Jiri Menzel had just died, but instead of one of his movies on a Monday night I chose his countryman. I’ve seen some career-bookend works by Zeman, his early Prokouk shorts and late feature The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but not the heyday works, and this was spectacular. Real people against illustrated backgrounds, the Sin City of its time. Every kind of animation and visual trick seamlessly integrated, the thin striped pattern from the book illustrations appearing everywhere, overall amazing visual design… and to think his Baron Munchausen is supposed to be even better and I’ve been meaning to rent it for twenty years.

Our Narrator is assisting a scientist when the two are kidnapped (along with a pretty lady, of course) by pirates and taken to an evil mastermind inside a volcano who gets the scientist to help him unlock the secrets of the atom and conquer the world. The narrator is alarmed by all this but the scientist is happily distracted with a new lab and new problems to solve, until the very end, when he realizes what he’s doing and nukes the volcano. In the meantime we get submarines, a fighting octopus, parrots and fishes, of course a balloon or two, and a fantasy tour through all the inventions of the era, real and imagined (camels on rollerskates!), an alternate vision of what Tesla could’ve been.

I didn’t know it was possible to make a biopic this sentimental about Bunuel, of all people. At least it’s animated, so we get the occasional vision of elephants on horse-leg stilts. Opens with artists at a cafe arguing about the purpose of art, and closes with Luis discovering that art is for helping the poor people, I guess. The movie could at least use animation to abstract away all the gruesome animal killings from the Las Hurdes shoot, and it does, but then it makes sure to show us the original footage right after.

After a screening of L’age d’or ends in fire and threats, LB is annoyed that everyone thinks all his good ideas come from Dali, then he can’t get funding for a follow-up until his cousin wins the lottery. LB and producer cousin and cameraman and writer meet in the mountains, get into hijinks, and shoot a movie. LB has many flashbacks and dreams about trying to please his father, and everyone learns a little something about truth and fiction and the true purpose of art.

The Amateurist (1998, Miranda July)

Miranda 1 “the professsional” is presenting her work on Miranda 2 “the amateur” to the viewer. I think 1 transmits numbers and patterns to 2, who paces a cell, reacting with hostility to these communications, while 1 watches lovingly. “A portrait of a woman on the brink of technology-induced madness”


Pioneer (2011, David Lowery)

Another single-room two-person short. Will Oldham is an ageless man telling his stepson a bedtime story about how the boy was kidnapped and sought for over a hundred years, only to mysteriously reappear.


Saute ma ville (1968, Chantal Akerman)

Whoa… teenage Chantal comes home, eats dinner, tosses the cat out the window, cleans the apartment, then kills herself on the stove. Jeanne Dielman in miniature – with less technical mastery, replaced with a playful sense of anarchy, extended to the dubbing (she sings in voiceover when not singing onscreen, and when lighting a match, the sound effect is a voice saying “scrrratch”). Watching the doc later, she calls it “the mirror image of Jeanne Dielman.”


Asparagus (1979, Suzan Pitt)

Up there with Lynch in terms of having the most warped ideas and having the technical chops to get them onscreen. This is the height of color and form/space/scale weirdness while still maintaining some vague narrative trajectory, accompanied by bent spooky music, then it hits new heights when our heroine leaves the house (putting on a mask first, much appreciated), sneaks into a theater and unleashes her phantasmagoric cel-animated phallic-symbol madness on an unsuspecting stop-motion audience. A masterpiece, filmed from 1974 to 1978.


Atlantiques (2009, Mati Diop)

Serigne boarded a pigogue heading to Spain and died on the way. However, Serigne sits around the fire with a couple of friends detailing the trip and his reasons for leaving. Obviously a ghostly precursor to the feature.

– bonus short –

Strasbourg 1518 (2020, Jonathan Glazer)

Exhausted repetitive dances in vacant domestic spaces.

Faster cutting between a larger set of dancers towards the end.

New music by Mica Levi is an irritating fast club beat with hints of bird calls

The Staggering Girl (2019, Luca Guadagnino)

Luca’s follow-up to Suspiria Remake is… a fashion ad, and from the writer of The Current War, weirdly. I’ve watched other attempts at taking the fashion money and making a short film. This one lacks the nudity of the Carax and the creepy coolness of the Martel, and is overall not very interesting – but at least in this one I really noticed the clothes, so it arguably does its job better than the others. The Tsangari museum ad still beats ’em all.

Anyway, I barely remember this, but took some notes at least:

Julianne comes home with flowers to an empty apt, talks with Kyle on phone

The woman in yellow disappears

Nice whispery horror soundtrack

I think Kyle is Julianne’s painter mom’s assistant.

Now the woman who disappears is in pink.

Mia Goth with whoever plays Young Julianne:

Proper Julianne:


Original Cast Album: Company (1970, DA Pennebaker)

We watched this doc on Criterion because it’s newly available after being hard to see for years, and it’s talked-about online… but mostly because I wanted to do my homework for the next season of Documentary Now! Stephen Sondheim wrote some overcomplicated songs, he and the recording engineers fret over the performances, especially Elaine Stritch, who is saved till late night, then convinced to come back the next day and re-record.

We also watched a couple of shorts on Criterion… I think Michigan Avenue, and a jazz short, possibly A Rhapsody in Black and Blue, but I’d better not count those, since I can’t even recall for sure which ones they were.


Hamilton (2020)

It would’ve been cool to see this live, but our $480 tickets to see the touring company from the Fox balcony were refunded, and instead we watched the original cast up close in HD for free, and I’m not complaining. After all the Clipping I’ve been listening to, I’d hoped Daveed Diggs would be cooler as Lafayette… but then in the second half he’s super cool as Jefferson.


Cowboy Bebop (1998)

Firefly ripped this off quite a bit, eh? When it originally aired I thought this show wasn’t for me… in my defense, that might’ve been a knee-jerk stance from being surrounded by anime kids in college. Pretty excellent, our two main dudes accumulating shipmates, each with their own skills, competing for bounties, then finally the gang breaks up.

I’ve gotta see Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, which I’m just now learning about. The same team worked on Macross Plus, Samurai Champloo, Wolf’s Rain, and Space Dandy.


Fleabag season 1 (2016)

Really good, short series, based on a stand-up show that I tried to watch afterwards but it’s the same stories told in the same way, so I bailed after a half hour. Phoebe Waller-Bridge runs the guinea pig-themed cafe she co-owned with her late friend Boo, steals from her stepmother Olivia Colman, and torments her dad (Bill Paterson, who I just saw in Colin Burstead) and sister (Sian Clifford).


Superjail! season 3 (2012)

Opens in Ultrajail with the Warden as inmate, so I thought this season might end up having some kind of stakes, but nope, that was a one-off, then we’re back to the usual ultraviolence. This show is a LOT – I can’t even look directly at the screen the whole time or else my brain and eyes get overloaded, but it’s a good thing to half-watch while reading the news.


Rick & Morty season 4 (2020)

401: Akira, fascism, holograms, crystals that show you how you’ll die
402: Rick defends his private toilet from intruders, Jerry develops matchmaking app with an alien
403: R&M visit a heist convention, put a crew together, and pit Heistotron vs. Randotron
404: R gets M a dragon, Jerry has a talking cat
405: Morty interrupts a society of racist snakes causing time-travel chaos, Jerry floats
406: Narrative train!
407: Alien facehugger mind control
408: Vat of acid, Morty gets ability to save his place, vat of acid
409: “I fucked a planet”
410: star wars episode with an unexpected Don’t Look Now reference

Bonus: Samurai & Shogun anime short mashing up R&M with Lone Wolf & Cub.


A Touch of Cloth (2012)

Looking for something lightweight to watch, I found this TV movie cowritten by Charlie Brooker, and it was just the trick. All visual puns and word games delivered straight-faced, a la Police Squad or Airplane. It’s a cop mystery, and I think their boss (guy from The Hour) ends up being the culprit. Director Jim O’Hanlon did the Romola Garai/Jonny Lee Miller Emma. A few weeks later I made it a half hour into the second of three Cloth movies, but pulled the plug, only writing “oh noooo it’s all the same jokes.”


Lodge 49 season 1 (2018)

Ex-pool-guy Dud (Wyatt Russell from the fear-VR Black Mirror) and restaurant worker Liz (Sonya Cassidy of a bunch of UK miniseries) are in the dumps after their deeply-in-debt father apparently killed himself, until Dud finds a new sense of purpose at the local (also doomed by debt) Lynx lodge. I picked up this show after reading Vikram in Vulture, and loved about every minute of it. Dud sees signs everywhere, thinks everything is fate, and it’s never clear whether he’s delusional or on to something big – shades of Inherent Vice and Under the Silver Lake.

Lynxes:
Sovereign Protector Larry: Kenneth Welsh, a boss in Survival of the Dead, Windom Earle in Twin Peaks
Future S.P. and Dud’s reluctant mentor Ernie: Brent Jennings (Moneyball, The Serpent and the Rainbow)
Ernie’s secret squeeze Connie: professional mom Linda Emond (Ryan Gosling’s mom in Song to Song, Evan Rachel Wood’s mom in Across the Universe, Logan Lerman’s mom in Indignation)
Connie’s husband Scott: Eric Kramer, Little John in the Mel Brooks Robin Hood
New Age Blaise: David Pasquesi, Veep’s ex-husband

Notable non-Lynxes: Pawnbroker Burt… Brian Doyle-Murray as Ernie’s Boss… Bruce Campbell as Captain… Ernie’s coworker Beautiful Jeff… Dud’s depressed temp boss Gloria… Hot Librarian Emily… Liz’s fling “Corporate”… Surfer Alice… Fake Lodge agent Avery (lead singer of All-American Rejects)… and Real Lodge agent Jocelyn.


Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories season 2 (2017)

Piano salesman Eric’s boss Tim is obsessed with baklava.

Scratchoff gambler/mesmer Ray Wise steals Jorge Garcia’s wife Rhea Pearlman

The return of angelboy Scotty, featuring Bubbles

Very bad air traffic controller Will Forte takes a break, feat. Veep’s daughter and aww, Fred Willard

Gross dude gets a free trial workout at an auto-gym.

And T&E play lesbians Belle & Bonnie, whose adopted son is sold to a rich guy.


Alan Partridge’s Scissored Isle (2016)

Alan goes to different parts of Britain to try to bring harmony to the people… something like that, anyway. I forget how he gets locked into a warehouse over a weekend, but I recall that the whole adventure was started after someone filmed him attempting an insult joke. “The footage went viral,” he tells us, while the screen says 150 views. This was after the great Partridge movie, between Mid Morning Matters and This Time.


Also watched an episode each of Sherman’s Showcase, Final Space,
Avenue 5, and The Last O.G., none of which seems essential.

We enjoyed the quarantine reunion special of Parks & Rec.

Katy and I checked out each other’s shows in which characters burst into song, but I didn’t love Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist and she couldn’t stand Lipstick On Your Collar. We settled on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, but now it’s been three months since episode one…

After reading reviews I decided to watch half of The Twilight Zone 2019 season 1. Nightmare at 30,000 Feet confirmed my worst fears: instead of a goblin on the flight, it’s a podcast. Fun to watch Adam Scott anyway, so I made it through, but then the next two episodes I tried opened with cops, and that’s not the kind of story I was looking for that particular week.

The Lion and the Song (1959, Bretislav Pojar)

Accordion player wandering the sand dunes finds an oasis and amuses the desert creatures with a pantomime dance, with his cape representing his lost love. Lion is more hungry than amused, eats our man, then dies of internal accordion-related pains. Czech stop-motion puppetry, obviously very good even in my old SD copy.


My Green Crocodile (1967, Vadim Kurchevsky)

A crocodile who adores flowers meets a beautiful cow, and they fall in love based on their shared interests, though the other crocs and hippos scoff at their relationship. When autumn arrives, the cow declares their love is gone with the flowers and leaves, so the croc in desperation climbs a tree and transforms himself into a green leaf. The narrator seems to approve of this action, though it feels like a downer ending. Loved the harpist moon.


Film Film Film (1968, Fyodor Khitruk)

Opens with a slideshow/montage music video, then goes into a comic parody of the process of feature filmmaking. After the tormented, sporadically inspired, often suicidal screenwriter creates a perfect script, the valium-popping director takes a hundred meetings, modifying the script each time. And so on – equipment problems, child actors, a tense premiere. 2D animation with a few cool bits and a sixties-rockin’ theme song. I wouldn’t have pegged this as the same guy who started making Winnie the Pooh shorts the next year.

how a cinematographer works:


How A Sausage Dog Works (1971, Julian Antonisz)

Some animation techniques using gels and layers and liquids that I don’t think I’ve seen before. Narrator with a high, irritating voice, untranslated. Based on the title, I might’ve assumed the vision of a dachshund full of gears with a heart in the middle, but I didn’t predict the dachshund being squished underfoot by the devil. Without translation, I don’t have a clear idea of what is happening here, but it looks like pure lunacy, and I love it.


Apel (The Roll-Call, 1971, Ryszard Czekala)

Shadowy semi-figures – smeary motion-blurs and tops of heads.
Not much of a roll call – the only words are Down/Up/Fire – a military commander or prison guard yells commands at a mass of bald figures. After one refuses to obey and is killed, all the rest refuse to obey and are killed. Not the most uplifting little movie but it has a cool look I guess?


Crane’s Feathers (1977, Ideya Garanina)

Convincingly Japanese-looking stop-motion tale of the Crane Wife. I do love cranes, and ten-minute tragedies. Does our lead guy hang his head low at the end? You bet he does.


King’s Sandwich (1985, Andrey Khrzhanovskiy)

Weird intro, steampunk imagery over the sound of a workout video. So far, all the stop-motion shorts – the Lion, the Crocodile and the Crane – have featured butterflies. This is 2D animation with a nude man and a sausage dog and a cigar-smoking cat dancing with a busty cow – but no butterflies… oops, I watched this thinking it was Khrzhanovskiy’s Butterfly from 1972. This one’s the story of a fussy king who just wants butter for his bread, despite the gigantic queen and the dairymaid trying to convince him to try marmalade instead, while shadowy security agents lurk absolutely everywhere. Bleepy electronic soundtrack.


Repeat (1995, Michaela Pavlatova)

Sketchbook 2D with crosshatch texture. Tight repeating behaviors: a man taking his dog for a walk, a wife feeding her husband, an interrupted tryst, a dramatic breakup, repeating and colliding until the dog brings the whole thing to a halt, wakes everyone up from their motion loops, leading to an orgy, before it all starts again.


Adagio (2000, Garri Bardin)

A stop-motion funeral procession through a terrible storm by origami monk crows. All seems hopeless until a white Jesus-crow leads the way. When the white crow displays his magical powers of cleanliness, the others beat the shit out of him, but after his dramatic resurrection, they all worship him with white-crow billboards. Kind of a dour little movie with halfway decent origami.


Deputy Droopy (1955, Tex Avery)

The one where two safecrackers have to be quiet, Droopy torments them into making noise, so they keep running out to a nearby mountain to unleash their yells. Droopy’s attacks range from silly (get ’em to sit on a snapping lobster) to quite violent (wailing on ’em with a spiked board while their feet are stuck in glue). Anticlimactic hearing-aid joke at the end.

Don’t know if it counts as a short film, but we watched Spike Lee’s NYC pandemic montage, psyched that he has a new feature out in a couple weeks.

This stupid year is trying to kill my blog, but it still lives.

Movie follows tantrummy four-year-old boy Kun, voiced very unconvincingly by an 18-year-old girl, as he gradually learns simple lessons. He resents his new sister Mirai until she visits from the future and shows him scenes from their family history. He becomes the family dog, goes on a motorcycle ride with his post-WWII grandpa, flies around with the swallows, and gets Christmas Caroled into being nicer to his baby sister. I never got over Kun’s voice – maybe the English version is better.

Now I’ve seen all of the 2018 animated feature oscar nominees – the worthy winner, an all-time fave, two disappointing sequels, and… this. We’re following Hosoda’s career but seeing diminishing returns.

Cool train station agent, tho:

Quick stop-motion pans across photograph backgrounds
Cutouts and objects (paper, flowers) puppeteered across the photos,
some set to dramatic music

Circles/dots, repeating as texture, single circles used as punctuation

Multiple episodes, a series of shorts, made over 13 years.
Dedication at the end of each one, then title of the next.

Some episodes have music, some have audio from a movie or show, some silent.
Halfway in, one uses music in reverse.

Pretty consistent visual approaches, with some surprises.
Round and rectangular chiclets appear in scenes.

Long hypodermic story at the end is the most narrative yet
Word bubbles and actions that tell a story, woman seems to be in afterlife.

I finally finished the 2018 Black Mirrors… but wikipedia says while I was postponing watching this season, they went and made another season, oh no. So, only three episodes to go, not counting Bandersnatch, then I guess Charlie Brooker is gone, and we’ll see if the show continues without him.


USS Callister

Opens in a space exploration simulation run by the very Kirk-like captain Daly. Jesse Plemons is kind of a Phil Seymour Hoffman type with a Matt Damon face (haha, he played Hoffman’s son in The Master). Outside the sim, he’s the genius programmer at a gaming company run by Jimmi Simpson (lately from Under the Silver Lake), but inside, Daly’s the omnipotent tyrant boss, Jimmi his lackey, and the new girl at work (Cristin Milioti from Fargo the series) is his latest sexy captive, via some DNA-scanning tech (saliva from a drinking glass also includes the person’s consciousness, hmmm). While he’s messing up his job focusing on the simulated game-world, sim-Cristin contacts her outside self to turn the tables. Mostly this episode is notable for its fun retro Star Trek vibe. Directed by a Dr. Who vet and cowritten by a Stranger Things producer.


Arkangel

“This is your parental hub – I’m just pairing it with Sarah’s implant.” When Sarah is 3, she goes missing for a short time at the park, so her panicked mom agrees to a free trial, “completely safe,” of a permanent tracking implant that includes a sensory v-chip, keeping Sarah from seeing or hearing anything “troubling” (like her grandpa having a heart attack) for years. Not the first Black Mirror where people can be blocked like twitter trolls. When her mom finally turns off the filter, a kid at school shows her all the worst things on the internet all at once, haha. Mom (Rosemarie DeWitt, the bride in Rachel Getting Married) intervenes again when Sarah is 15, watching her experiment with drugs and sex as if her daughter is a streaming series, until Sarah finds out and smashes the surveillance tablet against her mom’s face. Directed by Jodie Foster!


Crocodile

Rob and Mia are returning from a rave when he runs over a biker on a lonely snowy road, and they throw the guy off a cliff (there are always nearby cliffs in movies) and move on with their lives. Years later, Mia (Andrea Riseborough, Mandy in Mandy) is an architect mom going to a corporate thing in The Future, when she catches up with Rob (Outlander‘s Andrew Gower), who is having major guilty thoughts about the past. She cannot deal with the past coming back to haunt her at this point in her career, so she chokes him and throws him in a room service cart, getting pretty confident about disposing of bodies. Meanwhile, an insurance investigator (Kiran Sonia Sawar of the new Riz Ahmed movie) hooks people up to a memory reading machine to find out how an orchestra musician got hit by a driverless pizza truck. Mia was a witness, and certain unwanted memories come to light during the scan, so she kills Kiran and her husband and their baby. I mean it’s kinda dystopian, but usually we get innocent victims and this time it’s “in the future if you do a murder, you’ll get caught.” Director John Hillcoat – after The Road, he made two crime movies that didn’t sound essential, and is supposedly working on a Witchfinder General remake.

Schoolkids of the Future performing a play of Hillcoat’s bootlegger drama Lawless:


Hang the DJ

The Netflix mind-reading device hidden inside our Roku knows that the Black Mirror episodes I think about most often are Video Game Horror Tester and Two Girls in Retro Land, so it gave me this right after USS Callister. Georgina Campbell (from the Geraldine Chaplin episode of Electric Dreams) and Joe Cole (of Green Room and Woodshock) go through the latest dating app, which puts expiration dates of extremely different lengths (from hours to years) on each relationship. Near the beginning, the two joke about being stuck in a simulation, and that turns out to be the case. A program exposing people to a series of experiences of different lengths to determine their precise individual tastes feels like a swipe at new Black Mirror overlords Netflix. It does finally play the Smiths song at the end, yay. Directed by Timothy “Master Ninja” Van Patten.


Metalhead

3 Scots drive a filthy car through a postapocalyptic landscape. Two are taken out quickly by the robot dogs armed with guns and tracking-device frag grenades that have decimated humanity, but Bella (Maxine Peake of this year’s Peterloo) fights back. Terminator-eye view as it chases her, but she knocks it off a cliff to buy time – there are always nearby cliffs in movies – and sets her tracking bug adrift in a bottle. Not sure I buy the resourcefulness of the murderdog, which replaces its lost limb with a kitchen knife, but I definitely buy that the security systems of cars and houses in The Future are programmed to let the dogs – presumably state security devices or Amazon delivery agents – have full access. Bella doesn’t make it. Slade made Hard Candy, hey, I was just thinking about that movie.


Black Museum

Nish (Letitia Wright, the techno-sister of Black Panther, who was nominated for an Emmy for this) is driving alone through the usual wasteland, stops at a gas station/museum, and lets proprietor Douglas Hodge (Pennyworth in the new Joker, film debut was Salome’s Last Dance) lead her around and tell overlong stories about the horror artifacts within, Nish claiming ignorance even though she’s here for revenge. Three long sections follow… first, doctor Daniel Laplaine (who played Handsome Internet Expert in Double Jeopardy) gets a transmitter so he can feel the pain of his patients, but becomes addicted to feeling sensation without any bodily repercussions and goes on a torture/murder spree. Then, Alexandra Roach (young Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady) falls into a coma and her husband Aldis Hodge (who just made waves in Clemency) agrees to let her consciousness cohabitate in his brain – but she gets annoying and he has a pause button (shades of the White Christmas episode). Both of these stories implicate the museum owner, who came up with the dodgy technologies that made them possible, but fired from the hospital after the mad doctor incident, he opened this museum with its main attraction: the VR consciousness of a condemned killer (Babs Olusanmokun of Where Is Kyra?) whom visitors can pay to electrocute on an endless loop – until Nish turns the tables, ends her dad’s torment-loop and throws in Hodge instead. Colm McCarthy also made The Girl with All the Gifts – really an all-star director slate this season.

Dr. Driller Killer:


Bojack Horseman season 3 (2016)

The one where Bojack thinks he was oscar-nominated for Secretariat, but was not… Princess Carolyn is fired as his agent… and they kill Kristen Schaal, oh no. Loved the wordless underwater episode, dug the Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard reference.


The Good Place season 4 (2019)

They try the neighborhood thing one more time, Shawn and Michael square off, the Judge lets them redo the points system instead of rebooting Earth, and in exchange for their help, our heroes go to the actual Good Place… for a while.


In other TV news, I’m savoring my Cowboy Bebops and waiting for Rick & Morty season 4 to return from hiatus. Avenue 5 and Final Space didn’t seem like my thing, need to check out a few more new shows before Search Party s3 comes out and dominates my time.

Not as Wes Andersonny as I’d been led to believe, just thoughtfully designed with attention to light and color, and ends with one of the characters putting on a play for all the others. Both Jimmie’s insistence on reclaiming his (false) heritage to find a place he belongs, and Monty’s long-suffering loyal hanger-on who can only speak his mind through the voices of others, are terrific characters. Jimmie Fails was in Talbot’s previous short film, and Jonathan Majors will be in the new Spike Lee.

Jimmie with a nudist who is not Neil Young:


Hair Love (2019, Cherry & Downing & Smith)

Before the feature, we watched this short, just a few minutes after it won the Oscar. It’s cute, the character poses very Disneyfied. Seemed minor to me, and I preferred the unruly hair drama of Random Acts of Flyness, but it’s also the only nominee I’ve seen, seems to be connecting with a lotta people, and it’s an indie kickstarter project, which is a welcome change since Pixar has won half the awards lately.