Dear Basketball (2017, Glen Keane)

The most beautiful hand-drawn animation, illustrating Kobe Bryant’s motivational(?) essay about loving basketball all his life. The animation >>>> the words. My writeup is late as usual, so the winners are in, and now Kobe Bryant has more competitive oscars than Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Altman, Sam Fuller, Howard Hawks, Spike Lee, Wes Anderson, Terrence Malick, Abbas Kiarostami, Robert Bresson and Agnès Varda combined.

Negative Space (2017, Ru Kuwahata & Max Porter)

Poem about a guy who only knew his dad through helping him pack for trips, with a stinger joke at dad’s funeral. Poem > animation > movie. French short with a weak English voiceover… even though this didn’t work for me, the directors have three other shorts which I’m tempted to seek out.

Lou (2017, Dave Mullins)

Pixar’s entry – it must’ve played in front of Cars 3. “Lou” is a sentient lost-and-found box which sets out to reform the schoolyard bully. Funny that we got two lost-and-found shorts in the same program this year. The first writer/director credit for Mullins, who is credited on features dating back to Monsters, Inc. (and Bjork’s Hunter video!).

Revolting Rhymes, Part 1 (2016, Jakob Schuh & Jan Lachauer)

The long one – first half of a sixty-minute fairy-tale mashup TV-movie from the team behind Room on the Broom, so I dunno why it technically counts as a short. The animation is more functional than the Pixar, but I got into it – these two probably tie as my faves. Interweaving stories of Red Riding Hood and Snow White with some Three Little Pigs at the end, as narrated by a vengeful big bad wolf. The credits went by too quickly so I don’t know who Dominic West played, but this is already the second movie I’ve seen with him at The Ross this year.

Garden Party (2017, MOPA)

Beautiful 3D work of frogs in a garden, gradually revealing the sordid scene around them – a trashed mansion with a body in the pool. Made as a final project by six French animation students.

Lost Property Office (2017, Daniel Agdag)

Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’. Cityscape in lovely stop-motion reminds of More with its sepia-toned conformity. Guy at the Lost Property Office has spent the last eighteen years constructing wonderful things out of the lost property instead of making any attempt to return it to original owners, and after a suicide fakeout when he’s fired, he breaks out to glorious freedom. Writer/director/animator/DP/designer/editor Agdag is best known for making wonderful sculptures out of cardboard.

Weeds (2017, Kevin Hudson)

Dandelions on dry ground seek a better life for their children. It’s a metaphor! One nice shot of a dandelion head exploding into fluffy seeds, otherwise a clunky time-filler. The director has done effects for movies from Darkman and Cast a Deadly Spell to John Carter.

Achoo (2018, ESMA)

Another one by six different French people. There should be more cartoons about flying dragons, at least, but this was a groaner of a cartoon leading to “and that’s how fireworks were invented”. At least this was better than the interstitial pieces in between the main shorts about a hungry little guy and the oaf who keeps trying to help him. I hated these, but they cracked up my fellow moviegoers.

“What is line?” Took a while to realize that this isn’t actually a comedy – it’s a dramatization of Greg Sestero’s book, and so the adventures of Good Guy Greg who gets pulled into this madcap craziness by his nutty friend. Having seen Retro Puppet Master, I would never choose to watch a Greg Sestero biopic… James Franco’s hilarious Tommy Wiseau impression and the bewildered professionals played by Seth Rogen and Paul Scheer kept me from turning it off, and the closing titles sequence reveals this film’s reason for existing, as they split-screen the original film with perfectly timed re-enactment scenes. They’re all big goofy fans of The Room and wanted to feel what it’s like to make their own Room.

I’d been calling this Hellraiser 9, deciding the 2011 semi-reboot Revelations shouldn’t count, but then, do any of them count? Everything since part two has been direct-to-video fan-fiction. It’s time to admit there will never be another good Hellraiser (but it’s not time to stop watching the damned things, juuuust in case). At any rate, it was funny to watch this immediately after the comic book bondage movie.

Getting a lotta mileage out of those hipster lightbulbs:

New director Tunnicliffe wrote Revelations, has been doing makeup and effects since the Candyman / Hellraiser III days, and has written in a talkative new cenobite called The Auditor, played by himself. “I loathe the modern world.” Auditor and the new Pinhead (Rainn Wilson’s dad in Super) seem to be complaining about internet pornography, to which their solution is a sin-confession house populated by a sin-eater (The Assessor: Clu Gulager’s son), three half-naked women, and a leather gimp with skin-removal blades. I replayed the opening dialogue a few times, and it’s not clear why this house is an improved soul-harvesting mechanism – because nobody plays with puzzle boxes anymore?

While they do their Hostel/Saw torture house routine, our hero Sean “Jay-Z” Carter (Damon Carney of a Hitcher remake) is a burned-out cop pretending to track down a Se7en-style serial killer. After a while the only characters are him, his straightlaced brother (Randy Wayne of bowling horror The 13th Alley) and newly assigned detective Alexandra Harris (of lake house murder movie Rising Tides), so I figured one of them must be the serial killer, and it’s Sean. Sean being the lead detective on his own case means nobody has appreciated all the literature references he’s peppered among the killer’s crazy notes, or even bothered to google their sources until the brother discovers an out-of-copyight novel with a familiar line highlit.

Cop brothers:

Hell brothers:

The days of an obsessed doctor tricking a puzzle-genius girl into opening the hellbox in part two are long behind us – in this one, a panicked cop with a gun to his head figures it out in three seconds (I noted it took seven in Deader). We get dialogue callbacks about the sights to show you and the weeping Jesus, and for some reason, a repeated Clockwork Orange reference and a Nightmare on Elm Street actress cameo.

I always knew Jenna Maroney was an angel:

In the end, a heavenly angel with bouncy hair arrives to rescue the serial killer from demons (this is some nonsense like the internet pornography thing) then he is immediately shot to death by the Lady Detective. Pinhead has some fun with the angel, tearing her apart with his chains in the usual way, then she banishes him from demonic reign and he wakes up as some mortal loser living on the street. On one hand, I couldn’t care less about any of this, and on the other, I hope there’s another movie really soon (make a good one this time!).

I lose track of who’s supposed to be dead at the end of the previous movies, but Loki is alive all through this one, Odin (Anthony Hopkins with an eyepatch) dies here, unleashing Thor’s evil sister Cate Blanchett from interdimensional prison, she’s presumably dead at the end of this since she gets her power from the planet and it’s destroyed by Ragnarok, and Thor is ok at the end, with a new hammer, now wearing an eyepatch like his dad, but they also said his power comes from the planet so I dunno if that’ll be important in later movies. Almost everyone on Asgard dies, including the warrior who becomes a lackey for Cate (Karl Urban: Bones in the new Star Treks), but Idris Elba and some refugees make it onto a spaceship.

So, Thor gets stranded hammer-less on a planet run by game-show-master Jeff Goldblum, teams up with a reluctant Tessa Thompson (the last Valkyrie) and a reluctant Loki, and a very reluctant Hulk, who somehow also ended up here, to steal a ship, fleeing an army led by Rachel House (social services in Hunt for the Wilderpeople) and return to Asgard to fight the rogue sister.

Other highlights: Bruce Banner wanders around confused in a Duran Duran t-shirt, the director plays a hilarious rock monster, Hopkins is entertained by a royal play starring Luke Hemsworth, Matt Damon and Sam Neill as Thor/Loki/Odin, the fun bright colors, the makeup and headgear and some mythic shots that are composed like religious paintings. Mostly we came for Guardians-style entertainment, and this totally delivered – seems like the most rewatchable of the Avengers movies.

Sam Neill as Anthony Hopkins:

I thought we were seeing a one-off screening of a movie that had bypassed our town in limited release, but it turns out perhaps it was an advance screening, and it’ll open here eventually? Either way, if cult movies still exist, this one would appear to qualify. It’s got the photography of those stark, perfectly-lit black-and-white Eurasian films (see also: The Virgin Spring, The Turin Horse, Hard to be a God) blending mythology with harsh reality, a romantic love story with devil-dealing – plus ghosts that turn into giant chickens, and farming implements (and snowmen) possessed with slave souls. And humor!

I think it’s director Sarnet’s third feature – his last one was a Dostoevsky adaptation. Gratified that I didn’t recognize Baron Dieter Laser from the other shit I’ve seen him in.

Veronica is injured in her sexual encounter with the tentacle beast, visits the hospital, where medic Fabian wants to help find the “dog” that bit her. The medic’s sister is Ale, whose shitty husband Angel has bad sex with her, and later, more aggressive sex with her brother. So far every other scene is a sex scene, and we’ve just decided to ignore that the movie opened with a tentacle beast…

“It’s going to like you.” The older couple who house the tentacle beast suggest Veronica take a break, so she brings the medic, who is later found beaten almost to death in a field. Evidence of Angel’s affair and his homophobic rage are found on his phone, and he’s off to jail. To console her for her losses, Ale is introduced to the tentacle beast. “What’s there in the cabin is our primitive side in its most basic and purest state – materialized.”

Angel’s out on bail or something, I forget, decides to pack a gun and visit his wife, where he attacks her then clumsily shoots himself in the leg. She loads him into the truck and takes him to visit the tentacle beast, and the next we see, his and Veronica’s bodies are being dumped in a ditch. Obviously we’ve got some major Possession influence, but there’s a bit of Under the Skin weirdness, Staying Vertical omnisexual frankness, and I thought I felt some Cosmos in there somewhere. Escalante’s fourth feature (I also heard good things about Heli) – he tied with Konchalovskiy for best director in Venice.

Pretty straightforward biopic of Wonder Woman and lie detector inventor Marston, his wife and their live-in lover… a solidly-made film with good performances. Usually “solidly-made with good performances” isn’t much of a recommendation for me, but it’s also thrilling that something this deviant played in the months between Wonder Woman and Fifty Shades Freed at the Grand, where I’m always subjected to trailers for Dennis Quaid Christian dramas. Seems a bit slow/long at times, but it’s covering ideas as well as incidents, and allowing each one the breathing space to feel natural so the characters don’t come across as sexy weirdos. Luke Evans (the documentarian in High-Rise) and Rebecca Hall (Christine) are the Marstons and Bella Heathcote (an evil model in The Neon Demon) is his teaching assistant who gets invited into their marriage long-term, though they have to keep it quiet since this is the 1940’s. From the writer/director of D.E.B.S., which I’ve been mildly wanting to watch for over a decade now.

Winnie-the-Pooh (1969 Fyodor Khitruk)

The A.A. Milne books made it to Russia, but the Disney film versions did not, so Khitruk’s team removed Christopher Robin and imagined their own versions of Pooh and Piglet for a series of shorts. In this first one, Pooh fails to score some honey by masquerading as a small black cloud, all against charmingly hand-drawn backgrounds with lots of singing.

Winnie-the-Pooh Pays a Visit (1971 Fyodor Khitruk)

I love the voices so much in these. Pooh and Piglet visit their friend Rabbit to scam some food off him. Rabbit has exceedingly good manners, so keeps feeding his guests until Pooh can’t fit through the doorway to leave.

Curses (2016 Jodie Mack)

First light confetti blows across a white background, then it gets ever more complex, introducing different swirl patterns, until finally the last section is a rotoscoped dance swirl animation against color-strobe backgrounds. This is all a music video to an upbeat piano-rock song by Roommate (“I sing my curses in reverse and what’s worse, no one notices”). Happy flashbacks to Jeff Scher.

Blanket Statement No. 1: Home Is Where The Heart Is (2012, Jodie Mack)

Blankets, I guess… rapid stop-motion shots of fabric panels, swirling about. Only three minutes, but with more colors and patterns per second than any other film. The chirpy bloop ‘n crackle audio sounds like when I hit fast-forward on the minidisc player. Katy disapproved, said they’re not even blankets.

Blanket Statement No. 2 (2013, Jodie Mack)

Knit rows of varying colors, washing past the camera in patterns that look like abstract computer graphics, then flickering gradually to black, and back into colorful rows, the audio like the road noise in an 8-bit motorcycle racing game.

Lost Camel Intentions (1988, Lewis Klahr)

Transformation journey of a guy from skeleton airplane pilot to male silhouette balloonist to his final form: a photo of a Monty-Python-looking mustache dude against a series of automobiles. I suppose if you’re Lewis Klahr, people bring up Monty Python to you an awful lot. This was the first part of a series called Tales of the Forgotten Future which I’m not finishing right now because it kinda looks like low-detail VHS and I can find better-looking Klahr works elsewhere.

A Wish for Monsters (2012)

Forgot I’d done this… I ran the trailer for Gareth Edwards’ Monsters and the first few minutes of A Wish for Wings That Work on top of each other, setting one semi-transparent, and submitted it for Shorts Club one month.

Agnès Varda goes on one of her journeys around France, looking up old friends and making new ones, but this time she’s got JR, a photographer who likes to make gigantic portraits and paste them onto walls and other surfaces. This is pretty much the best thing in the world. Photographed: a mechanized farmer who enjoys his solitude, factory workers, dock workers’ wives, a shy waitress, the last remaining resident of row houses for miners, one of Agnès’s late friends, a whole town picnic. Agnès tries to introduce JR to his sunglasses style predecessor, some ex-filmmaker, but they get stood up. Besides that one hiccup, it’s a magical trip.