Hola, amigos. I know it’s been a long time since I rapped at ya, but I got a lot on my plate these days. Running a few months behind on the ol’ blog. Obviously I could quit, but instead let’s rush out some posts based on my sparse notes and weak memories, and hit reset in July. I can always revise the posts when I rewatch these on their decade anniversaries, which I’ll probably do if no more new movies get released after 2019. Using this opportunity to pause and take stock of movies… movies are still good, about twenty of the movies in the backlog were excellent, and I hope to watch more movies in the future.
A very long, bizarre movie, feels like the script was written by a distracted conspiracy theorist then it was was filmed completely straightfaced by dedicated (but low-budget) actors and craftsmen armed with heavy giallo lighting.
Opens with a massive fake rant about yuppie culture on 60 Minutes, then our man Trent sees himself inside the TV preview for The Hand That Rocks The Cradle. Outside, a maniac in a hairpiece is wrapping a dead woman in foil. I think this is Trent’s brother, but Trent complains to his wife about “your brother-in-law,” which is a strange way to refer to your own brother. After the brother(-in-law) sexually harasses a woman whose Secret Service ex-boyfriend then runs him over repeatedly in an alley while a lumpy pink alien look on, I realized I needed to let go of basic things like the characters’ identities and relationships.
“Get her some coffee, some cocaine, anything left over from the 80’s.” If the Mr. Robot guy can win an oscar for portraying Freddie Mercury, then Damon Packard can fill his movie with sub-cable actors and claim they’re major celebrities. Julia Roberts crashes on Trent’s couch for six months, Sade rehearses next to Rush, a hitman is sent after Bono, Dick Cheney takes orders from Johnny Carson’s band leader Doc Severinsen, William Friedkin gets mad that nobody wants to see his movie The Guardian, and Janet Jackson is married to one of Trent’s fellow Illuminati members.
This is all aimed at people slightly older than me, who saw Sleeping With the Enemy in theaters and got upset when Rush rapped on a 1991 single. Have I mentioned that it’s long? Every scene goes on for a small eternity, with repetitive dialogue, though sometimes the sound mixer will amuse himself by randomly pitch-shifting an actor, or blatantly dubbing in completely different lines, or an actor’s face will get Black Hole Sunned. The song Ice Ice Baby is being used for mind control, the movie New Jack City sparks riots (the rioters simply chanting “new jack city!”)… even this movie has multiple titles. The whole vibe is cool and unusual, chase scenes through empty Hollywood streets in the middle of the night with 1991 movie posters photoshopped onto the billboards, cheap direct-to-video effects combined with creative production design and an indecipherable story. I’ve long been tempted to rent Packard’s Reflections of Evil, which sounds similarly demented (but is very, very long); there’s also the 1982-set sci-fi feature Foxfur, the hour-long SpaceDisco One, and the twenty minute fake-trailer Dawn of an Evil Millennium, and I should watch all of these – even if they’re “bad,” they’re also exactly the kinds of movies I always aspired to make.
“The world has become more Wellesian… things seem exaggerated.” The narration is written as a letter to the late Orson, and I thought this might get too cutesy, then I recalled that I never get tired of listening to Mark Cousins. He emulates Welles’ camera moves as he did in The Story of Film. Welles took a trip to Ireland to paint in the early 1930’s, then Morocco, and Cousins shows the evolution of his sketches, travels to these places himself and films them in the present day. He ties the films to the radio plays, to the paintings, to international politics. It’s a cradle-to-grave career bio-doc like I’ve never seen, integrating the life with the art, half a rich analysis and half a love poem.
Black Sheep (Ed Perkins)
A true/falsey one, with interviews and re-enactments shot in the neighborhood where the story takes place. A British kid is moved into the countryside by his African-born parents where he encounters life-threatening racism and adapts by bleaching his skin, making friends with his tormentors and becoming one of them.
End Game (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman)
The best of the bunch, focused on patients in varying states of mobility with varying family situations, all with terminal illnesses and only weeks or months to live. This is San Francisco, and the terminal patients are given palliative care (treating only the pain, since the symptoms are determined to be incurable) and told to make their peace. It’s a movie, so you know one of them is gonna beat the odds – they don’t. The directors are old-school – Epstein made The Times of Harvey Milk, and Friedman collaborated with him on The Celluloid Closet, Paragraph 175, and a Linda Lovelace biopic starring Amanda Seyfried.
A Night at the Garden (Marshall Curry)
Stock footage of a well-attended 1939 pro-nazi rally at Madison Square Garden. The movie gives little context, just plays around with slow-motion, inviting us to research the rest, so here goes. As I’m writing this, yesterday was the event’s 80th anniversary, and a few days ago the film was projected onto the side of MSG. The man rushing the stage was a Jewish plumber named Isadore Greenbaum, and the speaker was the German-born Fritz Kuhn, leader of a Hitler-worshipping group called the Bund. In the aftermath, Greenbaum was ordered to pay a $25 fine for causing a disturbance. Kuhn was investigated for stealing from his own organization, arrested at the end of ’39, and would spend the rest of his life in various prisons. Curry previously made a Cory Booker doc, a kart-racing doc, and a look inside the Earth Liberation Front.
Lifeboat (Skye Fitzgerald)
Following the (late) captain of a German rescue boat that tries to pick up Libyan refugees from their leaky lifeboats. Spends a couple minutes “putting a human face on the global refugee crisis” by interviewing rescued Libyans, the rest of the time on rescue operations with the crew, and reminds you that the world is completely horrible. Katy said it reminded her of Fire at Sea, which is not a good thing. The director works regularly on issues docs – acid attacks on women, unexploded landmines in Cambodia, the Syrian civil war, and a new one on gun violence.
Period. End of Sentence. (Rayka Zehtabchi)
After the racism, death, nazis and desperation, it was lovely to end on this story of community women outside Delhi working to manufacture and distribute sanitary pads. Much fun is had discussing the forbidden topic of menstruation, and they have dreams of conquering the country and improving women’s lives, but I became annoyed upon realizing that the movie is an advertisement. A feature came out the same year on the same topic, called Padman.
Bao (Domee Shi)
We’d already seen this before Incredibles 2, but our audience must’ve missed that, and found it hilarious.
Late Afternoon (Louise Bagnall)
The obvious artistic achievement in the bunch, smoothly following patterns and colors into memory holes, a fanciful visualization of an Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother’s thoughts while her daughter is tidying up. Louise is from Ireland, worked on Song of the Sea.
Animal Behaviour (Alison Snowden & David Fine)
I don’t recall Bob & Margaret having writing this obvious, but I do recall this sort of thing being done to death in other animated shorts, including some by Snowden & Fine’s former employer Aardman. Group therapy session with different types of animals ends when a rampaging ape can’t control his anger issues.
Weekends (Trevor Jimenez)
Good editing and visual details, but it’s also the third movie in a half hour to feature dream logic while telling a story about strained relationships between parents and kids. Boy lives with his mom who is pulling her life together, spends weekends in dad’s super cool apartment. I saw the director’s noirish Key Lime Pie a decade ago.
One Small Step (Andrew Chesworth & Bobby Pontillas)
And here’s the fourth, minus the dream logic. I think someone on the academy nominating board had just lost a parent and was feeling very emotional about this subject. Katy said this one was a by-the-numbers Pixar-style story – girl is raised by her shoe repairman dad, is failing to achieve her dream of becoming an astronaut, but gives it another go after dad dies.
Wishing Box (Wenli Zhang & Nan Li)
The jokey, cartoony one – pirate recovers a seemingly empty box that contains whatever his pet monkey wants it to. The monkey finally figures out that his master wants gold coins, and pulls out enough to sink their ship, yuk yuk.
Tweet Tweet (Zhanna Bekmambetova)
Extremely Metaphorical, person walking the Tightrope of Life, growing up, falling in love, losing her husband to the war, and still trudging ever forward, attended constantly by a cutie little bird.
Any Virgin Left Alive (2015)
A rude reimagining of the death of Joan of Arc (Elina Löwensohn). Only her eyes are burned, and she roams the battlefields in a metal mask, capturing and tormenting a young woman.
Our Lady of Hormones (2014)
Two women come across a hairy, fleshy creature with a penile protuberance, squabble over its ownership and care. Löwensohn is eventually murdered with a sickle by Nathalie Richard (the great dancer from Up, Down, Fragile). These shorts have the Argento-Maddin coloring of The Wild Boys, and are similarly perverse fun. Narration by Michel Piccoli (currently his most recent credit), making this the Mandico film with the highest percentage of Rivette actors.
Living Still Life (2012)
A woman finds dead animals and poses them obsessively in stop-motion scenarios, stalked by a grieving man. Great sound and music and color, a perfect short, docked a couple points since I’ve recently seen A Zed and Two Noughts.
Ultra Pulpe (2018)
“I am the most hated filmmaker of my generation, the tribal pornographer, the scavenger of the genre. Who will remember me?” Absolute madness involving women and other creatures on a film set. Pascale Granel shot everything else I’ve seen by Mandico, now Sylvain Verdet takes over… I don’t know either of them from anything else, just trying to keep up. Löwensohn and Richard are joined by Lola Créton (Bastards), two of the Wild Boys, and (as actors) the costume designer of Knife+Heart and Michael Haneke’s casting director.
This was about as good as I’d heard. If you’re gonna film a story about broke sadsacks who slide into crime out of desperation, get caught, turn on each other and end up worse off than ever, it helps to cast charismatic comedians in the lead roles so it’s a breeze to watch and the awfulness doesn’t hit you until the end. People are saying Richard E. Grant should win the oscar for this, but I disagree – he should win the oscar for playing Jessa’s coked-out rehab buddy on Girls season 3. The first Melissa McCarthy movie I’ve seen since Go twenty years ago, though I’ve liked her on Gilmore Girls. I had a chuckle when Melissa McCarthy’s lawyer turned out to be an actual demon (Shawn from The Good Place). Heller’s follow-up to Diary of a Teenage Girl, cowritten by The Land of Steady Habits director Nicole Holofcener.
The second half reveals that Bradley Cooper’s washed-up drunk suicidal 1970’s jam-dude was the lead character all along, bumming out a movie that we thought would be more about the giddy excitement of Lady Gaga’s rise to stardom. She’s an amateur from nowhere with a golden voice, but being a pop singer in 2018 requires choreography and shitty beats, so Cooper loves and marries her but still gets to be the guy who keeps it real, commenting on her false costumes and dance moves, then goes back to barking indecipherable lyrics over Neilyoungian jams (backed by Neil’s band Promise of the Real).
Despite the Cooper obsession, it’s a well-paced beauty of a movie that seems to exist for that one song/scene, Gaga revealed to be far more talented than her work in Machete Kills hinted at. The camera dives and swoops through the rock concert scenes, Sam Elliott is cool as ever, and it’s not until the closing credits that we stop to wonder what Andrew Dice Clay and Dave Chappelle were doing in a movie together.
The end of a week catching up with True/False films, beginning with Black Mother. I watched most of this at the airport – inconvenient since I kept having to lift my jaw off the dirty floor. Very happy to learn that Mads has a new shit-stirring movie and we’ll be seeing it next week in Columbia.
“Comedy is the soft spot of all dictatorships.” A group of antifascist subversive Danish comedians takes an official visit to to North Korea with the stated goal of playing Wonderwall with local kids as a cultural exchange. Their purposely terrible musical-comedy act is hijacked by a local cultural director, who “surgically removes” anything cultural and changes their entire act into something just as unfunny but somehow more politically palatable. Meanwhile, Mads has come as a spy, to shine a light on a hated, repressive system. His secret weapon is Jacob, whose physical disability makes his Danish impossible to understand by the censors and translators, but Jacob becomes tormented by all the duplicity. They end up in a parade on national TV cursing the U.S. imperialists, manage to play Wonderwall once, then get the hell out of there.