Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 13, 2016 5:26 pm 
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THE WAILING (Na Hong-jin 2016). Could be seen as a Korean update of The Exorcist with the spicy addition of local ethnic details. Goofy local cop (Do Won Kwak) becomes our point of identification when a mysterious, ambiguous "demon" causing mayhem and death in the country village invades his young daughter (Kim Hwan-hee, who gives her all) . Much skillful reliance on constant rain and vivid, well filmed local landscapes. A sequence intercutting the "death-hex ritual" of a really cool shaman (Hwang Jung Min) with the simultaneous agonies of both the girl and Kunimura Jun's presumedly evil Japanese outsider is a compulsive display of virtuoso staging and editing. Acres of junky mise-en-scene (accumulations of stuff, trashed interiors) add rich if familiar ingredients to the creepy murderous atmosphere. I began a bored scoffer and despite my dislike of all the yelling ended an absorbed convert. Na milks the genre for all it is worth and justifies the 150-minute run-time. You're left with a sense of hopelessness that's disturbing and unsatisfying in ways that would not have been allowed in the days of William Friedkin but adds a needed contemporary complexity. Featured at Cannes Out of Competition. A hit with US critics (Metacritic 81%). Korean title 곡성; RR: Gokseong. Watched at IFC Center 13 June 2016.

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WANDA (Barbara Loden 1970). Richard Brody of The New Yorker calls this "A harrowing, epiphanic masterwork!" It's gotten critical raves. The harrowing part I can see, and the narrative of the woman doormat newly divorced and broke who falls in with an abusive robber who wants to rob a bank may stick in the mind because it's so strange and draggy. I thought of Patricia Highsmith - but she understands suspense, pacing, action. And her knowledge of psychology runs circles around Barbara's. Loden does use real people and real Pennsylvania "factory valley" settings in a way that's vivid and intense. There is a sense of the picaresque. It is a relief that she drops the social commentary line that starts things off and drifts into a road movie. But as the friend I watched this with pointed out, "Mr. Dennis," the mean, abusive man Wanda (Loden) falls in with, is too absurdly mean: he's one-note, while Wanda herself is a blank (though that is sort of okay for a "picaro"). It is a rather bold first film attempt, but Pauline Kael justly calls this "too minor and muted for a full-length film." Seen at Film Forum 14 June 2016 as part of a series called "Genre Is a Woman," including a hodgepodge of female directors, Ida Lupino, Kathryn Bigelow, Stephanie Rothman, Katt Shea, Penelope Spheeris, Mary Harron, Doris Wishman, Kelly Reichardt, et al. Reichardt's "genre" is historical Western: her entry is Meek's Cutoff.

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THE KIND WORDS (Shemi Zahrin 2015). This Israeli film focuses on three contentious adult siblings, two guys and a girl, are drawn together when they experience the death of their mother in a tumor operation and then go to Paris and Marseille in search of their true father when they find out their father has been declared sterile and so can't be their father. There is a certain charm to this film, which seems to want to evoke fine European filmmaking (a key actor figured in several Michael Hanake films). Funny at times, almost haunting at others, good on family relations, many award nominations in Israel. But inconclusive, a bit contrived, and lacking in oomph. This is a preview (full review 24 June here). Watched on a screener from Strand Releasing who are bringing it out starting in NYC 24 June. In Hebrew and French with English subtitles.

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NUTS! (Penny Lane 2016). She previously made Our Nixon, which disappointed me, because it was hyped as presenting exciting discovered found footage shot by insidders of the Nixon administration. But the footage was dull and conventional and without sound, so existing soundtracks were added to give a rerun of the story and outline the chief aides' latter days. Here she is livening up through actors and animations the tale, which needs no livening up, of the "goat-gland doctor" John R. Brinkley, who was rich during the Depression through selling his dangerous and fraudulent treatments for infertility and lots else. He was demolished by AMA editor Morton Fishbein in a libel trial in the late Thirties and died in 1942. This is a colorful and entertaining story but it is just a reanimation, and more detail will be found in Wikipedia, or biographies, so "documentary" must be in quotes. This is a preview: theatrical release begins at Film Forum 22 June.

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KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE (Robert Greene 2016). (Another preview: US release by GrasshopperFilm is expected in August.) I was less than thrilled at Greene's docucdrama Actress (Art of the Real 2014), a slightly contrived "vérité" portrait of Brandy Burre, an actress in "The Wire" who drops out to be a suburban mom, then seeks a return to thespian life while her marriage disintegrates. This time what Greene's doing is more ingenious and thought-provoking, though one feels a bit cheated when one realizes that the film actress Kate Lyn Sheil ("House of Cards," Alex Ross Perry's two features) is working on doesn't really exist. But the idea of it, a biopic about Christine Chbbuck, the TV news person who shot herself to death on air in Sarasota, Florida in 1974 (basis for the film Network), and Shiel's intensive personal researching of the role in Sarasota, leads us into a lot of interesting, troubling topics. It won a Sundance writing award. Guy Lodge called it "a teasing, testing and vexingly brilliant new film" in his Variety review. If anything it's even more drawn out and painful to watch than Actress was, but we get really close to Sheil, whose ordeal comes to life; real people who knew Chubbuck and witnessed her suicide come on screen; and the DV photography, especially in the early segments, is surprisingly beautiful. Watched at Magno2 Screening Room 16 June 2016.

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THE PASSIONATE THIEF/RISATE DI GIOA (Mario Monicelli 1960). A Rialto Pictures rerelease and another sparkling restoration by L'Immagine Ritrovata of Bologna that looks more perfect than it did on film. New Years Eve in Rome with an odd trio, Gioia (Anna Magnani, dolled up in dangly evening dress and a blonde wig), Umberto 'Infortunio' Pennazzuto (Totò, master of stage business and mugging) and Lello (dubbed Ben Gazzara). Totò and Magnani team up to go to a party and Totò is recruited by Ben Gazzara, a handsome thief, to hide the stuff he steals off wealthy celebrants. Scenes range from Cinecittà, to a shabby apartment, to Roman streets and fountains, to the EUR complex, to a palace improbably occupied by rich Germans. Everything goes wrong and there are many amusing little incidents. All three principals are good, making the most of the material they're given. But the characters' relationships aren't particularly plausible and, unlike Monicelli's more famous Big Deal on Madonna Street/I soliti ignoti, not enough interesting characters and actors or enough of a goal to hold together the gentle meandering. The action is both too busy and too aimless. Despite current raves and applause at the screening, not one of Monicelli's finest d comedies nor the best writing of Suso Cecchi D'Amico, who wrote screenplays for many Italian classics. Watched at Film Forum 18 June 2016.

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THE KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES/KVINDEN I BURET (Mikkel Nørgaard 2013). Riveting start of a dark Danish noir trilogy based on bestsellers by Jussi Adler-Olsen. As a result of a disastrous case in which his two partners, the only men who could stand him, were wiped out, homicide cop Carl Mørck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas, with a perpetual scowl) has been kicked to the basement "Department Q" to tie off five years of unresolved "cold cases," saddled with an inexperienced lug called Assad (Lebanese-born Swedish actor Faras Faras), a maker of undrinkable coffee (at least by Carl). They wind up pursuing the case of a high-ranking female politician, a supposed suicide whose body was never found. The action is twisted, disturbing, and complicated - all in the right measure, and never lets up. The other two are The Absent One and A Conspiracy of Faith. Introduced in the US at IFC Center as part of a series, "Cold Cases: the Department Q Trilogy and the New Nordic Noir," including The Dragon Tattoo series and others. Watched at IFC 19 June 2016. Can't wait to see the other two.

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THE ABSENT ONE/FASANDRAEBERNE (Mikkel Nørgaard 2014). Number two in the trilogy, with a cat Carl names Cat and a pro-active female secretary called Rose (Johanne Louise Schmidt) added to humanize Department Q - now an admired part of the police department. This episode's theme is partly corruption in high places, since it begins with an elite boarding school where a quartet of brutes is born, the villain-leader winding up a very rich young man called Ditlev Pram, played by the astonishingly versatile Pilou Asbæk of A Hyjacking. Carl and Assad of course are solving an old crime, the murder of two young twins, with various complications. I found this plot more than a little hard to follow, the series' penchant for sudden unannounced flashbacks adding to the confusion, but the story takes us into multiple versions of the dark side in an agreeable manner, with rapes, faked rapes and nasty beatings. Winds up with a mad chase to an underground parking lot. Watched at IFC Center 20 June 2016.

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A CONSPIRACY OF FAITH/FLASKEPOST FRA P (Hans Petter Moland 2016). The same police cast but a new director. This is the most disturbing and complex of the trio. It begins with a message in a bottle from disappeared children, and moves on to manipulation of Christian sect members by a terrifying serial killer who is a saintly messiah type: hats off to Pål Sverre Hagen, who plays this deeply creepy villain, known only as Johannes, with stunning conviction. Because the issue of faith arises, Assad and Carl have violent arguments, Assad a practicing Muslim, while Carl believes in nothing. But does he? The film digs deep into Carl's dogged passion and shows it also must come from profound faith and morality. Lets out all the stops with a car-and-train chaise, ferocious cruelty and violence, drownings and stabbings and helicopters tracking a watery lair. This three-film experience is the most intense dark fun I've had at IFC since the "Red Riding" trilogy, and I might agree though I watched them over two days the "Department Q" films may go best when "binge-watched" as Noel Murray says on AV Club, in the sense that they are above all a continuous portrait of this moody, troubled, brilliant and driven detective; the films pivot around the superb characterization of the actor Nikolaj Lie Kaas, whose grumpy coldness is just what makes you care about him. Note the Danish titles all mean different, more indirect, things. The first is "Woman in a Cage," the second is "Pheasant Shooters," and the third is "Message in a Bottle from P." Watched right after The Absent One 20 June 2016 at IFC Center.

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