Opens on a mining accident in Ethiopia… camera goes inside a dark gem, though the cosmos and out of Adam Sandler’s ass (rivaling the ants transition in The Human Surge), spends a couple hours following his final few days, back into his body through a fatal bullet hole and into the gem-cosmos. The movie itself is almost a horror, in that you’re watching a character make every bad decision and you want to scream at him to chill out, but it’s also a thrill to see where this many bad decisions will lead… and the thing is, both of Howard’s big gambling bets are winners, but his history of fuckups conspire to rob him of the rewards.

Halfway through the Skandies and already three acting awards: for first time actors Kevin Garnett (as himself, but still) and Keith Williams Richards as Arno’s raspy-voiced tough-guy… and on the opposite side of the showbiz spectrum, Frozen star Idina Menzel, as Howard’s soon-to-be-ex wife, who delivered the line to Adam Sandler that drew applause at my screening: “I think you are the most annoying person I have ever met.” I assume that Sandler is due for a Skandie, and if his brother-in-law/loanshark Arno (Special Effects star Eric Bogosian) and his employee/girlfriend who makes off with the cash at the end (Julia Fox, another first-timer – Matthew Eng wrote about her perfectly in Reverse Shot) aren’t coming up, they must’ve just missed. Good Time still has the edge, but this was great.

Watched it huge, up front at the Tara.

I abandoned the Harry Potter series after part five (a movie I accurately predicted I would soon forget) so Emma Watson is just vaguely familiar to me. Florence Pugh is a revelation, and I’ve still got Midsommar and The Little Drummer Girl to catch up with. “Poor, doomed Beth, who dies, as she always does” is Eliza Scanlen of Sharp Objects and the next Antonio Campos picture. My only note: book editor Tracy Letts and paterfamilias Bob Odenkirk could’ve switched roles.

A Three Kingdoms adaptation, but the third kingdom must’ve been cut for time. The Shadow is Deng Chao (star of The Mermaid), trained as a public replacement for the military commander (also Deng Chao) hidden in a Parasite basement. Their boss is Pei king Zheng Kai (The Ex-Files trilogy) and their wife is Sun Li (Chao’s real wife, the blind girl in Fearless) and it’s not always clear who’s fooling who. Anyway, the shadow starts a fight with the next city over, and before the neighbors can strike, Pei launches a sneak attack featuring their new umbrella-based weaponry.

Only a pretty good royal-intrigue movie, for the most part – too many stabbings with exaggerated SHINNNNG-SPLORT! sound effects – but with a couple of inimitable Zhang touches. The assault on the rival kingdom begins with Pei fighters skating down a hill inside twin bladed umbrellas, deflecting enemy fire and shooting crossbows from inside their spinning shields, and continues with their new dueling technique: dodging enemy blows with a feminine umbrella sway. Then there’s the visual design, with complex black and white patterns and explicit yin-yang effects.

After a solid Loch Ness Monster open, the movie spends ten long minutes watching men with big egos converse in fancy rooms, and never really recovers. I mean it’s an overall good time, and Hugh Jackman does better as the explorer than most celebrity voice actors can manage – it’s just a hard comedown after Laika’s masterpiece Kubo. The missing link is lonely, writes a letter to summon a famous adventurer, they collect a bustley Zoe Saldana and go on adventures, chased at times by bounty hunters, rival explorers and a race of abominable snowmen. Mostly we came for the armatures, which were just fabulous. What cool dude was in charge of all those armatures?

Darkness/Light/Darkness (1989 Jan Svankmajer)

I’ve seen stills from this, but somehow never watched it before. Peak Svankmajer claymation, a human gradually assembled from pieces entering a cramped apartment, including a dumb dick joke.

Won an award at Berlin alongside a Petrov short, a Bruno Bozzetto animation, The Asthenic Syndrome and, oh, Driving Miss Daisy. One of Svank’s final shorts, post-Alice, before he turned exclusively to features.


Prometheus’ Garden (1988 Bruce Bickford)

The Svankmajer turned out to be a gentle Claymation intro course compared to this batshit epic. Like a long, vaguely narrative music video, with no fixed sense of scale or permanence of scene or set or character. Watched in SD, would be amazing to see in a larger format

Casual synth-rock on the soundtrack… in the machine-gun massacre scene, I appreciated the use of outer-space raygun effects instead of ratatatat.

Apparently unreleased for twenty years until it came out on a 2008 DVD. RIP 2019 Bruce – I need to dig up his final feature Cas’l and the other doc about him, Monster Road.


Printed Rainbow (2006 Gitanjali Rao)

Gramma lives a dreary, blurry b/w Rear Window existence until she opens a case full of colorful matchbooks and experiences an open-eyed smiley-faced adventure in crisp color fantasy. The b/w segments are in that smeary, charcoaly style where it appears that each frame is partially erased, the next frame drawn on top of it, leaving a smudge trail behind the action…OR ELSE it wasn’t animated that way at all, and my digital copy needed more keyframes. Kinda not my thing, but the ending is pretty good, and you can’t laugh off the dedication “to my mother and her cat.”

Rao also acts, appeared in a Seven Samurai remake in 1998, and she recently completed a hand-painted animated feature about Bombay’s history with Bollywood.


Old Man and the Sea (1999 Aleksandr Petrov)

Glorious paint or watercolor, with such good light and water and cloud – made for imax! English dialogue, new agey music. Shades of the Monk when he becomes one with the Fish. Won a ton of awards including the oscar – fellow winners that year were Sam Mendes, All About My Mother, The Matrix and Phil Collins.


The House of Small Cubes (2008 Kunio Kato)

Another old man in the sea, also beautiful. Dystopian story of a rising flood, building a new house atop the old one every few years, losing more items and people with each story. Hunched old man lives alone at the top, takes a diving expedition through his past.

Kato is my age, has made a bunch more shorts. This one won the oscar too, beating that great undertaker short and one of my favorite Pixars, with fellow winners Penelope Cruz, the late Heath Ledger, Danny Boyle, A.R. Rahman, Benjamin Button’s makeup artists, WALL-E, and Man on Wire.

Part of the same Landmark series where we caught For Sama – this one was much less bloody and despairing. Beekeeper has enough to deal with, uneven harvests and pricing and sales, an ailing mother, before a swarm of neighbors arrives one season and ruins everything. The movie only gets better the more you read about its making, though I can’t find the article that said the nomad family threw stones at the camera crew for the first few weeks. Nominated for two oscars tonight – I don’t know its chances, just hope Hatidze was flown in from Macedonia and given one of those $215k gift bags.

There is so much going on in this movie. In the beginning, a sink is dripping with stop-motion paper drops, which turn into fullscreen water collaged from paper, which zooms out to a flickering series of motivational posters on an office wall, then back into the flickering water upon which sails a poster-paper boat as the rhythm of the water drops begins to build into an autobiographical theme song – this is the first minute of a 40-minute movie.

Mack uses posters and packaging, markers and sales sheets, posters and shelves and office supplies, posters and boxes of posters, the parking lot and fluorescent lights, and just when it couldn’t get any more wonderful, her mom enters the movie, sped-up and stop-motioned, as Jodie sings about the family’s failed poster business as a homemade parody of Pink Floyd’s Money.

It ends in psychedelic mania, as it must, and meanwhile, it’s one of the most inventive, poignant and personal “experimental” films I’ve ever seen. Katy liked this more than The Grand Bizarre – probably same, but I’d like to see TGB again. Interesting that Cinema Scope had more to say about each of her 3 to 10-minute shorts than this longer piece, will have to watch a few of those and revisit the article.


Persian Pickles (2012, Jodie Mack)

We also watched this 3-minute short from her vimeo page, all rapid-fire textiles with curved patterns, like swimming swirling fishies. Surprised by the audio, a typical a/g noise track sounding like bassy factory robots conversing over staticky phone lines, considering the sound in her features is so fresh and upbeat.

Our first movie of 2020 was this hazy, ghostly thing. Ada is being tailed by Detective Issa, who suspects her of setting fire to her new husband Omar’s house, but at night Issa is being possessed by the spirit of Ada’s lover Souleiman who died at sea seeking work in a country that didn’t constantly rip him off.

Great synth music by Fatima Al Qadiri, who has released records on Warp and Hyperdub, and cinematography by Claire Mathon, who shot both the Guiraudie movies I’ve seen, and is currently winning awards for Portrait of a Lady on Fire. No screenshots because we cancelled netflix since watching.

Final movie watched in the 2010’s. I rewatched Orpheus near the beginning of the decade, and it took me this long to get to the next one. Meant to watch the trilogy closer together, then go through the Lucien Clergue book, but instead it took 15 years and I don’t have the book handy, think it’s in storage. I did find The Eagle Has Two Heads and The Human Voice and The Difficulty of Being, the last of which was written in 1957, so has no wisdom about the making of this film. But like this film, the 1957 book seems very precious and big-headed about the magic powers of Jean’s great poetry.

A semi-sequel, opening with a clip from the end of Orpheus with the dialogue silenced, Jean ends up stepping inside his own film and interacting with his characters Princess Maria Casares and her accomplice Heurtebise. They’ve put Jean on trial for something or other, and this conversation eats up 25 minutes of an 80-minute movie, erasing the memory of the beautiful silence of the opening scene with constant chatter. The underworld actors look terrific at all times, at least. Jean puts himself in the position of being defensive about his art – when you are this explicit about the nature and intent of poetry, it ceases to be poetic. When he first entered the world of his previous film, I thought this is some Beaches of Agnes / Simon Cinema stuff, but this centerpiece trial feels more like an Orpheus DVD extra.

Before the trial, a bewigged time-traveling Jean visits a professor at four times in his life: as a schoolboy (Jean-Pierre Leaud! This played Cannes exactly a year after The 400 Blows), as a baby and a dying old man, and finally the active doctor he’s seeking. He follows a horse-headed man, rediscovers his Orphic character Cégeste, then to the trial, where he gives the best line to another character: “He is a poet, which makes him indispensable, though I don’t know what for.” I liked the lack of set dressing, shooting in an undressed studio and against ancient/timeless walls covered in modern graffiti. Into a Kafkaesque underworld ruled by Yul Brynner, where Jean is javelinned to death then reborn.

From Cocteau’s essay reprinted for the Criterion discs, it seems he intended Orpheus to be the narrative centerpiece between two less-narrative films. And more than those other two, this one was filmed on intuition:

Often, while making the film, I understood so little of what I was producing that I was tempted to call it absurd and to cut it out. At those times, I forced myself to condemn my own judgment and to tell myself that if the film wanted it that way to begin with, it must have had its reasons, or that reason had nothing to do with it.

The essay has one thing in common with The Difficulty of Being: shitting on French audiences, “where every member of an individualistic crowd puts up an instinctive resistance to what is offered him,” for not appreciating poetry and fantasy in cinema. Shot by Roland Pontoizeau, a Resnais associate who’d worked on Le chant du Styrène – the DP of Orpheus was off working with Melville and Rohmer.