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The Man Who Stole the Sun, and a few more movies

THE NEVERENDING
FILM FESTIVAL
#187  [archive]


The Man Who Stole the Sun
(1979)
[Streaming free]

Mr Kido is a less-than-ordinary middle-school science teacher, who takes up a hobby: Using only kitchen tools and some stolen plutonium, he builds an amateur but workable nuclear bomb in his apartment. 

The assembly sequences seem realistic, despite the use of mixing pots and saran wrap. At his day job, Mr Kido details what he's doing on the blackboard in his class, lecturing students in the bomb's design and construction, but after he's told them it won't be on the test, most of the kids aren't interested.

This guy seems a playful chap at first, given to general silliness and constantly chewing bubble gum. And he's built his bomb with no nefarious plot in mind — he only wondered if he could do it.

Now that he has a bomb, though, what's next?

To show that he's done it, he leaves a practice bomb in the ladies' room at the Diet (national legislature of Japan).

But he has another bomb, and it works, so having established he's a man to be feared, he has one demand: The TV networks must carry baseball games until they're over — no more going to the late-night news at its scheduled time if the game is running long.

"The Giants play the Whales tonight, and I want to see the whole game." 

From this comes a bizarrely tense sequence, as a baseball broadcast comes up against the start time for the news.

Mr Kido is a complicated character, sometimes kind, sometimes kooky, sometimes cruel. This surreal thriller is sometimes fluffy, sometimes pitch bleak, sometimes over the top, but it's never what you thought it was fifteen minutes ago.

Co-written by Leonard Schrader (Blue Collar, The Killing of America, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and brother of Paul).

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Asteroid City (2023)

Before he torched his reputation, first by making sub-Allen-par movies and then by marrying his girlfriend's daughter, working on a Woody Allen film was perhaps second only to winning an Oscar, for Hollywood prestige. "I'm making a Woody," big-name actors used to say with excitement. 

Now it's Wes Anderson, apparently. Jeez, what a cast he's assembled here — Adrien Brody, Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Willem Dafoe, Matt Dillon, Hope Davis, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Hanks, Maya Hawke, Scarlett Johansson, Edward Norton, Margot Robbie, Liev Schreiber, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, and Jeffrey Wright. They all got to make a Wessie!

The difference between Allen and Anderson is that, in his early and prime eras, Woody Allen made inarguably terrific movies. Wes Anderson makes curios.

He's the king of the American jeweled nesting movie, where every scene is symmetrical, the sets, skies, and wardrobes are of a distinct Wessie color palate, everything has a polished artificiality, and the dialogue is forever deadpan. These are not criticisms, for I've enjoyed every Anderson movie I've seen, but they do tend to put me to sleep.

I snored through parts of The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited, The Fantastic Mr Fox, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Isle of Dogs, but that's also not a criticism. I've been insomniac all my adult life, so I greatly enjoy and appreciate a good nap, and also I cherish memories of my wife explaining what I'd missed in all those movies. 

For this one, Anderson has out-Andersoned himself — he's heightened the unreality and made a fabulously fake story about a fabulously fake story.

We're watching a play, as it's televised on TV, introduced by a Rod Serlingesque host, who shows us the playwright, typing at a table. Everything backstage is in black-and-white, but soon explodes into Anderson's famously muted colors, on miles-wide CGI sets that never pretend at reality.

The story takes place at a youth science convention, held in the titular Asteroid City, so named because a meteorite smacked the earth there, thousands of years ago. There's a small town's worth of characters, all interacting with only hints of ordinary human behavior, and then in the middle of the science show-and-tell something science-fictiony happens.

All this, remember, is supposed to be a theatrical performance, but you won't forget. None of it's 'really' happening, and when the movie is about 90% finished, Jason Schwartzman says, "I still don't understand the play."

Well, that's understandable. It feels like you're watching a crowd of movie stars in a rather dull, pretentious play, but even that's not particularly a criticism. That's the effect Anderson was going for.

As usual for Anderson only more so, Asteroid City is jampacked with pre-programmed camera work, every shot precisely painted, following unreal characters in a place that never existed, telling a story that mildly mocks the concept of storytelling.

I fell asleep, but finished watching it the next morning, and it's pretty good.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Inside-Out: Against Prison Society (2023)
[streaming free

This is a video-zine documentary about prisons, from the perspective of people who want prison abolition, not reform. It doesn't relentlessly hammer you with the horror of prisons, but it's not pulling any punches either. It's informative and depressing, but unlike a prison sentence it's over quickly, running barely half an hour. 

"Prisons are ongoing social experiments in totalitarianism. They use intense regimentation, internal hierarchy, sensory deprivation, and boredom as tools of psychological conditioning. This practice is aimed at wearing people down, limiting the need for direct corrective violence, and ultimately convincing inmates to accept the authority of the institution, but there is nothing natural about being locked up in cages and held against your will."

Cinematically, it has two things I hate about documentaries — an almost constant musical score, and the use of little visual tricks and special effects for no reason. Virtually all documentaries these days do such shenanigans, though. The music here is at least at a low volume, and the stupid cinema tricks are done only occasionally.

The abolitionist agenda dominates the film, with pep talks about folks on the outside staging protests and direct actions, and folks on the inside doing what little they can to retain their humanity and stay sane.

Me, I lack the imagination to even grasp the abolition of prisons, and I'd settle for setting most prisoners free, offering rehabilitation to those who remain, treating and housing inmates decently, and of course, firing and prosecuting everyone working anywhere in the prison system who abuses or assaults or treats prisoners like shit instead of people.

Which is basically everyone working anywhere in the prison system.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

• Coming attractions •

Battleship Potemkin (1925)

China 9, Liberty 37 (1978) 

The Cook (1918)

Doctor Who (second season, 2006)

Good Night, Nurse (1918)

The Scarecrow (1920)

Scarecrow (1973)

Stalker (1979)  

Street Trash (1987)

Wisconsin Death Trip (1999) 

The YouTube Effect (2022)  

    ... plus occasional schlock and surprises

    • And then •

A Better Tomorrow (1996)

A Night in Casablanca (1946) 

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 Day My Parents Became Cool (2009)

The Decline of Western Civilization (1980)

Downsizing (2017) 

The Exterminating Angel (1964)

Fog Over Frisco (1934)

The General (1926)

God Bless America (2011)

Hiroshima (1953)

Hobo (1992) 

Invader (1991)

Jesus of Montreal (1989)

John Wick (2014)

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 (1940)

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

The Man with Nine Lives (1940)

Motel (1989)

The Naked City (1948)

The Night Strangler (1973)

Nightmare Alley (1947)

9 to 5 (1980)

Nothing But a Man (1964) 

Phone Booth (2002)

Poison (1990)

Popeye (1980)

Reflections of Evil (2002)

Risky Business (1983)

The Rockford Files (debut episode; 1974)

Romper Stomper (1992)

Room Service (1938)

Same Kind of Different as Me (2017) 

Saved! (2004)

The Scarecrow (1920)

Scarecrow (1973)

Scared to Death (1947)

Secret Weapons (1985)

Smothered (2002)

The Soloist (2009)

Sons of the Desert (1933)

Special Bulletin (1983)

Squirm (1976)

Stephen Fry in America (2008)

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

The Man Who Thought Life (1969)

The Train (1964)

Truck Turner (1974)

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

Tank Girl (1995)

Taoism Drunkard (1981) 

Who Farted? (2019) 

Who's That Girl? (1987)

Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006) 

You Can't Take It With You (1938)

10/2/2023   

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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14 comments:

  1. No prisons at all?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No prisons. At all. It's their perspective, not mine.

      Delete
  2. The Man Who Stole the Sun -- I saw it a few years back and you're right about the BIG YES but maybe people should know, it gets darker and darker as it goes.I didn't know the Shrader connection but not a big surprise, toward the end it has a Taxi Driver feel.

    Asteroid City did nothing for me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yup, gets dark. I was hoping to boobytrap a few people but you spoiled it. Damn good movie though.

      Delete
  3. Man Who Stole The Sun brought to mind the true story of David Hahn:

    https://www.google.com/search?gs_ssp=eJzj4tTP1TcwjrdMMTJg9JJNyq9UKM_IV0gqzcwpUcgrTc5JTSxSKEpNTC7JLwIAEt8OGg&q=boy+who+built+nuclear+reactor&oq=boy+who+built+nuclear+re&gs_lcrp=EgZjaHJvbWUqBwgBEC4YgAQyCggAEAAY4wIYgAQyBwgBEC4YgAQyBggCEEUYOTIICAMQABgWGB4yCAgEEAAYFhgeMgYIBRBFGEHSAQg3NDI3ajBqN6gCALACAA&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

    And the character's use of the bomb to demand uninterrupted baseball games reminded me for some reason - irony? - of this "Special Bulletin" from 1983:

    https://youtu.be/cDZQsVNZ3SE?si=FtcyLmPRM2qHBPrk

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There was also a very Hollywood-like whiz kid story about a kid building a nuclear bomb in a film called The Manhattan Project. Not a great film, entertaining in that had-nothing-to-do-Saturday-afternoon-and-it-was-on kind of way.

      Delete
    2. The Manhattan Project sounds like it might've been the unpaid and unauthorized story of that kid we were talking about a few days ago. Onto the list it goes, thanks!

      Delete
  4. Hahn's life ended bad, in a mental facility, but it's still a great story. Some idiot's trying to make a movie about him — as a comedy.

    Special Bulletin was really quite good and I need to see it again. You know the drill -- it's downloading now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This sounds weird to say but "I'm kind of a nuclear war movie buff." Special Bulletin was inevitably going to be a movie of its time as media changes so quickly (TV news graphics from just a few years ago look weirdly primitive today) but I still think it's one of the best. The end, when the pace slows even as it's coming close to the deadline, the tone reflecting the kind of exhaustion with the story and physical exhaustion of covering a story 24/7, and the network has brought in some talking head who reveals the biggest secret that you inevitably missed when you saw it happen in real time like the characters did when they saw it happen in real time, is really, really well done. I'm hard put to name too many movies that hit the climax as hard as Special Bulletin. (Also it's funny to see Michael Madsen in some random, I think uncredited bit role.)

      Delete
    2. I used to love what I called "holy-crap" movies — here comes nuclear war, in The Day After, Miracle Mile, Testament, even the rather blubbery Amerika with a k, and definitely Special Bulletin, which I haven't seen in decades but now it's on the list.

      Hadn't noticed, but I guess that genre faded away with the disunion of the Soviet Union. Like everyone decided the threat of nuclear war was no more? Really, nope.

      I guess WarGames is part of that genre, and it also has Michael Madsen before he was famous.

      Delete
  5. You've made just one small mistake. Wes Anderson is a genius, and Asteroid City is incredible.

    ReplyDelete
  6. There's corn in my feces!October 4, 2023 at 11:20 AM

    If anyone reading this is undecided, see The Man Who Stole the Sun. It is really a great movie. One of my favorites.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why does the corn come through so visibly recognizable, but never the peas?

      Delete

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