Stalker, and a few more movies

#191  [archive]

Streaming free

This is a fine film based on an even better novel, Roadside Picnic, by the Brothers Strugatskiy. It's science fiction, but offers no laser fights, no space babes. The story is slow, subtitled, and slippery if you're not paying attention. 

A lesser movie would have ended before this one begins. In Stalker, the aliens have already visited Earth, perhaps looked around a bit, decided it doesn't suit their tastes, and they've left. Now the movie starts.

Like a messy family after a Saturday outing, the visitors didn't tidy up afterwards, so a huge swathe of landscape is littered with their leftovers, empties, wrappers, whatever. Since all those things came from a very different place, anything left behind is prized as collectibles, needed for research — and oft times dangerous or deadly to humans.

"The Zone" where the aliens came and went is toxic, forbidden territory, and even living near the cordoned-off area had given the main guy's daughter frightful birth defects — he lovingly calls her "Monkey." And still, Redrick Schuhart 'stalks' the treasures of the Zone. 

The book has been severely truncated here, but the spirit of it comes through — dread, tension, sometimes revulsion.

What's in that room anyway? Schuhart's been there before, knows the dangers, and yet for a price he guides a writer and a scientist toward it. The writer is hoping to find inspiration in the Zone, some meaning for his work. The scientist wants to find answers, but may not like them. Schuhart, the Stalker, might get them there, but it'll be tricky, because the dangers of the Zone aren't necessarily the same as the last time. Even the topography might have shifted. 

This is not a film to watch casually. It's a challenge, and sometimes feels like a mindfuck, like when Schuhart intentionally chooses the longest, slowest, most difficult route to where they're going. He's like a PTSD'd veteran of some war — gruff, stubborn, determined, and never quite at home even when he's at home, but he knows what he's doing, and why.

This was made by Russkie maestro Andrei Tarkovsky, maker of the original Solaris, which I haven't seen since I was a different man. Now I need to see it again. 

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Cook (1918)
Streaming free

Fatty Arbuckle and his buddy/sidekick Buster Keaton work in a restaurant, Fatty in the kitchen and Keaton waiting tables while annoying the female customers. Fatty tosses Keaton a cup of coffee across the kitchen, accidentally almost chops his head off with a huge knife, and dances beside the grill wearing pie tins and a dustpan.

It is odd to see Fatty & Keaton as a team. Keaton's brilliance is not yet blinding, but he so obviously has more going on than Fatty, who's funny but builds his comedy mostly on being fat and forlorn-looking. He doesn't do much of anything that anybody else couldn't and didn't do.

And again, I'm struck by Arbuckle's casual meanness — he comes out of the kitchen with a large platter full of what I assume are baked goods he's just made, dances with the platter into the dining hall, and then intentionally drops each pastry, one-by-one, onto the floor. Weird? Yes. Funny? No.

There's some spaghetti shenanigans that find the comedy inherent in long, skinny pasta, and then an extended slapstick sequence at an amusement park caused me some chuckles.

This is the second Fatty short I've watched in a week, and the first one left me shrugging, but in this one, I'll admit, the chubby grouse started to win me over.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Exterminating Angel (1962)
Streaming free

I'm trying to catch all the classics I've never seen, and this one's odd indeed.

After a night at the opera, a bunch of swanky rich people come to dinner at a swanky rich person's house. Curiously, the house staff start leaving, as the guests start arriving.

The high-society crowd has their disgracefully opulent dinner, but the waiters and busboys are fading away, and one does a fabulous splat on the floor.

Stuffed with fine food and liquor, bad manners and idiotic conversation, the guests eventually loosen their ties and wigs, sprawl out on the furniture, and spend the night.

Come morning, like the Hotel California, there seems to be no way to leave — not because the doors are locked and bolted (they're not) but because without staff to help them, these rich bastards can't hardly turn a doorknob.

At least, that's my interpretation, but this is Luis Buñuel, baby. He's prince of the surreal, and I might be wrong entirely about what it means.

It's darkly pessimistic but looks gorgeous, much of the conversation is exquisitely prickish in that moneyed way, and I don't really understand the ending or the sheep, but it's grand. 

Verdict: YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •

China 9, Liberty 37 (1978)

Doctor Who (second season, 2006)

The Scarecrow (1920)

The YouTube Effect (2022) 

... plus occasional schlock and surprises 

    • • • And then • • •

A Better Tomorrow (1996)

A Gnome Named Gnorm (1990)

A Night in Casablanca (1946) 

Alexander Nevsky (1938)

Atomic Cafe (1982) 

The Bat People (1974) 

The Beatles: Get Back (2021) 

Berkeley in the Sixties (1990)

Brainwaves (1983) 

The Card Counter (2021) 

Cellular (2004)  

The Celluloid Closet (1996)

The Dark Glow of the Mountains (1985)

Dark Star (1974)

The Day My Parents Became Cool (2009) 

The Decline of Western Civilization (1980) 

Downsizing (2017)

Fog Over Frisco (1934) 

Frankenhooker (1990) 

The General (1926) 

Get Shorty (1995)

The Gorilla (1939)

The Green Girl (2014) 

God Bless America (2011) 

Hiroshima (1953)

Hobo (1992) 

Hugo (2011) 

The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)

The Internet's Own Boy (2014)

Invader (1991) 

Jesus of Montreal (1989)

John Wick (2014)

Kids in the Hall (debut episode; 1988)  

Kids in the Hall (reunion debut episode; 2022) 

The Killing of America (1981)  

Lady in the Van (2015)

The Last Case of August T Harrison (2015) 

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)  

Line of Duty (debut episode; 2012)

Love Happy (1950)

The Mad Doctor of Market Street (1941)

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

The Man Who Thought Life (1969)

Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

The Man with Nine Lives (1940)

The Manhattan Project (1996) 

Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966)

Motel (1989)

The Naked City (1948)

The Night Strangler (1973)

Nightmare Alley (1947)

9 to 5 (1980) 

Not Wanted (1949)

Nothing But a Man (1964) 

Phone Booth (2002)

PickAxe (1999)

Poison (1990)

Popeye (1980)

Reflections of Evil (2002)

Revelations (1993)

Ride in the Whirlwind (1966) 

Risky Business (1983)

The Rockford Files (debut episode; 1974)

Romper Stomper (1992)

Room Service (1938) 

Same Kind of Different as Me (2017) 

Saved! (2004)

Scarecrow (1973)

Scared to Death (1947) 

Secret Weapons (1985) 

The Shooting (1966)

Smothered (2002)

The Soloist (2009) 

Sons of the Desert (1933)

Space Monster Wangmagwi (1967)

Special Bulletin (1983) 

Squirm (1976) 

Stephen Fry in America (2008)

Street of Crocodiles (1986)

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Taken for a Ride (1996)

The Train (1964)

Truck Turner (1974)

Tank Girl (1995)

Taoism Drunkard (1981) 

The Time Traveler's Wife (2009) 

The Weavers: Wasn't That a Time (1981)

Welcome to New Orleans (2006)

Who Farted? (2019) 

Who's That Girl? (1987) 

Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006) 

You Can't Take It With You (1938)

There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

AlterCineverseCriterionCultCinema ClassicsDocsVilleDustFandorFilms for ActionHooplaIHaveNoTVIndieFlixInternet ArchiveKanopyKinoCultKino LorberKorean Classic FilmChristopher R MihmMosfilmMubiNational Film Board of CanadaNew Yorker Screening RoomDamon PackardMark PirroPizzaFlixPopcornFlixPublic Domain MoviesRareFilmmScarecrow VideoShudderThoughtMaybeTimeless Classic MoviesVoleFlixWatchDocumentaries • or your local library

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —

 Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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  1. If I'm not mistaken Tarkovsky shot Stalker once, the film was destroyed by the lab, and the film we now see is his second, radically different version. I believe the original was supposedly closer to the book - perhaps it had more of the book's humor, political subversion, horror conventions, etc. I've seen location shots of the original, and it appears to have been set in a desert, denuded landscape, rather the swamp-like forest of the surviving film. At any rate, the existing film is #2 on my all time top ten. I love Solaris, but I place it near the bottom of his "oeuvre" if only because it pales next to the novel (which still hasn't been properly and fully translated in English) and because I find Stalker, The Sacrifice, Andrei Rublev and Mirror simply four of the greatest films ever made.

    Bunuel is in my top ten directors. Favorites being The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Death In The Garden (reminds me a bit of a B Traven story), The Phantom of Liberty, and Simon of the Desert.

    1. So Stalker was a remake? That's ... huge, man. Ever written even a short article and had it eaten by a glitch? You have to start all over, and sometimes I don't even bother, but if I do it always feels like I have to work much harder to make the second try even *almost* as good as the first. Even thinking about having to make the same entire movie a second time feels downright oppressive. How the hell did he make it so good?

      Shopping through the titles mentioned, I'm especially intrigued by The Phantom of Liberty...

    2. https://cinephiliabeyond.org/unique-perspective-making-stalker-testimony-mechanic-toiling-away-tarkovskys-guidance/


    3. So let's go, our little monkey is waiting...

      Such a sad scene.

      Shooting that movie where they shot that movie killed some of the people who were there. https://faroutmagazine.co.uk/stalker-killed-andrei-tarkovsky/

    4. Love the backstage pictures at your first link too.

      "It happened at the bottom of a small canal that used to pour water on the turbine of the power plant. At this time the water was about ankle deep." And that water was killing them.

  2. Bunuel means whatever you think it means, but fwiw that was my takeaway too.

    Have you made a conscious decision to watch better movies in the last month or so? Your writing about classier titles and less of the dumb but arguably stupid movies. Even Street Trash is more genuine.

    1. There's been no change of heart. Simply haven't been in a schlock frame of mind lately, but trust me, I'll disappoint you soon enough.


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