The Dirties (2013, Matt Johnson)

The Blair Witch School Shooting Elephant Project. Two nerdy kids enjoy making videos for school, videos involving too much sweary violence and too many blatant rip-offs of their favorite movie scenes. Their teacher tries to get them to tone it down, but they keep ramping up, filming a story of two kids (themselves) taking revenge on the Dirties (school bullies). Inevitably, one of the two takes this to the next level, sets up cameras in the school hallways and shoots some guys, while his companion tries to escape the scene.

Owen is the more normal one, crushing on a girl named Chrissy instead of devoting all his time to firing practice and bully identification like his friend Matt (played by director Johnson). There’s a third (never seen?) boy named Jared who’s filming a documentary of Matt & Owen – his presence is sometimes noted but usually not, and he appears to be present during the actual shooting, which was inspired as much by school shootings in the news as cult movies. So our The Dirties is his documentary footage, mixed with the stuff Owen and Matt film, plus their The Dirties uncompleted feature.

Watched this because of the excellent Cinema Scope interview with the director:

Matt is always feeling the camera. And he’s not alone. The concept of always seeing the camera and always feeling like you’re on camera is a very modern problem. And by “problem,” I don’t even necessarily mean that it’s a negative thing — this is just something that we need to consider. Kids these days are always filming themselves and they’re always acting like they’re on TV. Matt is just a guy that has actively put himself on TV 24/7. So he’s always trying to perform. And he can’t break the spell because he’s made this rule for himself of performing.

Johnson believes that realistic performances are paramount, so instead of casting actors for small roles, he performs the movie in public spaces.

All you’re seeing in The Dirties is just a lot of really good acting from people who don’t know that they’re acting. … The closest thing is something like Borat, but we’re not making fun of people here. We’re the stupid ones. I’m always the one who doesn’t know what’s going on. … That old man who walks up when Owen gets hit with a rock is the same kind of example. It’s not even a joke, that moment, it’s simply reality. The old man was just there, and didn’t know what was going on. The joke is on us.

Breadcrumb Trail (2014, Lance Bangs)

Ian Mackaye: “It turns out, as I found out later on, people in Louisville are just fucking crazy”

Feat. Steve Albini, David Yow, Matt Sweeney, Corey “Touch & Go” Rusk, Jon and Jason of Rodan, David Grubbs, James Murphy.

So many of my music heroes in one place. This made me rethink my resolve to watch fewer rock docs. Mostly they’re the same old thing, but when they’re good, when they can recontextualize the music, illustrate it in new ways, or give amazing backstory where you see rehearsal footage of Spiderland coming together, listen to Tweez engineer Albini discuss how Spiderland’s straightforward production by Brian Paulson became his ideal, and you think how that’s the style Albini’s mostly known for these days, and the same week you watch the doc the new Shellac album Dude Incredible comes out and you’re listening to it (on vinyl of course) and thinking does it sound this way because of Spiderland? Does everything sound the way it does because of Spiderland? And you go on a drive and play June of 44’s Sharks & Sailors and think it sounds like a sequel to Spiderland, and maybe everything is a sequel to Spiderland. When The For Carnation toured on their self-titled album and were mostly ignored by the ignorant, talky crowd, I guess that was the low point of the post-Slint wave, but with the doc and reunion shows, it seems like it’s coming around again.

I knew I’d seen interviewee Brett Eugene Ralph’s name before – he wrote The Whole of the Law, which Catherine Irwin covers.

Britt (drummer) and Brian are the stars of the show (sorry Pajo, love ya). It’s claimed that Britt does half the vocals on Spiderland, but Brian does Good Morning Captain and Washer, so which parts are we talking about?

Many things are claimed. The Lizard/Albini/Britt house-sitting Mouthbreather story is hilariously repeated. Britt won’t comment on the legendary “anal breathing tapes” and whether they make an appearance on Tweez, but Bangs seems to have one of the tapes.

An expanded Louisville Family Tree is needed. Ned Oldham was in Britt & Brian’s first band Languid & Flaccid. Then Brian formed Maurice (which opened for Glenn Danzig’s Samhain on tour) and Britt drummed for Squirrel Bait (that’s him on the cover art, right?). Pajo joined Maurice (“it’s like Slint but fast”) and recruited his best friend Ethan into Slint when Maurice broke up. Songs were titled for band members’ parents and pets and the band’s first show was during service at a church. That’s Will Oldham in a crash helmet in the Tweez cover car’s driver’s seat.

Todd Brashear joined from hardcore band Solution Unknown after Ethan quit over Albini’s oddball production of Tweez. Britt and Brian went off to Northwestern. In Spring 1989 Albini recorded the Glenn/Rhoda EP, calling the band last-minute with some extra studio time, went unreleased until 1994. Slint played Dreamerz with Matt Sweeney’s high school band. Producer Brian Paulson was picked after Brian watched him recording Bastro’s Sing The Troubled Beast. Spiderland was extensively worked out over a summer between semesters, I think, and Brian quit immediately after the recording. All four members backed Oldham on the early Palace recordings, and Slint reunited for practices in ’92 and ’94 but nothing came of them. Most surprisingly (besides the fact that the band members were about 20 when Slint broke up) it’s claimed that Britt “has everything to do with” the way The Breeders’ Pod and Safari EP sound. He showed up everywhere, including on Sally Timms records, and has a new group called Watter.

V/H/S/2 (2013)

More anthology nonsense, but this time (with the possible exception of the final alien segment) each found-footage first-person story actually has a reason for having cameras present – though again these are all digital cameras and there’s no reason they’d have all been transferred to VHS, besides that ever since The Ring people think videotapes are haunted.

Framing story is by Adam Wingard associate Simon Barrett – a private-eye/video-blackmailer couple is hired by a mom to find her college kid who is presumed missing, but has actually disappeared into a cult of haunted VHS-tape trading.

Phase I Clinical Trials by Adam Wingard, since I am accidentally determined to see every Adam Wingard movie. He also made the terrible A Horrible Way To Die (terrible’s what it is). I think the lead guy who gets a cybernetic eye is Wingard himself. He sees ghosts, and soon meets a nose-ringed girl with cybernetic ear who hears ghosts and wants to have sex with him in order to drown out the ghost sounds. This doesn’t work for long. Ghosts drown the girl and he ends up cutting out his fake eye with a knife as the ghosts slowly approach. Presumably this is a remake of Johnnie To’s My Left Eye Sees Ghosts.

A Ride in the Park by Sanchez and Hale, two of the original Blair Witch guys, brings some fun and comic zombie mayhem to the proceedings. A dying girl interrupts a biker, then he gets bitten and they both become zombies. But his helmet-mounted GoPro is still running, and records his attack on a family picnic. Happy ending: he recognizes what has happened and blows his own brains out.

Safe Haven by the guy who made The Raid movies and a guy who made a couple of Indonesian horrors, has a camera crew interviewing a commune death cult. It’s an odd segment because the camera crew is incompetent, full of relationship drama and uncharged batteries and general lack of preparation, so why is this the organization the reclusive cult finally allows into their compound on the day of mass suicide / zombie apocalypse / demon summoning?

Slumber Party Alien Abduction is by the Hobo With A Shotgun team, and as with that movie, the title says it all. Parents are away so the kids invite friends over and they all have sex and throw water balloons and torment each other, until aliens come for them.

Fun movies to watch on weekdays in Shocktober when I only have 20 minutes to spare (The ABCs of Death is for when I only have three minutes to spare). Still not so great, but surely better than part one.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014, James Gunn)

It’s like all the humorous bickering of The Avengers mixed with the action of… The Avengers. So it’s like The Avengers, or maybe Firefly. But funnier, and with more rock songs. Katy and I don’t like the shot-too-close, over-edited action scenes, but otherwise had no complaints.

Heroes: Andy Dwyer, hulky Dave Bautista (Brass Body in Man With The Iron Fists), green Zoe Saldana (Avatar), talking raccoon Bradley Cooper (Midnight Meat Train) and kinda-talking tree Vin Diesel (The Iron Giant). Not heroes: Andy’s mercenary ex-partner Michael Rooker, Zoe’s evil-blue-robot sister Nebula, “the collector” Benicio Del Toro, super baddie Ronan (partnered with Thanos, a main Thor/Avengers baddie) and Ronan’s enforcer Djimon “Digital Monsters” Hounsou.

Supplementary good guys: president Glenn Close and cops John C Reilly and Peter Serafinowicz.

Introduced: something called “infinity stones” which I think power some of the other magic stuff in Avengers-world, and rumored superhuman backstory for Andy.

Snowpiercer (2013, Bong Joon-ho)

“I know what people taste like. I know that babies taste best.”

My hopes were too high for Bong’s English-language debut – I found it talky and clunky and obvious. Good ending, though. Revolution within class-stratified humanity-protecting perpetual-motion train is led by Steve “Captain America” Rogers. He’s backed by wise old train architect John Hurt, loyal-to-the-death Jamie Bell, pissed-off mom Octavia Spencer and tech whiz Kang-ho Song. After dealing with company mouthpiece Tilda Swinton through various levels, final confrontation with engineer Ed Harris, who claims to have planned the revolution and wants the Captain to replace him at head of the train. Meanwhile it’s rumored that the frozen Earth has been warming, and might sustain human life again, which will be tested after Song’s daughter Ah-sung Ko (the monster-abducted girl of The Host) is the only one of these people who survives a train crash.

Things: the workers in back are fed “protein blocks” which turn out to be gelatinized cockroach. The two Koreans are addicted to a drug called chrono which doubles as an explosive. Harris claims John Hurt was secretly working with him (for the good of the train/humanity, of course). A cool bit near the end looks like 2001: A Space Odyssey.

M. Sicinski:

Snowpiercer’s mental motor, its driving intelligence, is its obviousness, which allows the film to be misperceived as something silly. .. Bong, however, seems to understand something many others don’t, both about broad entertainment and the state of successful political action. Big action demands broad strokes; nuances emerge later. In fact, this is to a large degree the political subtext of Snowpiercer itself. .. it doesn’t matter who’s running the train. Bong is not telling us anything we don’t already know, but Snowpiercer’s power is precisely in its capacity to boldly visualize this shared awareness: the futility of liberal revolt, the buffoonery of our betters, the hidden human kindling that is always the tiger in our tank. .. Bong shows us that there’s only one track, and so you can’t flip the switch. You can only light the fuse, and embrace the inevitable destruction as the last picture show.

Blue Ruin (2013, Jeremy Saulnier)

Shaggy, homeless Dwight (Macon Blair of a Bubbles-starring horror-comedy called Hellbenders) learns of the release of Wade Cleland, imprisoned for killing Dwight’s parents, so kills that dude with a knife right away then cleans himself up and goes into hiding at his sister’s house (she is Amy Hargreaves, Ed Furlong’s dream girl in Brainscan).

Dwight’s family apparently had a feud with the gun-totin’ Clelands, due to a cheatin’ incident, and Wade had taken the prison time for his now-deceased father, who’d done the killing. By the time Dwight learns all this, he and his sister’s family are under attack, so he gets some help from a gun nut friend (Devin Ratray of Nebraska), kidnaps one Cleland and assaults the others.

Dwight checks on his kidnap victim:

Movie is getting critical credit for portraying the murders and injuries more realistically than usual, paying attention to the difficulty of each task. It’s also a tense, well-made thriller, which has become a rare thing.

Devin gives shootin’ lessons:

Angry Clelands:

A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness (2013, Ben Rivers & Ben Russell)

Both Bens Rivers & Bussell are in Cinema Scope’s 50 Under 50, and I’ve checked them both out before – Russell with Let Each One Go Where He May and Rivers with Two Years at Sea and some shorts.

Spell opens and closes with Russell’s shaky follow-cam, the camera behind the head of a walking person. I can see a theoretical point to his relentless follow-cams: regular movies are always showing people leaving and arriving in scenes, while his movies show them traveling to the scene realistically. Theory or no, they still annoy me, and maybe he needs to find a new thing.

In between we’ve got Rivers’s “man living alone in the woods” motif and his long still shots of nothing much happening (man in a slowly drifting fishing boat – think I’ve seen that one before).

Three parts:

Estonia: bunch of foreigners in a commune, including one Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, who is not the star of this section in any way but on whom I focus whenever he’s around, since I’ve seen his face in the promo photos.

Finland: just Rob Lowe alone, mountain climbing, fishing, cooking, hunting, slow-paced, no dialogue. Cutaways to the lake, a photograph of a lake, a magazine, etc. Then Rob is applying makeup, then his house burns down.

Norway: Long guitar intro over blackness, then we’re at a metal concert, interestingly shot up close by slow roving camera (this whole section is just a few long takes), with Rob as a guitarist and vocalist. They play a few songs, then he wastes no time getting backstage before the last one has ended, removing the makeup and walking into the night. I love the sound during this part, the club noise following him into the street and gradually getting louder.

M. Sicinski in Cinema Scope:

Russell and Rivers share an engagement with the history of ethnographic film, but only inasmuch as the critiques of its shortcomings and power relations have been fully internalized … Russell’s films have often favoured group dynamics, or at least individuals losing their identities in tandem; Rivers has more often than not worked within a mode of solo portraiture. The resulting collaboration is a dialectical meld of these tendencies. … The resulting film is a triptych fully reflective of Rivers’ and Russell’s longtime concerns: how does one remain a part of society while carving out a space that is, in Heidegger’s terms, true to one’s ownmost possibility?

Russell:

One of the most important realizations that I had through the making of this film was that cinema was, in fact, one of our best vehicles for realizing utopia. During a conversation about his experience in the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage, Tuomo (he’s the Finn who tells the asshole story in the film, also the subject of our next collaboration) proposed that utopia only exists in the present, that it can only be realized in the now. Cinema is a medium that is likewise always arriving (as the future) and receding (as the past) simultaneously. It is only alive when we are alive with it, when we share our time and allow our space to be occupied. It can only happen as experience in the present, and its capacity to produce worlds unto itself positions cinema as a very real site for utopia. For Thomas More, Utopia was a no-place, a construct; taken positively, this is cinema defined.

Sicinski again, but for Fandor:

Although the makers of A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness have been most closely aligned with the avant-garde film world, they stake out a position somewhere between trance film, portraiture, and ethnography. Their films, then, identify and problematize certain dual aspects of realism that could be said to “haunt” both experimental film and anthropological documentary.

Alan Partridge (2013, Declan Lowney)

“Which is the worst monger: fish, iron, rumor or war?”

Returning cast and situations from I’m Alan Partridge, which I watched eight years ago and barely remember, and Mid Morning Matters, which I haven’t checked out yet. Alan is wedged into a hostage plot, in which Colm Meaney (The Road to Wellville) takes over the radio station in revenge for the corporate takeover that got him fired. I knew all this going in, but I watched it anyway in the hopes that it’d be unremittingly hilarious – and it is! Even the opening titles are pure pleasure, and in fact I restarted the movie to see them again and almost watched the whole thing twice.

World War Z (2013, Marc Forster)

Better than I’d heard. From one deliciously tense action scene to the next, it’s a million times more fun than Contagion.

I recognized Davis Morse playing an inspirational madman and Peter Capaldi as a world health organization doctor (get it? WHO Doctor?). Pitt’s wife Mireille Enos stars on TV’s The Killing Remake and I think Daniella Kertesz played the short-haired Israeli soldier whose zombie-bitten hand Pitt severs. Between Stranger Than Fiction and this, Forster made Machine Gun Preacher (tough white guy saves African child soldiers), The Kite Runner and a James Bond flick. Supposedly based on the Max Brooks book, but I hear it’s not really. Credited writers include Matt “Lions For Lambs” Carnahan, J. “Changeling” Straczynski, Damon “Prometheus” Lindelof and Drew “Cabin in the Woods” Goddard. That’s a lot of writers for a special-effects movie.