Love’s Refrain (2016, Paul Clipson)

Measured zooms and pans through textures of nature, always overlapping and dissolving, set to an ambient groove with a steady beat. As the music gets blurrier and the beat recedes, the picture focuses more on streaks of light swishing past the natural photography, and finally the music turns into an insistent blare and the picture becomes abstract light squiggles. Clipson died last month, which is how I first heard about his work. My first thought is I’d like to see this in a theater, projected large, maybe in some kind of weekly screening program before a feature, and imagine how lovely that would be, and how nobody who sat through it would ever return.


Describe What You Heard (2017, Joe Callander & Jason Tippet)

“Tips on how to better describe your next mass shooting experience,” reacting to how people in news interviews are always saying “pop pop pop.” Jumps back and forth between shooting story footage and a guy providing a better sound effect vocabulary. This played True/False last year, now on vimeo.


Pure Flix and Chill: The David A.R. White Story (2018, Anthony Simon)

The week God’s Not Dead 3 came out I watched this half-hour doc on its star and studio founder, thanks to a Filmmaker article. Simon uses visuals from Pure Flix features and interview audio from White to craft a hilarious montage about the Christian entertainment industry and one of its biggest stars.


Idiot With a Tripod (2010, Jamie Stuart)

Jamie went out into a New York snowstorm, caught images of the city and edited them rhythmically to a Reznor/Ross song from the Social Network soundtrack. I watched this to see if I need to watch his feature A Motion Selfie, but I still don’t know!


Koko Trains ‘Em (1925, Dave Fleischer)

The earliest Fleischer I’ve seen, and it’s ambitious. An animator (Max) dressed in a suit is trying to impress a fashionable woman at his studio by drawing her dog, but the drawing keeps mutating into Koko the Clown. He puts Koko aside, they wrestle over the fountain pen, and the animator draws the dog next to Koko setting up a circus scenario. Not sure why the fashionable woman would want to see her dog break into pieces while doing flips and impersonate Teddy Roosevelt at the behest of a whip-wielding clown, but I never claimed to understand the 1920’s. Ends with Koko jumping out of the paper and riding the actual dog. Wikipedia says nearly 120 of these “inkwell” cartoons were made, that Dave’s job as a Coney Island clown inspired Koko, and that the dog named Fitz evolved into Betty Boop’s boyfriend Bimbo.


The Heat of a Thousand Suns (1965, Pierre Kast)

One of the few Chris Marker-related movies I hadn’t seen – he’s credited with editing. Sci-fi animation about a rich, bored space explorer with a robot crew who travels to a planet in another galaxy and fails to have a major romance with the beautiful girl he meets there since he does not understand how their relationships work. The animated movement is limited, but the drawings are lovely and unique. There’s a Jules & Jim reference, a cat, and a utopian society that is possibly into orgies.

It closes with a montage of real-life Earth women, including future Sans Soleil narrator Alexandra Stewart, who appeared in most of Kast’s films. This was his final short – he also directed features including an Easter Island sci-fi mystery, a Stéphane Audran cancer drama, and one in which scientist Jean Marais shrinks his female lab assistant to pocket-size. For Marker this was three years after La Jetée. Shot by Willy Kurant the year before he’d jump very impressively into feature films with Masculin Féminin, Trans-Europ-Express and Les Créatures. Played Locarno 1965 alongside The Koumiko Mystery.


La Legende dorée (2015, Olivier Smolders)

“God is a mediocre idea.” Librarian who hasn’t slept in 57 years claims his mother was conjoined twins, his dad a farting musician cannibal. He is fond of talking straight into the camera and showing off his scrapbook of tragic historical figures including a castrato, some torturous murderers, and Simon of the Desert – repeating and changing his story. Watched this to see if I want to see more Smolders, and… maybe?


Disintegration 93-96 (2017, Miko Revereza)

Either I am tired or the narrator has the kind of voice that it’s impossible to concentrate on – it’s something about this kid’s memories of hating his dad in 1993, his words illustrated with period VHS footage cropped to widescreen. Something about being illegal aliens in America, something about work and philosophy and class. If it was written, I’d have to reread some sentences, skim others, process it in my own time – but it’s spoken at a rapid, droning clip while I’m mostly trying to follow the visuals. Sponsored by Laika!


Muta (2011, Lucrecia Martel)

Someone’s been watching The Ring! Horror movie fashion models, faces unseen, creep around a yacht like an Under The Skin insect alien convention. I guess it’s an ad for a clothing company, like that Leos Carax short, but I appreciate these luxury brands giving great filmmakers a budget and letting them get deeply weird.


Things that aren’t shorts, but aren’t TV or movies exactly:

Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette is quite the journey… a middling comedy special for the first half, which turns into something more serious and interesting. Some early bits I’d noted as clunky and overserious turned out to be gradual setup for the later parts. I mean I hope it’s not the future of comedy, but as a singular show, it’s really well-constructed and I felt all the things.

I watched the whole Fred Armisen comedy thing about drummers, and I love both comedy and drumming, so I rather enjoyed it a lot.

And it seems like ages ago, but we saw Distant Sky, the second Nick Cave/Bad Seeds movie I’ve seen in theaters since moving here, and it was just as transcendent as the last one. Well-made concert movies can be better than actual concerts, and they’re easier to tour around the country, so why aren’t there more of them?

I’d heard Les Blank was a quirky dude but I’d only previously seen his Werner Herzog documentaries, and Herzog is a quirky dude himself, so it took watching a doc about an artist I’ve barely heard of for me to recognize Blank as a great filmmaker. It’s not even that he’s great, necessarily, it’s that after watching my share of rock docs, I appreciate his technique. He kicks off by interviewing random locals instead of someone actually close to Leon, takes weird edits out of songs, subtitles hard-to-hear lines in a fancypants font, and keeps himself constantly occupied when the actual subjects of his film aren’t pulling their weight. As the great philosophers in Chumbawamba once said: “have a good time all the time.” The director of Mondovino is always panning away to his interviewees’ dogs while they’re still talking, because the dogs are more fun to look at, and Blank finds water snakes and scorpions and contemplates the sky (a cover of I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry just shows a long take of the moon going behind a cloud). This solves the Gimme Shelter problem – let your drugged-out rock stars have their moral dilemma, but we don’t have to stare at their confused faces the whole time. Anyway the movie kicks so much ass, and I could see myself picking up that crazy box set full of docs about garlic and the blues someday. Starring Leon Russell with appearances by George Jones, Willie Nelson and Sweet Mary Egan.

If anyone’s reading, there is a short-term Situation over here… fewer movies are being watched, and fewer words written about them. Gonna burn through the backlog with some half-assed posts!

Katy says this is considered Jimmy Stewart’s worst movie, which seems farfetched – A Tale of Africa, anyone? Sure it’s no Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but it’s fine. Stewart is scooping salt after dropping off supplies when local drunken bully Dave (Alex Nicol of Bloody Mama and The Screaming Skull) comes by and steals/destroys all his stuff. Stewart gets revenge, of a sort, by hanging out with Dave’s dad’s love-interest/nemesis Aline MacMahon (The Flame and the Arrow) and refusing to leave town, not letting on that he’s tracking some rifles stolen from his late brother. So Jimmy gets tangled up in all the townfolk’s affairs until he figures out who’s trading rifles to the sinister Indians (it’s Dave, of course), almost getting himself killed a bunch of times in the process.

Dusty, enraged Stewart with defeated Dave:

The town is supposedly dominated by a very large ranch plus Aline’s smaller one, though we never see workers at either place except when they ride out in groups to start fights. The rancho grande is run by ailing Donald Crisp (Ulysses Grant in Birth of a Nation forty years earlier) who wishes his son wasn’t such a fuckup, and foreman Arthur Kennedy (who we just saw in The Lusty Men), who’s in on the rifle scheme with Dave. Combo of the gun deal, the vengeful Stewart, and Crisp’s failed power plays all lead to downfall and death, though somehow Crisp is given a happyish ending, engaged to Aline, while Stewart has to ride off but tells his own love interest (Cathy O’Donnell, girlfriend of handless Harold in The Best Years of Our Lives) to look him up if she ever rides east.

Crisp and Kennedy:

Jack Elam (Once Upon a Time in the West) plays a would-be assassin:

It’s neat that Netflix is buying up genre movies from the directors of Moon and Gattaca and, um, Suicide Squad, but I keep reading online that they are very bad. Obviously after watching the end of Cloverfield then the entire sequel, I’m gonna check out part three, so afterwards I let the mighty algorithm tell me where to go next, then threw in a Star Wars.


The Cloverfield Paradox (2018, Julius Onah)

The astronauts are stalking each other with guns after accidentally opening a portal to a dark alternate universe. I guess Liz Debicki is the baddie, and Gugu pulls the usual defense, grabbing onto something and blasting a hole in the wall so her assailant gets sucked into space. She sends the plans for the universe-generator to alternate-herself, then hyperdrives back home with a wounded Daniel Brühl – but something is amiss on earth and a Cloverfield appears in literally the last five seconds of the movie. Guess I’ll have to trust the reviews that nothing interesting happened in the first ninety minutes. Onah is Nigerian, is making a Naomi Watts/Octavia Spencer feature next, and the sequel-centric writers worked on Star Trek Beyond and 22 Jump Street.


Tau (2018, Federico D’Alessandro)

Maika Monroe (It Follows) is trapped in a chair, convinces a robot to untie her before the nerdy guy can give her the evil injection, kicks his ass then chops off his hand to get through the security doors, evades Tau (a Decepticon in a fancy living room), initiates the self-destruct sequence then duck-n-covers under a desk as everything very slowly blows up. Supposedly the computer is the voice of Gary Oldman but I’m not hearing it. This looks generic and I feel bad for everyone involved. The director has been doing storyboards for Major Motion Pictures for the last decade and the writer works on a Harry Potter ripoff series for Syfy.


Anon (2018, Andrew Niccol)

Clive Owen is kicked out of his detective agency, goes home and sulks while his former coworkers watch his every move through surveillance gear. “Anon” is Amanda Seyfried, who interrupts a Proxy Dude after he shoots Clive – people can see through each others’ eyes through some Black Mirror tech, so I think Proxy watches himself die. Seyfried just wants privacy in an all-seeing world, knows “the algorithm” to glitch everyone’s eyeball-computers into not seeing her, I guess, but I was more focused on the weird eyelines in the final scene so I may have missed something. Niccol made Gattaca, of course, and I hear his In Time is good.


Mute (2018, Duncan Jones)

Apparently Paul Rudd is dead already, and Rudd’s friend (a moppy blonde Justin Theroux) wants voiceless Alexander Skarsgard (the new husband in part one of Melancholia) to apologize for killing him, drives them to the docks and talks way too much before Skarsgard uses his mute-ant breath-holding powers to dunk them both in the river and drown Justin, then he Finds His Voice to yell at a child. Too bad I didn’t get to see any of the neon Blade Runner stuff from the posters.


The Outsider (2018, Martin Zandvliet)

Oh no, Jared Leto gets shot in the leg after a business deal seems to have gone badly wrong, then the cops bust up his gang’s headquarters, so Jared collects his Japanese girlfriend to blow town, but for some reason he stalks into his rival’s gang meeting instead, challenges a guy to a duel, cuts him down when he refuses, and is allowed to leave, then is recognized as the new boss by his surviving buddies. Movie looks dreary and unfun. This was Zandvliet’s followup to Land of Mine, which played the Ross so I’ve seen its preview a hundred times.


Bright (2017, David Ayer)

Joel Edgerton is an orc, Will Smith his mouthy partner cop who grabs a magic dagger and blowtorches Noomi Rapace to save some girl. I think the orc is gonna die saving Smith from a fire, oh no they’re both fine, but the next day Police Chief Legolas wants to cover the thing up. As far as movies where Will Smith is partnered with a gruff-voiced dude in a dangerous world of magic aliens, it’s not as funny as Men In Black.


The Titan (2018, Lennart Ruff)

Ah, another movie where Sam Worthington gets experimental treatment to transform into an alien (is that what happened in Avatar? I can’t remember). Soldiers led by Tom Wilkinson are trying to shoot him while I guess Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black) and Agyness Deyn (Sunset Song) are trying to help. So many pointless military guys… Sam has a splashy dream-vision and everyone’s suddenly on a plane. “That crazy bastard did it,” says some dude, and I’d like to think Sam used his Titan Powers to teleport them onto the plane but it was probably just editing. Later, Taylor is doing science stuff unbothered by the military, and she gazes at the sky, where her husband lives on another planet, looking like he’s about to start the Prometheus civilization. The director is German, worked on a Daniel Brühl movie called Krabat and The Legend of the Satanic Mill, and one of the writers did Grace of Monaco.


24 Hours to Live (2017, Brian Smrz)

The day after watching First Reformed, I guess if I’m gonna check out the end of the bad Amanda Seyfried movie, I’ll check out the bad Ethan Hawke action flick too. It’s Pushing Daisies meets D.O.A., as dead Ethan Hawke is resurrected for a day as a revenge-zombie to kill the guys who killed him. He comes fucking tearing into a room full of armed dudes and just destroys everyone, while two main baddies sit passively because they’re too damn cool to flinch from danger. The Sam Neill-ish super-confident guy (wow, is that Rutger Hauer?) isn’t quite killed by zombie-Hawke, so Hawke’s friend Paul (not that one or that one) Anderson takes care of it. Hawke is pretty cool-looking in this, anyway. Smrz has been a stunt guy forever, and his other film as director was also about a nearly-dead guy seeking bloody revenge,


Desolation (2017, Sam Patton)

Damn, I thought this might be a Stephen King movie but I was thinking of Desperation. This is the one where a mom and son are stalked through the woods by a psycho, and we’re at the point where they decide to turn the tables. I think they lure the stalker to their camp and have a stick fight, but the camera and editing go all to hell, so who knows. She knocks the dude over with a backpack full of rocks, then the boy kills the hell out of him with stone and pocketknife, which is probably traumatizing. LOL as they finally reach their car and the battery is dead – it’s hard to tell if this movie had any point, and everyone involved is pretty much best known for this.


Rogue One (2016, Gareth Edwards)

It’s not an “original” but I’d better check this out before it disappears. Oh shit, Wen Jiang got blown up already. A little ship rams a star destroyer into another star destroyer and nobody seems to notice until it’s too late. Felicity Jones thrillingly aligns an antenna, is nearly thwarted by an overly talky cape-wearing British soldier until Diego Luna shows up, and the frog/fish pilots receive the Death Star plans, then the baddies blow up the planet so none of these actors had to sign multi-year contracts. It ends with a Vader slaughter and a creepy Carrie Fisher impersonation, and this only brings to mind Sarah Jeong’s Rat Film essay, which was more interesting than any stop-gap prequel-bridging Star Wars movie. Edwards was following up the Godzilla movie I didn’t like, the writers are Chris Weitz (that Cinderella movie I didn’t like) and… Tony Gilroy!

Preparation and conflagration of a two-day incendiary festival in a fireworks producing town. Day one is the Castles of Fire, then day two is the Bulls. We spend time with participants, mostly paying attention to stories about when things have gone wrong during past festivals leading to death and disfigurement, then watch the pretty sparks with the tension of hoping not to see anybody caught aflame. Missed this at True/False but it played on PBS in an apparently edited version. Lindy Lou, Juror Number Two seems to be cut even more, so this calls for investigation.

Terrific shots of awesome mountains with Willem Dafoe spitting wisdom about the sublime, the combination of beauty and terror that scaling these beasts engenders. Almost the entire movie is in slow-motion, the camera always gliding on helicopters or drones. From the history of mountain climbing forward, it gets more dangerous – now that just anyone can climb Everest if they’re rich enough for the gear and sherpas, the serious new climbers embrace a higher risk factor. This culminates in a Red Bull-branded extreme sports montage, which Dafoe solemnly condemns after showing us rad footage of it for fifteen minutes, the movie getting to have it both ways.

The novel was a subjective-ish story of frustration and embarrassment, and the movie is a whole different thing – some of the same scenes in the same order, but more mysterious. It’s unusual anymore that I read a book in anticipation of a new movie coming out, so it’s hard to imagine what the viewing experience would’ve been like had I not already known the story. For instance, the three sections of the book are set in different years, clearly stated, where the movie will just cut to the next scene and suddenly Zama’s hairstyle is different and every other character we’d met is gone, replaced with a new cast.

As usual for Martel, the framing is enticingly unusual, but I was not prepared for the shock of saturated color in the last section. Each of her features has had a different cinematographer – Rui Poças is Portuguese, has also shot a bunch of films by Miguel Gomes (Tabu) and João Pedro Rodrigues (The Ornithologist). Almodóvar regular Lola Dueñas is Luciana, whose affair doesn’t go as far as in the book. Zama is Daniel Giménez Cacho, who apparently played the same coroner character in We Are What We Are as he did in Cronos.

Nicely put-together doc on Mr. Rogers, the fascinating man, his underrated show, and its legacy. The school of critics who claim Paddington 2 as the best film of 2018 have highly recommended this one – you’re supposed to weep from start to finish at the reminder that there used to be such goodness in this world.

Heartwarming characters don’t exactly make for a heartwarming doc, since they still have to live in the real world, working every day to achieve their goal. The price of failure is someone gets shot, and the measure of success is nothing noticeable, just life going on. To get into the spirit, we interrupted our viewing of this movie, taking about a month between the first and second halves, but this didn’t seem to improve the viewing experience.