and a few more films

Entr'acte (1924)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

Was this the birth of avant garde cinema? Probably not, but it's the first film directed by René Clair, it's 22 minutes, and it's remarkable.

My vocabulary of art-words is limited, so maybe it's surrealism, or possibly dada? Clair uses every trick of photography, not to tell a story — none of that here — but just to keep things popping and interesting.

There's a wild ride on a wooden roller coaster, and a big crowd of overdressed people slow-motion silly-walking and then silly-running after a hearse. A ballet is danced on glass, with the camera underneath, so it's the invention of the upskirt, and then the camera pulls back and we can see that the dancer is a man with a beard. And as they say in the infomercials, much, much more.

This would be well worth watching, even if it was new. That it's a hundred years old makes it history, but more importantly, it's still well worth watching.

#261  [archive]
MAR. 16, 2024

And hey, the musical score is by my man Erik Satie, his only original work created for the cinema.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Equinox (1969)
Streaming free at YouTube

The opening is classy but nicely unsettling, with eerie music and imagery of clockworks. It got my hopes up that the movie might be something special. Soon as the movie gets underway, though, it's clearly a very amateur effort. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Four college students are called to a meeting with their professor at his home, but when they get there the home has been demolished. There's suddenly a castle across the valley, where there'd been no castle the day before, so they decide the professor must he in the castle, and make their way toward it. But first, they stop in a cave, where a laughing madman gives them a mysterious book that smells like rotten eggs.

As a sci-fi effort, this is an un-assembled jigsaw puzzle. There's the potential for a decent story, but the script is clumsy, and the acting is — well, they tried.

There aren't many effects, but they're definitely better than the film deserves, including some brief stop-motion, matte paintings, mixed exposures, and monster costumes. It got me curious enough to check, and the effects are credited to three men — David Allen, who went on to a career of schlock movie effects, Jim Danforth, who worked on They Live and Supertrain, and Dennis Muren, who followed this with an A-list career of effects work on flicks like Jurassic Park, The Abyss, Terminator 2, and the sucky Star Wars sequels. 

Some other crazy credits — sci-fi author Fritz Leiber (Our Lady of Darkness, The Wanderer) plays the professor. Frank Bonner, who played Herb on WKRP in Cincinnati, plays one of the four students, quite badly. Sci-fi superfan Forrest J Ackerman (Famous Monsters of Filmland) is the voice on the tape recorder. Ed Begley Jr is credited as assistant cameraman.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Eraserhead (1977)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

"14 years ago I had an operation on my left arm here. The doctors said that I wouldn't be able to ever use it. But what the hell do they know, I said, so I rubbed it for a half hour every day, and slowly I could move it a little, and use it to turn a faucet. Pretty soon, I had my arm back again, and now I can't feel a damn thing in it. All numb!"

This is David Lynch's first feature film, and it was the wildest movie I'd ever seen, when I first saw it, circa 1980. Eraserhead made me a huge fan of strange movies.

Lynch went on to make The Elephant Man, a pretty good Dune, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, Wild at Heart, etc. And sure, Lynch has fallen short with some of his more recent work, but Eraserhead still amazes.

It's a vivid black-and-white nightmare, filmed on location inside Mr Lynch's mind. No further summary could do it justice, and I'll offer no airy philosopharting about what it means, but if you've seen Eraserhead you remember it, and if you haven't seen it you should.

"In Heaven, everything is fine. In Heaven, everything is fine. In Heaven, everything is fine. You've got your good things, and I've got mine."

In the closing credits, numerous people are given "special thanks," and one of them is Sissy Spacek. For decades I've wondered about that, and thought it was likely a joke. Now it can be told, because Lynch has explained: Eraserhead was mostly made with a grant from the American Film Institute, but when the money ran out, Spacek and her husband (of now 50 years), production designer Jack Fisk, were among the people who put up some needed funds to get the film finished.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Before pressing 'play', there was some skepticism. I enjoyed most of Steven Spielberg's early work — Duel, Jaws, Raiders, and especially Close Encounters — but E.T. left me cold when I saw it in '82. It's like Nolan Ryan in his prime tossing horseshoes instead of fastballs. Leaving the theater, my thought was, "That wasn't much."

Yet this was Spielberg's hugest hit, and "a cultural phenomenon," as idiots say. All through the summer of '82, people would not shut up about it. My mother, who only sees Christian movies, went to see E.T. and told me she loved it. My girlfriend wanted to see it, so I sat through it a second time, grumbling — and she adored it. Everyone adored it. 

Over the decades since, several people have told me it's their favorite 'science fiction', and I cringe. Neil Diamond, Carole Bayer Sager, and Burt Bacharach wrote a schmaltzy pop hit about E.T. — and the studio sued them over it. At the box office, this piece of cotton candy passed Star Wars as the biggest money-making movie of all time.

Flash forward to 2024, and a coupla weeks ago, my brother brought his grandson to our bi-weekly breakfast. The kid's 7 years old, cute, unvaccinated because his mother's insane, and he said he'd just seen E.T., "and it was sooo great! Did you see it?"

"Nope, never saw it," I lied.

"Well, you gotta," he explained, and went on and on about it, so now I gotta. Maybe I'll eat my words after I've finally learned to love the long-fingered glow-in-the-dark cuddly space alien, so here goes...


… Oh, jeez, that was worse than I'd remembered. The cuddly space alien is all big-eyed and cloying, and every frame of the film and every noise on the soundtrack is calculated to make you say, Awww. Every outside shot looks like a foggy Van Gogh, and there's always a dog barking way off in the distance. Soon as Henry Thomas turns on the sink to wash dishes, a yard-wide wall of steam rises up photogenically. The music matches the movie's dullness and stickiness, and it's the worst score John Williams ever wrote. And there's more product placement than in a grocery store: Reese's Pieces, Coca-Cola, Pez, Yoplait, Skippy, Coors, V-8… and that's just in the first half of this, before I clicked it off.

Watching E.T. made me impatient, restless, grumpy, and a little nauseous. It's Spielberg at his most saccharine-syrupy.

I am unemployed, and have nothing better to do than watch old movies, but there are ten thousand better old movies to watch. I will never understand why so many million frickin' adults were rhapsodied by this gloopy mess.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Soul (2004)

Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) meet impossibly cute, have an affair, move in together, and then break up. It's a painful split, so Clementine hires a service to have her memory wiped — she'll never be able to remember Joel, and that's what she wants. Hearing about this breaks Joel's already broken heart, so he goes to the same company to have his memories of Clementine removed.

Unless it was supposed to be symbolic of something, the company's methodology for these memory wipes is troubling. Joel goes home with the memory-wipe technician, spends the night in a coma on his couch, while the technician gets high and gets fucked, and tells friends about Joel's memories while he's deleting them? HIPAA rules should apply, please.

Winslet, especially at the movie's start, is an impossibly manic pixie dream girl, but her character and performance gets better as the movie goes along. Carrey is quite good in his first strictly dramatic role, and the visual crumbling of his memories is presented beautifully. As the technician, Mark Ruffalo is too much the nerd stereotype, with ruffled hair and glasses. Kirsten Dunst, as often happens, plays a pretty plot device.

Charlie Kaufman wrote the script, and he wrote Being John Malkovich, and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and Synecdoche, New York, so this has to be good, right? But he also wrote the insufferable Human Nature, so his name is not a guarantee.

If you're still in love with an ex who's dumped you and then erased you, would you erase your ex from your mind in retaliation? Not me. I'd go to the grocery store where she shops, 'bump into her' again as a stranger, and start all over.

That said, the movie's ending is damned near perfect, and watching Eternal Sunshine several years ago, it struck me as profound, a beautiful romance that ends ugly, followed by a smidgen of well worked-out science fiction.

Watching it again tonight, a scent of hooey filled the air, and the movie only sporadically held my interest. Was I right a few years ago, loving it, or right tonight, scowling and shaking my head? Honestly, I don't know.

The first time I saw this I was happily married. Now I'm a widower who's alone about 340 days a year. It's the same movie, and I'm what's changed, so I'm recusing myself from deciding whether it's as good as it probably is.


♦ ♦ ♦  

An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn (2017)

This is a weird movie, full of weird characters acting weirdly. It's never genuine weird, though — meaning, it's not about weird characters who could exist, like you and me and the people I see on the bus.

Nah, this is stuffed with the much easier but less interesting kind of 'weird', where the writers toss random 'weird' at the script, and the director instructs everyone to be sure their performances are weird, too.

Aubrey Plaza stars, with Maria Bamford, Jemaine Clement, Emile Hirsch, and Craig Robinson. Robinson's dialogue is largely confined to grunts, Hirsch impersonates Jack Black, and everyone in the cast has at least one weirdness going on.

The elusive plot has Not Jack Black stealing money from his brother-in-law, so his brother-in-law keeps popping up to demand his money back. Aubrey is fooling around with Clement, and eager to see grunting Robinson's night club act as 'Beverly Luff Linn'.

The most enjoyable moments are an argument over whether 'Beverly' is a man's or a woman's name, some ridiculous dancing in a night club, and a hairy fat guy fucking another fat guy in the arse. 

Ms Plaza is always good on screen, and she's the most interesting thing here, but unfortunately it's an ensemble show, and everyone else in the cast flails.

In the closing credits, 13 corporate logos float by after the cast. First time I can remember seeing such a large flock of logos after a movie, and I usually do watch the credits. 

Verdict: NO.


• • • Coming attractions • • •     

Eve's Bayou (1997)
Ex Machina
Exit Through the Gift Shop

... plus schlock, shorts, and surprises

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. Lynch, Fisk & Malick were all students at AFI, I think. I even want to say Lynch and Fisk were childhood friends, but don't quote me on that. Fisk art-directed/designed all but one of Malick's flicks, and similarly for Lynch (and De Palma, etc.) There are tons of interviews with Fisk online (extras from DVDs and the like) and it's hilarious how dryly normal and matter-of-fact he is, compared to Lynch and Malick. Its been argued he's the glue that held both of those guys' work together, in a way. Great designer. Obvious why Paul Thomas Anderson hired him for There Will Be Blood, as that film is basically an unholy meld of Sergio Leone and Terry Malick. His first (directed) film Raggedy Man is real interesting, too.

    The funniest thing I always think about Eraserhead is that it starred Charlotte Stewart who also played (at the same time!) teacher Mrs., Beadle on Little House On The Prairie, heh.

    Eve's Bayou (1997) - fine film

    Ex Machina (2014) - excrement, like all of that director's films

    1. We'll be disagreeing at least twice, but that's fun too.

      Never made the Little House connection, and I love it.

      Never made the Fisk connection, either, but there's a better excuse for that. I knew a John Fisk who sometimes went by Jack, and he scooped up and had an affair with and married and then had a memorably ugly divorce from the prettiest woman in our workplace. Every time I see Jack Fisk in the credits, that whole story replays in my head.

  2. Hold on there, Chief! I just realized if you're going through flicks alphabetically, you skipped Barry Lyndon. Unacceptable!

    1. My watchlist is huge, with movies that have been on it for years, because I never had a system. It was always just, ooh, this one looks like fun, and nah, not tonight for that one. Finally solved that by going alphabetically so nothing gets skipped, but tragically the idea didn't occur to me until midway through the Ds.

  3. No doubt *Eraserhead* is a timeless masterpiece. Lynch could make a similarly nightmarish film based on the life of *Eraserhead* star Jack Nance, complete down to his bizarre death after being punched in a donut shop.

    1. "Jack always said he wouldn’t be too hard to kill." Hahahaha!

      Lynch shot a couple memorable scenes with oddball Robert Blake in *Lost Highway* and that Winkie's *Mullholland Drive* scene is one of my all-time favorites.

    2. I don't know what Winkie is, but please don't tell me. Rewatching Eraserhead nudged me to add Mulholland Drive to my watchlist for a second attempt (the first time, I clicked it off). Reckon I might as well try Lost Highway again, too.

  4. "Not me. I'd go to the grocery store where she shops, 'bump into her' again as a stranger, and start all over."

    I once tried to "engineer" a relationship. This was the mid-'00s and I was coming off a bad breakup. I met a girl online and used the then novel technique of googling her, at which point I found her incredibly detailed blog. Which I read. Memorized, maybe is a bit strong, but I had a way to steer the conversation in a pleasing and even charming way.

    I hadn't seen it yet but the mid-point in Groundhog Day when Bill Murray has gone through trial and error to figure out everything that Andie MacDowell likes and dislikes comes to mind and has her favorite ice cream ready and every line thought out in advance, but compressed into one date.

    I went home thinking it was great and woke up the next day full of self-loathing and thinking, oh, so this is what a sociopathic creep does, I guess I am one now. Never went out with her again and never bothered googling (which is probably acceptable now).

    1. These are murky waters, an ethics quiz that didn't exist when we were kids, but what you've confessed doesn't make you a skeezeball, not in my opinion for whatever that's worth.

      Before a job interview, you should do a little research on the company. Before a first date with someone you don't know, it seems prudent to do some Googling. Long as you're not altering who you are, claiming all her favorites as your own or something.

      You've confessed yours, so I'll confess my skeeziest moment: In my mid-20s, one night only, I played private eye and followed a girlfriend on her date with another man. Sitting in my car, idling outside an apartment building they'd gone into, I had that same moment you described: "Oh, this is what a sociopathic creep does." Which ended my career as a sociopathic creep.

      I drove home, stopping at Burger King to drown my sorrows in several Whoppers, which were much bigger back then.

    2. Clearly all of the ethics books are wrong and a healthy sense of self-loathing is more important than anything to the health of the body politic. "Oh fuck, I'm that guy, aren't I?" has pushed me to doing the right thing more than any religious or moral code.

    3. Exacatactly, and the world is run by people who lack that inner scolding voice.

  5. It's incredible to think that they never turned ET into a franchise, something that would never happen now (and which I expect will happen after he dies and his heirs need another yacht worth of money to shoot up their arm).

    For some reason there are a few movies that I always pull out and re-watch and decent intervals because I like the idea of them and can't believe they're actually as bad as they are. "Mrs. Parker & The Vicious Circle" is one. "Bright Lights Big City" is another. These are both kind of translation errors: someone could still make a decent movie out of Dorothy Parker or Jay McInerney's book (though probably as a satire).

    "ET" is the third. Spielberg is such a good filmmaker that there are enough set-pieces that stand out vividly in memory, which never seems to include the context of WHY they stand out. The film is manipulating you into cuteness (or the Awww moments as you say it) from start to finish. It's less a movie than an experiment to find out things that make people feel like they're watching puppies without actually watching puppies.

  6. Such a pleasure to find someone else who's not going to tell me E.T. was awesome. Thank you for that. As for sequels, I guess the moguls thought there was more money in keeping Spielberg happy enough to keep making hits, than in scavenging the bones of this one.

    I saw Bright Lights Big City when it came out, and thought it was kinda dumb, but I couldn't tell whether it was blatantly bad or just seemed that way because I knew nothing and had no interest in the 'drug scene'. Did the book deserve a better movie?

    1. It's been awhile since I've read it, but the novel "Bright Lights Big City" was more of a shit take on the emptiness of the party scene and all of the beautiful people in it, from the perspective of a person who works as a fact checker of impossible facts for a thinly veiled version of The New Yorker. It's written from the second person perspective which in this case makes most of the novel the voice inside a person's head. It's a young man's book, I might dislike it if I read it for the first time today, no longer being a young man. But the movie is really, really bad.

      "Mrs. Parker" is likewise aimless and marred by a very bad performance, but rather than Michael J Fox trying to be a coke-addled bad boy it has Jennifer Jason Leigh adopting the most baffling accent ever heard. Like the whole move stops every time she talks and you think just what the fuck is she trying to do here.

    2. Well, that's unexpected. Never saw Mrs Parker, but JJL was always good, surprised she'd botch it up so badly.

      That was close to my recollection of Bright Lights Big City. I might add it as a movie to watch again and laugh at. Go to all the parties and write about how empty that life is, make it a best-seller... I guess that's a book (and movie) but I'd rather skip the parties in the first place.


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