Nightbreed (1990, Clive Barker)

Hetero White Male Boone has been having bad dreams, getting calls from psychiatrist David Cronenberg, who is secretly giving his patients hallucinogens. Then a bagface knifes some kid’s parents. Boone’s girlfriend Lori does karaoke at a club. Crazy Boone goes to hospital, where he meets a cheery longhair who scalps himself. All this leads Boone to Midian, underground dwelling of monsters, whose prophet he will become, to the consternation of their gill-cheeked leader Doug Bradley. But there’s trouble before Boone can take his place as prophecised hero, because either he or Cronenberg (who works nights as the psychotic bagface murderer) leads the humans to the monster pit, and a redneck army destroys the pit, driving the monsters away.

Barker creates a fantastic bunch of characters (everyone except Boone) but maybe it’s best he stopped directing. The newly restored director’s cut doesn’t change how creaky and graceless everything is. Everyone talks like they’re in a movie, one guy even screams “nooooooo!” But I hadn’t seen this since the VHS days, was worth revisiting. Maybe I’ll see if I can find the comics.

Cinematographer Robin Vidgeon had shot the first two Hellraiser movies with Clive. Whole companies are credited with the foul crimes committed against movies: “20th Century Fox drastically cut this film at the last minute prior to its theatrical release,” and everywhere it’s Fox this and Fox that. I’d like to see the individuals listed more often, IMDB credits for specific studio execs who sunk the movies.

Girlhood (2014, Céline Sciamma)

Marieme is having trouble at home (lives with her abusive older brother) and in school until she joins a group of slightly older friends who change her identity, give her the nickname Vic for victory. Seems like things are getting better as Marieme starts asserting herself, has fun, gets into fights, falls for boys, and maybe the movie won’t end with the inevitable lower-class doom, but alas. At least she doesn’t become an actual prostitute when she leaves school, she only rooms with a prostitute as she works for the local drug boss. Ends with maybe a glimmer of ambiguous hope. But along the way, the movie is mostly a joy, sensitively and beautifully shot, with terrific actors.

Television watched early 2015

Recently I have watched a lot of television.

Very little of it was watched on a real television.

Over The Garden Wall (2014, Patrick McHale)

Oh, this was wonderful. Fairy-tale voyage of Wirt (Elijah Wood) and his little half-brother Gregory (Collin Dean), with Beatrice the bluebird (Melanie Lynskey of Heavenly Creatures, Matt Damon’s wife in The Informant) and other voices by John Cleese, Christopher Lloyd and Tim Curry. They’re stalked by The Beast and a soul-collecting woodsman through a land called The Unknown, but in the last episodes this is all revealed to be unconscious fantasies as the boys are in real-life danger. Nice animation and use of music. Hopefully the show lives on… a quick look at twitter shows that it probably will.

Brass Eye (1997/2001)

Christopher Morris’s self-serious news-magazine show, a series of episodes about made-up current-affairs crises, accompanied by the kind of insane, over-the-top graphics familiar from The Day Today. For instance, here’s a 3D graph of the Man vs. Animal evil continuum paradox:

Frequent appearances by Mark Heap (Brian in Spaced). Morris interviews actual semi-celebrities and politicians about his fake issues, getting them to take stands against things with obviously humorous names.

Error I caught, which only someone in British television could make: Morris mentions “Dennis Potter in Blue Velvet

Charlie Brooker’s 2014 Wipe and Weekly Wipe season 3

I wish it was all about news and politics, less about TV shows and advertisements since I don’t care about those. And I wish the Wipe annual specials didn’t cannibalize the previous year’s TV series, and those didn’t cannibalize themselves in their sixth episodes, and that the special and series were more spaced-out throughout the year, but hell, I love all the Brooker shows I can get.

Parks and Recreations seasons 5-6

Leslie’s time on city council (with Jon Glaser as Councilman Jamm) goes poorly and she’s eventually recalled. Pawnee and Eagleton merge. Ann and Chris move away together so they can leave the show (Rashida Jones is in a Patrick Wilson movie and a TV series written by Steve Carell, Rob Lowe’s in a Burt Reynolds movie and an apocalypse series). Andy gets a temporary job out of town so he can shoot Guardians of the Galaxy. Jerry gets his name changed to Larry and joins Donna in the opening titles for the first time. April has more responsibility, Tom loses his rent-a-swag business to Henry Winkler and opens a restaurant, Ron marries Lucy Lawless and becomes a stepdad. Ben and Leslie are married and she’s pregnant with triplets. Flash-forward three years??

Girls season 2 (2013)

Predictably, Jessa’s marriage with Chris O’Dowd (I didn’t recognize him last time because of the weird American accent he’s doing) doesn’t work out. Hannah and Adam have a pretty bad breakup (911 is called) and she dates Patrick Wilson for a while. Shoshanna is sorta with Ray, Marnie’s career is falling apart and she’s crushing on her ex Charlie, and Hannah is having a breakdown. It’s a very dark season, but also astoundingly funny and still one of the best shows ever.

Watched some of the extras, learned that one of my favorite jokes – DJ team Andrew Andrew – is actually a real thing. Oh, New York. Also, Jon Glaser is in every show I watch. Including him, I count about fourteen new familiar faces (“celebrity cameos” doesn’t sound right), pretty good for only ten episodes.

I’ve been missing Human Giant. I see Aziz every night on Parks & Recreation, and Matt Walsh is on Veep, so I checked out Rob Heubel’s and Paul Scheer’s latest shows, which both happen to be parodies of shows Katy watches.

Childrens Hospital season 1 (2008)

Sort of Grey’s Anatomy love-affair hospital show with Heubel, Rob Corddry as a clown, Rob’s brother Nate, Megan Mullally (Tammy 2 in Parks & Rec), Ken Marino, Lake Bell (In a World) and Erinn Hayes. Guests: Nick Offerman, Jason Sudeikis and David Wain.

NTSF:SD:SUV:: season 1 (2011)

More memorable and addictive than Childrens Hospital, maybe because it had twice as many episodes and an exxxtreeeme theme song (DIIEEEEGOOOO), a cop procedural parody starring Paul Scheer, June Raphael (Burning Love), Brandon Johnson, eyepatched chief Kate “Captain Janeway” Mulgrew, loser Martin Starr and ugly nerd Rebecca Romijn.

Guest villains: JK Simmons, John Cho, Rich Fulcher, Adam Scott, Tony Hale, Lorenzo Lamas, Jeff Goldblum, Jerry O’Connell, Wilmer Valderrama, Robert Picardo, Matt Walsh and Julian Sands

IT Crowd seasons 1-2 (2006-07)

I’d watched and not loved the first episode a couple times, but Fumi didn’t steer me wrong with Mighty Boosh, and I have unconditional love for Richard Ayoade so I finally gave in and watched more. After a few minutes you can ignore the awful laugh track and the show gets good.

Ayoade stars with Chris O’Dowd (Girls, The Boat That Rocked) and Katherine Parkinson (new Maggie Gyllenhaal show The Honorable Woman), and unexpectedly to me, Chris Morris of Brass Eye, though he suicides after eight episodes and is replaced by Matt Berry of Darkplace & Boosh. Also pleasantly surprising: Noel Fielding of the Boosh as Richmond, the secret third I.T. guy who is normally hidden behind a closed red door.

Written by Graham Linehan (Big Train, Black Books) with codirectors Barbara Wiltshire (10 O’Clock Live) and Ben Fuller (That Mitchell and Webb Look)

Bob’s Burgers season 1 (2011)

Terrific, filler for the Simpsons-shaped hole in my life.
Although hopefully later seasons are less obsessed with butts and pooping.

Jon Benjamin, Eugene Mirman and Kristen Schaal, of course. Dan Mitnz (a writer on Important Things, Human Giant, Lucky Louie) is Tina and John Roberts is Linda. Regular roles for Ron Lynch and Sam Seder (Fenton in Home Movies), appearances by Jon Glaser, Todd Barry, Amy Sedaris, Brendon Small, Paul F. Tompkins, Steve Agee, Kevin Kline, Jay Johnston, Jack McBrayer, Tim & Eric, Robert Ben Garant, Jerry Minor, Brian Posehn, Sarah and Laura Silverman.

Also watched Louis CK’s new special, Live at the Comedy Store. Good stuff, and I enjoyed the few minutes by opened Jay London – gotta see if he’s got his own special. And rewatched Spaced with the commentary tracks, now that I’ve finally found software that can read those infernal DVDs.

Four Lions (2010, Christopher Morris)

Lately I’ve been getting burned watching recent indie/foreign movies as soon as they’re digitally available, then seeing them announced for local theater runs a few weeks later – most recently What We Do in the Shadows and The Babadook, and you could’ve added Winter Sleep and Two Days One Night and Clouds of Sils Maria if I hadn’t been slow to watch them at home. To solve this, I thought I’d start focusing on less recent movies, finally landing on 2010 – old enough that everything’s out in HD and nobody’s talking about them anymore. This was first up, since I’ve recently seen lots of Chris Morris on TV via The IT Crowd and Brass Eye.

Pretty good comedy, most of the humor coming from would-be terrorists blowing themselves up accidentally/preemptively. Riz Ahmed and his Bradley-Coopery friend Waj (Kayvan Novak of Syriana, a lead voice in Curse of the Were-Rabbit) go to Pakistan for jihad training, but accidentally blow up their friends and are sent home. Hassan is the new guy, invites neighbor Julia Davis (Big Train) into their bomb-making den. Riz and Barry (Nigel Lindsay of Alan Partridge) struggle for control of the group. Finally the four strap on their suicide vests under silly animal costumes and head to a fun run aiming to take some infidels down with them (this probably would’ve been changed after the Boston Marathon). Doesn’t go very well. Favorite bit: Waj takes a muslim guy as a hostage; cops don’t know which is which, shoot the hostage.

The Lego Movie (2014, Lord & Miller)

All turned out to be in imagination of kid who’s not supposed to be playing with dad Will Ferrell’s precious lego collection. Ferrell gives in, lets the kid play – a tragic ending. Some of those sets are probably valuable! Will Arnett does a good batman voice.

Winter Sleep (2014, Nuri Bilge Ceylan)

The longest Palme d’or winner. Some similarities to Leviathan in style. That one seems angry about the individual’s plight against the corrupt state and religion (although the individual’s drinking problems aren’t helping any), but this one has more general, philosophical matters in mind: the ability of people from different classes to sympathize with each other, a single woman’s place in society, self-glorifying acts supposedly for the benefit of others, so on. Variety said it was “considerably more accessible” than the great Once Upon a Time in Anatolia – not sure that I’d agree, since I thought that one more explicitly explained what was on its mind.

Inspired, as are all Ceylan’s films apparently, by Chekhov stories. Aydin is a major landowner in a beautiful location. He’s made a hotel out of his family home carved into the side of the hills, where he lives with sister Necla and young wife Nihal. Discontent appears almost immediately, when out with his driver/assistant, their tenant’s son throws a rock at their Jeep window. Three hours later, after a series of very long conversations (I timed one at 19 minutes), it’s clear why nobody likes Aydin. M. Smith writes that “no contemporary director has a better compositional eye than Ceylan,” and that’s part of what keeps this 3+ hour talkfest compelling – it’s so beautiful. The endless speeches are tiring, but also draw you into the characters, until at the end, nothing much has happened and nobody has progressed from where they started, but it feels like the world has shaken.

B. Croll for Twitch:

At first, Aydin seems like a perfectly reasonable person … He’s happily married, charitable and polite. He’s good natured, cultured and hospitable to all. He seems on his face to be the agreeable avatar of contented middle-agedom, and yet by film’s end we recognize in him a malicious, almost tyrannical villainy.

G. Kenny:

The talk, for all its abstractions, gradually lays bare the poor regard with which most of the characters hold each other, and, at about the halfway point, when Aydin (played with glum tenacity by Haluk Bilginer) calls his put-upon spouse (Melisa Sözen) a “bored neurotic,” the fur really begins to fly. … The accumulation of images imbues the film with a kind of bleak coziness that brings to life the accusation that Aydin’s sister Necia (Demet Akbag) levels at him: “In order not to suffer, you prefer to fool yourself.” The strength of Winter Sleep is not so much in what any of the characters say as much as what it needs its near-monumental length to actually show: which is the way the most seemingly banal circumstances can throw you into a dark night of the soul before you even know what’s going on, a state of wide-awake despair so calamitous one has no choice but to make a companion of it.

Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Film (2012, Pip Chodorov)

Personal history by Chodorov – I know the name because I was once subscribed to his FrameWorks email list. His dad Stephan was a filmmaker, so Pip grew up surrounded by independent film and artists. He’s got interviews with the big names: Mekas, Kubelka, Jacobs, Breer, Snow… and Hans Richter, so I guess some of the interviews were archival and I didn’t take great notes. He takes a fun, enthusiast approach rather than the history-book implied by the title, and any excuse to revisit this work is a good one.

Includes some short films (in their entirety?):

Free Radicals (1958, Len Lye) – tremendous, white scratches on black, edited rhythmically to an African drum group in ever-changing patterns.

Recreation (1956, Robert Breer) – seen this before, I don’t get the Noel Burch narration but the visuals are fast and exciting.

Rainbow Dance (1936, Len Lye) – insanely complicated color and effects for the mid-1930’s.

And the section of Brakhage’s Dante Quartet called Existence Is Song (I forgot the Quartet sections were titled).

I’m Going Home (2001, Manoel de Oliveira)

“Deliberately paced, lacking narrative momentum” reads a positive review. I found it very strange (even having seen some of Oliveira’s other films) in an exciting way. It would be easy to write an accurate plot description for netflix, something like “a respected old actor (Michel Piccoli) becomes the guardian of his grandson after losing the rest of his family in an accident, and begins to redefine his life’s priorities.” But that wouldn’t begin to convey the film itself. For instance, Oliveira opens on Piccoli starring onstage in Exit The King alongside Catherine Deneuve and Leonor Silveira. Piccoli plays this scene facing almost entirely away from camera. We see the men backstage who’ve come to deliver the news about his wife and daughter’s fatal car accident, but the men speak to nobody and the scene keeps playing out, watching the back of Piccoli’s head, for about the first fifth of the movie’s runtime. So it’s clear that “narrative momentum” is not what Oliveira was going for.

A while later, Piccoli’s actor has kept working since the accident, a nanny caring for his grandson most of the time. Then he’s (badly) cast in a film of Ulysses directed by John Malkovich. After fumbling a few passes at the English dialogue, he speaks the title and ditches the movie.


It For Others (2013, Duncan Campbell)

“This is a film about objects. It refers to another film about objects.”

“Negritude is an anti-racist racism. It is memory and imagination.”

We used to have this bowl!

“Western countries routinely deny Africans access to these artworks through enforced localization – no western country will grant an African a visa merely to visit a museum in Europe or America.”

Wanted to like this because of the Marker connection – it’s a response film to Statues Also Die. But it’s not for me (it’s for others!). Perhaps these others are people in the art world or postcolonialist academics with a high tolerance for black screens and long pauses.

And whatever this is:

The movie devises itself as it goes, lists off its theories and experiments. Not as elegant as a Marker film. Wonder what Campbell thinks of the opening of Timbuktu.