tango (who’d left with Saburo) returns to advise Hidetora but his general recommends they take the empty castle. The fool Kyoami disagrees and is punished for it. Hidetora awakens to hear the sounds of Ogura’s men outside the gates. Hidetora’s men are slaughtered in a spectacular battle scene. He retreats to a tower with a handful of men. His members of his harem ritually kill themselves. Hidetora retreats still further, losing more and more of his retinue. The scenes of slaughter are hellish. So much blood. So many arrow wounds. Arrows sticking out of everything, from every wall, from every eye socket.
It looks utterly hopeless, but somehow Hidetora still lives, ensconced in his tower, with almost no-one left. Lord Taro arrives, to survey his victory. He is promptly shot off of his horse. Jiro is now the master (as the next son in line). He is confident his father will commit Seppuku from his burning tower. Instead, he exits in a trance, with the massed troops making way for his still God-like presence. No-one dares approach him as he leaves the castle—perhaps because he took the “coward’s” path and did not commit Seppuku himself.
Tango and Kyoami find him in the windy fields outside the flaming castle. He is gathering flowers, clearly mad. They take shelter in a hut with a blind man. He is Tsurumaru (Jiro’s wife Sué’s brother), who Hidetora had blinded many years before, in exchange for letting him live.
Lord Jiro returns to the main castle to notify Kaede that her husband is dead and that Jiro will take over. Kaede fools him into a one-on-one meeting and tries to take his life, forcing him to tell her who was really responsible for her husband’s death, calling him weak when he admits it too quickly. She screams that she won’t leave the castle and that she never cared about Taro. Jiro is terrified, but considers taking her offer of her hand in marriage in exchange for not saying anything about his treachery. Kaede is adamant that Jiro kill his previous wife Sué.
She dispatches Jiro’s master of arms Kurogane to dispose of Sué, bringing back her head. She flips the hell right out when he brings back a head of a fox statue. Sué and Tsurumaru escape thanks for Kurogane’s warning. Kaede leaves Jiro until he can provide her his wife’s head.
Hidetora wanders the Earth with Kyoami, a shadow of his former self, looking old beyond his years. The wide-angle scene of them on the steps is beautiful.
Saburo’s men ford a wide river on horseback to help him find his father. Single shot. Amazing. Fujimaki follows him, ostensibly to back up his son-in-law Saburo. Saburo is worried that it looks too aggressive. Jiro thinks so too and wants to go to war. Jiro is called back by Kaede; his closest men advise against talking to her. She tells Jiro to double-cross Saburo and kill Hidetora as soon as Saburo reveals where he is.
Saburo retrieves his father but is shot dead by Jiro’s men. Tango, Kyoami and Hidetora mourn his loss. The horses have moved on. They are, once again, in a plain of stones and dirt. Hidetora expires atop his son. Jiro, meanwhile, has been outflanked by Fujimaki and his ally.
When Kyoami curses the skies, Tango shouts,“Enough. Do not blaspheme! It is the gods who weep. They see us killing each other over and over since time began. They can’t save us from ourselves. Don’t cry. It is how the world is made. Men prefer sorrow over joy, suffering over peace.”
- One Cut of the Dead (2017) — 8/10
A crazed director of a zombie movie drives his crew to new heights of engagement when he makes them film in a place with real zombies. The two leads and the DA are left, trying to survive and get away. They are cut down to two when the DA thinks that the lead actress has been infected. They split up as he chases her down. She turns out not to have been infected. She finds an axe with which to defend herself. She’s playing the role of her career. The director has disappeared but is probably neither dead nor zombified. Instead, he’s probably setting up the next shot.
She finds the other lead, but he’s been zombified. And she’s there with her axe. They end up (inadvertently) playing the scene from the movie that she found it so difficult to play. Now she’s flying. She kills him. Then when the director complains that she’s killed his actor, she kills the director, too. She absolutely covered in blood and gore. Credits roll as she stares up from a bloody pentagram scrawled on the roof. The director yells “cut”.
We flash back to one month before when the director is hired to do a one-cut, half-hour, live zombie movie. Then the credits run for the reality show that will film the one-cut movie? This is so meta. Now we see the actors and actresses playing the roles of the people we just saw in real life (or did we?).
The show is getting closer and closer, but the actors are slowly having accidents and dropping out. That’s how the director and his wife end up in the movie. Now we see the filming with the behind-the-scenes—where the first zombie is actually an actor drunk out of his mind, the noise they heard is him hitting his head on the door. Everything that was cut together so nicely in the first run, so scarily, was the result of accidents. That, and the director doing nearly everything himself, behind the scenes.
So it’s the story of a director and his family and we see the filming of the filming of a one-cut, half-hour live zombie movie. It’s the making of, of itself. Now I kind of want to watch the original again. The mom flips the hell out, losing herself in her role completely. The director ends up choking her out so they can mount the axe on her forehead.
It’s all exceedingly clever and heartwarming and nearly perfectly done. The credits show the filming of the filming of the film, with a Japanese rendition of 1,2,3 by Michael Jackson that’s just barely recognizable.
- Metropolis (1927) — 9/10
We visit Metropolis, a futuristic city with a clear class system: workers underground and the elite in the clouds. We see a shift change, then we see Freder, the son of the Joh Frederson, the master of the city, cavorting in a garden of earthly delights, taking up with a woman who’s been prepared for him. He is interrupted in his frolicking by a woman who appears with a class of schoolchildren, whom she tells “These are your brothers”.
Freder pursues her to the depths of the city, but cannot find her. Instead, he finds the workers, manning their stations at the machines that give the city life. The workers try to contain the machine’s energy, but it is too much and explodes in a cloud of steam, taking many workers’ lives. Freder sees the machine as “Moloch”, a hungry God who eats the poor in droves.
He returns to the upper levels of the city (the “Tower of Babel”) to tell his father what he has seen. His father knows on what his city is built. Freder wants to know why the people responsible for the city’s functioning are hidden away while he and his fellows frolic idly. Joh says that’s the way it is. Josephat, Joh’s right-hand man, fails for the second time to obtain information for him and is let go.
Freder chases him down and stops him from killing himself. Then he returns to the bowels of Metropolis to visit with his “fellow workers”. Here, he shows an affinity for actual labor that is frankly insulting to people who actually train for it—he has neither the endurance nor the training. Joh’s new right-hand man plays detective, following him around.
Joh visits the inventor Rotwang, who shows him Hel, a robot woman that he made to replace the wife that Joh stole from him dozens of years ago. Joh wants to know what his workers are up to. Deep in the catacombs, the woman Freder saw (Maria) holds forth in a church of sorts. Freder is there with the other workers.
Rotwang has led Joh to the same place, to show him what his workers are up to. They hear the story of the Tower of Babel. The workers ask where their “agent” is—Maria thinks that it’s Freder (which is kind of sad, since the story has always been that the workers cannot free themselves). Joh asks Rotwang to change Hel into Maria, to sow havoc with this son.
Rotwang reluctantly and ruefully chases a terrified Maria through the catacombs. Freder’s counterpart Georgy 11811 is caught by Joh’s henchman, who forces him to give up the whereabouts of Josephat. Freder discovers Rotwang’s lab, having heard Maria’s screams. Rotwang proceeds with the transferral, not because Joh demands it, but because Rotwang wants to take the whole damned city down. Rotwang begins the process of transferring Maria’s “face” to his robot. Maria passes out on the operating table just after she has been transferred.
Joh gives the robot Maria her marching orders; Freder encounters them and falls into a deep faint, distraught. He dreams of Maria dancing lasciviously to the satyr-like delight of watching men. She is Babylon reborn. Now he sees the statues of the seven deadly sins and death itself come to life, all come to revenge themselves on the city.
The robot Maria continues to incite the workers to rise up—but at the wrong time. Instead of gaining any ground, they’ll simply give Joh a reason to put down the stillborn revolution with legitimated violence. Instead, though, she incites them to rise up and destroy the machines. Freder arrives just in time to denounce the robot Maria—as their mediator, he begs them to listen to reason. Recognizing him as Joh’s son, they attack him, end up killing Georgy instead, then storm off to attack the machines.
The workers make it to the surface, pouring through the factories and past machines, headed for the “Herzmaschine”. Joh uses a security camera to see the main guard Grot (I kid you not) and order him by telephone to open the gates and let the workers in—to give them access to the “Herzmaschine”. Grot warns them that, should they destroy that machine, the whole worker’s village will be drowned. Robot Maria urges them on, maniacal as ever.
At Rotwang’s urging, real Maria is on her way; she rings the alarm, but it’s nearly too late—the city is flooding and falling to pieces. Freder finds his Maria and they go to the air ducts with all of the children of the city (as well as Josephat) to escape the flood. They arrive on the surface to discover that the city is dead—no power, no light…nothing.
But there is some light above, in the clouds: robot Maria is partying with the wealthy elite like it’s 1999. The workers are still deep in the bowels of the city, celebrating their destruction of the machines—until Grot tells them that they’ve been fooled and that their children are dead. They fly to the surface.
They find their scapegoat: Maria, the witch who incited them to riot. In chasing Maria, the workers run into the aristocrats and grab the robot Maria, who laughs maniacally. They dance as she burns on a giant pyre. Freder tries in vain to save her, thinking she’s the real Maria. The real Maria, meanwhile, is pursued by a reinvigorated Rotwang, who thinks she’s his robot Hel.
Freder vanquishes Rotwang in an epic fight and we see the “mediator” play his role, linking “head” and “hands” (Joh with Grot).
The futuristic vistas are very well-made—there are some beautiful paintings integrated very cleverly into the scenery. Fritz Lang (the director) does a tremendous amount with the little that was available to him. He invented whole tropes in the credits and in the filming. Even the plot is amazingly modern: I think several of the Mission Impossible films stole from it, liberally. The fight scene at the end, between Freder and Rotwang, would go on to be a template for so many others like it.
The workers work in 10-hours shift (that’s why the clock goes to ten) and the the film is constantly punctuated by the shift-change whistle. Sound-wise, though, the film is accompanied only by the original soundtrack, a 65-piece chamber orchestra. It’s like an opera without singing.
There are giant scenes with hundreds of people. The five streams of “foreign workers” coming together as they build the Tower of Babel is inspired. The lighting is very good and the scene composition is brilliant. The camera angles are all immediately familiar.
The laboratory set is amazing. It would stand up today, pretty much. How did he do all of this so well, when so much crap was produced in between? The “Herzmaschine” and interspersed factory and water-production scenes are spectacularly well-edited. The long-distance scenes showing such a large space, a large city with endless roads. It would be entertaining enough for a stage production today, but it must have been miraculous in 1927. You can tell which bits of footage are the “recovered” ones—they’re much grainier.
This is a pretty powerful Marxist movie already in the first few minutes. Quite an audacious work considering the U.S. was making Birth of a Nation with its time and resources. On the other hand, it’s not like Lang’s politics won the day in Germany, either. It’s a bit long, but it’s got to get an extra point or two for being this good in 1927.
- The King of Comedy (1982) — 8/10
This is the story of a mentally ill man Rupert Pupkin (Robert DeNiro), who want so very badly to be famous. He wants to be like his idol, Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis)—he wants to be best friends, he wants to take over his show. He talks to himself in his apartment, which he shares with his mother. He lives a fantasy life, with real-life scenes interspersed with his imaginings, to the point where it’s difficult to tell what really happened and what didn’t.
Pupkin continues to inveigle his way into Jerry’s life, trying to get his “big shot”. His fantasies about how his life will change, how Jerry will admire him and envy him his talent, interleave with real life, as he makes visit after visit to Jerry’s office. The great Sandra Bernhardt plays another stalker (Masha), who chases Jerry through midtown Manhattan like a Terminator, but loses him in the crowd.
Pupkin has a fake studio in his apartment, where he puts together elaborate fantasies about his future success. He tapes Jerry’s show with himself on it. He fantasizes about marrying the homecoming queen of his high school on the show. He fantasizes about meeting her in the bar where she works and taking her out to dinner. He fantasizes about having his principal apologize for failing him so often in high school.
It’s unclear what Pupkin’s job actually is. Pupkin has yet to be funny in any way whatsoever; odd, for a stand-up comic. He actually delivers a tape to Jerry’s producer (Shelley Hack). She actually listens to it. She responds constructively, but not overwhelmingly positively. Instead, she recommends that he hone his material in an actual stand-up club (instead of his mother’s apartment).
When he continues to wait, the secretary calls security. Everyone is exceedingly polite to him, but they won’t give him what he wants: he wants to meet Jerry. Also, the secretary keeps getting his name wrong, from “Pumpkin” to “Pupnik”. Outside, Masha tells him that Jerry is, in fact, in the building—that they lied to him. He storms back in and charges past the secretary, in a flurry of fantasy-driven activity.
He drives out to Long Island, to Jerry’s house, with Rita (Diahnne Abbott) (the homecoming queen from his high school class, so I guess the date was real) scamming their way in, though the butler is immediately suspicious. She gets into it, dancing around, then she runs upstairs to check out the rest of the house. Just as Jerry gets back from the links—because his butler called him back—he’s astonished to see that Pupkin is in his house and pretending that they know each other.
Jerry’s amusement is nonexistent. Pupkin has to go. He throws him out in a way that even Pupkin can’t misinterpret.
Pupkin and Masha kidnap Jerry. They have him call his office to tell them to let “The King” be the first guest on the show. Jerry Lewis plays his role quite well.
While Pupkin arranges to get himself on the show, Masha “entertains” Jerry back at her luxurious apartment. Pupkin had wrapped him up in masking tape (a ton of it, else it wouldn’t have worked). Masha prepares a sumptuous, candlelit dinner for Jerry. She is dressed in a slinky black dress. She scares the life out of him with her intensity and blank madness. “Let’s just clear everything off the table and do it right here.”
Pupkin, meanwhile, has arranged a distraction, and manages to sneak on to the set, so that he can get to the producer and introduce himself as “The King”. Masha, meanwhile, is making good on her threat of clearing the table. She serenades Jerry. King is bold as love, telling the producer how the show is going to go, telling the FBI that he gets what he wants first. He hands off his monologue to the staff of the show—and they actually think it’s funny.
The show begins: Tony Randall is guest-hosting, doing Rupert’s lines. Back at her house, Masha strips. Pupkin goes on—and we don’t see him deliver a single line. At Jerry’s request, Masha cuts him out of the masking tape. It’s getting later (taping was at seven); the FBI take Rupert to a bar to watch the show (he wants to be sure that he was aired). Jerry wallops Masha and escapes. Masha chases him down the street in her underwear. Pupkin’s show is finally on: he’s not very funny, but the crowd is laughing.
We see in a montage that Pupkin goes to jail for almost three years, then publishes his memoirs and then, somehow, has a career. There is no such thing as bad publicity. Unless … is this another fantasy of Pupkin’s?
The structure and characters are not dissimilar to Arthur Fleck in Joker. Arthur, though, didn’t deserve the abuse he got. Pupkin, on the other hand, didn’t deserve the shot he got—he thought he didn’t need to put in the work. “Better to be king for a night than a schmuck for a lifetime.”
You can tell that this movie was made almost 40 years ago, when the police didn’t get involved so quickly and when the Pupkins of the world hadn’t already ruined it for everyone else.
- Step Brothers (2008) — 6/10
Brennan Huff (Will Smith) is an adult child. His mother Nancy (Mary Steenbergen) spoils the hell out of him. Dale Doback (John C. Reilly) is also an adult child. His father Robert (Richard Jenkins) spoils the hell out of him. Nancy and Robert hook up at a conference. They realize that they have more than a conference fling in common: they each have a grown man-child living at home with them. They get married. Dale and Brennan both implode like spoiled children at the wedding.
The boys finally meet: Dale wants to be called “Dragon”; Brennan wants to be called “Night Hawk”. The boys start to fight for attention immediately. This is nearly the perfect vehicle for Ferrell and Reilly. The boys will be bunking together because Dale doesn’t want to give up his drum room. His drums are strictly off limits to everyone except him.
Tensions rise until the boys get into a knock-down, drag-out fight on the front lawn that attracts all of the neighbors. Nancy and Robert are called from their jobs to deal with it. The boys knock each other out for all to see. Their punishment is to find jobs and move out in a month.
Brennan’s brother Derek (Adam Scott) shows up with his wife Alice (Kathryn Hahn) and with their two kids in tow. Derek treats Alice like dirt. He’s a terrible human being, but Robert loves him. Derek pops up the ladder and annoys the boys in their tree house until Dale punches him in the face and drops him to the ground. As they’re leaving, Alice approaches Dale and thanks him for punching her asshole husband and then hits on him super-hard, telling him that she’s going to masturbate to the thought of him punching her husband that night.
The boys hit it off and there’s a montage of them doing “activities” together. They build bunk beds so that they can do more activities in their room. They are not carpenters. The bed collapses on Brennan, who is mortally…scratched. The next day, they have their first interviews. They wear tuxes. They do them together. They fail miserably. On the way home, they get the utter shit kicked out of them by the neighborhood kids.
They decide to sabotage Derek’s efforts to sell the house. At Derek’s birthday party, Alice rapes Dale in the men’s bathroom. After Robert announces that he will put Derek in his will, the boys present “Prestige Worldwide”, their business opportunity. The presentation comes with a rap video on Robert’s boat, starring the boys. It’s childishly lewd. Alice is the only one who’s into it. At the end of the video, they crash the boat into rocks. Robert and Nancy had been planning on retiring on that boat. Robert flips out, spanking Brennan.
Next, we see them on Christmas Eve. Robert is still bitter. The boys have no idea that he’s still pissed. Nancy doesn’t know how to discipline the boys. Robert comes back, “tonight at the Cheesecake Factory was the happiest time I’ve had in a long time.” The boys barge in, sleep-walking and breaking shit everywhere. Nancy tolerates it and Robert wants to wake them up. He wakes them up and they freak out. Nancy is pissed at Robert.
It’s Christmas dinner and Alice asks Dale to meet her next door, “come on, let’s try something illegal.” Meanwhile Robert says “you wanna know what I got for Christmas? A crushed soul.” Alice and Dale end up screwing their way back into the dining room—no-one notices. Nancy and Robert announce that they’re divorcing and moving to separate homes. Everyone has to move out,
The house goes into escrow and the boys have one day to move out. That night, they fight again, with Brennan playing Dale’s drums, Dale knocking him out, thinking he killed him, trying to bury Brennan, then having Brennan turn the tables and bury him instead. He escapes and the boys pass out on the lawn. They are no further along than they were before. They are children.
Brennan gets a job with his brother Derek, whose friends slag on him horribly (Rob Riggle is one of these psycho co-workers). Dale gets a job as a caterer. Now they’re at the Catalina Wine Mixer. Brennan organizes it and Dale caters it. When the lead singer of the Billy Joel cover band loses his shit due to heckling, Dale jumps in on the drums and Brennan sings an opera in Spanish and they save everything. “It’s the fucking Catalina Wine Mixer.”
The movie was written by Will Ferrel and Adam McKay and directed by Adam McKay. McKay starts the film with a stupid quote from George W. Bush, just to set the tone. That’s about where the politics ends, except for maybe making fun of rich strivers like Derek. I subtracted a star because, despite some good lines and good performances, it was a bit formulaic and I don’t need to see it again.
- Andre the Giant (2008) — 7/10
Andre began his career in Monaco at 2.25m and at almost 190kg. Though he started his career in high school as a real wrestler, his size necessitated that he slow down his style. People, too, really only came to see his huge size, not the fancy style of his wrestling. This isn’t to say that he was a shambolic hulk, but that he just wasn’t that fast. He was strong as hell: one scene shows him dead-lifting 2000 lbs.
He quickly ended up in the U.S., where flamboyant, gimmick-based wrestling was really taking off. The first bits of footage are just so embarrassing: they called him Polish, changed his name several times, thought he was speaking Spanish, etc. The bastards dared to say that he was “not the most articulate man in the world”, although he was speaking in a second language in a country full of people who barely spoke one.
André specialized in two-on-one or Battle Royales. Other wrestlers said he would always win but he would also “sell” other wrestlers’ moves, making other wrestlers look good. “He was very kind. He was very proud that he never hurt anyone.” He was never made champion because there was no story for making him lose again. He was just too overwhelmingly huge.
Hulk Hogan says that though André liked most wrestlers, he hated Randy Macho Man Savage. He’d also had enough of the Iron Sheik one night. The Hulk thought he was killing them in the ring. Big John Stud was 6'9", so he thought he was a giant as well. André would have to prove him wrong.
He would go on to stardom, making commercials and even doing a cameo as Sasquatch in the Six Million Dollar Man. Arnold Schwarzenegger told a story of being out to dinner with him where André got the bill by first placing Arnie up on an armoire, so that he was out of reach. Just popped him up there, like he didn’t weigh a thing.
Women were attracted to him. He was a world-champion drinker, basically an alcoholic—except that he had 3 times as much weight as anyone else. he traveled a tremendous amount, flying all over the world and also hitting the road with a bus a lot. He traveled to Japan a lot, even though he wasn’t able to use the lavatory on the plane. The world didn’t fit him at all, so it must have been tough. Hulk Hogan told of how awfully people would talk about him right in front of him, as he walked by.
He had acromegaly, a condition that caused his gigantism. When he broke his ankle, he had to have surgery to fix it. While he was convalescing, the world of wrestling changed, becoming bigger and flashier and televised nationally. Hulk Hogan becomes national champion and André congratulated him.
They interview a lot of the cast from The Princess Bride, where they discuss how much he drank (though he never really got drunk), how much pain he was in (neck, spine, knees), how he was much more able to act than to wrestle, at that point. He was done, not just with wrestling, but with life. His friends were trying to get him to have surgery, but he wasn’t interested.
With his back killing him, he agrees to Wrestlemania III, wrestling Hulk Hogan for the title in front of 93,000 live fans. No-one knew whether he would be able to actually wrestle in his condition. He managed it, but he was in agony. Hulk talks about how he did everything he could to keep his friend from being hurt more. Hulk did end up slamming him (525 lbs). They managed to make a match of some sort and the script worked out.
From then on, though, he was now a “heel”, which he did not like. His career—and his body—was in decline. His knee-surgery scars were awful. He was still growing (because of his condition) and his organs were failing. He could barely walk. In 1993, he went to France to visit his father, who was on his deathbed. He stayed for the funeral, then went to Paris, where he died soon after, at the age of 46, “of an apparent heart attack.” His best friend regrets that he wasn’t able to be with him, at the end; instead, he “died, all alone, in a hotel.”
André was an amazing person. He was so strong—one clip shows him lifting up a 250-lbs wrestler in each arm. He wrestled for 27 years in 5000 matches. I subtracted a point because they gave way too much screen time to Vince McMahon.
- M (1931) — 8/10
We see a city in the grip of a serial killer. The children sing gruesome songs of him on the playground. Newspapers are sold with the grisly details. We see little Elsie on the way home from school—just walking the fuck out in the middle of the road without looking, as little girls often do—when she happens upon a man whistling Grieg’s The Hall of the Mountain King, who buys her a balloon from a blind vendor. Later, we see Elsie’s mother searching for her increasingly desperately; we see the balloon tangled in power lines; we see Elsies ball roll to a stop in a field.
The city grows tenser. A child asks a man for the time and the man is nearly torn apart by a crowd who thinks that he was trying to kidnap her. The police are at their breaking point, pulling shifts without rest. They have very few clues and eyewitness testimony was just as unreliable then as it is now. They report the usual: foreigners, gypsies, etc. People don’t change.
The police raid the local establishments, rousting petty criminals, but finding nothing overly suspicious. They collect a truly impressive array of weapons and pilfered goods, though. We see some men on what looks to be a stakeout. More interesting is that we see how timekeeping worked almost 100 years ago: they called a central number to get the time and then set all of their pocket-watches accordingly.
These local criminals have gathered to complain that they are sick of how the police raids are killing their businesses. They want to distance themselves from the killer that’s paralyzing the city. At the same time, a group of the city’s leaders gather. They come up with the theory that perhaps the killer is an otherwise upstanding citizen. Both groups try to find a clue, a lead, that will end the man’s rampage. The smaller group of criminals comes up with the idea of organizing the beggars as lookouts.
The police go through the information available to them: there was definitely no Datenschutzgesetz back then. As one officer searches through an apartment while he waits for the inhabitant to come home (the landlady had let him in), we see the murderer, revealed now to us, catching the reflection of a child in a shop window—and nearly swooning with lust. He follows her, but to no avail. She meets her mother and they continue on together. The murderer stifles his frustration in a cognac or two at the local café.
He continues along the street and he continues whistling, passing the blind balloon vendor. The vendor gets someone to help him track down the whistler, knowing that it’s probably the guy. The young man follows him and finds him buying fruit for a little girl. Instead of confronting him directly, the young man writes an “M” on his hand in wax marker, then stumbles into the murderer, yelling at him about dropping orange peels on the ground and simultaneously marking the back of his coat. He calls the local mafia to inform them of what he’s done.
The murderer continues blithely down the street, with his arm around the little girl’s shoulders. There are men tailing him now. The little girl sees the mark and offers to wipe it off for him, but isn’t able to. The men give chase, cornering him on a side street. He slips into a building when a procession of fire engines passes.
The man is hiding in the attic. The local criminals get wind of it and decide to take matters into their own hands. They storm the building in numbers. They engage a safe-cracker as cover (pretending to be there to rob the bank). It’s a bit confusing, but they want to capture the murderer for themselves. One of the captured watchmen manages to trip the alarm and the criminals have five minutes to find the murderer and get out.
They manage it, but leave the safecracker behind. He is picked up and interrogated by the police. Meanwhile, the murderer is on trial in the bowels of a factory, under the watchful eyes of hundreds. He is given a lawyer; there is a process. He is allowed to defend himself; he claims that he can’t help himself. They want to kill him then, to put him out of their misery, but his lawyer is adamant. It goes back and forth—the arguments are unchanged nearly a century later—when the police show up and arrest them all.
This movie is cleverly made but doesn’t rely as much on an epic style as Metropolis did. It’s a talkie but the sound effects are somewhat sparse. There are a few short stretches without any sound whatsoever, which is odd. Saw it in German.
- Russian Ark (2002) — 8/10
Our narrator is disembodied and speaks Russian. He has been in an accident and doesn’t know where he is. The screens fades from black and he’s at a palace, at the arrival of a carriage full of young aristocrats. He follows them in, but they don’t see him. He continues through the palace, eavesdropping occasionally. He encounters a man who can see him and who acts as his guide. He seems to be accustomed to this type of travel, to this form of invisible tourism.
They walk through, meeting Catherine the Great. The two phantoms argue about Italian influence on Russia, on Napoleonic influence. The guide is an arrogant dilettante. They continue to argue and discuss, with the traveler arguing that Russians just copy and cannot invent (as evidenced by all of the European treasures).
They float from a grand corridor into the “small room of Italian masters” and are in the modern-day museum, with modern people around. Still, no-one is aware of them. The phantom introduces the “Marquise” (the traveler) to two friends that he recognizes. They can see both of them. They examine paintings. The traveler is apparently from 17th-century France and does not recognize the modern style of dress.
They move back to the 18th century, where he makes fun of Pushkin, then apologizes for offending national sensibilities. The European accosts a blind woman and gets her to describe paintings to him, which she does with aplomb. They argue about whether a Rubens painting is on display or not (though she is blind and he is obnoxious).
The Marquise’s behavior is very odd. I wonder if it’s a deliberate impersonation of a know-it-all European who told the Russians their own culture? Or if he’s supposed to be adrift on the currents of time? He walks everywhere with his arms interlocked behind him. Now he hears music, “Russian music makes me break out in hives.” Now, he’s accosting a young man, accusing him of being incapable of appreciating a painting because he’s not read the Gospels (the boy is at most 16 or so).
This is the age-old conceit that there is only one way to enjoy art and that is to do so in a given context (generally the one held by the person making the argument). While there is some value is having background and context—it can enhance an otherwise superficial or humdrum experience into something sublime and personally meaningful—simply judging someone out of the blue as being incapable of enjoying a piece of artwork as you do, is arrogance of the highest order.
They continue to wander through Russian history, meeting art connoisseurs, getting into increasingly opulent areas of the Hermitage Museum. The European apologizes for his writings, having learned something through his more-recent journey. He sees the building now in all of its glory—when he’d visited, it had just burned in a great fire. They fast-forward to the 80s, where they see Gorbachev…and then it’s back to the Tsar’s troops…and then it’s Anastasia taking tea after flitting through the halls with her angelic friends…and then we are at an ornate, opulent ball full of French-speaking Russians.
And then the waltz begins—Glinka again. The Marquise joins in, “St. Petersburg has the best balls in Europe”, which sounds like he’s accepted Russia as part of Europe (also: phrasing). They exit together with the other guests, down the marble staircase, with a nonet broken off from the orchestra accompanying them.
The costumes are spectacular and seemingly authentic, dressing a cast of seemingly thousands. The enthusiasm of the actors and extras is contagious and real. It’s kind of exquisite and overwhelming—a beautifully filmed period piece on steroids. There are whole orchestras, one dressed in full 19th-century military dress uniform. The film was shot in a single take (the fourth of four planned attempts). The sound was dubbed in later. There was also a lot of editing, naturally.“In post-production the uncompressed HD 87-minute one-shot could be reworked in detail: besides many object removals, compositings, stabilisations, selective colour-corrections and digitally added focus changes, the whole film was continuously and dynamically reframed (resized) and for certain moments even timewarped (slowed down and sped up). […] before being reprinted onto filmstock for theatrical distribution.”
Roger Ebert wrote that the film’s magnificent adherence to the single-shot concept “spins a daydream made of centuries.” An extra point for being so ambitious and opulent and Russian.
- These Final Hours (2013) — 6/10
This Australian film starts with a couple making desperate love, trying to drown out the knowledge that the shock wave from an asteroid strike in the Atlantic will arrive in Perth in 12 hours. The man, James (Nathan Phillips), drives to a party with his girlfriend at his lover Zoe’s (Jessica De Gouw) urging, but the place is blocked off. It’s anarchy in the streets already. James fights off two grunting lowlifes with a hammer to the temple, then frees the young girl they’d kidnapped.
The young girl Rose (Angourie Rice) and James drive off, with her berating him that he shouldn’t drink and drive, which is doubly amusing: he’s Australian and the world’s dead—it just doesn’t know it yet. He plans to drop Rose off at his sister’s house before going to his end-of-the-world party, but his sister and her husband are dead in the shower. Their children are buried in the backyard.
Now there’s an absolutely insipid flashback where Zoe tells James that she’s pregnant, to which he responds that it can’t possibly matter, to which she offers the brilliant riposte “Life is stronger than Death”, at which James realizes that he may be a mimbo, but at least he’s not as stupid as the girl he’s knocked up.
They walk into a library and find a police officer with his family. He can’t work up the courage to do what James’s sister did; he asks James to kill his family for him. He wants absolution; he wants a quick, merciful end for his family. James grants him absolution, for what it’s worth.
James and Rose arrive at the party. It’s what you would expect for Australia: pure hedonism. Everyone’s drinking; the men are tattooed to the gills; the women aren’t wearing tops and have gorgeous breasts; everyone glistens; music pumps. It’s a bit different: instead of drinking contests, they play Russian Roulette. Rose is horrified. James’s girlfriend Vicky’s brother Freddy (Daniel Henshall) is hosting the party and he tells James that the “room downstairs is done [and] to keep it on the down-low.”
There’s an absolute orgy going on inside. They go back outside and meet Vicki (Kathryn Beck) who groans in his ear “I need to fuck now.” James fails to live up to expectations, so Vicki takes him down to the “room” that her brother Freddy had been talking about. Vicki and Freddy are deluded about the survival potential of the situation. Vicki’s a little too high or drunk to deal with James’s rejection.
It’s not a terrible movie, but these people weren’t even a little bit interesting before they got caught up in a fireball-approaching-the-continent movie. But maybe that’s the point: 99.999% of the world is going to take the firestorm just about like this. And what would be better? There is no appropriate reaction because nothing matters at all. Death is imminent for all. Wanna finish a puzzle? Drink yourself into a coma and have an orgy? Take a girl back to her family? It’s all the same now.
It’s an interesting premise, though. There are intermittent announcements from a radio station in Australia that announces which parts of the world have been subsumed. The plot reminded me a bit of the book On the Beach by Nevil Shute, which was also based in Australia.
The movie drags on, with Rose finding her family, them having already committed suicide, Rose getting her big scenery-chewing moment, then James going back to Zoe (as if we’re supposed to care at all). The final half-hour dragged so much, I had to subtract a point. It would have been better as a one-hour movie.
Watching a movie about a fireball approaching Australia is a bit too on the nose right now.