Shot in 1990 by Ruiz and completed after his death by Sarmiento. It’s political satire sketch-comedy… short films roughly stitched together – self-consciously artificial soap-opera episodes which sometimes comment on the nature of their own unreality (and/or other soap operas). Long takes with some purposeful camera moves. I enjoy the crazy directions the movie took without following most of the Chilean political references. Unlike the Oliveira, I wonder if this one’s message suffered from being released two decades late – you’d have to ask a Chilean. I also get the feeling from the subtitles that the characters’ impenetrable conversations are full of puns or language jokes. Ruiz mentions pirates, of course, brings up veils a bunch of times, shoots the actors and character-actors and actor-characters and apparitions, zombies and TV sets with his usual wild variety of camera setups and bizarre lighting.

If you don’t count the live version of Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?, this is the first 2017 Locarno competition film I’ve seen. Not gonna try to parse all the actors, many of whom played multiple roles, but they include the dead guy in A Fantastic Woman, someone from Tres Tristes Tigres, and at least one actual soap star.

Day 1: a woman is cheating on her older husband Humberto with his brother Antonio, is always concerned that “people” are watching them, but seems barely concerned when the husband walks in.

Day 3: two dudes pretending to drive a car get shot, the assassins arrive to drop off their proclamation and they get shot, their killers show up with a new proclamation, get shot, etc.

Day 4: “For those who’ve just arrived, nothing happens in this soap opera. All we do is watch other soap operas and comment on them.”

Day 5: A stranger getting help with his car reveals that his name starts with an H, gets invited to the “Those with an H” bar, where they discuss… soap operas.

Ex-soldier returns for a secret mission with a small group of new teammates who get picked off one-by-one… sounds like the usual, but it’s got some neat twists that make it play more like a prequel to Under the Skin. Natalie Portman is a scientist (unsubtly reading the Henrietta Lacks book in flashback) who volunteers to go into the “shimmer,” an alien-comet-infected zone of lifeform transformation and combination, searching for whatever has freaked-out and half-killed her soldier husband Oscar Isaac.

“Very few of us commit suicide, but we all self-destruct” – musings on life and death and states in between, as they pass beautifully mutated flora and flee from horrific bear-creatures that imitate human screams. The second half of the film has the trailer music, themes played on a sampling keyboard programmed with the Inception Sound, but the first half is surprisingly full of acoustic guitar, as the team struggles to make a plan when some want to turn back and their sense of time and direction is disoriented. The white girl with the weakest distinguishing characteristics (Tuva Novotny) dies first, fortunately. Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin) gets paranoid and ties up the others before her face is ripped off by a screaming bear. A very young-looking Tessa Thompson gives herself up to the transformative space and becomes a tree. Team leader Jennifer Jason Leigh and Portman carry on, and Portman discovers a shimmery humanoid that learns how to imitate her before the real Portman dies from a fire grenade, same as her late husband, and the Alien Portman joins the Alien Husband outside the zone.

Fun-enough comedy that will mostly be remembered for Rachel McAdams’ best line delivery of 2018 (“oh no, he died”). Sibling rivalry deal, with Jason Bateman, who grew up extremely competitive because of his older brother Kyle Chandler. Kyle visits and sets up a live-action murder-mystery game as a pretense to gift Jason a sweet-ass car, but Kyle actually gets kidnapped by baddies because all his apparent success is due to his double-dealings with dangerous criminals, so Jason and wife Rachel split up from their fellow gamenighters to solve the real kidnapping which they think is fake until people start getting killed.

Calum Marsh’s review is what go me into the theater:

The screenplay, which has set-ups and punchlines and set-pieces and actual jokes, made me realize how bored I am with the Apatovian improvisatory riffing that’s dominated mainstream comedy since about 2005, and how much I’ve yearned for gags that seem written rather than stumbled upon once the camera’s rolling indiscriminately. It also looks terrific: unlike the slapdash script-delivery-service style that makes everything from Baywatch to The Disaster Artist feel like the same careless feature-length slab of cable television, Game Night is clearly the product of thought and skill, directed by people who remember (as some of us still do) that film is a visual medium.

All marvel movies are about sibling rivalries and father issues, aren’t they? Twenty-some years ago, New Black Panther Chadwick Boseman’s dad T’Chaka (who later died in a Civil War-era explosion) killed his brother/Boseman’s uncle N’Jobu (This Is Us star Sterling Brown), and now N’Jobu’s son has grown into the revenge-seeking Michael B. Jordan. But first, Boseman has to become Black Panther so we’re familiar with the rituals and clans… Winston Duke challenges and loses, Daniel Kaluuya is a Boseman buddy who joins Jordan and feels ambivalent about it (he’s this movie’s Karl Urban), Forest Whitaker is a wise man (of course he is). Jordan shows up with a dead enemy of Wakanda (Andy Serkis as “Ulysses Klaue”) and proof of his noble birth, so he’s accepted and allowed to challenge, then after he wins and Boseman loses his Panther powers, the alliances get all twisted.

Boseman has very capable help from his gearhead sister Shuri (Letitia Wright of the Black Mirror season I keep forgetting to watch), his ex Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), and Kaluuya’s girl, the bald warrior Okoye (Danai Gurira of Mother of George, whose costar Isaach De Bankolé appears here as an elder and I didn’t recognize him because of the huge distracting lip-plate), and improbably, CIA agent Martin Freeman. Besides the whole cynical “The CIA is actually doing good things for Africa” message and some typical CG-cartoon fight scenes, the movie’s Africa-influenced sci-fi and badass warrior women make for some striking imagery that we’ve never seen before. This and Thor 3 and Guardians are finally taking all this blockbuster superhero money and producing things that are fantastic to look at instead of ever-larger monsters destroying ever-larger cities.

I thought about watching this, then rewatching Vertigo, then rewatching this… but I’m not made of free time here, so I just wikipediaed Vertigo then watched this once. It’s 90+ percent footage from San Francisco movies and shows (credited at the end in a dizzying rush of title cards), with some added effects: manipulated TV and film screen images, dialogue chopped out leaving behind only pauses and breaths, and the titular fog. Everything is fit into 4:3, a few bits of dialogue or voiceover are left in, and the whole thing is accompanied by great string music by Jacob Garchik and the Kronos Quartet.

I probably would’ve enjoyed this just as much without knowing the story concept, but having the Vertigo storyline to follow makes it more memorable. Favorite sections: the “women looking at paintings” scene, the “Chuck Norris being pensive” footage, and especially the ending, a montage of bickering couples and earthquakes leading to the final death plummet. Good use of screens and tape recorders, and humor throughout – this isn’t as extreme as Tscherkassky or Martin Arnold in its found-footage manipulation, but just as enjoyable. David Cairns points out there’s a Bill Morrison equivalent, Spark of Being as a found-footage Frankenstein.

After another good True/False fest, and a killer first half of the day with Bisbee and Shirkers, we ended on a lightweight heist film, with strong truefalsian elements, but whose protagonists made Katy fully angry. Tim Grierson nailed it in Paste:

Crafted to be a breezy, self-conscious heist film — the characters study Rififi for inspiration, and a key fantasy sequence is scored to the remix of Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation,” which was memorably used in Ocean’s ElevenAmerican Animals uses a lot of giddy flash to make a sobering point: These callow losers are incredibly privileged white males with little reason to execute this crime except for the fact that they’re bored. But despite strong performances from Peters and Keoghan, who both hook into their characters’ suffocating vapidity, Layton never entirely makes the case that his movie has much more intellectual heft than his protagonists. American Animals is a zippy, forgettable film about dunderheads, which isn’t the same as having a sharp perspective on those boobs.

The real fun comes in the first half as we meet the real boobs via interview footage and see their stories played out – sometimes in multiple versions if the narrators mix up their details – by the great Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) and his wild buddy Evan Peters (Quicksilver in the X-Men movies). Peters flies to Amsterdam to meet Udo Kier and see about fencing some rare books, which they clumsily steal with the help of two more dudes (including Everybody Wants Some!! lead Blake Jenner) in the more sordid second half. Katy wishes we’d closed with the Mr. Rogers movie instead.


Musicians seen this year: Mary Lattimore, Lomelda, Esme Patterson, Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, Burney Sisters, Nevada Greene, Samuel James, The River Arkansas, Ohmme, Molly Healey, Skyway Man,

Food and drink from our old favorites: Craft Beer Cellar, Cafe Berlin, Cafe Poland, Main Squeeze, Nourish, International Tap House, Gunter Hans, Pizza Tree… plus good stuff from Seoul Taco, and next time we’ll skip Flat Branch and not venture into 44 Canteen unless we have no movies scheduled afterward.

Esme Patterson at the Missouri Theater:

We followed up Bisbee with another great one, the story of an indie film shot in Singapore in Summer 1992 that disappeared without a trace, taking a few friendships along with it. Creative punk kids Sandi and Jasmine and their friend Sophie got the support of a French New Wave enthusiast professor/mentor named George, spent the whole summer shooting their would-be classic, then George vanished with the film, which only resurfaced after his death twenty years later, the sound reels having been lost or destroyed along the way. So Sandi uses scenes from the original Shirkers (with added sound effects) to illustrate her story, reassessing the original drive to make this film, what they accomplished, and the aftermath. Sophie is now chair of a film department, Jasmine still holds a huge grudge, and Sandi claims in the Q&A that she doesn’t blame George, which sounds crazy after he ruined their young dreams. There’s some owning up to past misdeeds and betrayals, some exploration of George’s life and his other creative partners (he stole their work, too) but Sandi still respects the guy, and she’s the one in charge of the Shirkers saga now, so perhaps this movie lets him off easy. This was a blast to see from the balcony of a sold-out theater, but we might have been its final proper audience, since it’s been bought by netflix.

Tim Grierson in Paste:

In Shirkers, novelist Sandi Tan accomplishes that trickiest of endeavors, making a documentary about herself that isn’t cloying or cringe-worthy. Quite the contrary, her movie is refreshingly candid and self-critical: She may be the star of the show, but she has a story to tell and the right perspective to frame it properly … the documentary ends up being less about tracking down the film canisters than being an exploration of nostalgia, friendship and the allure of mentors. Tan is lively, self-effacing company throughout — her voice has just the right sardonic tinge — but her visits with Jasmine and Sophia are particularly lovely and illuminating, suggesting how lifelong pals can see us in ways that we cannot.

This feels more mainstream than Kate Plays Christine or Actress without compromising Greene’s interest in blurring the lines of performance, and while bringing up tons of new and timely issues. The photography is very good (some epic travelling shots, most notably when introducing our young star Fernando) and Greene has graduated from filming lone actresses to an entire town. I came in with high expectations and couldn’t be happier – this was the standout hit of True/False.

In July 1917, striking workers in an Arizona mining town were rounded up and herded out of the town, told they’d be killed if they returned. For the hundredth anniversary, Greene films a town-wide re-enactment of the event, as portrayed by locals with hundred-year roots, by ex-miners and their families, businessmen and government officials, and town newcomers. Few had heard of the “Deportation” before the anniversary committee got underway, but as they research their roles it leads to much discussion and some uncomfortable parallels to still-current problems – deportation and communist agitation were rearing their ugly heads again right as filming began. Two brothers whose grandfather exiled their great uncle play opposite sides, a friendly young dude plays an ambivalent miner who gets swayed to become a flag-waving striker, and a descendant of a town leader insists the deportation was right and necessary until the moment when he finds himself rallying his neighbors onto desert-bound railcars at gunpoint. Minds don’t exactly get changed, but people soften their hardline positions. The whole ensemble piece is beautifully assembled and shot in widescreen, cutting between documentary behind-the-scenes footage and staged-reenactment scenes without radically changing the visuals, breaking down the boundaries between them in true Greene-T/F style.

After lunch we went to the Journalism Institute on campus because we heard there was a Strong Island exhibit. It must have been closed on Sunday, but we came across this instead:

Our second Black Audio Film Collective film after Testament, this one a collage-style doc about the 1985 Handsworth riots – with at least one scene from the 1977 Handsworth riots, the country having failed to solve racism during the intervening years. A good mix of music and sounds, collaged like the visuals. Interviews with community members about mistrust of cops because of bad policing, combined with the story of an innocent woman shot by police in her own home give the sense that nothing has changed between Handsworth Songs and Crime + Punishment. Racism remains unsolved.

I’d been wanting to see this for ages, it having appeared on some list somewhere of great films, and am glad I held off on the bootleg VHS copies to see it properly projected in a theater. Not that there are such splendid visuals – it’s mostly news and interview footage – but there’s at least one innovative move in here: lit photographs hung in a dark room, the camera slowly moving through the room in 3D like an early version of the Ken Burns effect.

Vikram Murthi:

Akomfrah sought to redefine blackness in British culture for a new generation as a reaction against conservative Thatcherite policies along with the respectability politics of their immigrant parents. In turn, the Collective demonstrated that the best way to examine the noxious ideologies in the culture was to trace their historical lineage. As a middle-aged black woman tells a British reporter, “There are no stories in the riots. Only the ghosts of other stories.”