An animated anthology released on netflix, so almost everyone has seen it according to letterboxd stats (as many as Kimi, 3x more than Phoenix or Mad God, 5x more than Downton Abbey 2 or Beavis & Butthead 2) and practically none of the critics/publications I follow have covered it. It got a TV movie nomination at Annecy, winning second place to a short called My Year of Dicks. All three are stories about absolutely doomed attempts at house renovation, something a lotta people can relate to, and it’s all extremely high-quality work.

1. After a visit by some shitty rich relatives, dad goes outside drunk and sad and makes a midnight deal with the satanic spirit of a phantom architect to build the family a glorious new house. The house comes fully furnished, with daily meals and newfangled electric lighting, but after they move in the house starts changing, the architect making “adjustments.” The kids find their old house in the basement of the new house, then crawl lost through the walls, while the parents go mad, burning all their old stuff in a trance then transforming into furniture. The baby falling down the stairs was a rare action highlight.

Small faces on big fuzzy heads, and an all-star cast: the little girl is Mia Goth, her dad is Matthew Goode (crazy uncle of Stoker), and the architect’s rep is Mark Heap. The previous mid-length movie by directors Emma De Swaef & Marc James Roels won awards at Toronto and Annecy.


2. A flipper/investor mouse has fired his construction crew, is working on a renovation by himself during a recession. As soon as the house is finished he discovers a beetle infestation, which he tries to hide during the open house (at which he’s the only one wearing the little shoe-booties). An Odd Couple loves the house and decides to sleep there, then takes it over without paying – they turn out to be supermutant rat forms of the beetles. He goes mad, of course. As a new homeowner myself, I’m not concerned about this at all, nope.

Director Niki Lindroth von Bahr is Trevor’s Stockholm neighbor. I thought I’d seen all her shorts (though I’ve only written up Tord & Tord) but I’m just learning of a recent one; see below.


3. Cat Rosa is having a bad time fixing up the apartments she rents out, because the tenants don’t pay. It turns out new-agey tenant Helena Bonham Carter has a hippie handyman boyfriend, and Rosa is thrilled when he offers to help out. But he’s removing the floorboards to build a boat. The hippies turn out to be right, Rosa in denial, as rapidly rising water levels have doomed the house (actually it sails away too, providing the anthology an unearned happy ending).

Lead cat is Susan Wokoma of a Sherlock Holmes teen spinoff series, the broke artist Will Sharpe of The Wrong Door, and the handyman Paul Kaye of Game of Thrones. Director Paloma Baeza also acts, is married to Alex Garland.


Bonus short:
Something to Remember (2019, Niki Lindroth von Bahr)

Feels like The Burden part two. A continuous dreary song of hopeless depression, begun by a child in the first scene, continued into each subsequent scene by a character who was present in the previous one – from an empty zoo, through a mattress store and doctor’s office, culminating in nuclear disaster. Pretty catchy song actually, but the delightful innovation here is the clothing design on the birds, moles, beetles and slugs. Funny, the opening shot made me think of Roy Andersson, and Indiewire says she works with Roy’s set designer.

Searching for Josephine Decker I found an unusual anthology – five filmmakers adapting each other’s dreams. The introduction guy recommends watching in a trance state.

Black Soil, Green Grass (Daniel Patrick Carbone, dreamed by Wolkstein)

B/W forest fire tower, a couple wearing big headphones while she sings in (Italian?). They even bathe with ear protection, to not hear destructive sheep-counting announcements coming from the tower – shades of A Quiet Place or Pontypool. Our dude keeps getting distracted by insects, but finally destroys and replaces the man in the tower. Nice tape-dubbing montage in this.

First Day Out (Josephine Decker, dreamed by Baldwin)

A big jump to color, long-take camera roving through a house of dancers, with fun choreographed camera movements and match cuts. Conversation about court trial and jail. Long takes with each dancer in their own style reminds of the heights of Climax.

Beemus, It’ll End in Tears (Lauren Wolkstein, dreamed by Bodomo)

Coach Beemus seems sensitive in one-on-one but yells “enjoy the pain!” in groups. “This is not a drill” – he prevents them from leaving when the fire alarm goes off – “your bodies will protect you.” Maybe accurate to the feeling of the dream, but it’s no fun spending time with a shouting high school gym teacher.

Everybody Dies! (Nuotama Bodomo, dreamed by Decker)

A 4:3 VHS game show hosted by Ripa the Reaper, who seems to be fighting the producers/network. Her line “especially if you are Black” cuts to “Please Stand By” color bars. After killing a bunch of children, Ripa repeatedly fails to do herself in, doomed to star in the next episode.

Swallowed (Lily Baldwin, dreamed by Carbone)

A family goes shopping then back home. When baby feeds, mom has a disassociative mirror/light reverie, with horror-film skin effects. A kebab and corndog party devolves into mute psychosis, then the next day mom has an extreme milk-fueled kitchen freakout.

I already know Decker… Baldwin has danced with David Byrne… Bodomo is from Ghana, made Afronauts and wrote for Random Acts of Flyness… Carbone produced We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (that movie’s director produced this) and Chained for Life… Wolkstein made The Strange Ones (I’ve seen the short version), is working on a Dead Ringers remake (oh no).

Back in theaters for this one. I love going into Wes movies with absurdly high expectations, because he always meets them. I’ll read the hater critics some other time – maybe they were looking for something more than an endless parade of favorite actors and impeccable production design, but I wasn’t. Much of the movie is in 4:3 black and white, and either my screening was over-matted or the titles appear at the extreme top and bottom of frame.

Bookending segments in the newspaper office, with editor Bill Murray alive in the first piece and dead in the second. Bicycle tour through the town of Ennui by Owen Wilson. Story 1 is relayed by Tilda Swinton, involving art dealer Adrien Brody patronizing imprisoned painter Benicio del Toro whose guard/model is Léa Seydoux (they get some actual French people in here sometime). I was least involved in the middle piece, about faux-May’68 student revolutionary Timothée Chalamet’s affair with reporter Frances McDormand. Then Jeffrey Wright is reporting on celebrated police chef Steve “Mike Yanagita” Park, who helps foil a plot by Edward Norton to kidnap chief Mathieu Amalric’s son.

Michael Sicinski (Patreon) also liked the Benicio story best:

By contrast, Anderson’s snotty riff on May ’68, “Revisions to a Manifesto,” succumbs to the director’s worst comedic instincts, essentially declaring that political desire is nothing more than sublimated horniness … The final segment, “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner,” sort of splits the difference, although it is elevated considerably by a fine performance from Jeffrey Wright, channeling James Baldwin as a melancholy ex-pat uncomfortable with his journalistic distance. The story itself is mostly just a riff on The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s portrait of courtly civility as a bulwark against anarchy. But it’s Wright’s representation of honest inquiry, and humanistic curiosity, that makes it far less silly than it should be.

Watched again a month later, with Katy this time.

One of two new Hamaguchi movies. I wasn’t over the moon like I was with Asako, but these kinds of dramas are refreshing, and he’s playing with the same kinds of identity issues, and his next one is a Haruki Murakami adaptation, so I should keep up with these.

No time or screenshots, so briefly, it’s three 40-minute short stories. First, Hyunri likes a new guy, tells her model friend Kotone Furukawa about it in a cab, Kotone realizes it’s her ex Ayumu Nakajima and confronts him at his office. Next, a bitter ex-student of an award-winning professor Kiyohiko Shibukawa (a minor Miike regular) sends his girlfriend Katsuki Mori to seduce the prof and get him into trouble, which ends up fucking over everyone involved. Finally, after a megavirus has knocked out the internet (!), former classmates attend actual reunions again instead of liking/blocking each other on facebook. Kawai Aoba sees old friend Urabe Fusako and their catchup meeting turns into wistful reminiscence and play-acting when it turns out they never knew each other.

Vadim Rizov in Filmmaker:

Wheel is greater than the sum of its individual stories, building an intricate system of echoes across three stories of frustrated relationships, each told in three or four long scenes, primarily in prolonged interior exchanges between two characters … the structure and tone were directly inspired by Eric Rohmer’s 1995, three-part anthology film Rendez-vous in Paris.

I heard about a Jonathan Rosenbaum lecture series on 1950’s cinema, and thought it’d be fun to catch a couple nights, using it as an excuse to watch the titles on the schedule I hadn’t seen before (this and Bitter Victory). We watched the movies on our own, then met for the discussion. I sat in bed with a beer, imagining joining hundreds of others watching a J.Ro performance from a stage or lecture hall somewhere, but whoops, there were only ten of us for a cameras-on small-classroom situation.

It’s an anthology feature, the first and third segments (and I think the framing pieces on a cruise ship) by Reinhardt (a former Lubitsch protege). Part one is about Moira Shearer doing what Moira Shearer does best – but the wrinkle is she has a heart condition and can’t dance or she’ll die. But she says she can’t live without dancing – so, very Red Shoes, but also brings to mind Le Plaisir, an anthology film from two years earlier which also opened with a dancer collapsing. Shearer sneaks away from her keeper Agnes Moorehead and meets theater director James Mason, who is writing a whole new dance around her style, and this all ends in tragedy but it’s fun while it lasts.

Upsetting my auteurist preconceptions, the Minnelli segment in the middle was my least favorite – in part because it’s starring and narrated by an obnoxious little boy (oh no, this is 12-year-old Ricky Nelson, only 6 years before Rio Bravo). He detests his governess Leslie Caron (soon after debuting in An American in Paris) who reads mushy French poetry all day, so a witch (late-career Ethel Barrymore) agrees to make him grown-up for one night so he can experience independence. But when he’s grown-ass Farley Granger, he suddenly develops a taste for French poetry and for Leslie Caron.

Ricky and the witch:

Granger in the best scene, not with Caron but with… Zsa Zsa Gabor!

In the final story, disgraced acrobat Kirk Douglas rescues suicidal bridge jumper Pier Angeli, then since he needs a new trapeze accomplice and since she has nothing to lose, he trains her for his next big act. Most of the rest of the movie is these two being impossibly fit, doing legit aerial stunts. I don’t buy a single thing in this segment, but it has a good ending and it’s great fun. The Reinhardt segments really shine by showcasing talented people exercising their skills.

Aside from the movie – after all the books and articles I’ve read by Rosenbaum, finally I’m seeing him live, in an underlit room on a Zoom meeting, talking about orgasms. As to whether the film seemed hokey, “it’s the kind of hokiness I’d like to take a bath in.” Reinhardt and the actors were discussed, and the stories and why/whether they succeeded, and realism. The part that got me was his talk about existentialism, which apparently does not mean what I’d assumed it meant, the stories being all about the present tense. “The fact that you exist is more important than why you exist.”

Every SHOCKtober you’ve gotta watch an anthology horror… this played at the Plaza this month, but I didn’t feel like going out during the apocalypse so I watched the blu-ray at home.

Three drug guys have heard that there’s a package for them at a funeral home, but before he’ll give them “the shit,” the mortician shows some bodies and tells how each met their demise. So far, so anthology-horror, but the difference here is that the framing story is the best part, due to an incredible performance by mortician Clarence Williams III (Prince’s dad in Purple Rain, a lead on The Mod Squad, and hey, this is my second movie in a row with an actor from The Cool World). He plays it big and campy, with a comic unpredictability without losing his menacing edge, and whenever the three guys ask for their shit, he repeats “the shit” in the craziest way.

Anyway, story one: Anthony Griffith (of Panther the same year) is a rookie Black cop whose white partners beat a Black political rival (Tom Wright, also star of an anthology segment in Creepshow 2) to death while “Strange Fruit” plays – so it’s gonna be an unsubtle social issues movie. Anthony can’t take the heat and leaves the force, but that’s not good enough. “Where were you when I needed you?” After hunting down and killing the three cops as brutally and ironically as possible, the vengeful ghost frames Anthony for their deaths. One of the white cops was in The Crow, another in Texas Chainsaw Massacre III.

The next story involves extreme domestic abuse mixed with It’s a Good Life. I dunno what made them cast David Alan Grier as a violent monster stepdad, but it works out. The writer/director plays a concerned teacher who comes to student Walter’s house, meets his hot mom (Paula Jai Parker of She Hate Me and Friday), and they all get tormented by wicked Grier until Walter (who later played Young Michael Jordan in Space Jam!) takes his psychic revenge.

A racist white southern politician named Duke (heh) is running on an anti-affirmative action platform while living in a house where a lot of bad historical shit went down, until a small army of stop-motion dolls imbued with the souls of murdered slaves take him out (this has better puppetry than the Puppet Master movies). Corbin Bernsen (between Major League II and The Dentist) is the main racist, and Roger Guenveur Smith (Do the Right Thing‘s Smiley) is his image consultant (who is also murdered).

Starting to bring things home for the framing-story boys, the fourth body is a guy they knew. Jerome (Lamont Bentley of TV’s Moesha) is a crazy murderous gangster paired up with a klansman in prison by “experimental” doctor Rosalind Cash (Buckaroo Banzai, The Omega Man) under the logic that they both killed a lotta Black people. Jerome is tormented, but won’t repent, and all this turns out to be a years-long dying fantasy as he’s killed in the street in the first, pre-prison scene.

Cash died of cancer just months after this film’s release:

Obviously at this point the three dudes are gonna discover coffins of their own in the funeral home, though I didn’t need the mortician to turn into a literal demon, he was fine as he was.

Rusty also directed Chappelle’s Show and made Fear of a Black Hat, which suddenly seems essential. One of his two belated sequels stars Keith David in the mortician role, which could work, and the other stars Tony Todd. Rusty’s cowriter on all three films is Darin Scott (also: Vincent Price anthology From a Whisper to a Scream, Danny Trejo anthology Mr. Malevolent, and he directed Jeffrey Combs in Dark House).

I blocked off late January for Rotterdance, and premiere screening Asako was fantastic, then Belmonte and Rojo were pretty whatever… so I’m looking at the remaining options for the following week… Monos, Happy as Lazzaro… movies I keep hearing are great but don’t look attractive like Private Life and The Souvenir… mass-murder fashion-thing Vox Lux… serious stuff by Loznitsa and Petra Costa… and La Flor is there on the list, the ridiculous outlier which obviously I’m not gonna watch because there isn’t time. So that’s what I watched.

Movie from Argentina, in multiple episodes, with multiple chapters, the whole thing cut into multiple parts which don’t align with the episodes (but do align with the chapters) – it’s complicated. The director helps lighten things up by introducing the project in a prologue, looking into camera without moving his mouth, narrating in voiceover, and drawing his diagram of the film’s structure which landed on the cover of Cinema Scope.


Episode 1

Proper b-movie length at 80 minutes, and shot on low-grade video. The audio sounds dry and dubbed, but looks to be in sync. Scientists receive shipment of an ancient mummy, have to babysit it after hours, but one girl (and a black cat) get mummy-cursed, so a psycho-transference specialist comes to help. “I’ll tell you more about it,” she says, as the movie suddenly cuts to episode 2. A Mac OS 9 skype window proves this movie has been in the works for a long time.

Elisa Carricajo = Marcela, lead scientist who is introduced on an awkward date before hectic work day
Laura Paredes = cool, efficient doctor Lucia
Valeria Correa = dazed, cursed, water-guzzling Yani
Pilar Gamboa = mummy-curse specialist Daniela

Dr. Elisa, Dr. Laura:

Mummy-whisperer Pilar:


Episode 2

Famous singer Victoria reminisces to her hair-streaked assistant Flavia about Vic’s rocky/successful recording career and personal life with lousy singer Ricky. Out of the blue, Flavia is in a scorpion cult with the secret of eternal youth, but cult leader Elisa Carricajo doesn’t seem to trust her. Andrea “Superbangs” Nigro, a rival singer, has a whole speech about storytelling and protagonists (it’s a monologue-heavy episode) and is present in the recording booth during the very good climactic Victoria song (but why? I spaced out for a while).

Singer Victoria = Pilar = mummy-curse specialist Daniela
Assistant/Confidante/Cultist Flavia = Laura = cool doctor Lucia
Superbangs singer Andrea Nigro = Valeria = cursed Yani
Scorpion cult leader = Elisa = lead scientist Marcela

Nigro:


Episode 3

Epic spy drama that starts out fun, tries to pivot to being mournful as everyone appears to be doomed, and takes long sidetracks into backstory. The four lead women are teammates in this one – briefly they were five, until their leader Agent 50 takes out the mole sent by a rival assassin collective led by “Mother.” Both team leaders report to Casterman, a spymaster ordered to kill off his own people. It’s like pulp Oliveira at times – it’s never comedy, but has a delightful heightened quality to it. Multiple narrators of different sexes with different viewpoints, and at one point (not even at an intermission), Llinás stops the episode to show off his storyboards.

Casterman:

Commie-trained mute spy Theresa = Pilar
La Niña, daughter of a legendary soldier = Valeria
La 301, globetrotting assassin = Laura
Agent 50, Ukranian super-spy = Elisa

The promo shot… from L-R: 50, 301, Niña, Dreyfuss, Theresa:

My favorite scene, kidnapped Dreyfuss in the cosmos:


Episode 4

After all that narrative drama, this episode is aggressively messing with us. The actresses play “the actresses,” undistinguished and ignored. Llinás introduces them to new producer Violeta in a studio scene of choreographed arguments, then he ditches his production, taking a mobile crew to film trees in bloom with relaxing string music, stopping frequently to write in his notebook. I think it’s a parody of the pretentious filmmaker who has lost his focus/inspiration.

Halfway through, the focus changes, as paranormal investigator Gatto arrives at the site of a mysterious incident, finding the filmmakers’ car high in a tree, the camera and sound crew raving mad, and Llinás missing, having left behind his journals. Gatto calls the La Flor script notes “a load of crap,” gets mixed up with some residents of a psychiatric colony, and follows the director’s tracks through a series of used book stores, as Llinás searches for an old copy of Casanova with a deleted chapter. This all sounds like nonsense, but it comes together beautifully by the end, after seeming like a waste of time for a good while.

“He never refers to any of them in particular, as if the four were a single thing:”


Episode 5

“In episode five, the girls don’t appear… at the time we thought it was interesting.” I think it’s the same Guy de Maupassant story that Jean Renoir filmed in the 1930’s. A couple of cool dudes with fake mustaches give horse rides to a whitesuit man and his son, when they’re derailed by a couple of picnicking women, who pair off with the mustache men after whitesuit rides away. This is all capped with an air show, and is a lovely diversion after the long previous section.


Episode 6

Heavy organ music and intertitles – the four stars are reunited, but blurred as if shot from behind a dirty screen. Aha, it’s filmed using a camera obscura, a pre-camera device which throws a reverse image through a pinhole. Supposedly the women have escaped from unseen savages and are dodging a giant steampunk insect before returning to their homes. Partially nude and without closeups, they’re finally indistinguishable.

Essential reading: Nick Pinkerton for Reverse Shot and Jordan Cronk’s Cinema Scope feature.

Grotesquely happy, murderous singing cowboy Tim Blake Nelson explains that he’s not a misanthrope in the Coens’ most self-referential piece yet, before he’s killed by a Hail Caesar singer.

James Franco gets hanged for his comically failed bank robbery, then again after escaping on account of Indians killing the guys hanging him, the point of the episode seeming to be the joke where he turns to another guy getting hanged and says “first time?”

(Nearly?) mute Liam Neeson wheels a monologuing human torso (Harry Melling) from town to town until tastes change and Neeson finds new entertainment that’s cheaper to feed. A haunting and cynical segment – wonderful looking, with rich storybook color, as are they all.

Tom Waits as an ol’ prospector, the role he was born to play, just searching for gold in a gorgeous river valley amongst deer and owls. The lead character has died at the end of every segment so far, so I was afraid for Tom, but he turns the tables on would-be thief Sam Dillon.

Finally it’s a woman’s turn to meet a sorry end: nervous Zoe Kazan, a wagon train widow who is very nearly protected from Indians by Bill Heck and Grainger Hines.

Then five mismatched people in a coach, like a Stagecoach parody, ending up like Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors with all of them already dead.

Watched at the Landmark, and reserving further comment until I either rewatch and get some sweet screenshots, or order that Adam Nayman book.

Oh no, it’s a bunch of right proper British people. Just looking at them in their identical suits, I can tell they’re going to tell the most tame unscary ghost stories and the others will act like it’s just so horrible they might spill their tea.

Mr. Craig (Mervyn Johns, 1951’s Bob Cratchit) arrives at a hotel, says he’s never been there and doesn’t know anyone but he has dreamt this and knows what will happen. Series of stories/flashbacks ensue, while a doubting psychologist with an overdone accent (German Frederick Valk) observes.

Cratchit and the German:

First we’ve got auto racer Hugh (Anthony Baird), who had a premonition of a creepy hearse driver that reminded me of the first story of The King in Yellow, skips riding a bus that ends up crashing. Not a terribly spooky way to start the movie, if you haven’t just read The King in Yellow, directed by Basil Dearden of The League of Gentlemen fame.

Next, Sally (Sally Ann Howes) recalls a party, and the only thing worse than uptight proper British adults is British youngsters. She meets a ghost boy who lives in the walls, and either this segment was quite short and nothing much happens, or I’m just blocking it from my mind due to all the youngsters.

A good one next, by Robert Hamer (Kind Hearts and Coronets), in which a wife (Googie Withers of One of Our Aircraft is Missing) gives her new husband (Ralph Michael) a haunted mirror, which shows him an alternate reality that entrances him for hours at a time.

Charles Crichton (The Lavender Hill Mob) directs the weirdest segment, a love triangle between two sportsmen who propose a golf game to win the hand of Mary (Peggy Bryan), who is delighted by the idea instead of appalled, because it was the 1940’s. The older Michael Caine-looking guy wins by cheating, so the other guy suicides into the water hazard, then returns as a ghost to torment his buddy during golf games. The two guys are Charters and Caldicott of The Lady Vanishes, Night Train to Munich and Crook’s Tour, and I wouldn’t normally welcome a wacky comedy golfing bit in the middle of my ghoul anthology, but they pull it off.

Finally, the obligatory ventriloquist dummy story, directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, who also did the framing story and the youngsters with the ghost in the walls. I’ve seen Cavalcanti’s gonzo silent Nothing But Time, but he has fully adjusted to the sound era, because all the characters talk too often and use too many words. Hartley Power is a balding ventriloquist who crashes the show of Michael Redgrave (also The Lady Vanishes, and The Go-Between), annoyingly creates a rivalry where there didn’t need to be one, while the psychologist has himself a flashback-in-a-flashback. I think one of the dummies is alive, but I was focused on the movie having a Harry Parker and a Larry Potter, and how close they came. Whole bunch of writers, including H.G. Wells, who did the golf story of all things.