I liked Ricky’s Spiral Jetty and his comment about using the shorts to work out ideas before shooting his first feature, so I contributed to the feature’s kickstarter last year and got a bunch more shorts as thanks.


The Stranger (2011)

This one tells a more dramatically straightforward story (and is more of a comedy) than the other three. Wide b/w, divided into chapters, with some nice Hungarian music and heavy droning narration.

“I’m not ideologically complicit about anything. I read Zizek.” Sarah-Doe Osborne and her man Michael Wetherbee are students who just moved into the perfect new apartment. They humor a stranger who asks to stay with them, then quickly convinces them to leave their lives behind and join him. “He said that moving and living with him would turn us into more admirable and interesting people.” They quit their jobs, drop their classes, tear up all their issues of The Nation and Film Comment, then there’s a quite long montage of city scenery, and the stranger never returns.


Pilgrims (2013)

Wetherbee is back as narrator, but now he’s a friend of the couple from The Stranger, who get mentioned. He’s stuck inside with health problems as protests rage outside, visited by a couple of friends and a priest. This one’s in color, dividing scenes with handwritten diary entries (some nice German music). No narration over the final unreadable entry, then he’s passed out on the ground, followed by still shots of the apartment (echoing the city scenes from the end of the previous short – these are playing well as a group).


Six Cents in the Pocket (2015)

Wetherbee in color again, but female narration – letters from Risa, whose apartment he’s staying in while she’s on vacation. Wetherbee takes a picture from the house to get reframed, goes to the movies and coffee shop and bookstore, gets stood up by dark-haired Ananda, runs short on cash (L’Argent-referencing transaction shots), visits Risa’s sister (hey it’s someone I’ve seen before, The Unspeakable Act star Tallie Medel) then learns Risa isn’t going to make it home (“460 on jet die in Queens crash”). Some nice… Italian music? Another city montage, and this one and Pilgrims both feature Wetherbee doing his own thing in an apartment while there’s chaos in the city outside. The list of thanks in the closing credits add a new familiar name with each film: Fendt, Piñeiro, Sallitt.

“I’m exhausted, I can’t remember who’s alive and who isn’t.”

Following The Road Movie, here’s another Russian dark comedy with segments that went over my head (because I didn’t try very hard to keep track who was who). The first thing I noticed is that this is a real movie, with a proper script and professional-looking camerawork and editing. I point this out because In The Loop felt like a big-screen version of a Thick of It (or Parks & Rec, etc.) episode, loose mobile cameras, cutting only for laughs and covering (sometimes badly) for dubbed lines and alt takes. Now that we get what I’ve been craving, an Iannucci movie with proper lighting and fancy sets, I guess I’ll take the In The Loop version after all. Great performances in both, but if that fake-documentary style is what’s needed to keep the comedy sharp and constant, then so be it.

This still might end up being the funniest movie of the year, with ringers Michael Palin, Steve Buscemi and Jeffrey Tambor as members of Stalin’s inner circle who start jockeying for position the moment their feared leader has fallen, having choked while laughing at hate mail sent by musician Olga Kurylenko (To The Wonder). The ringers are joined by Paul Whitehouse of The Fast Show, army leader Zhokov (Jason Isaacs of the first Resident Evil), Simon Beale (Rachel Weisz’s older husband in The Deep Blue Sea) and some others, and eventually Stalin’s idiot son Rupert Friend (Homeland) and daughter Andrea Riseborough (who also costarred with Olga K. in Oblivion).

Stalin’s children:

I’m not gonna recount every humiliation and double-cross (though Beale does end up dead and on fire) because that’ll take some of the fun out of watching this again in a few years. The blatant criminal behavior by weak-minded, disloyal men in high government offices didn’t remind me of anything in particular, no sir, just a bit of fun.

Woof, this was bad, but I should’ve guessed from the trailer I saw in NYC with all the “you won’t BELIEVE what happens NEXT”-style quotes in huge print across the screen. A seemingly endless (but only 70 minutes!) string of car crashes and weird happenings captured by Russian dash-cams and ripped off youtube.

“Danger in 200 meters” says one car’s navigation system just before encountering a truck driving slowly in reverse, wiping out all the cars in its path. I rewound a couple times the exploding light poles leading to a blackout after a truck tumbles over. “Fucking asshole,” deadpans the driver witnessing this – there are a couple heroes, but mostly the drivers act annoyed but unsurprised by the damage on display.

Typical/hilarious subtitle:

Quick montages of smashes and explosions are used as buffer material between longer single-take segments. With every new edit, you brace yourself anew for something terrible to happen. Along with Caniba, the other True/False movie Katy wisely avoided, the movie gives us nothing and lets us draw our own conclusions – and at least one person probably died in the making of each. I don’t typically click around youtube looking for the best car-crash videos, so I appreciate that someone has spent the time to curate them for us (and some are incredible) but that’s all this is.

Part of a double-feature of misbegotten True/False movies that Katy didn’t want to watch, with The Road Movie. Katy was right – they were both very bad!

The directors of Leviathan have found themselves a potentially interesting subject: almost forty years ago, Issei Sagawa killed a woman and ate her, got free on insanity, and has lived at home fixating on his naughty self, how awesomely perverse he is, writing about his crime and making a comic book version. He apparently lives with his brother, who complains about the manga (“there’s no reason to publish this”) but reads the entire thing, chuckling to himself. The brother shows home movies of themselves as kids, and more recent movies of himself attacking his arms with barbed wire and shears.

Our sensory ethnographers react by placing the camera too close to focus, creating distorted images with long stretches of silence, making me wonder at times whether the movie was still playing. It’s probably the most experimental movie to play True/False this year, but the experiment doesn’t work for me. Feels like with the camera placement, the blurring and extreme close-up, they’re trying to take us inside the head of a killer, but this killer seems more amused by his own celebrity (this is at least the fourth documentary about him) than anything else, so the movie goes on for long minutes, just staring at his elderly, psychotic face, hoping some insight will arrive.

Vince Vaughn’s measured descent from tow-truck driver to drug runner, into a police shootout, to prison, to max-security prison, to “the prison within the prison,” to ultimate revenge and death. Heads get stomped, but in grimy low-light, so not even as graphically as in Dead Man – overall this was less brutal than I expected from the reviews (which may have been written by people who missed Bone Tomahawk), and funnier too. Vaughn plays an intriguing mix of characters we’ve seen before: smart and smartass, the extreme badass who will do anything to protect his family, willing to turn on his own colleagues to protect police but later destroying any prison guard who gets in his way, always calm and patient.

Don and the gang:

Somehow this is the first Vince Vaughn movie I’ve seen since Made in 2001. I didn’t recognize Don Johnson as the Gary Oldman-looking warden, or most of the other actors. Geno Segers (a cannibal in Bone Tomahawk) is one of the idiots working for the big bad (Dion Mucciacito). Jennifer Carpenter (the lead’s sister in Dexter) is Vince’s wife, kidnapped by the big bad and threatened with an evil abortionist if Vince doesn’t cooperate. Messages are delivered by a calm Udo Kier, who gets killed by family friend Marc Blucas (Buffy’s boyfriend in season 4-5). Tom Guiry (Smalls in The Sandlot) is a torturer guard killed by Vince. Mustafa Shakir (Big Mike in The Deuce) is a decent guard who Vince attacks when trying to act dangerous to escalate his sentence, and Clark Johnson (news editor in The Wire season 5) was in there somewhere, probably dead or at least badly hurt. Just missed the top-ten in this year’s Skandies (The Salesman is the last of the top twenty that I haven’t seen).

Just another business day for Udo Kier:

“Your life was hard at times, but hard is not always bad.”

Dark and bleary, twisted and smeary, gives the sense of walking through paintings without the greenscreen feel of The Mill and the Cross.

The Son is home to visit his dying Mother. She can’t go for a walk, so he carries her. They decide that mom should live, then she promptly dies. He goes out and cries next to a shadowy tree, while a song plays beneath the breeze. A relentlessly slow movie that dares you to stay awake – certainly innovative and artistic, but maybe I’m not as excited as everyone who ranked it as a great film of the 1990’s. Probably watching it in a cinema would help, instead of DVD, which was the best I could find.

Nick Cave “wept and wept, from start to finish”:

The son leaves the house and moves into the exquisite landscape that surrounds it. It is in these long, lingering, nearly motionless scenes that the film rises to heights of the most breathtaking beauty. Sokurov’s landscapes are not burdened by any desire for realism. His scenes are transformed into cinematic canvases, far closer to painting than to film, awash with artificial, opalescent light. These dream-born vistas recall the work of the German Romantic painters of the early 19th century: in particular those of Caspar David Friedrich, in which everything is softened by a milky lustre. The vastness and mystery of this heightened nature creates a spirituality not dependent on any formula of traditional Christianity. And the care Sokurov applies to these fastidiously crafted scenes echoes the care with which his characters treat each other – the devotion to detail, the unhurried tenderness, the love.

Adam Cook on Letterboxd:

The son takes over the motherly duties. He carries her like a newborn child and shows her the world which has become new and foreign to her as her memory begins to fade. It is a very touching and tender portrait of their relationship but nothing is explained and no backstory is forthcoming. The son had clearly done something that shamed him in his past but what this act was is never revealed.

This was made right between Whispering Pages and Russian Ark, both of which I kinda loved, though I gotta admit Sokurov is usually a tough watch (the recent Francofonia was surprisingly/relatively easygoing). Played Berlin in the international showcase “Panorama” section (along with Chasing Amy – that’d be a jarring double-feature).

Based on the style of newspaper comics, the animation has unfinished backgrounds that fade away on the edges, reminding me (in a good way) of Ernest & Celestine. Married couple, older schoolboy, younger daughter and gramma appear in disconnected sketches, stories and fantasies. The most dramatic thing that happens is the daughter gets left behind at the mall and while the family is stuck in traffic trying to retrieve her, she’s taken home by a friendly neighbor – it’s very lightweight drama with an overall big-hearted feeling (the polar opposite of the previous film I’d watched).

The first animated work to make me consider trying animation because it looks like fun, even though I know plenty of animators so I should know better.

Me IRL:

Maybe it felt more emotional because we watched it in memory of the great Isao Takahata, who increasingly looks like Ghibli’s secret weapon, a patient genius who never made the same kind of great film twice.

Thirty years later, Zvyagintsev refutes Sting’s claim that the Russians love their children too. Boris (Aleksey Rozin of Leviathan and Elena) and Zhenya may or may not have ever loved each other, or their son, are just trying to sell their apartment so they can move on with their lives. Boris is now with pregnant Masha, mom dating a balding dude with a grown daughter who looks a bit like mom. After the parents argue over who gets their 12-year-old son (neither wants him, so mom suggests boarding school then the army), he runs away and is never seen again. The police suggest that runaways almost always return to their warm homes, but the police don’t know what this kid overheard.

Set mostly in fall 2012 before cutting to the more recent past, for symbolic and political reasons that I’m not keen on looking into. Creeping, controlled camera moves and an overall sense that all hope is lost, that nothing will ever be good again. I suppose I liked this even better than Leviathan. Premiered at Cannes, now the eighth competition title I’ve seen from last year – that’s out of nineteen, but some (Redoubtable, Rodin, Jupiter’s Moon) I’m not trying to catch up with.

Better than Creepy, this is K.K. in arthouse French festival mode.

Stéphane (Olivier Gourmet of all the Dardenne movies) is an eccentric whose giant glass plate photographs are only still in demand by a few connoisseurs, so he spends most of his time in the basement photographing his daughter Marie (Constance Rousseau of Simon Killer) in uncomfortable poses for increasingly long exposures, trying to capture the ineffable. He hires Jean (Tahar Rahim, main dude in A Prophet) as a new assistant, which may have been a bad move – don’t hire someone who’s gonna covertly call an auction house to appraise all your belongings.

For the most part, the film follows Jean as he falls for Marie, who wants to move away from the lonely basement photo sessions and start her own life working at a botanical garden. Jean is a bit of a scam artist, and helps her out by scheming to coerce her dad into selling his estate, for which Jean will get a commission that they can live on together. But the schemes don’t totally make sense, and time goes by and things get weird. It’s not a tight Chabrolian thriller, but something more diffuse. Eventually Marie appears to have died in two separate incidents (a stairs tumble, a car crash), but she still appears real to Jean, and Stéphane’s long-dead wife reappears as a Pulse-referencing slow-motion spirit.

Originally titled Le secret de la chambre noire, I watched this right after Creepy. Since Before We Vanish, K.K. has already released its extended semi-remake Foreboding. The others I missed since Tokyo Sonata include Real (Inception-y romance), Seventh Code (an hourlong paranoid thriller), and Penance (a murder-guilt anthology miniseries).