LOL Forky. But was it worth making a whole theatrical sequel to showcase a makeshift toy who wants to be trash? Sure, why not, these have been reliably good, and it looked beautiful on the big screen, where we finally caught it before it closed so Joker could take over every theater. I suppose having the missing Bo Peep reappear as a bold carnival adventurer with misfit action-hero friends was a fun move, though I’m suspicious of Pixar/Disney’s intentions and read it as faux feminism. The door is open to more sequels, though Woody’s talkbox got removed by a ventriloquist-dummy surgeon and given to a friendless antique-shop Gabby Gabby doll, so there will be no more snakes in my boot.
Peter Tscherkassky’s Cinemascope Trilogy
I’ve watched these before, first in 2008 and at least once since then, but this time I thought to play them on the big TV while listening in headphones to better hear the audio textures over the noise of our air conditioner – a good idea!
One short scene: a train arrives, woman gets off and hugs the guy waiting for her, but given every available footage treatment within its two minutes, soft fluttering on the soundtrack.
Outer Space (1999)
The crazy one – this holds up better than ever in HD. As much care given to the soundtrack as the visuals, full of fluttering, looping and reversing.
Dream Work (2001)
Dedicated to Man Ray. This is my jam… appreciation of classic cinema while also interrogating/destroying it. This same day I read a couple of articles mentioning nostalgia in cinema, Letterboxd’s interview with Rick Alverson, and a Ringer review of the new Refn series, which gets compared to Twin Peaks: “Showtime gave the auteur free rein under the pretext of Twin Peaks nostalgia, even if Lynch ultimately sought to weaponize those feelings against his audience.” I think Weaponized Nostalgia needs to be a new genre.
Shot-Countershot (1987, Peter Tscherkassky)
Ooooh, never seen this before. Scene from a classic film, slightly processed, of a guy playing harmonica, drawing his gun, and getting drilled. It’s a single camera take, so I assume the title is a gunshot joke. This 20-second bit of silliness does not detract from my love of his major works.
Crossroad (2005, Phil Solomon)
Argh, machinima. A dude in Second Life acts bored in a rainstorm, and runs in circles through a forest, a bouquet of flowers spinning nearby as if suspended from a string. I did appreciate the way the 3D objects clipped as they spun too close to the camera, revealing themselves as origami structures of 2D surfaces. Dedicated to David Gatten. I’ve only seen one other film by Solomon, in Nashville a decade ago. This was codirected with Mark LaPore, who died the same year.
Liberian Boy (2015, Mati Diop & Manon Lutanie)
I felt guilty finally watching my first Mati Diop film without African Studies Katy, while she sat unaware in the other room, but I’m not sure she’d have gotten much out of this white kid doing (very good!) Michael Jackson moves against a greenscreen whilst holding a knife. Lacking any African studies scholars in the room, I don’t know what it meant, but it’s a cool piece. The kid also appears in the latest Nobuhiro Suwa film.
Shoot (2014, Gaspar Noe)
The camera is a soccer ball (representing France?), kicked around in a courtyard – pretty nice La Region Centrale rig with an unpleasant soundtrack of percussive kicks mixed with tinnitus whine.
Nectar (2014, Lucile Hadzihalilovic)
Nectar is collected from the body of a flower-eating woman. Hive-honey harvesters seduce men into a Matrix global pollination scenario. Olga from Film Socialisme plays the Queen of Bees.
Two-Gun Mickey (1934, Ben Sharpsteen)
Minnie is cruel to animals. Mickey rescues her after a shootout with Pegleg Pete and his men. The movie promotes automatic weapon use, and makes an overweight, handicapped foreigner the villain.
The Fly (1980, Ferenc Rofusz)
Pleasantly short fisheye (flyeye?) lens animation from a fly’s POV, entering a house and being vanquished by a resident. Won the oscar, the only other nominees being one by the Evolution guy and one by The Man Who Planted Trees guy. The Hungarian director was still making shorts as of 2017.
Toy Sequence (1990, Péter Szoboszlay)
Fun, short Toy Story prequel, a nursery coming to stop-motion life in the night, the pieces transforming and rearranging themselves, and the dolls being generally creepy.
Filmstudie (1926, Hans Richter)
Richter the dark Master of light, pattern and pacing, a hundred years ahead of his time. I’ve previously raved about three of his other shorts – was not impressed with my terrible copy of his late collaboration with Cocteau, but overall it looks like I’ve loved his work and need to check out his feature Dreams That Money Can Buy. Anyway this one is mostly eyeballs and wands of light, but it’s impressive.
Night Music (1986, Stan Brakhage)
I forget just how short this is, not counting titles and credits. The film I’ve watched the most times.
A middle-school bully turned high-school pariah tries to humbly make amends, finds it isn’t so simple, goes on adventures. Multiple suicide attempts later, our group of misfits manages to find some peace. Nice visual expression of our dude’s alienation, his classmates with X’s on their faces as he stares at the ground. A high-quality production, earnest and emotional – maybe not my kind of thing under normal circumstances, but the movie had my sympathy since we were watching in memory of the 30-some people at Kyoto Animation who were murdered last month.
We went to see some animated shorts, at a respectfully full theater across the street from SCAD. I’m struggling to remember A Dinner With Dad (Johanna J. Lunn) and Creationism (Janale Harris) and Lost In Phone (Yongji Chen & Mengchen Zhao). We missed Unsolicited (Meg Cook) and Don’t Croak (Daun Kim), and came in late during Reboot (Ellen Osborne), which was a beautiful vision of post-human Earth reminiscent of Handsome Family songs. The rest, in some order:
Aripi (Dmitri Voloshin)
Tribute to a fallen pilot friend, an astronaut experiences absolute chaos and ends up falling to earth, improvising a glider on the way down.
Shell (Stella Rosen)
Creature and Alien go through the same disfiguring changes in reverse, feels Jim Woodring-inspired in a good way.
Tutorial > SKIP? (Thy Vo & Sydney Seekford & Ryan Imm)
Cute gaming parody, co-created by a former coworker.
Tiffany (Christina Christie)
Memorable character design of a stained glass sculpture that becomes sentient without the coordination to navigate stairs, the sculptor’s daughter trying to prevent disaster while prepping the works for display.
Godspeed (Sunny Wai Yan Chan)
A tiny mother/son airport story by another former coworker!
Ouija (Ashley Young)
I cannot improve on the official description: “Two dumb kids explore the dangers of a Ouija board and come face to face with the Ouija demon, Zozo.”
Anacronte (Emiliano Sette & Raúl Koler)
The one with blank-faced humanity walking across a giant game board, malevolent reapers hurling spears at them from cliffs above, causing misfortune and death in their real lives – kind of cool imagery.
Serpendipity (Carlos Mejia & Kevin Barwick)
Medusa-haired guy and blind-without-her-glasses girl on a date… kind of a disaster of flailing, rubbery 3D characters, but the fun, fast-paced story makes up for it.
Balance (Barzan Rostami)
Oh no, it’s the most heavy-handed visual metaphor of the decade.
Hawkeye Sucks (Hunter Collins)
Love when movies feel overlong at 3 minutes. People laughed at least, but then people laugh at the pre-show ads at the multiplexes too.
Some movies watched before, during, and soon after the China trip:
The Illinois Parables (2016 Deborah Stratman)
I know I watched it late at night, in Alpharetta, and somehow took no notes, and enjoyed it. Landscapes and history lessons. Sure sounds interesting from the letterboxd writeups! Maybe kinda if General Orders No. 9 was much better, and had been highly influenced by Profit Motive.
Widows (2018 Steve McQueen)
After all the hype – the follow-up to his best-picture winner with an outstanding cast – somehow I lost interest in this by the time it came out, and caught up months later on the seat-back of a plane. It’s overwrought and overstuffed, but undeniably pleasurable in its performances and genre plotting.
I wonder if the male actors were sabotaged in an attempt to draw attention to the heist-gone-bad widows Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki and Michelle Rodriguez – or if they just misjudged the tone of the movie. Colin Farrell overacts as a cartoon-villain politician, Daniel Kaluuya plays a basic enforcer of a crime boss/politician stalking Viola Davis, and Liam Neeson goes from sympathetic victim to archvillain when he’s discovered by wife Viola (in the movie’s best scene) to be shacking up with the fourth widow after arranging the deaths of his buddies to get away with all the money. Does Viola throw aside spousal emotion for the sake of sweet revenge, killing Liams herself at the end? She does!
Transit (2018 Christian Petzold)
Watched at the Tara, huge, alone. Sicinski’s review says it all.
High Life (2018 Claire Denis)
I took no notes about this, mostly remember the ending of Robert Pattinson and daughter alone on the ship hurtling towards a black hole, and the haunting Pattinson-sung Tindersticks song. These two most recent Claire Denis features have helped offset the brutal unpleasantness of her previous two, and even though this one has its share of rape and murder, it also has beauty and wonder and general strangeness… and that song…
Us (2019 Jordan Peele)
Watched with Pro at Atlantic Station – on the secret screen with its own bar, not that this mattered. I don’t have a firm handle on the symbolism, but it’s a hell of a thriller regardless. See smart articles by Kyle, Monica, Mike, and Carol.
In Fabric (2018 Peter Strickland)
Watched at the glorious Plaza as part of the Atlanta Film Festival.
Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Secrets & Lies) visits a creepy clothing store during sales week, is talked into buying a cursed red dress by a cheerfully coercive saleswoman (Fatma Mohamed, speaking in retail-poetry). Marianne dates Barry Adamson (a Bad Seed!), gets chastised by boss Julian Barratt, and keeps getting injured until she’s finally killed in a car crash. It’s a strange tone overall, kind of a creeping dread mixed with splashes of comedy – but Marianne is a sympathetic character stuck in a crappy job, being intimidated in her own house by her son’s new girl (Gwendoline Christie of Top of the Lake season 2), so the campy horror-comedy gets overwhelmed by sadness. The dress survives, and gets shared by another guy with a crappy job (Leo Bill) and his girlfriend Hayley Squires (of the latest Wheatley and second-latest Loach), misfortune and death follow, but this time the department store burns down during a consumer brawl.
A lot of us filmmakers have had to do the kinds of jobs these characters do: temping, retail. The challenge is to usher those experiences into one’s films without it feeling like a vendetta, because a lot of those experiences are quite ball breaking. It’s more desirable to find humor there, to take characters like [Sheila’s employers] Stash and Clive and make them funny.
Election 1 & 2 (2005/06 Johnnie To)
Watched a couple of HK double-features on the long flight back from HK – on the iPad, tragically, so no screenshots. These are Hong Kong underworld power struggle movies – Lok (Simon Yam, star of at least six other To films) wins the election that Big D (Tony Leung 2: Evil East) thought he’d bought, so Big D revolts and threatens to start a war. Lok placates the dude, offering him the chairman position after Lok’s two years are up, and the two become friends – until the moment Big D lets his guard down and gets murdered.
Part two is more complicated, starring Jimmy (Louis Koo, the movie star in Romancing in Thin Air) as a businessman using his gangster ties to get ahead, but with plans to go straight – until he’s arrested and forced by the mainland government to run as their puppet chairman. Lok attempts to run a second time, which is against the rules, Kun (Ka Tung Lam, a cop in some of the Infernal Affairs movies) kidnaps some of the elders to get ahead, and Jet (Nick Cheung of Exiled) attempts to eliminate the competition. In both movies, the baton signaling the chairman’s power is hidden as a strategic move, then the baton is recovered through scheming and brutality.
A Better Tomorrow 1 & 2 (1986/87 John Woo)
I alternated these with the Election movies, and they’re either good indicators that John Woo is no Johnnie To, or that the 1980’s were a horrible decade for filmmaking. Gangster Ho (Ti Lung of a ton of Shaw Brothers movies) is protective of his cop little brother Kit (Leslie Cheung). He tries to get out, but they pull him back in! A few years later, Kit and Ho and his best friend Mark (Chow Yun-fat) sort-of team up to take down the gangster boss. The movie’s main attractions are guessing where the shifting loyalties will land, and watching Chow Yun-fat overplay his part as the super-cool guy, a schtik that nobody would fall for (jk, he became a massive star from this role and won the best actor award). At least he definitively dies at the end of the movie, so he won’t be in the sequel.
Part two is pretty much the same movie, Ho and Kit versus new gangster Lung (Dean Shek of Drunken Master), but it turns out Lung is being set up, so they all team up against the new superboss. Kit is killed as his baby is being born across town (by Emily Chu, also Cheung’s costar in Rouge the following year). The movie suffers from the lack of Chow Yun-fat’s stupid energy… ahhhh kidding, he appears as Mark’s identical twin brother, a non-gangster who transforms into a Mark-like badass after about twenty minutes.
Alternate prequels were filmed – producer Tsui Hark made the official A Better Tomorrow III, and Woo adapted his own prequel script into Bullet in the Head (in which Simon Yam played a character named Lok, an unexpectin’ Election connection).
Lu Over The Wall (2017 Masaaki Yuasa)
Schoolkid meets a manic pixie dream mermaid – sort of a Walk On Girl-distorted version of Ponyo. Not as thrillingly nuts as Walk On Girl – surprising, since that’s a teen drinking drama and this one’s about a rock music-loving mermaid. She gets discovered, captured, rescued, etc., less interesting for the story than the wavy-jumbly animation style.
Diamantino (2018 Gabriel Abrantes & Daniel Schmidt)
Loopy, extremely fun cult flick about a massive soccer star manipulated by his scheming sisters, a mad scientist, and a cop who masquerades as his adoptive daughter. Everyone spends the movie trying to catch him out, but Diamantino is too simply sweet to be scheming.
Lead actor Carloto Cotta also starred in Tabu, and appears in Mysteries of Lisbon and all three of the Arabian Nights. I’ve been rooting for Abrantes since his Brief History of Princess X, so glad this was wonderful. I haven’t watched many movies at the Plaza since getting back, but between this and In Fabric, they’ve been extremely Plaza-appropriate.
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)
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.
Edith+Eddie (2017, Laura Checkoway)
I guess it’s common practice to screw over elders using the legal guardianship system? Imagine being the lawyer responsible for the lonely death of a nice old man in an oscar-nominated documentary seen around the world. This was filmed 11 miles from my grandmother’s house.
Daredevil Droopy (1951, Tex Avery)
Droopy and Spike compete at a circus to be one of The Great Barko’s daredevil dogs. Rapid-fire series of short contests, mostly ending with the larger dog badly injured, but it’s fine because he was trying to cheat. Lots of dynamite in the second half. Best bits: figure skating, human bullet, that strength-tester bell-ringer seesaw hammer game.
Droopy’s Good Deed (1951, Tex Avery)
Spike is a wild-eyed hobo pretending to be a boy scout, another series of short competitions with Spike cheating and losing to the cool and competent Droopy, who gets a ton more dialogue in this one. Slightly racist jokes in this and the previous one, always to the effect of turning Black after a bomb blast, and it’s not terrible – until one time it definitely is, then a weird, fakeout ending at the White House. I assume I downloaded the uncensored versions of these somewhere or other, they sat on my laptop for a year, and tonight I’m in the mood for some violent cartoons.
Watching Oana (2009, Sebastien Laudenbach)
Earlier short by The Girl Without Hands director. A couple: he is a pastry chef, she translates poetry and brochures. Told from his perspective, wanting a baby, not believing in her ambitions, thinking he knows her inside and out but apparently not. Some cringey moments, I hope it’s not based on a true story. Spoken opening credits, then alternates between written segments created with stop-motion pasta, and spoken conversations with close-up animation of something besides the couple’s faces (wine glasses, shadows, legs in the surf), then the pasta turns into words inked onto skin and the music ramps up for the disturbing final section. The voice of Oana is played by Elina Löwensohn, who keeps coming up lately. Played at Annecy with The Secret of Kells and Western Spaghetti.
The Boy Who Chose the Earth (2018, Lav Diaz)
Two minutes for the latest Vienna Film Festival, a boy at home alone receiving a letter, running outside, apparently surprised – then rain and flooded streets. The last Lav Diaz short I watched was also fierce storms and floods, either footage from the same week or else the Philippines get some regularly nasty weather.
The Glass Note (2018, Mary Helena Clark)
Miniature frames of music and water and wind. Extreme bodily close-ups. Mostly seems interested in sound being created and moving through channels, with a sidetrack about tourists touching the breasts of bronze statues.
Story of an Old Lady (1985, Agnes Varda)
Lost, deteriorated Varda mini-doc about the woman she cast to get naked in the feather room in 7 P., cuis., s.de b…. Bit of behind-the-scenes interview, her getting a kick out of playing the employer in Vagabond, bossing around Yolande and Sandrine, when she’d worked as a maid all her life.
Trees Down Here (2018, Ben Rivers)
I wasn’t sure that ending my night with Ben Rivers would work out, since he tends to put me to sleep, but it opens with an owl close-up and I’m hooked. Architectural sketches alternate with architectural photos, but with an owl or snake in the foreground. The final minutes have a tape of John Ashbery reading his poem “Some Trees”. Ben’s most engaging work yet, I suppose if you’re into architecture, poems, owls and snakes.
A theater group – not a very good one – is rehearsing the 1921 satire The Insect Play, but the guy playing Dung Beetle (Jirí Lábus, of a fascinating-sounding 1994 version of Amerika) keeps hallucinating insects (real and stop-motion) while learning his lines.
From the very beginning, Svankmajer and his crew appear onscreen, like the DVD extras have been cut into the feature. After a scene it’ll show the filming, the animation, direction, insect wrangling, sound effects (with constant scraping and clanking sounds plus the insect patter, they’re great throughout), or interview the actors about their dreams.
Fun movie, and only 93 minutes, a breeze to watch. To that point, it doesn’t seem like Svankmajer’s most consequential film, nor does it appear to be some kind of final statement on his career, unless I’m missing something about the Insect Play. Ungenerously, one could say choice of subject combined with the mechanics of behind-the-scenes production is the last word on his preference against humans and their messy realities. Jan: “I direct it like an animated film or puppet theater – short takes, minimal movement of the camera, stylized acting, no psychology, as if the actors had wires attached to the head and strings on the arms.”
Watching movies from last year’s Sundance and Rotterdam this week… this one premiered in Rotterdam’s Signatures section, playing with The Wandering Soap Opera, Lover for a Day, Mrs. Fang and Lek and the Dogs.