(adapted from an email to Neil)

Yesterday, Katy and I went out to a VIP opening of a guitar-based art exhibit cosponsored by my company. I brushed against St. Vincent’s guitar, and the one Jack White made in that documentary and one Cobain played on the In Utero tour, and a bunch of musicians and guitar-company bigwigs who I didn’t recognize so tomorrow I’ll ask Steve who they all were.

Anyways, Jarmusch has a new movie called The Dead Don’t Die, which is a star-studded zombie comedy three weeks into its three-week run in Atlanta, so we recruited everyone we know to go see it after the museum thing, and lemme tell ya, it’s not a good movie by any criteria, but it’s surely interesting. Casting Tilda Swinton to play a sword-wielding mortician from outer space (via Scotland) is interesting, as are all the third-wall-breaking references to the movie’s script and theme song and other films the cast members have starred in, and the decision to kill all the main characters, and the constant swipes at hipsters and materialism – none of it works, but it’s interesting. Afterwards, Katy said I’ve now picked two movies in a row which sucked, but at least the Jarmusch movie sucks in unique new ways. His odd, slow pacing and his tendency to comically overemphasize things worked for the vampire movie and his very dry comedies, but fights against the wacky mayhem here.

It’s extremely typical in a zombie movie to make a joking George Romero reference, so someone is driving the same model car as in Night of the Living Dead (and the metaphorical comparison of zombies to shopping-mall consumers is swiped from Romero’s Dawn of the Dead), and it’s typical in any self-aware graveyard-set auteur comedy to reference other filmmakers via gravestones, so Zombie Iggy Pop crawls out of a grave marked Samuel Fuller… and the references get more obscure from there… Jarmusch names his town after the one from Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels

Then there’s a scene near the end where Caleb Landry Jones and Danny Glover have barricaded themselves inside a hardware store. It may have been meta-humor, when the zombies finally breach the hardware store, that Jones and Glover, surrounded by weapons, continue their laconic conversation instead of properly defending themselves, and are easily killed by the consumerist swarm. But earlier, they’ve killed a couple of invading zombies whom they recognize… “That’s Dallas and Travis Good… the Good Family… those two brothers were great guitarists… it’s said they were born with guitars in their hands,” they say to each other robotically. I get the Romero and Fuller references, and the Trump joke, and Star Wars stuff, and the ultra-hipster Zappa quote, but why this extended Sadies plug?

And today, pondering all the bizarre choices made in that movie, I realized Jarmusch’s band SQÜRL and the Sadies played the same Hanukkah show in 2017.

Just another Hanukkah show that changed culture forever.

Intense cops-and-robbers movie bouncing between long Tarantino hangout scenes and grossly brutal action, connected by a plot that throws typical movie morals out the window. Zahler’s Haneke-like trolling of his audience is revealed when the climactic bank robbery begins and a new mother who just returned to work is graphically murdered. But most of the movie is spent sympathizing with cops Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn, suspended for being caught taunting and brutalizing a suspect, slowly justifying their turn to crime. These guys are underpaid and oversupervised by paper-pushing weenies, and they’re just stealing from other criminals, so what’s the problem? At least Zahler doesn’t let them get away with it, instead rewarding a younger criminal (Tory Kittles of True Detective and Colony) with a family in need, who is maybe less evil than his compatriots.

“I don’t politic, and I don’t change with the times, and it turns out that shit’s more important than good, honest work.” I still can’t believe they made a racist-cop film and cast Mel Gibson. For all the bad morals and outrage, it’s a hell of a good movie, with better suspense and action than the last two, and at least as good dialogue as Puppet Master 12.

Michael Jai White (above, being dragged across concrete) is Tory’s partner, Udo Kier hooks up the cops with info on the heist crew, Vaughn’s wife from Brawl in Cell Block 99 plays the banker, Fred Melamed her boss, Tattiawna Jones (Keyhole) as Vince’s girl, and Mel’s wife is Laurie Holden, the mom in Pyewacket.

I’ve already covered Random Acts of Flyness and Search Party – here are some others.


The Tick (Serafinowicz version) season 1 (2017)

We’re defining season one as ending on “Cliffhanger!” with Arthur kidnapped by The Terror; half-year hiatuses initiate new seasons in my TV episode accounting. After an episode each I wasn’t sure about either this or Dirk Gently, but this had shorter episodes so it won, and I warmed up to it significantly. I mean just rebooting the cartoon would seem easier, but if they’re gonna keep spending money to put funny actors in cartoonish suits instead, I won’t complain.

Griffin Newman (Arthur) is yet another Search Party actor who’s also in Fort Tilden, a movie I’ve already said I need to watch. Lint is from the Sean Bean remake of The Hitcher, Dot is from the Adam Wingard remake of Blair Witch, and Overkill is from the Reggie Bannister sequel to The Mangler.


Review season 3 (2017)

With only three episodes left to close things up, Forrest is beautifully gifted a chance to make amends for his destructive obsession with reviewing life experiences – and he blows it, left alone and clueless at the end of the show (and the Show).

It looks like Andy Daly has joined Veep, so I don’t have to start watching Silicon Valley to see him again.


The Good Place season 3 (2018)

The team goes back to life/earth, tracked by evil Adam Scott, while Michael visits Doug Forcett and investigates the point system. That’s a poor writeup, we should probably just watch it again.


Archer season 7 (2016)

The “Figgis Agency” season, the group acting as Hollywood private eyes hired by Patton Oswalt to protect a film star (Mary McDonald-Lewis, who played Lady Jaye in the 1980’s). Nice Sunset Boulevard intro scene.


Barry season 1 (2018)

It seemed like overkill to start watching a sadsack hitman comedy when I’m in the middle of Archer, but this show hits new levels of sadsack without ever losing sight of the comedy. Stephen Root as Barry’s handler is the secret weapon from the start, then Henry Winkler shows up as a minor celebrity turned acting teacher. Most unexpected success: the Chechens as Root and Hader’s enemies-turned-partners, especially Anthony Carrigan as NoHo Hank. It’s all dark as hell, introverted Barry finding new friends only to end up having to kill them when they discover who he is.


Nathan For You season 1 (2013)

“I graduated from one of Canada’s top business schools with really good grades.” Nathan is an advisor to small businesses, helping them gain customers by, say, promoting shoplifting, or offering a discount via a rebate that has to be claimed by climbing a mountain and answering a series of riddles. He also does public stunts that can’t be seen as promoting anything, like hiding inside a cigar-store indian to spy on a security guard hidden inside a video game machine, and eventually the show ignores the businesses and gets more about Nathan’s awkward loneliness, looking for love by creating a “fake reality show” inside his fake reality show, and performing a pants-dropping escape act (“I took the judge’s suggestion that I should expose myself to children”). I’ve long heard good things about this show, but didn’t start watching until the True/False connection, Nathan attending this year’s fest with an extended version of the series finale, which I guess I’ll catch after three more seasons.

Body doubles who look “identical” to Nathan:


Mystery Science Theater 3000 season 12: The Gauntlet (2018)

Preeeeeeetty nice.

Kaili Blues (2015)

Watched this on Criterion to see what this Bi Gan guy is about, since Long Day’s Journey had apparently bypassed our city… then it opened the following weekend and we ran out to see it. They’re both set in the same area – Kaili is southeast of Chengdu, halfway to Hong Kong. Both movies center around an epic long take, the camera traveling all over town following a protagonist in pursuit of something. And they both have a slow, dreamy atmosphere. I thought of Tarkovsky more than once, and in the Kaili Blues extras he says watching Stalker changed his feelings about filmmaking, and I thought yes, of course.

Mirrors, watches/timepieces, a “wild man”, and talk of being in a dream. It’s kind of a journey film, as Chen heads to Zhenyuan (a two hour drive, if Chen had a car) to find his nephew. Characters are named Crazy Face and Piss Head, Chen gets rides from a rock band and a bullied guy, fails to deliver a shirt given by his doctor friend, also fails to pick up the nephew, though we’re led to believe the kid is fine. But there are ghosts and doubles along the way, subtle suggestions that we’ve become unstuck in time and narrative, and Shelly Kraicer’s Cinema Scope article does a good job sorting them.


A Long Day’s Journey Into Night (2018)

Darker, more sumptuously dreamy, and certainly longer than its predecessor (with a longer and more apparently complicated single take at the end). The Tara didn’t care to show it in 3D, I guess. Its New Year premiere in China was controversial for supposedly tricking people into seeing a slow art movie that nobody understood, but the one person I talked with in China who’d watched it said it was great.

Luo wanders Kaili, haunted by the deaths of his father and a friend, searches for a lost love (Wei Tang, Thor’s girl in Blackhat), and runs into his friend’s mom (Sylvia Chang the boss of Office, which IMDB has decided to rename Design For Living). We also meet people who may exist in alternate or dreamed timelines, which is to say that Luo beats his own non-existent son at ping pong.

Blake Williams in Cinema Scope:

By car and by foot, Luo follows her, much to her concern, and then loses her, much to his recurrent perplexion. Unable to grab onto anything solid in the present, he dips into his memories with her, flashing back to their days of being wild (circa the turn of the millennium), when her materiality was less unstable. Crime and jealous boyfriends adorn the architecture of Luo’s memories, which are presented in murky enough vignettes that we’re never sure if he’s recalling an actual event or some movie he once saw; most likely, he’s fusing the two together … If Bi’s cinema has been clear about anything so far, it’s that he is completely unburdened by narrative cohesion.

Shula is not a witch, but is tied to a leash and sent to live in witch camp, with other women who are actually not witches but have proven inconvenient to keep around. From the enraging first section (mob superstition meets government corruption) and the tragic/triumphant ending, it’s a beautifully shot movie, and our first from Zambia.

I keep thinking I haven’t watched a Gaspar Noé film since I Stand Alone, but that’s because I forget about Love, which if I’d remembered, I might not have gone out to let this movie mess up my mind on an especially heavy weekend. But Love is forgiven, because this totally worked for me, as horror and a filmmaking exercise and an ensemble dance piece and an extended collective freakout. Every player gets their own solos (in interview, dance and neurosis), and their interactions after the spread of the drug punch (and/or the collective paranoia) prove horrible, sometimes fatal. It’s all shot with a confident, formalist flair, unafraid to get ugly.

Blake Williams in Filmmaker:

The film ends up reaching, or at least approaching a state where it can’t even decide itself who is fucking and who is dying — the camera, now upside down, even loses its own bearings on gravity and horizons. It’s a monumentally liberating film, and so what if it offers us nothing other than the pleasure of being entirely there with it for the time it’s in front of us.

This wasn’t supposed to be our closing night movie – it was gonna be an early night to make up for Treasure Island the night before, then our third Chinese movie One Child Nation in the morning, an undecided afternoon, and The Magic Life of V before the drive home, but a snowstorm changed our plans.

This was an endurance test along the lines of The Task, but far less easy to figure out what is happening and why. Supposedly they are recreating “happenings,” and there’s some mysterious tension but very little happening when a group is approached by a helicopter then asked about about the experience, or when we spend an eternity in a room with a handful of people waiting to be interviewed. These are separated by wandering academic discussions in a library with no tension at all. I focused hard on every detail at the time, hoping to unlock any meaning, even after Katy ditched the movie to go drinking at the Craft Beer Cellar, but no time for post-film note-taking then a stressful drive home has wiped out any useful thoughts. “Repetition is the main concept” says Felipe on letterboxd, and I’m starting to think you need to have studied the Oscar Masotta theories to grasp the film at all… in fact, I’ve belatedly discovered the accompanying 320-page book online.

Back to Main Squeeze on Saturday morning, then our third film of the weekend at the Missouri, preceded by a guy with one of those whirlygig keyboard amps. This doc felt longer than its 95 minutes, but I wouldn’t mind watching it indefinitely. Wide variety of New Yorkers asked about their futures with good photography. I kept feeling that like Treasure Island, a central point of focus wasn’t coming through, but I also wasn’t hoping for a climate change essay doc, so I went with it. Starts to revisit its subjects – somewhat racist ex-cops in a bar, a white couple concerned about media reports of crime, the Afronaut. I need to watch more NYC movies – maybe In Jackson Heights.

Story in Filmmaker:

I’m interested in how power circulates, the ways in which it micro- and macro-confines us and can liberate us . I also think that, sure, we can call all films in some ways political, insofar as they’re made within certain power structures and get launched into the world within existing power structures. They can either reinforce the status quo, because they do very little to shake up our understandings of how the world works, or they can enable us to grapple with things differently … I also dislike message-y films, or whatever you want to call the films that see their role as delivering a particular policy line and/or demanding that people respond in very narrow terms to whatever they’re seeing. I’m much more interested in how cinema can reawaken the senses and our critical capacity to be in the world differently. That, for me, can have longer term results.

Jenn Takahashi opened, promoting her website where she makes fun of things people say on neighborhood message boards, I’m not sure why. My notes say “a variety of weird-tempo rock songs, each better than the last – get the EP” but who was the band? Summer Like The Season? They also say “Katy very tired, did not like movie, then hotel stole her toiletries,” which is accurate, and the Hilton Garden Inn still owes us restitution.

My notes do NOT say anything about the movie, which was a multi-angled portrait of youth at a French water park, mainly memorable for the extremely confident dude who picks up a bunch of girls to meet him after hours.