In the back of my mind I figured I’ve seen this years ago and just forgotten most of it, but nope, I couldn’t have forgotten this – a jaw-dropping sci-fi story (with funky music). Humans are pests and pets, the planet controlled by blue gill-eared giants. A highly-placed alien child calls his pet human Terr, which grows up and starts playing pranks and spying, eventually defecting to lead the tiny human revolution. Truce is called after the humans build miniature rockets, travel to the Wild Planet and laser down the alien sex statues.

Michael Brooke for Criterion:

Over four decades after its May 1973 premiere, it remains more or less unique. Its peculiar universe, designed by Roland Topor and realized by a team of Czechoslovak animators in Prague, is instantly recognizable from virtually any freeze-frame, and the film as a whole is so rich, strange, and sui generis that nothing has emerged since to retrospectively blunt its impact … [Topor] cofounded the Panic Movement with Fernando Arrabal and Alejandro Jodorowsky, named after the god Pan and intended to make surrealism as shocking as it had been in the 1920s, before its imagery and ideas were co-opted and diluted by the mainstream … he wrote the 1964 source novel for Roman Polanski’s disquietingly paranoid The Tenant (1976), appeared in Dušan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie (1974) and Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979, as the lunatic Renfield).


Les Temps Morts (1965)

I’ve seen Laloux’s earlier Monkey Teeth short, but this is when he teamed up with Topor. A grim little anthropological study of man’s propensity for murder. I think their sensibility worked better when applied to a fictional scenario – and the animation is in very rough form here, illustrations cross-faded in sequence, drawings shuffling Gilliam-style, but mostly the camera panning around stills. Some sharp stills, though – if you cut the live-action atrocity footage it’d make a good picture-book of horrors.


Les Escargots (1966)

A different kind of apocalyptic movie, this one really takes a turn. Farmer realizes his crops will only grow if he cries on them, so he walks around the field holding cut onions, reading sad books, and wearing an ass-kicking machine. The giant plants attract snails, which also grow giant, slide over to the nearest major city and utterly destroy it. Little Shop of Horrors may have been an influence.

Tying this up before part four comes out. Neo’s in limbo, aptly represented as a train station, having passed out using his matrix-powers in the real world. Morpheus and Trinity and the Oracle’s protector Seraph (Collin Chou with WKW glasses) visit Lambert for some interminable dialogue, cutting a deal to rescue him. But the dummies should’ve known not to trust a character named Bane, who gets reverse-matrixed, possessed by Agent Smith, and blinds Neo with a power cable (he can still see).

Movie is about 60% boring, and keeps trying to make us care about new characters, particularly the enthusiastic young Clayton Watson, a Neo fan who steps up during the climactic battle. But the Wachowskis are also good at creating touching human moments on the flimsiest of background and evidence. Carrie-Anne dies in a crash, and Neo gets the central AI to agree to reset the world if Neo can defeat the now thousands of Agent Smiths, which he does by simply absorbing them then exploding.

In 2003 we watched this, wanting it to rule, but it kinda sucked. In 2021, I am a serious auteurist cinephile who understands the unique artistry of the Wachowskis, rewatching with a corrected mindset, wanting it to rule, but it kinda sucks. The action certainly moves like a twice-as-big upgrade to the original, but the digital effects and music picks say otherwise.

Keanu dreams an extreme-bullet-time moto-leather-splosion intro, then he’s back with Larry, who always uses three words when one would suffice. Jada Pinkett Smith is a bigwig in a red coat. Humans live in caves, led by Harry Lennix, and worship Neo and Morpheus. Neo has hot sex with Trinity, then has to battle Oracle’s agent Serif before he’s allowed to visit her – those two are said to be programs, not human. At this point, Neo battles a playground full of Agent Smiths, who have been duplicating themselves.

There are too many new characters, and it’s very talky, but somehow Lambert Wilson and his wife Monica Bellucci are important – she opens a secret door behind a bookcase and shoots a guard with a silver bullet, then the albino twins turn into medusa-haired ghosts. The crazy car chase with the twins is just as crazy as I remember it, and Neo isn’t even there. This is all a quest to save the Keymaster, who all but admits he’s an NPC. Keymaster leads Neo to The Architect, who is of course a genteel bearded white man (c’mon Wachowskis). GW Bush appears when he says the phrase “varying grotesqueries.” “It was all another system of control” is very Adam Curtis. There’s talk of performing a full system reset, saving a few people after Zion is destroyed, but we’re distracted by the death and resurrection of Trinity. Chad Stahelski and Leigh Whannel both in the credits.

My WFH setup:

What I do at work:

Think I like this more now than I did when it came out. It was Phantom Menace Spring, and I wasn’t sure I enjoyed big-budget sci-fi spectacle anymore. Now I’m older and stupider, with fewer pretensions and hang-ups, and prefer a good flashy story over nonsense like this.

Opening noir scene is great. The Matrix 4 trailer is pounding white rabbit references into our heads, and I see those were present from the beginning. Neo’s side gig is selling $2k minidiscs to cyberpunks, and in straight life he’s Thomas Anderson… Thom Andersen… is that anything? It’s a verbose movie, and there’s a religious feel to the dialogue after he meets Trinity at a White Zombie nightclub. Forgot that it’s AI tech using humans as batteries, not aliens. The reflections in this are so good – in glasses, doorknobs, etc.

We know the five leads (Neo, Trinity, Morpheus, Agent Smith, and turncoat Joe Pantoliano), who else was on the team? The main guy in the ship is Tank: Marcus “son of Tommy” Chong, of a Mario Van Peebles movie. His brother Dozer (killed with a cheesy energy weapon) is Anthony Ray Parker, of Dead Air, a movie about a radio DJ on the air during a zombie invasion, from the year after Pontypool. Very blonde badass Switch was Belinda McClory. Apoc, I dunno who he is, I’m just upset it wasn’t spelled Epoch. Matt “Mouse” Doran died almost immediately but has the most impressive filmography, in a Lucas and a Malick, also a gangster Macbeth. The Oracle was Gloria Foster, who did respectable work throughout the 60’s. And Keanu’s stunt double went on to direct John Wick.

In a dismal grey-brown postapocalypse, Denzel hunts and cooks a cat, robs a corpse then relaxes to listen to his zune. Even babies wear sun goggles in town, the sun deadlier than ever since the nuclear event punched holes in the atmosphere. Local warlord Gary Oldman wants a bible to help control the populace and spread his influence, but passer-through Denzel has the only surviving copy, and is an unnaturally badass fighter, so a showdown ensues. Denzel and Mila Kunis leave town down the fury road, but Gary’s caravan catches up, and more showdowns ensue. The action’s not bad – an early slaughter, backlit under a bridge, puts a reminiscent scene from Resident Evil 6 to shame.

Most importantly, we are in Tom Waits Mode, and he appears in this movie as “the engineer,” aka he runs a barter shop across the street from Oldman’s saloon. He makes an uneasy deal to charge Denzel’s zune, then reappears at the end to open the lock on the bible, revealing that it’s in braille and D escapes to the Children of Men hope island with the entire book memorized. Waits is less pivotal here than in Seven Psychopaths, is mostly around to look cool.

Rare, cool wasteland-set movie, a whole methodically-posed headfuck art-feature a half decade before Marienbad. Vague reverb-affected announcements echo on the soundtrack as a truck drives over gravel and desert. I’m happy to see there are still flocks of birds after the German apocalypse. Driver drags passenger’s luggage to an abandoned-looking town where he finds a kid among drum-and-bass soundtrack jazz. The man loses his shit, pulls a gun on the kid (covered in ants) for not speaking, the woman spills her drink on purpose. Everything from the editing to the focus and music and sound takes turns messing with your head.

A monologue about Sisyphus as the moody driver lies under the truck covered in oil. I can’t tell if the movie is a time loop or if we spent some time in a flashback. Eventually the man finds a cute girl and shoots her dead – biggest surprise is when the cops show up and bust him, in what I’d assumed was a lawless wasteland. After the Goalie, I programmed an accidental double-feature of German stories of motiveless murder.

The credits claim participation by Hans Richter (according to a Richter interview, not true) and commentary by Albert Camus. Played Locarno ’55 alongside a couple of Jiri Trnka features and a Karel Zeman, a lot of nazi movies, and the latest prestige dramas from the US, UK, Germany and France

Vogel’s descriptions are off to a shaky start. “In a desolate, destroyed landscape – bearing now irrelevant traces of technological society – a man and a boy try to find their way under a
fierce sun.” There’s cars, oil, money and cops, all still relevant, and the boy isn’t trying to find his way anyplace.


More of Vogel’s Subversives…

Blue Moses (1962, Stan Brakhage)

Melies motion/edit tricks in a flickering cave. Sync sound! Clean dialogue, no music/fx, of a rich-voiced Wellesian actor, or maybe Charlton Hestonian per the film title. He seems to be riffing in a field, unsure what to say, Brakhage holding still on the actor but going into jitter-mode whenever the camera looks away at the scenery. The actor goes through a range of looks, sometimes wearing so much makeup he looks like a cartoon. Repetition of the credits (drawn in chalk on the rocks). In the last section the actor’s words and a projector beam with Stan’s shadow draw our attention to the filmmaking process. I’m out of the habit of watching Brakhage films – this is from the Dog Star Man years and is very good. Actor Robert Benson, a fellow Colorado resident, had also appeared in Desistfilm.


Canyon (1970, Jon Jost)

Full-day time-lapse looking over the Grand Canyon… shooting a few seconds at a time, lap dissolving the segments. I’d only seen narrative(ish) work by Jost, wasn’t aware of the shorts. Silent, so I played El Ten Eleven’s “Growing Shorter,” which worked great.

Mouseover to move the sun:
image

Thought it’d be fun to watch an apocalypse movie during an actual apocalypse, but it was not. Early scenes set up a couple families with typical problems (Jimmy’s girl Ruth tells him she’s knocked up) while global news stories play out casually on background televisions and title cards ominously tell us the population of Sheffield. Then – nuclear war!

Jimmy likes birds, and his brother dies in the blast along with the finches. The families are separated and never reunite in the chaos. The movie flashes forward in regular intervals, family members dying of illness and starvation, finally ten years later, Ruth blind and ravaged by fallout. In other news, the producers bought the rights to Johnny B. Goode, and they’re damn sure gonna play it.

“Everything’s shit. The only thing that’s not shitty is sleep”

I’ve apparently seen this before, under its Cemetery Man title, in some 90s VHS horror binge-watch, but remembered nothing of its greatness. Hard to believe that after the cool The Church, then the excellent The Sect, Soavi made a great English-language (with proper sync!) horror-comedy, as crazy as his others and just consistently high-quality in every department.

“Go away, I haven’t got time for the living.”

Gaunt Rupert Everett is our cemetery man, disaffected as he blasts the heads off the reanimated bodies of townspeople he buried the week before, living in a split shack with his assistant Nagi (Francois Hadji-Lazaro of City of Lost Children), keeping things pretty quiet and off the grid until Nagi falls for the mayor’s daughter, who goes riding with her biker boyfriend’s gang and gets into a wreck with a bus full of boyscouts, which brings public and government attention to the cemetery, along with a busload of new zombies. Rupert falls in love with a Mysterious Woman who keeps reappearing, sometimes as a zombie and sometimes as a whole new character.

An American movie might’ve kept this story going and lead to a conventional climax, but Soavi has to go bigger and weirder – after the grim reaper tells him to stop killing the dead, Rupert wheels into town and mass-murders the living – or somebody does, but even though we see him committing these crimes, the cops refuse to treat him as a suspect. “Somebody’s stolen my crimes.” Nagi digs up his beloved’s head, which can move on its own and takes up residence in his broken television. Rupert tries to make himself surgically impotent so the new mayor’s hot secretary (the Mysterious Woman again) will stay with him… he sleeps with a student then sets her on fire… then he and Nagi flee town and discover the rest of the world doesn’t exist.

“I just came back to see if this is real, if you were real.”

Kate Lyn Sheil, suspiciously named Amy in a movie written/directed by an Amy, is a mess, acting strangely in her new house and insisting that she dies tomorrow. Her friend Jane (Adams, star of Happiness) comes over to check on Amy, then Jane goes home to her microscope art and classical music until the flashing colored lights from Amy’s psychosis start to invade the house – and now Jane, too, will die tomorrow.

Jane’s checkup doesn’t go great:

In the parlance of the kids, this movie is a “mood,” and I am “here for it.” Amy and Jane wander into the world, their imminent death syndrome passing to everyone they meet. The movie begins to feel like a last day on earth story, like Last Night – no explanation is ever given, but we’re also given no reason not to believe the doomed protagonists. Some get high or go on adventures, some get real – break up relationships, disconnect their dad from life support(!). Instead of ending up an urn of ashes, Amy wants to be a leather jacket, and focuses her efforts on this. The cast plays it straight and is uniformly strong, including the usual suspects with some delightful additions (Michelle Rodriguez! James Benning?). It’s even produced by Benson and Moorhead, just gobs of talent.

Tunde Adebimpe!

Bilge Ebiri in Vulture:

As a filmmaker, Seimetz started off in the experimental world, and her willingness to let her narrative occasionally slip into abstraction serves her well, suggesting broader, more cosmic meanings. Her images blur, her frames pulse and shiver, bubbling microscopic phenomena wash over the screen, and fields of unreal color overwhelm the characters. The soundtrack assaults us with ominous thrums, blasts of classical music, whispers, and distant screams. The film is short and sparsely populated, but it can’t be called minimalist — it’s more of a clipped maximalism, bursting with expressive power before quickly pulling back, like a tale told by someone both eager and afraid to let you in on their darkest secrets.

Seimetz in Brooklyn Rail:

I was saying the other night at the Brooklyn premiere, sometimes, when I’m watching movies, the first 15 minutes are giving me a character’s CV, [spelling out] what this person does, what they do for a living, their boyfriend, their relationship status…as opposed to accessing something that I can’t put into words and just showing me their behavior, which I’m much more fascinated by. To do away with, “Okay, this is the character I’m exploring,” and just go, “We’re exploring that feeling,” and doing that with each individual actor and saying, “This is the energy you’re bringing to the scene,” as opposed to, “You work as a florist.”