More Television 2014

Dollhouse season 2 (2010)

We watched this sporadically over the last year with months-long gaps between episodes (moving across country and all that) so I lost some details of the always-complex plot, like where we left off with Alpha before the final flash-forward episode. Still one of my favorite shows. Many allegiance shifts, and Summer Glau is introduced as Topher’s headquarters counterpart/love interest.

Costars of the two “epitaph” episodes: Felicia Day (Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog), Zack Ward (of TV’s Titus) and young Adair Tishler loaded with Dushku-Caroline’s personality.

Since Dollhouse ended, Dushku is voicing an animated She-Hulk, Harry Lennix did a Superman movie or two, we’ve seen Topher in two Whedon movies, Paul Ballard appears in different sci-fi series, Victor did TV shows with Halle Berry, Dennis Quaid and Madchen Amick, Sierra’s on two different nuclear war dramas, Olivia Williams is on a third nuclear war drama, sci-fi hero Summer Glau joined Arrow, The Cape and The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and Alpha is on Suburgatory, also voicing characters in the last three Disney movies.

Veep season 2 (2013)

I admit I didn’t care about plot or politics, just sped through this season for the relentless jokes. Looks like we’ll have a big campaign next season, since after the endless scandals the president has announced he’s not running again.

Added to the cast: Veep’s daughter Sarah “daughter of Keifer” Sutherland, Gary Cole (voice of Harvey Birdman), Randall Park of Larry Crowne and every comedy this year, Dan Bakkedahl of highly-rated comedy Legit, Kevin Dunn of True Detective (also Shia’s embarrassing dad in the Transformers movies), and great guest spots by Allison Janney and Dave Foley.

Futurama season 6 (2010-11)

More great episodes.

With owls!

And the best season finale ever.

Lover Come Back (1961, Delbert Mann)

Lightly charming, stylish-looking comedy with a terrific performance by a neurotic Tony Randall. It’s a mistaken-identity plot with Doris Day as a supposedly high-powered executive and Rock Hudson as a supposedly slack party animal who underhandedly steals her clients, but the movie wastes no time eroding Doris’s power with its regressive sexual politics. Still in her thirties, Doris already seemed out of place in this innuendo-filled movie set in the immoral realm of advertising.

Doris and Rock (reuniting from Pillow Talk) run client accounts for competing NYC ad firms. He’s got trouble with party girl Rebel (Edie Adams of The Apartment) so shoots her in TV ads for a fake product (Vip) to shut her up. Randall is Rock’s boss, a spoiled rich guy who inherited the company but is unable to make decisions. To please his psychiatrist, Randall makes a decision: to air the Vip ads. Now Rebel is a star and everyone wants Vip, which doesn’t exist (the movie is quite cynical about the American public). So Rock hires a nobel-winning scientist to invent anything and call it Vip (he invents cheap candy wafers that get you drunk), while Doris mistakes Rock for the scientist and spends half the movie trying to win the Vip account from him, while Rock uses the opportunity to get her into bed and steal her advertising ideas.

Also featuring Alice from The Brady Bunch as Doris’s secretary, Jack Oakie (fake Mussolini in The Great Dictator) as the Southerner whose ad account Rock wins in an early scene by getting him drunk and throwing him a confederate-themed party, and Jack Kruschen (who acted with Doris in Caprice) as the real scientist, a prickly independent inventor who turns out to be easily bought out (again with the cynicism).

Katy’s take: “Oh Doris Day, why do you hate women?”

Silk Stockings (1957, Rouben Mamoulian)

We lost our little bird, so picked the two dumbest movies we could find to unwind. This is a not-great musical version of Ninotchka with a not-good romance featuring a few sublime dance scenes. Cyd Charisse comes to life in those, is otherwise buttoned up as the humorless Russian sent to collect three bumbling government agents who were sent to collect a defecting music composer who is writing new music for Hollywood producer Fred Astaire who is mangling the serious tunes into upbeat dance numbers and falling for Ninotchka.

Nice Cole Porter songs. Predictably, my favorite was the one about filmmaking with separate verses about color and widescreen processes. I also dug Fred’s attack on the passing fad that was rock & roll music. “Happy” ending has all Russians staying in California, embracing capitalism, decadence and popular music, and Fred making all Cyd’s decisions for her.

Astaire’s last musical for a decade and the final film of Mamoulian (Queen Christina, Love Me Tonight). Cyd and Fred had previously starred together in The Band Wagon. Janis Paige plays the star of Astaire’s film, an Esther Williams caricature whose quirk is whacking her head to get water out of her ears. She got her start in the movies last-billed in Esther Williams’s Bathing Beauty. Naturally no Russians appear in the movie. The composer is Dutch Wim Sonneveld, Hungarian Peter Lorre plays one of the comic-relief agents alongside NYC-born Jules Munshin (Kelly & Sinatra’s co-lead in On The Town) and Lithuanian (close enough!) Joseph Buloff.

The Babadook (2014, Jennifer Kent)

Kind of a traumatic movie. You never know if one of the two characters is going to hurt or kill themselves or the other, and/or if there’s a real monster/spirit after them. A little ways in you definitely decide it’s the one thing, but later it’s definitely the other. They’re an odd couple from the start, the kid spending his time building weapons, his mom yelling in anger when her son hugs her. Monsters and ghosts mix with real problems (kid is hungry, mom wants to sleep all the time, protective services pay a visit). She watches Melies shorts on TV.

Ash slept against my neck for the whole movie.

Birdman (2014, Alejandro González Iñárritu)

I’d like to steal Vadim Rizov’s opening sentence: “Having barely survived Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 21 Grams when it came out, I was inclined to stay away from his filmography for the rest of my life.” But how could we stay away from a Michael Keaton-starring, Emmanuel Lubezki-shot movie called Birdman? I’m sympathetic to Rizov’s entire “five points of contention” article for Filmmaker Magazine, praising Edward Norton before wondering, among other things, why the single-take illusion was necessary. But I appreciated the single-take (and the wonderful arrhythmic drum score) as an enjoyable distraction, making the movie fun to watch before the inevitable post-film discussion of what point it was trying to make (??) and whether all its characters are unredeemed assholes (they are).

West Side Story (1961, Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins)

Romeo/Juliet musical from ballet choreographer Robbins (who directed the Broadway version) and Hollywood’s own Wise, who shared the best director oscar. The movie won ten oscars total, and with its reputation still pretty huge, I thought I’d love it more than I did. In ‘scope and full of color, glad we held out for a high-def version at least.

Puerto Rican girl Maria (Natalie Wood, actually of Russian ancestry but whatever Hollywood) is in love with whitey Tony (Richard Beymer). But she hangs with the PR Sharks, and Tony co-founded the Whitey Jets, and the groups’ leaders (Marie’s brother Bernardo and Tony’s BFF Riff) die in a turf fight. PR Chino loves Maria, reveals that Tony killed her brother. Jets nearly rape messenger-of-peace Anita, who then lies and says Maria has been killed by Chino, who really kills Tony when he runs suicidally into the streets. Maria actually lives, Chino goes to jail and everyone is sad. Most of the songs were quite good though, and the dancing was all great.

Wood was a few years past Rebel Without a Cause and The Searchers, and Beymer would play Ben Horne in Twin Peaks. Riff had been a child star (Russ/Rusty Tamblyn), played the lead in George Pal’s Tom Thumb. Anita was Rita Moreno, star of The Electric Company through the 1970’s. Bernardo was George Chakiris, one of the dancing dudes who likes the Young Girls of Rochefort. Outdoor scenes were filmed not on massive sets but in a crumbling, condemned neighborhood of NYC. Wise followed up with a romance where Robert Mitchum plays a Nebraska lawyer.

Interstellar (2014, Christopher Nolan)

Probably my favorite Christopher Nolan movie. I have no urge to revisit Memento anytime soon, so I guess The Prestige would be my second favorite – I think that makes me a weird Nolan fan, since most are bonkers for Inception and the Batman movies. Anyway this was a very personal but still very epic time/space/dimension-travelling movie about keeping families together and saving all of humanity, a way-too-ambitious premise that was actually pulled off.

Pilot-turned-farmer Matthew McConaughey leaves his kids with Grandpa Lithgow since Matt’s the only maverick who can pilot NASA’s secret spaceship (hey you can’t make a movie this ambitious without leaning on a few time-saving cliches) through a wormhole to find a habitable planet, alongside Anne Hathaway (daughter of NASA head Michael Caine), David Gyasi (Cloud Atlas), Wes Bentley and two awesome robots. First landing is on the giant-waves planet, where Bentley dies, then on to the frozen-wasteland planet where crazy Matt Damon kills Gyasi, then into a black hole where McConaughey sends interdimensional coded messages to his daughter (who grew up to be Jessica Chastain, dating former scientist Topher Grace and fighting with stubborn older brother Casey Affleck), then is picked up, still the same age as when he left, by the human-exodus spaceship containing his dying, elderly daughter (now Ellen Burstyn).

I would’ve liked to see the 70mm super-imax version, but settled for at least going to the dumb local theater and not waiting for blu-ray.

The Dance of Reality (2013, Alejandro Jodorowsky)

You expect a new Jodorowsky movie to be bonkers, and I was skeptical because movies this bonkers are usually wannabe-cult empty-headed nonsense. Text descriptions of a boy with a huge-breasted mom whose dialogue is all sung opera-style and a dad who gets surrounded by miners missing limbs all singing their woes would raise a few red flags, but AJ makes it all seem rich and wonderful, then tones down the circus act and pulls off a surprisingly emotional second half.

Explores AJ’s own childhood in 1930’s Chile, the same way Guy Maddin explored his childhood in Brand Upon The Brain and My Winnipeg, keeping emotional truths and memorable details and poetically inventing the rest. Young AJ is followed around by wise old AJ (playing himself as a phantom narrator), and as usual it’s a family affair, with AJ’s son Brontis (the little kid from El Topo!) playing the father (and I’m guessing a real opera singer as the mom).

Jaime is an ex-circus performer (see also: Santa Sangre), volunteer fireman and passionate communist ashamed of his timid, long-haired art-loving son Alejandro. Jaime’s wife (they run a shop together) is obsessed with her dead father, thinks he is reincarnated in her son because of the long hair, which Jaime finally has cut off, causing family disharmony. Jaime tries to man-up his son, giving him painful challenges, while young Alejandro’s other influences are the colorful characters around town.

After the death of his fire chief and a failed attempt to help plague-afflicted slum-dwellers, Jaime regroups and decides to journey to the capital and assassinate tyrant president Ibáñez. First Jaime protects the president from a fellow communist in order to earn a position as the president’s personal horse groom, planning a more insidious revenge. But after poisoning the president’s prize horse according to plan, Jaime can’t murder the man, his hands becoming useless claws, then loses his memory and disappears into the slums, while back home Alejandro’s mom teaches her son a different way to disappear, showing him how not to be noticed to avoid antisemitic discrimination from the locals. Jaime regains his self-worth only to be captured and tortured by nazis on the way home – but he does get home, and the family flees their fucked-up town.

Colorful, beautiful movie that can’t go five minutes without doing something different and amazing, also with judicious use of digital effects. I love a good imaginary history, and after all the family affection (and pain, let’s face it) in this movie, I was shocked to read wikipedia’s cold version of AJ’s childhood. AJ: “My father had no humanity. So here, look, I am making him human.”

P. Bradshaw:

For the first time, Jodorowsky is coming close to telling us how personal evasiveness has governed his film-making style; his flights of fancy are flights of pain, flights from childhood and flights from reality. And now he is using his transformative style to come to terms with and change the past and to confer on his father some of the heroism that he never attained in real life.

Quintin in Cinema Scope:

The Dance of Reality works as an exorcism of an era where false and destructive dreams were also the hope for mankind, and when children were educated through abuse by their parents and by society. But Jodorowsky, one of these abused children, finally became as brave as young Alex is told to be in the film: he dares in his film to take on all of those issues, to speak freely about love and sex, fascism and communism and sorrow and pain and happiness, and to make his personal circus travel the world with brilliance.

My 2000th blog post!

The Strange Little Cat (2013, Ramon Zurcher)

Kinda impossible to describe this movie or why it’s so great. Because of the title the viewer pays close attention to the often-seen family cat, which isn’t all that strange. The family isn’t strange either, gathering for a large meal, mostly appearing without being given names or specific relations. The movie is strange, though, with its easygoing, playful and pleasant nature, and sudden bursts of string music and unusual cutting/framing sometimes making me expect intrigue.

Dissolve calls it “a beautiful, mysterious, beguiling cinematic doodle, and an absolute master class in mise-en-scène, unfolding in odd, fragmented frames and precisely choreographed movement within those frames,” and Mike D’Angelo calls it “the rare film that offers a new way of looking at the everyday world.” Zurcher’s first film, actually his student film, begun at a workshop with Bela Tarr.

J. Kiang:

Unlike many puzzles that tease solutions but never deliver, here the film becomes more engaging as time goes on, so that by the end our attention was unexpectedly rapt. .. In this mini-universe that refers only to itself (imagine a non-creepy Dogtooth), it’s the viewer who’s the weirdo, trying to apply patterns that simply don’t fit, onto a system that abides by its own unseen logic instead.

M. Sicinski’s commentary in Cinema Scope is the best I’ve found.

A visual inventory of various key objects… goes quite a ways toward explaining Zürcher’s somewhat mysterious title. The interlude is not just a clarification, as if one were needed at this point, that objects in and of themselves are the true subjects of The Strange Little Cat (another point of contact with Tati, Bresson, and Ozu); it also represents a clearing of the decks of human dominance, so that we can witness something we might call “feline time.” The cat sees these things, but they have no meaning for her. Rather, they are both foreign (pure entities with no known use value) and absolutely familiar (part of her “turf”).