Shorts Watched Late-ish 2016

The first roundup of misc shorts since the last one.


Tome of the Unknown: Harvest Melody (2013, Patrick McHale)

Wirt and Greg are heading somewhere, manage to get a ride with pumpkin-man John Crops to vegetable city, where they accidentally unleash the fury of the crows. Would play as a deleted scene from Over The Garden Wall if not for bluebird Beatrice’s different voice and some more cartoonish facial expressions. I’m guessing with the Harvest Melody subtitle that he’d planned to make more standalone shorts like this, but then they made the full series.


The Umbrella Man (2011, Errol Morris)

A web mini-doc on a single detail of the Zapruder film: a single man with an umbrella on the cloudless day Kennedy was shot. Interview with JFK assassination expert Tink Thompson, who sets up the mystery, then explains it was discovered that the man was making an obscure visual protest against a policy by JFK’s father.


Demon in the Freezer (2016, Errol Morris)

“Why is it so important to make the monkeys sick?”

The argument over preserved samples of smallpox virus – whether they should be kept, and for what purpose? Floated: vaccines and biological warfare with the Russians. I don’t know a whole lot about smallpox but it sounds horrible.


Dog (2002, Suzie Templeton)

A sick/dying/dead dog, a father, a boy, a murder, a patch of either blood or mold upon a wall, and the most disturbing stop-motion I’ve seen this side of Robert Morgan.


Oskar Kulicke and the Pacifist (1952, Kurt Weiler)

I loved The Apple, so watched some more puppet shorts by Weiler. Bricklayer Oskar endures the whining of a pansy pacifist then sets him straight, asking how the pacifist will like it when he’s conscripted after a U.S. invasion. No, pacifism is dumb and learning proper use of arms is essential, Oskar concludes.

The U.S. military elite:


Heinrich The Dysfunctional: A German Elegy (1965, Kurt Weiler)

Surprising to watch this right after the other, since it’s about a failed German invasion of Poland in 1472 due to misfortune and royal idiocy. King of Libnitz attacks Cracow in order to obtain liquor and a young bride. After recruiting a traitorous young goat farmer, the king makes it to the enemy castle, only to be pissed on by the local kids and sent home on a manure cart, all his cannons destroyed. “The fatal flaw of the heroic German character: thirst trumps wisdom.”

Last-minute reprieve for the goat farmer:

Ceremonial welcome:


Nörgel & Söhne (1968-70, Kurt Weiler)

Three-part story of how the nomadic Nörgel clan developed tools and farming, then trade, then currency. Character-based stop-motion with some fun material tricks with liquids, animals and the heavens. Nörgel becomes more of a brutal slavemaster the closer he gets to modern capitalism, and in the end he retires and reads Marx’s Das Capital (historical chronology is shifty in these movies) and regrets the awful thing he’s done.

Barter calculations:


Street of Crocodiles (1986, Quays)

Live-action man spits into the machinery, activating it, and releases stop-motion man who creeps into a dusty world of pulleys and screws populated by hollow-headed dolls. Wonderful string music. I still don’t know what it all means, been meaning to get the Bruno Schulz book forever now, but it’s all so dusty and textural and mesmerizing in its mysterious movements.


Quay (2015, Christopher Nolan)

Eight-minute trip to the Quays’ workshop featuring some Street of Crocodiles puppets and commentary on their methods. I suppose splashing Nolan’s name across the blu-ray package was meant to get new people interested in their work, kinda like “JJ Abrams presents Phantasm: Remastered“. I hope it’s working.


Esperalia (1983, Jerzy Kalina)

A guy goes slow-mo crawling through the forest overlaid by patterns and rotoscope lines, seeing visions and phantoms, with an increasingly disturbed soundtrack.


The Public Voice (1988 Lejf Marcussen)

Magnifying glass reveals the blueprints beneath paintings, the lines behind the lines behind the lines. Slow zooms in and out as patterns and figures slowly prove to be details within other works, a visual art history folded into itself. I didn’t recognize most of the work, but there’s some Dali and Bosch in there.

TV Watched Since Summer 2016

Last left off with the Master of None spring roundup, and besides the shows below I’ve also watched a couple miniseries, some Black Mirror and all of Neon Genesis Evangelion since then. It’s been a televisiony year.


Archer seasons 1-4 (2009-2013)

Addictive escapist comedy. I watched season one for two weeks this summer, then the next three seasons in just a few days after the election. Kinda crazy about the show, and it helps that some of my former coworkers helped make it. Nice bookending Bob’s Burgers and Sealab references in season 4.

I knew Archer (Jon Benjamin) and his mom (Jessica Walter of Arrested Development) and Cyril (Chris “Dr. Leo Spaceman” Parnell). Cheryl is Judy Greer (Ant-Man, Jurassic World, Tomorrowland), Pam is Amber Nash (Frisky Dingo), Lana is Aisha Tyler (kickstart-directing a movie called Axis), Ray is show creator Adam Reed. Dave “Meatwad” Willis plays Barry and Other Barry. R.I.P. George Coe, who played Woodhouse.

Most of the cast:

Standoff:


BoJack Horseman season 1 (2014)

It takes a lot for me to start watching a new comedy show: years of increasing acclaim and/or recommendations from an unusual source like Cinema Scope. I finally, grudgingly, checked out the show about the former sitcom star who is a horse and the wreck of his current life, and it’s good.

I skipped the last season of Arrested Development then watched all the shows by its former cast members, so Will Arnett plays BoJack. With Amy Sedaris as an agent/cat, Paul F. Tompkins as an actor/rival/dog, Alison Brie (Community) as the dog’s/horse’s shared human love interest, which sounds gross out of context, Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) as BoJack’s roommate and Kristen Schaal as his TV daughter.

And Patton Oswalt as a publisher:


Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt season 2 (2016)

A bit too much Tina Fey – is it okay to say that? And sometimes Tituss can be overwhelming. These are minor gripes about a nearly perfect show. This year Jacqueline dates David Cross, Lillian fights against gentrification, Kimmy’s bunker-mates make regular appearances, and Tituss dates construction worker Mikey.


Horace & Pete (2016)

I appreciate the concept very much, taking old fashioned ideas of television and making them brand new, and embracing silence and stillness in a unique way. And Louis has lined up a dream-come-true cast, so the acting is always a pleasure to watch. He has also written a relentlessly grim show that ends with his character’s murder at the hands of his psychotic brother, with some suicide and cancer and cheating and abandoned children and drunkenness and depression along the way. For every weirdly wonderful scene, like David Blaine being berated and thrown out for doing magic tricks, or Steven Wright quip, there’s fifteen minutes of everyone feeling lousy. Complaints aside, I’ll buy anything Louis sells, and more promptly next time.


Delocated season 2 (2010)

Yay, Jerry Minor. But for the most part, this show is juuust barely maintaining my interest, and I think I’ll probably check out a bunch of other things instead of continuing. For instance, the guy from Review was in a few episodes – I wonder if season two of his show is online anywhere.

Eugene Mirman works on becoming a stand-up comic whose jokes revolve around vodka so his big brother Sergei (Steve Cirbus, 89th billed in Bridge of Spies) takes over the threats and the killing. Zoe Lister-Jones has the thankless girlfriend role, Mather Zickel takes over as bodyguard, and Todd Barry plays himself.


Girls season 4 (2015)

I’ve become more ambivalent about watching this show about aggressively self-involved young white people… still into it, but I’m also reading The Brooklyn Wars and can’t pretend I’m not noticing the problems. But hey, Ray is joining the city council so there’s hope for more socially-aware content in the future, and I heard season five is really good, though I might take a break.

What else is happening? Hannah’s writer’s retreat thing didn’t work out, she becomes a teacher and dates a coworker, Marnie breaks up Desi’s engagement, Caroline gives birth, everyone seems frustrated with everyone else (or maybe that’s me?).


W/ Bob and David season 1 (2015)

Well, after expectations so absurdly high that I couldn’t bear to even watch this for almost a year, that was… not bad. Wish I’d known that the fifth “episode” was an hour-long behind-the-scenes thing – I kept thinking it was a self-reflexive joke and would turn into more comedy. Special guests Key & Adsit are a nice touch, and Tom Kenny’s appearances are always highlights. More episodes now, please.


Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (2016)

One of the few things keeping us sane these days.


Also watched some standup comedy:

David Cross – Making America Great Again
Ali Wong – Baby Cobra
Michael Ian Black – Noted Expert
Todd Barry – Crowd Work Tour
Barry Crimmins – Whatever Threatens You
Brian Posehn – Criminally Posehn
Doug Stanhope – Beer Hall Putsch

And saw Louis CK live in Omaha.

Didn’t take notes on any of these, but enjoyed ’em all.

I think we watched four episodes of Key & Peele, so that’s half of season one. Haven’t fully invested yet in Enlightened, Lady Dynamite, Documentary Now or Steven Universe. Abandoned Shameless and probably a couple others.

Why Don’t You Play In Hell? (2013, Sion Sono)

“We’re realists while they’re fantasists!”
“Realism will lose!”

I always watch the wrong Sion Sono movies. I heard either Love Exposure or Guilty of Romance was good, so somehow I got the idea to watch this instead – and I hated it, so now my chance of ever watching those others is lower.

Okay, I didn’t hate it. You can’t hate a movie where a group of young, failed filmmakers called the Fuck Bombers end up choreographing an actual gang war, and where stuff like this happens:

But it feels like Sono has cult-ready ideas, good-enough execution, and little sense of timing. Endless hours of build-up, and everything gets repeated to death by the time the end finally comes. Maybe it feels different at a midnight screening with a giddy audience, and at least it’s an improvement on Noriko’s Dinner Table (which I just realized has similar plot points to Alps).

Lead gangster is Jun Kunimura, who I just saw playing the devil, probably, in The Wailing. His daughter, a former advertisement star and the rainbow swordsman above, is Fumi Nikaidou (Lesson of Evil). Rival leader Ikegami is Shinichi Tsutsumi of One Missed Call. Hirata (Shin Godzilla star Hiroki Hasegawa) is the lead Fuck Bomber, and his Bruce Lee-prototype star is Sasaki (Tak Sakaguchi, star of Versus).

C. Marsh in Cinema Scope:

When Hirata dreams of filmmaking, he dreams of the practice’s classical conception, romanticized with the rigor of a hardcore purist: he envisions rack lighting, metres-long camera dollies on steel rails, a trained crew of hundreds, and, above all else, the sprocketed hum of rolling celluloid. In the end that’s what he gets, and it costs him everything. Sono seems sympathetic to the sentiment – he relishes the physicality of the traditional film equipment as much as Hirata does – but he ultimately undermines it. The form itself is a joke. The movie was shot digitally, on Red Epic: and though his characters would be doubtless loathe to admit it, the results look more than fine.

The Thoughts That Once We Had (2015, Thom Andersen)

Some really beautiful, extended clips from great films.

Nice to sit for 100 minutes and watch the clips. Frustrating, though, that I have no bloody idea what this movie’s point was. I’ve never understood Deleuze – his books The Time-Image and The Movement-Image have promising titles but I’m not smart or patient enough to read them through. Andersen doesn’t help, using no narration, just short scraps of written quotes. Just as I played guess-the-movie with the clips, which aren’t identified, I suppose film theorists can play guess-the-context for the quotes.

J. Cronk:

The Thoughts That Once We Had, in accordance with its analytical subject matter, is less a work of criticism than of classification and philosophical contemplation … The director describes The Thoughts That Once We Had as a “musical film,” and there is indeed a sequence dedicated to the movie musical, as well as interludes devoted to the allure of Maria Montez and Debra Paget, the differing though equally magnetic intrigue of Timothy Carey and Marlon Brando, and the use of blues music in American film—there’s even an extra-cinematic consideration of Hank Ballard and Chubby Checker’s nearly identical versions of their signature hit “The Twist.” As in his prior films, there’s a joy to be had in simply watching the clips unfold and comment on each other in alternately humorous and shrewd fashion, and Andersen seems particularly inspired here when diagramming the symmetry between images of a certain spiritual accord, even as they date from diverging periods.

Seed: The Untold Story (2016, Taggart Siegel & Jon Betz)

Loving photography of seeds and beans, with lighting seemingly inspired by Frampton’s Lemon. Sets up the challenges that big businesses pose to small farming, and the weirdo farmers and seed collectors who oppose them. Taggart (The Real Dirt on Farmer John) definitely has a knack for finding strange people in agriculture and building fun, visually interesting movies around them, though it was unsettling to watch this the same week that environmentalism died forever.

The Handmaiden (2016, Chan-wook Park)

Couldn’t enjoy this as much as I should because I was in a weird state of mind, but it’s supremely entertaining, recalling Bound in its story of fortune-seeking men double-crossed by crafty female lovers.

The first half is told from the perspective of Sookee (Tae-ri Kim), a pickpocket working for handsome Jung-woo Ha (Ki-duk’s Time), who has his eyes on bigger marks, posing as a Count and getting Sookee hired as handmaiden to Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim of Right Now, Wrong Then). The plan is to convince the Lady to marry the Count, then commit her to an institution and share her wealth, but Sookee is double-crossed and committed instead. The second part follows the Lady, who lives with her book collector uncle (Jin-woong Jo, only 40 but given gray hair and mustache) at his increasingly sinister estate, revealing her own moments and motives, some of which I’ve now forgotten because it’s been a very long month, but it’s an audacious and elegant movie and when it comes out on video I’ll happily get lost in it again.

Well-presented to English speaking audiences with Japanese and Korean dialogue in different colored subtitles. This is the year of Hokusai – first the animated biopic, then his wave appearing in Kubo and his porno octopus in this movie. I double-featured this at the Alamo with a 35mm screening of Possession, which was completely incredible and now cemented as one of my favorite movies, and which also features a porno octopus.

The Imposter (2012, Bart Layton)

First movie watched after election day, which knocked every thought out of my head, so trying to recollect them for this writeup.

Con artist in Spain Frédéric Bourdin claims to be missing person Nicholas Barclay, taking us through how he convinced authorities and even the Barclay family to believe and embrace him, despite being the wrong age and having a French accent. His identity is unambiguous to the movie audience – he’s not Nicholas – so the mystery and tension are in figuring out why everyone is going along with his story and when he’ll be found out. A private investigator finally unmasks him, and raises the suspicion that the family was quick to go along with his story because one of them might have murdered Nicholas.

Adam Cook:

Each new twist and turn in this story of lies and untold truths will leave you aghast at both the audaciousness of the tall tales and the stupidity and willingness of the people that believed them. Documentaries tend to deal in truths but The Imposter deals in lies which means you are never truly trusting of anything that is said. It provides the film with a strange quality as you question each and every new piece of juicy information Layton slowly teases.

M. D’Angelo:

First and foremost, it’s a creative essay about confirmation bias, an “affliction” that, as we see here, spares nobody. Whether through pre-interview instructions or judicious editing (and I honestly don’t care which), Layton cannily tells the entire story in the present tense, never allowing Nicholas’ family to attest to knowledge or emotions they didn’t have at the time, and (more crucially) never permitting them to retroactively explain themselves … My only lingering reservation involves the decision — justifiable, given the film’s modus operandi, but troubling nonetheless — to let Bourdin control his own image right up to the last few minutes, so that the extent to which he’s a pure sociopath winds up feeling like a plot twist.

The Mill and the Cross (2011, Lech Majewski)

Rutger Hauer plays Bruegel planning his painting “The Way to Calvary,” as Majewski uses CG backdrops a la The Lady and the Duke, posing actors (including Charlotte Rampling and Michael “Basil Exposition” York) to create a series of motion tableaus instead of relying on dialogue and story. Like living inside a painting for a couple hours, a series of smaller compositions forming a part of a climactic larger one. I’m glad that at least in Poland it won costume and production design awards, which it richly deserved.

Orchestra Wives (1942, Archie Mayo)

Trumpeter Bill (cowboy actor/boxer George Montgomery) is in Glenn Miller’s band, a womanizer who falls for high schooler Connie (Ann Rutherford, one of Scarlett’s sisters in Gone With The Wind). They get married overnight and she joins the other orchestra wives on tour. It’s unbelievable that in the 1940’s it was economical for bands of this size to afford playing park venues and touring with their families, but maybe it’s all magic Hollywood economics. Anyway, Connie’s presence ignites some of the simmering resentment among the other wives and players and the band disintegrates, then she schemes with Glenn to reunite them just in time for a randomly placed, but very welcome, Nicholas Brothers singing and dancing finale.