John Hubley Centennial Shorts

Our first time at Film Streams in Omaha, which is playing great stuff (Celine & Julie, Je t’aime, je t’aime, Boyhood, the Nick Cave movie) and is located right next to the Saddle Creek shop and the club where The New Pornographers are playing. This was a groovy screening of finely restored Hubley shorts, which looked just brilliant. Katy enjoyed half of them, dozed during the others.

Covered in a post last year:
The Hat, Eggs, The Adventures of *, Moonbird and Urbanissimo

Of Men and Demons (1969)

Man starts to build himself a nice place to live and hunt and work and play, and demons of fire, water and lightning mess it all up. So he teams up with a woman, builds a stronger base with whole manufacturing plants, and the demons find ways to turn his work against him. It ends (either hopefully or ominously, depending on your outlook) with computer technology being the new invention. Some animation by Omaha-born Art Babbitt, creator of Goofy. This lost the oscar to It’s Tough to Be a Bird by John’s former Disney coworker Ward Kimball.

The Tender Game (1958)

Lovely little love story, flower girl meets a gardener. Wordless and slightly abstract, set to an Ella Fitzgerald song, more like a painted music video than anything else here. Some wild techniques – I love the scratchy static as surface motion on the lake.

Windy Day (1968)

Young Emily and younger Georgia are attempting to put on a play with a knight and princess, but Georgia keeps breaking character, asking questions, and changing their characters into kangaroos. Lost the oscar to Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day.

Last time I was in love with both The Hat and Moonbird – funny how those are the two I complained about this time, saying The Hat was too rambling and Windy Day outdoes Moonbird in every way.

This seemed like a good time to check out the Hubley DVD that came with an issue of The Believer.

A Date With Dizzy (1958)

Real crackly soundtrack on this one. Ridiculous plot, not brilliantly acted, in which Dizzy Gillespie and his band are being asked to score a TV ad for a fake product (“instant rope ladder”). We see a pencil test for that, plus three completed-looking ads for real products, and hear some good mini-songs by the band, with the dialogue scenes the filler between.

Cockaboody (1973)

Like an indoor, bedtime version of Windy Day. This was made years later but the girls seem about the same age, so I’m guessing the sound recordings for both movies were made the same year. Best part is when Georgia is upset, which the animation shows by having a grey storm start in her belly and form into wild animals jumping through her mouth as she screams. Katy tells me this all sounded obnoxious from the other room.

The Hole (1962)

The original improvised-dialogue Dizzy Gillespie short, predating The Hat, this time with Dizzy and George Mathews as construction workers talking about the big issues, fate and accidents, with a nuclear twist ending. Unlike The Hat and Moonbird, this one seemed better than I remembered it. Maybe it’s about how long I wait between viewings. Animators are Gary Mooney (from Lady and the Tramp and Sleeping Beauty to Four Rooms and Jurassic Park) and Bill Littlejohn (from the Parrotville series in the 1930′s to all the Charlie Brown specials, The Phantom Tollbooth and Watership Down.

The disc includes five more advertisements that weren’t in Date With Dizzy. Best is the very short Sanforized piece, but also notable is the three-minute short about what pretentious know-it-alls PBS watchers can be. What ever happened to “flavor maker” dog food sauce?

Plus home movies and photographs and behind-the-scenes footage for Cockaboody. Real cool DVD, can’t believe it came free with a magazine.

Ida (2013, Pawel Pawlikowski)

Little Orphan Anna grew up in the church, is about to become a nun when the higher-ups say they’ve located her only living family, and send her off to meet her aunt. Aunt Wanda, a judge in town, says Anna’s real name is Ida, she is a Jew whose parents were murdered during WWII. The two set out to visit the parents’ grave, which is complicated since they haven’t got one, but fortunately run across their murderers who’ve taken the family home as their own. They take a couple bags of bones (Ida’s parents, Wanda’s son) to the family plot in a now-abandoned cemetery. Wanda tries to convince Ida to give up the nunnery, hooks her up with a cute saxophonist called Lis. Not much dialogue in the movie so we have to draw our own conclusions why Ida sleeps with the boy then sneaks away to return to the convent – but not much imagination is needed to figure why Wanda commits suicide.

4:3 b/w movie, beautifully shot though I sat close enough for the screen to look pixelly in wide shots. Plenty of head room, and a tendency to cram Ida into a lower corner of the screen, reminding me of Josh Brolin in Milk but probably for a different purpose.

The only actor I’m seeing in anything else is Joanna Kulig of Elles, gorgeous young singer of the saxophonist’s band. Pawlikowski made My Summer of Love and won awards for Last Resort with Paddy Considine.

Something I didn’t get that J. Kuehner explains: Wanda reveals “her own past as a prosecutor of ‘enemies of the people’ (historically, former anti-Nazi resistance fighters who were convicted in show trials under the Stalinist regime)”.

Alan Partridge (2013, Declan Lowney)

“Which is the worst monger: fish, iron, rumor or war?”

Returning cast and situations from I’m Alan Partridge, which I watched eight years ago and barely remember, and Mid Morning Matters, which I haven’t checked out yet. Alan is wedged into a hostage plot, in which Colm Meaney (The Road to Wellville) takes over the radio station in revenge for the corporate takeover that got him fired. I knew all this going in, but I watched it anyway in the hopes that it’d be unremittingly hilarious – and it is! Even the opening titles are pure pleasure, and in fact I restarted the movie to see them again and almost watched the whole thing twice.

The Last Ten Minutes vol. 11: Jason Statham Edition

Back to Netflix for a roundup of recent dumb action movies, most of which seem to star Jason Statham.

Skyfall (2012, Sam Mendes)

Whole world is orange. Hooray, a dyed-blonde Javier Bardem is shooting at Danny Craig (the non-Hulk lead in Munich). Bond dives into a frozen lake to escape, so Bardem menaces Judi Dench until he reappears. The hammy one-liners don’t work as well with the dark tone and grim-looking actors. Bardem and Dench are dead, and Bond stands over the city like Batman in the epilogue. Naomie Harris of 28 Days Later joins him, and Ralph Fiennes is the new Judi Dench, and I’m getting the feeling that this was a prequel. I guess the studio saw Away We Go and decided Sam Mendes should make their next Bond movie? From the writers of Johnny English and Bats.

Jack Reacher (2012, Christopher McQuarrie)

Tom Reacher decides not to shoot a dude, but to fist-fight and head-stomp him in the rain instead, as Rosamund Pike (The World’s End) is held hostage nearby by David Oyelowo (Rage), while none other than WERNER HERZOG sits there uselessly wearing a foggy contact lens. Tom is an unreasonably good shot, and Werner starts speechifying (this is what I was hoping for – not the action scenes but Herzog as sneering villain) when the Roku crashes, argh. The Wii was so much easier, though regrettably standard-def. Rosamund gets upset when Tom shoots defenseless Werner in the face, then Robert Duvall gives them a ride away from the depleted baddie den. Epilogue: hospitalized baddie Joseph Sikora tells of the Batman-like legend of Tom Reacher while Richard Jenkins stands quietly by. From the oscar-winning writer of The Tourist and Jack the Giant Slayer.

Olympus Has Fallen (2013, Antoine Fuqua)

Gerry Butler (of the upcoming London Has Fallen, haha) is being told that the president died on an exploded helicopter – but it’s not true! Baddie Rick Yune (X-Blade in Man With The Iron Fists) has president Aaron Eckhart captive, is threatening to detonate all of American’s nukes. Elsewhere, Morgan Freeman and Angela Bassett look concerned. White House bunker fight ends with the president shot and Gerry stabbing Yune in the head. From the guy who made Training Day and the writers of Expendables 3 (which features Jason Statham).

Redemption (2013, Steven Knight)

Jason Statham has a large head, stalks the ballet then tosses a fellow off a tall building and later apologizes about it to an accented woman (Polish Agata Buzek of Nightwatching) while flashing back to his Afghan war experience. Later, the accented woman is graduating from nun academy, reads mail from Statham. This is notably less action-packed than the last few. Knight wrote/directed the highly-rated Locke the same year.

Parker (2013, Taylor Hackford)

Bad Cop from The Shield and The Bunk from The Wire are menacing Jennifer Lopez, then Jason Statham knives a couple guys and Lopez shoots the hell out of The Bunk. Then whatever dude is still alive, he’s shot too. Then later a guy in an office is shot. Based on a series of Parker novels previously adapted under different names, so Lee Marvin (in Point Blank), Jim Brown, Robert Duvall, and Mel Gibson (in Payback) have all played Parker. Writer worked on Black Swan and director made The Devil’s Advocate.

Safe (2012, Boaz Yakin)

Limo driver Anson Exposition talks to Jason Statham on the phone, then shoots some Chinese gangsters. Statham nabs a secret disk (people are still killing guys for secret disks in movies) then rescues a kidnapped girl from Anson. Unwisely, instead of ending with all the shooting and killing, it wraps up plot threads with some groaner dialogue. Boaz previously wrote From Dusk Till Dawn 2, Dirty Dancing 2 and Prince of Persia 2.

Homefront (2013, Gary Fleder)

It’s Jason Statham and another kidnapped girl! Mean James Franco screams at Winona Ryder, and Kate “Superman Returns” Bosworth is disappointed in him, so accidentally explodes his house then gets shot. This is the star-studdedest Jason Statham revenge/kidnapping movie of the night. Car chase ends on a bridge, the girl was Statham’s daughter, and Franco gets reeeeeal punched for kidnapping her. Seems a bit better than the last two, but not any killing or enough Winona. Fleder previously made Runaway Jury, and writer Sylvester Stallone is best known as the original Judge Dredd.

Dredd (2012, Pete Travis)

Karl Urban (of Doom and Ghost Ship) wears an opaque black helmet, rescues a weird kid from underground redneck lair alongside his mindreading rookie partner Olivia Thirlby (Juno‘s best friend). Either the movie has framerate problems or Netflix is freaking out. Dredd finds “Mama” (Lena Headey of The Brothers Grimm), shoves her out a window, and now the funny framerate is intentional as she plummets and splats on the ground below in loving slow-motion. I don’t see why Jason Statham couldn’t have played Dredd – he’d look good in the helmet, and has experience shoving people off tall buildings. Travis went from historical royalty dramas to apartheid political dramas to this. Written by Alex “The Beach” Garland.

G.I. Joe Retaliation (2013, Jon Chu)

Bruuuce Willis shoots a dude and rescues Jonathan Pryce, and oh boy there’s gonna be a lot to keep track of. Maskless Storm Shadow (?) kills a shapeshifter. The usual terror-plot business where some missiles are gonna be launched unless some computer program is disabled. The Rock is shooting at Firefly – which one was he? The hovercraft driver? I never got the toy of that one. How exactly did they trade out Dennis Quaid for Bruce Willis, and where’s Joey Gordo-Levitt? Rock has a fist/gun/fight that is considerably less exciting than any Jason Statham fights then saves the world. Jinx and S.S. and Snake Eyes are all friends? I guess Tater Channing and Joey Levitt are dead. Anyway, ends with a boring award ceremony, then a credits sequence showing all the good parts I missed. Director Chu is best known for Justin Bieber documentaries and the writers worked on Zombieland and Disney’s Tarzan 2.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013, Tommy Wirkola)

Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton are battling evil Famke Janssen and her witch gang in a blur of semi-decent effects. The movie thinks we’ll forgive its cheesy fairy-tale blandness and fight-scene formula if it throws in some sweary one-liners. Norwegian writer/director made this between Dead Snow and Dead Snow 2.

Odd Thomas (2013, Stephen Sommers)

Anton Yelchin (Ian in Only Lovers Left Alive) fights a body-jumping ghost that looks like a giant insect with plastic wrap for skin, blows it the hell up. Then comes a very long narrated epilogue montage in which Odd dreams his girlfriend is still alive, and hey, Willem Dafoe and the star of Belle are here. Odd Yelchin stands above the city Batman-like, bringing us full circle. Based on a Dean Koontz book and, based on what little I watched, the best movie ever made by schlockmeister Sommers.

World War Z (2013, Marc Forster)

Better than I’d heard. From one deliciously tense action scene to the next, it’s a million times more fun than Contagion.

I recognized Davis Morse playing an inspirational madman and Peter Capaldi as a world health organization doctor (get it? WHO Doctor?). Pitt’s wife Mireille Enos stars on TV’s The Killing Remake and I think Daniella Kertesz played the short-haired Israeli soldier whose zombie-bitten hand Pitt severs. Between Stranger Than Fiction and this, Forster made Machine Gun Preacher (tough white guy saves African child soldiers), The Kite Runner and a James Bond flick. Supposedly based on the Max Brooks book, but I hear it’s not really. Credited writers include Matt “Lions For Lambs” Carnahan, J. “Changeling” Straczynski, Damon “Prometheus” Lindelof and Drew “Cabin in the Woods” Goddard. That’s a lot of writers for a special-effects movie.

Hard to be a God (2013, Aleksei German)

Heard this three-hour Russian movie fourteen years in the making was something incredible, and oh boy is it ever. Loooong roving black-and-white takes (with beyond-Russian Ark choreography), torrential rainfall, everything bleak and ugly but masterfully shot. Sounds like Bela Tarr, but it doesn’t feel like Bela Tarr. Tarr ultimately focuses on individuals, and this one seems more concerned with lovely filth.

There is a story, or a premise at least, but if you miss the first five minutes you’d be forgiven for never figuring that out. Don Rumata is from present-day Earth, one of a team of scientists sent to “another planet, about 800 years behind,” on which the Rennaisance never happened because dumb thugs murdered all the educated and artistic types. The intro is the last time any of this is mentioned – the rest follows Rumata as he wanders the horrors of this place, through filth and hunger and murder. There are other characters, and a bit of a plot – a Wikipedia summary of the source novel reveals that many of its characters and events were adapted in the film, but weren’t explained. I’m not an avid reader of Russian lit so probably won’t pick up the novel, but I’m excited to see there’s a 1990 film version which may be more comprehensible.

Story aside, this is both a slog of a plotless beast and a technical and tactile marvel. It seems postsynched since we only hear certain sounds among all the chaos, but if so it’s done quite well. Also: a hedgehog and much bird tossing (including owls).

C. Marsh:

Hard to Be a God, by design, is not a dynamic film. Its consistency is intended to be exhausting. Over time, like Rumata, we’d rather be anywhere else. .. German seems less interested in the science-fiction dimension of the source material than in the central idea it poses: the Renaissance was a fluke. Cruelty and brutality are the default modes of existence.

I’m happy that Marsh mentions Monty Python and the Holy Grail in his review, since it was on my mind as well.

Intriguing Russian and German titles mentioned in Olaf Möller’s Cinema Scope article:
Khrustalyov, My Car! (1988)
Workers’ Settlement (1965)
My Friend Ivan Lapshin (1982)
Es ist nicht leicht, ein Gott zu sein (1990)
Days of Eclipse (1988)
The Fall of Otrar (1991)
Until the End of the World (1991, the 5-hour version)
The Ugly Swans (2006)
Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel (1979)
Lenin’s Guard (1965)

Boyhood (2014, Richard Linklater)

Filmed gradually while its young stars (Mason: Ellar Coltrane, sister Samantha: Lorelei Linklater) grew up. That’s the hook, and it would make for a fascinating movie regardless, but Linklater has dug into his Before Trilogy bag of observational non-dramatic tricks and built something great. There are big plot points and dramatic moments, for instance when mom Patricia Arquette grabs the kids and flees her abusive, alcoholic husband, but it focuses just as much on smaller moments, and it’s true to its growing-up concept by not having every event have a consequence (e.g. Mason picks up a gun and nobody gets shot).

G. Klinger in Cinema Scope:

The film’s title is somewhat misleading: if Boyhood certainly chronicles Mason Jr.’s experience, it also allows us to see Mason Sr. and Olivia mature alongside their son. Olivia herself resides at the core of the film, heroic for her resilience and commitment to her kids, and tragic for her inability to make suitable decisions for her long-term happiness. Arquette is so sublimely perfect, so believable as a single mom struggling with poverty (even maintaining the same bad haircut for much of the film), that when her character finally breaks down toward the end, she achieves the kind of saintly purity that one associates with certain Bresson characters.

Auteur Shorts, Summer 2014

Berenice (1954, Eric Rohmer)

An Edgar Allen Poe story about a talky, sickly shut-in who stares at everyday objects all day is an odd choice for your first film. The guy (Rohmer himself!) lives with an epileptic cousin, becomes monomaniacally obsessed with her teeth, and eventually they get engaged since neither can deal with the outside world. But she dies one night, and he takes this very melodramatically, then awakens from a fugue days later having dug up the grave and stolen the teeth. It’s all narration and sound effects, shot by Jacques Rivette, still a couple years before his debut short.


Khan Khanne (2014, Jean-Luc Godard)

“This is not a film anymore, although it is my best.” What Godard sent to this year’s Cannes instead of appearing in person. Godard is his usual latter-day self, acting the scatterbrained professor, possibly quoting Hannah Arendt and/or referencing Chris Marker, cutting in excerpts from Alphaville and King Lear, using camera shots and sound editing that make it seem like he doesn’t know what he’s doing, ultimately making little sense to me, but with a weirdo bravado.

Adieu a TNS (1998, Jean-Luc Godard)

Swaying, smoking, Godard recites a singsongy poem over gentle accordion in three parts, the framing tighter each time. I’ve read that this was “a bitter and mournful farewell to the National Theater of Strasbourg.”

The Accordion (2010, Jafar Panahi)

Two brothers play music for spare change, not realizing they’re outside a mosque. A guy threatens to report them to the police, takes their accordion and runs. But it turns out he’s just a poor bastard hoping to earn money with the instrument, so the kids join him instead of killing him with a rock, which had been the other option.

The Nest (2014, David Cronenberg)

Single-take nine-minute shot from first-person perspective of surgeon (Cronenberg) interviewing patient (Evelyne Brochu of Tom at the Farm) who claims she has a wasps nest inside her left breast. Doubles as a commissioned short for some exhibition and a trailer for his first novel, Consumed, out this fall.

Gradiva (2014, Leos Carax)

Another gallery commission featuring a naked girl. This time the girl has gone to buy cigarettes, returns and has a short conversation with Rodin’s The Thinker.

The Legend of Hallowdega (2010, Terry Gilliam)

Unfunny fake investigation into haunted goings-on at the Talladega racetrack from a Daily Show writer. Just terrible. I won’t give away the twist comedic ending because I’m too embarrassed. Ends with a nice Wolf Parade song, at least.

On demande une brute (1934, Charles Barrois)

Early Jacques Tati, who wrote and starred as a hapless actor who accidentally signs up to be a wrestler. Despite all the time spent on audition scenes and the wrestling match, the only good bit is when he tries to keep his shrew wife from absentmindedly eating a pet fish at the dinner table.

Gravesend (2007, Steve McQueen)

Beautiful shots that seem to go on longer than they should, check, yep it’s the guy who made Hunger. One of those art installation pieces that is very cool to read about and less fun to watch. I wanted to like it, and almost did…

From the official description:

Gravesend uses a documentary approach to focus on the mining of coltan, employed in the manufacture of cell phones, laptops and other high-tech apparatus. The film cuts between two sites: a technological, highly automated industrial plant in the West where the precious metal is processed for the final production of microelectronic parts, and the central Congo, where miners use simple shovels or their bare hands to extract, wash and collect the ore on leaves. .. coltan, traded at an extremely high price, represents one of the key financial factors in the armed conflict of the militia in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where decades of civil war have cost several million human lives.

Away From It All (1979, John Cleese & Clare Taylor)

Fake travelogue disguised to look and sound like a real one (unless you recognize John Cleese’s voice), very gradually straying from the company line, slipping in notes of humor and aggression. Stock footage takes us from Rome to Venice to Ireland to Bulgaria to Vienna to New York, back to Venice to Acapulco, to a rapid montage of vacation spots as the narrator begins ranting about existential terror. Accompanied Life of Brian in British theaters.

Stories We Tell (2012, Sarah Polley)

Katy and I disagreed over which was the bigger twist ending: the revelation of Sarah’s real father, or that half the family home-movie stock-footage was faked. I figured the way the movie was going, something bigger than her mother’s death, which we learn about early on, had to be coming – the stories have to be building to some family secret, so the fact of the affair was less surprising than the betrayal of the documentary form, as we briefly see Polley directing her own “mother” in the re-enactments.

Polley:

I wanted people to constantly question what they were seeing and if it was real or if it wasn’t, because that was my experience. My experience going through the story was “Is what I’m hearing fact? Is it nostalgia? Is it subjective? Is it objective?” So I wanted the audience to have a paralleled experience to that and that’s why we worked so hard to make the recreations as accurate as we possibly could.

Incidentally, Sarah’s mom was a casting director and acted in a late-80′s TV series, dad Michael has acted in Slings and Arrows, and biological dad Harry Gulkin was oscar nominated for a movie appropriately named Lies Me Father Told Me.

Cinema Scope’s A. Nayman admires it partly, but finds it all too carefully filled with self-regard.