I liked Ricky’s Spiral Jetty and his comment about using the shorts to work out ideas before shooting his first feature, so I contributed to the feature’s kickstarter last year and got a bunch more shorts as thanks.


The Stranger (2011)

This one tells a more dramatically straightforward story (and is more of a comedy) than the other three. Wide b/w, divided into chapters, with some nice Hungarian music and heavy droning narration.

“I’m not ideologically complicit about anything. I read Zizek.” Sarah-Doe Osborne and her man Michael Wetherbee are students who just moved into the perfect new apartment. They humor a stranger who asks to stay with them, then quickly convinces them to leave their lives behind and join him. “He said that moving and living with him would turn us into more admirable and interesting people.” They quit their jobs, drop their classes, tear up all their issues of The Nation and Film Comment, then there’s a quite long montage of city scenery, and the stranger never returns.


Pilgrims (2013)

Wetherbee is back as narrator, but now he’s a friend of the couple from The Stranger, who get mentioned. He’s stuck inside with health problems as protests rage outside, visited by a couple of friends and a priest. This one’s in color, dividing scenes with handwritten diary entries (some nice German music). No narration over the final unreadable entry, then he’s passed out on the ground, followed by still shots of the apartment (echoing the city scenes from the end of the previous short – these are playing well as a group).


Six Cents in the Pocket (2015)

Wetherbee in color again, but female narration – letters from Risa, whose apartment he’s staying in while she’s on vacation. Wetherbee takes a picture from the house to get reframed, goes to the movies and coffee shop and bookstore, gets stood up by dark-haired Ananda, runs short on cash (L’Argent-referencing transaction shots), visits Risa’s sister (hey it’s someone I’ve seen before, The Unspeakable Act star Tallie Medel) then learns Risa isn’t going to make it home (“460 on jet die in Queens crash”). Some nice… Italian music? Another city montage, and this one and Pilgrims both feature Wetherbee doing his own thing in an apartment while there’s chaos in the city outside. The list of thanks in the closing credits add a new familiar name with each film: Fendt, Piñeiro, Sallitt.

“I’m exhausted, I can’t remember who’s alive and who isn’t.”

Following The Road Movie, here’s another Russian dark comedy with segments that went over my head (because I didn’t try very hard to keep track who was who). The first thing I noticed is that this is a real movie, with a proper script and professional-looking camerawork and editing. I point this out because In The Loop felt like a big-screen version of a Thick of It (or Parks & Rec, etc.) episode, loose mobile cameras, cutting only for laughs and covering (sometimes badly) for dubbed lines and alt takes. Now that we get what I’ve been craving, an Iannucci movie with proper lighting and fancy sets, I guess I’ll take the In The Loop version after all. Great performances in both, but if that fake-documentary style is what’s needed to keep the comedy sharp and constant, then so be it.

This still might end up being the funniest movie of the year, with ringers Michael Palin, Steve Buscemi and Jeffrey Tambor as members of Stalin’s inner circle who start jockeying for position the moment their feared leader has fallen, having choked while laughing at hate mail sent by musician Olga Kurylenko (To The Wonder). The ringers are joined by Paul Whitehouse of The Fast Show, army leader Zhokov (Jason Isaacs of the first Resident Evil), Simon Beale (Rachel Weisz’s older husband in The Deep Blue Sea) and some others, and eventually Stalin’s idiot son Rupert Friend (Homeland) and daughter Andrea Riseborough (who also costarred with Olga K. in Oblivion).

Stalin’s children:

I’m not gonna recount every humiliation and double-cross (though Beale does end up dead and on fire) because that’ll take some of the fun out of watching this again in a few years. The blatant criminal behavior by weak-minded, disloyal men in high government offices didn’t remind me of anything in particular, no sir, just a bit of fun.

Woof, this was bad, but I should’ve guessed from the trailer I saw in NYC with all the “you won’t BELIEVE what happens NEXT”-style quotes in huge print across the screen. A seemingly endless (but only 70 minutes!) string of car crashes and weird happenings captured by Russian dash-cams and ripped off youtube.

“Danger in 200 meters” says one car’s navigation system just before encountering a truck driving slowly in reverse, wiping out all the cars in its path. I rewound a couple times the exploding light poles leading to a blackout after a truck tumbles over. “Fucking asshole,” deadpans the driver witnessing this – there are a couple heroes, but mostly the drivers act annoyed but unsurprised by the damage on display.

Typical/hilarious subtitle:

Quick montages of smashes and explosions are used as buffer material between longer single-take segments. With every new edit, you brace yourself anew for something terrible to happen. Along with Caniba, the other True/False movie Katy wisely avoided, the movie gives us nothing and lets us draw our own conclusions – and at least one person probably died in the making of each. I don’t typically click around youtube looking for the best car-crash videos, so I appreciate that someone has spent the time to curate them for us (and some are incredible) but that’s all this is.

Part of a double-feature of misbegotten True/False movies that Katy didn’t want to watch, with The Road Movie. Katy was right – they were both very bad!

The directors of Leviathan have found themselves a potentially interesting subject: almost forty years ago, Issei Sagawa killed a woman and ate her, got free on insanity, and has lived at home fixating on his naughty self, how awesomely perverse he is, writing about his crime and making a comic book version. He apparently lives with his brother, who complains about the manga (“there’s no reason to publish this”) but reads the entire thing, chuckling to himself. The brother shows home movies of themselves as kids, and more recent movies of himself attacking his arms with barbed wire and shears.

Our sensory ethnographers react by placing the camera too close to focus, creating distorted images with long stretches of silence, making me wonder at times whether the movie was still playing. It’s probably the most experimental movie to play True/False this year, but the experiment doesn’t work for me. Feels like with the camera placement, the blurring and extreme close-up, they’re trying to take us inside the head of a killer, but this killer seems more amused by his own celebrity (this is at least the fourth documentary about him) than anything else, so the movie goes on for long minutes, just staring at his elderly, psychotic face, hoping some insight will arrive.

Vince Vaughn’s measured descent from tow-truck driver to drug runner, into a police shootout, to prison, to max-security prison, to “the prison within the prison,” to ultimate revenge and death. Heads get stomped, but in grimy low-light, so not even as graphically as in Dead Man – overall this was less brutal than I expected from the reviews (which may have been written by people who missed Bone Tomahawk), and funnier too. Vaughn plays an intriguing mix of characters we’ve seen before: smart and smartass, the extreme badass who will do anything to protect his family, willing to turn on his own colleagues to protect police but later destroying any prison guard who gets in his way, always calm and patient.

Don and the gang:

Somehow this is the first Vince Vaughn movie I’ve seen since Made in 2001. I didn’t recognize Don Johnson as the Gary Oldman-looking warden, or most of the other actors. Geno Segers (a cannibal in Bone Tomahawk) is one of the idiots working for the big bad (Dion Mucciacito). Jennifer Carpenter (the lead’s sister in Dexter) is Vince’s wife, kidnapped by the big bad and threatened with an evil abortionist if Vince doesn’t cooperate. Messages are delivered by a calm Udo Kier, who gets killed by family friend Marc Blucas (Buffy’s boyfriend in season 4-5). Tom Guiry (Smalls in The Sandlot) is a torturer guard killed by Vince. Mustafa Shakir (Big Mike in The Deuce) is a decent guard who Vince attacks when trying to act dangerous to escalate his sentence, and Clark Johnson (news editor in The Wire season 5) was in there somewhere, probably dead or at least badly hurt. Just missed the top-ten in this year’s Skandies (The Salesman is the last of the top twenty that I haven’t seen).

Just another business day for Udo Kier:

Thirty years later, Zvyagintsev refutes Sting’s claim that the Russians love their children too. Boris (Aleksey Rozin of Leviathan and Elena) and Zhenya may or may not have ever loved each other, or their son, are just trying to sell their apartment so they can move on with their lives. Boris is now with pregnant Masha, mom dating a balding dude with a grown daughter who looks a bit like mom. After the parents argue over who gets their 12-year-old son (neither wants him, so mom suggests boarding school then the army), he runs away and is never seen again. The police suggest that runaways almost always return to their warm homes, but the police don’t know what this kid overheard.

Set mostly in fall 2012 before cutting to the more recent past, for symbolic and political reasons that I’m not keen on looking into. Creeping, controlled camera moves and an overall sense that all hope is lost, that nothing will ever be good again. I suppose I liked this even better than Leviathan. Premiered at Cannes, now the eighth competition title I’ve seen from last year – that’s out of nineteen, but some (Redoubtable, Rodin, Jupiter’s Moon) I’m not trying to catch up with.

I’d put off watching K. Kurosawa’s most generically named film, which got his most average reviews, until I accidentally missed our only screening of Before We Vanish, then feeling the sudden Kurosawa drought, I double-featured this with Daguerrotype and now I’m satisfied. It is, however, a pretty average movie. Either the subtitles are wack or the movie is purposely being strange in its dialogue and social interactions, because everyone seems kinda stupid.

Opens with a bad hostage standoff in a police station, an unassuming-looking psycho killing a couple of people and stabbing serial-killer expert Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima, main dude from Dolls, the editor in Loft) in the ass with a fork, causing him to have to leave the force and become a professor, moving into a suburb next door to a serial killer. He and his wife Yasuko (Yûko Takeuchi of Ring) introduce themselves to Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa, dad in Tokyo Sonata, sheriff of Sukiyaki Western Django), a certified crazy with a shy daughter who turns out to be kidnapped, her mom drugged-out in his Silence of the Lambs basement. Tak’s ex-partner Nogami (Masahiro Higashide, a pastor in Before We Vanish) wants to get Tak back into action, bringing him a cold case of the serial killer who happens to live next door, and it’s all feeling a bit ludicrous, like K.K. is bringing together these stock situations and crazy coincidences to make some sort of statement.

new neighbors:

everything is perfectly normal here!

Progress is made on the cold case, bodies of the missing discovered shrink-wrapped in a neighbor’s house, while Tak’s own neighbor is shrinkwrapping the now-dead parents of his fake daughter. Nishino has been keeping his hostages docile with a never-explained mind-control drug, and his TV constantly plays squid footage (a Bright Future reference?). After the neighbor kid starts to bond with Tak’s own wife, she is inevitably kidnapped, as is Tak himself, until they turn the tables on their tormentor by only pretending to have been drugged, then blowing him away. K.K. the director comes through in fine form, but K.K. the writer, sheesh.

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky in AV Club:

Bug-eyed and clammy, Nishino belongs in the pantheon of next-door weirdos, swishing from personably awkward to coldly standoffish as though they were steps in a waltz that only he can hear. Kagawa, who starred in Kurosawa’s Tokyo Sonata as a white-collar family man with a very different type of secret, is a marvel to watch; when Nishino and Takakura run into each other on a commuter train, he gives a grimacing courtesy smile that falls somewhere in the uncanny valley.

Mike D’Angelo:

Creepy is at its best when things are just…slightly…off, a quality embodied in everything from Teruyuki Kagawa’s Asperger-y performance to the proximity in which two characters are standing at the beginning of a shot … Were I capable of ignoring Creepy‘s outlandish, frequently nonsensical plot and focusing entirely on Kurosawa’s control of the frame and tone, we’d be in business here. But I’m not.

A lovely little almost-romance set in an Indiana town with unusually interesting architecture. A few familiar indie-drama tropes collide as a guy who has escaped his family has to return when his dad falls deathly ill (the twist being it’s not his hometown, but a place he doesn’t know), meeting a girl with smarts and ambition who feels compelled to stay home and care for her addict mother. Jin (John Cho) claims not to be interested in architecture, but his dad’s an expert and Casey (Haley Lu Richardson: Split, The Edge of Seventeen) is fascinated, so Jin helps her realize her goals while she keeps him company during his Columbus purgatory stay. It kinda sounds like nothing special when writing out a description, but the movie’s particular carefully-framed look and feel (David Ehrlich described it as Garden State meets Ozu) set it above the usual Sundance fare.

Katy says the challenges in the book are all about solving complex puzzles, and it sounds like the whole 1980’s obsession is explained better, but we’re at the movies now, so some quick backstory narration and a killer car race will do just fine. Our dude Parzival (Tye Sheridan of Joe and Mud, young Cyclops in the last X-Men) figures out how to cheat at the racecar event and win the first of three keys in a massive contest to gain control over the virtual-reality universe that all the poor suckers on the dying planet of the future spend all their time in, meanwhile falling for Artemis, a hot red avatar his own age who turns out to be an actual hot girl his own age (Olivia Cooke of Thoroughbreds). Parzival’s badass tough-dude engineer buddy H turns out to be Lena Waithe (Master of None) and his ninja friend Sho is actually 11 years old – they’re all kinda okay kids, but I don’t know if it’s a happy ending when they’re handed the keys to the global economy at the end, and besides shuttering the evil company run by lame Ben Mendelsohn, they close the internet for a couple days per week so kids have time to make out.

Alison Willmore calls it an accidental horror movie:

A lot of the pop culture references in the adaptation have been updated, improved, added to, or made more cinematic, including a sequence in which The Shining gets turned into a survival horror experience in a way that’s both blasphemous and easily the most memorable part of the movie. But onscreen, even though familiar characters (Duke Nukem! Gundam! Chucky!) fill the frame, franchises cross, and the legal fees to clear everything must have been astronomical, Ready Player One doesn’t really feel like it’s about nostalgia. Instead, it seems more concerned with escapism, and how much its characters use pop culture as a womb to shelter them from the ugly realities they’ve accepted from the world outside. It’s not about looking back so much as looking away.