V/H/S (2012)

Sample dialogue: “Fuck” “What the fuck” “Shut the fuck up” “Fuuuck”

I still think Betamax would be a catchier and scarier title (though I enjoy saying “I watched V/H/S on DVD”). This is a world where “online” exists, as do digital cameras, even tiny digital HD cameras with mics that hide invisibly in a pair of eyeglasses. So how come the movie opens with a bunch of miscreants filming their dirty deeds on VHS cameras? Since the kids have more than one VHS camera, the movie thinks it can edit as rapidly between angles as it wants (though not as rapidly as the sick-inducing trailer). These miscreants, clearly valued for their experience with analog cassette technology, are then hired to break into an old dude’s house and steal his special VHS tape. Each time a lone kid “finds” the tape (it was in the VCR, dummies) and watches a segment, he winds up missing. Fortunately once we’re through the stupid framing story (by Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, the duo behind A Horrible Way to Die) there’s less rapid editing in the single-camera stories within.

Unexplained why the camera-glasses sometimes show text reversed:

Amateur Night
Clint wears his videoglasses out to the bar with buddies Shane and Patrick and they pick up a couple girls and go to a hotel. Lisa passes out and the guys reluctantly decide not to rape her, so they aim their attention at large-eyed Lily, who has only ever said “I like you” quietly to Clint all night long. It’s unclear how/if she and Lisa were friends, since Lily turns out to be a hellbeast who kills them all, but not before Clint falls down the stairs and breaks his bones trying to escape. Written/directed by one of the guys who made The Signal

Yay, East Atlanta:

Second Honeymoon
Stupid couple Joe Swanberg and “Stephanie” are on a road trip, taking a vacation video which plays like an actual vacation video. This is a compliment to realism but an insult to cinema. While they sleep, a drifter girl breaks in and films them sleeping, which is honestly creepy. Then more vacation video. Then the girl again, but this time she straight-up kills Joe Swanberg. Turns out the girl (Kate Lyn Sheil of Impolex) and “Stephanie” knew each other, and this was a terrible plot to kill him and escape together. Writer/director Ti West also made The Innkeepers and House of the Devil, and I might be finished watching his movies.

Hotel intruder:

Tuesday The 17th
Ooh, a good segment for once, by Glenn McQuaid (I Sell The Dead). Wendy with traumatic past returns to wooded scene of horrible murders with three friends – but they’re not very good friends, and she invited them as bait to the killer, who appears as a red-stocking-headed glitch on her videocamera. “Why can’t I film you?” she asks, but it never explains if she can see him with the camera lowered. The camera also sees dead people, presumably from her last voyage to this spot, making this the only segment that uses the handheld camera for something interesting (the other stories would be no different if their characters had no cameras at all).

Digi-glitch-monster hovers over a victim:

The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger
Guy witnesses his girlfriend’s haunted house in their nightly video calls. She seems to be going nuts, seeing little people (we see them too) and digging in her arm with knives looking for foreign objects. Turns out the “boyfriend” is setting her up, has implanted a tracking device in her arm and is letting aliens lay eggs in her, or something. Directed by Swanberg, written by Simon Barrett (A Horrible Way to Die).

10/31/98
Another good one, written/directed/starring five guys who walk into a seemingly empty house looking for a halloween party, finally stumbling upon some attic ritual where rednecks have got a girl tied up. After some pretty awesome supernatural stuff happens, they rescue the girl, who proceeds to unleash supernatural stuff upon the survivors (then she gets their car stuck in front of a train). Didn’t recognize any Atlanta scenery, but someone is told to take Spring street.

Red Hook Summer (2012, Spike Lee)

Not a Do The Right Thing sequel at all, except for some embarrassingly distracting cameos by Spike as Mookie, still delivering pizzas. Except for Clarke “Lester Freamon” Peters’s performance and one crazy shot when his church’s holy-cross-shaped fluorescent lights reflect in his eyes as he goes on a defensive preaching rant, almost the whole movie is embarrassing.

Frohawked Atlantan kid named Flik Royale (okay, the names are good) is dumped on his grandfather Enoch in New York for the summer. They don’t get along, grandpa forbidding junk food and yelling about Jesus all the time, and Flik hiding behind his iPad and hanging out with asthma-having girl Chazz. What do we know will happen when someone in a movie has asthma? Yeah, that happens. Flik almost bonds with his grandpa after Enoch’s friend gives him some good advice, but suddenly a dude named Blessing crashes into the church accusing Enoch of child abuse years ago in Georgia. This takes over the movie – the preacher gets beat down by some gangster kid who’d stolen Flik’s iPad earlier, and Isiah “Sheeeeeeee” Whitlock “eeeeit” Jr. appears as Detective Flood in his third Spike joint. Then Flik, having learned nothing but at least made a friend in the asthma girl, goes home.

Thomas Jefferson Byrd of Girl 6 and He Got Game plays a drunk deacon. A character named Mother Darling is played by Tracy Johns, star of She’s Gotta Have It. Movie has a couple of blatant Michael Jackson references (note Spike’s other movie this year is an MJ documentary) and some amusing DTRT references: the phrases “do the right thing” and “that’s the truth, ruth” show up in the dialogue. Seems harmless until “do the right thing” comes back as a terrible song towards the end. Overall the music is innocuous, picture is unexceptional (with digi noise) and dialogue is groany.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force (2007, Dave Willis & Matt Maiellaro)

Rented this and Haywire for some mindless comedy and action downtime between complex euro-art films. Haywire brought the action, but Aqua Teen sputtered on the comedy. Should I blame myself for losing my sense of humor, since I always liked the show in the first couple seasons, or did the movie’s need to cram in familiar characters and plot points and locations, concoct an origin/creation story, and yet waste enough time on total nonsense to keep from violating the who-gives-a-shit spirit of the show, what was I talking about?

Jon Benjamin played a cop.

A. Nayman at Cinema Scope compares the summer’s animated films:

“What moron would pay to see something they can see at home for free?” asks Homer early in The Simpsons Movie. Besides reflecting the affectionate disdain (or is it just disdain?) the series’ writers developed for their ever-more-obsessive fanbase, this query is funny because it’s essentially true. “Your money is now our money, and we will spend it on drugs,” shriek the nasty snacks at the beginning of Aqua Teen. Equally true, considerably funnier, and fair enough.

Buy from Amazon:
Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters for DVD

Contagion (2011, Steven Soderbergh)

On the surface this was terrific, an expertly plotted thriller, more tensely captivating than any of the Ocean’s movies, with terrific music and excellent editing. But after giving it some thought and pitting it against Super 8, Contagion is starting to feel like slimy propaganda. The bad guy in the movie is Jude Law’s blogger, supposedly a whistleblowing, truth-seeking outsider but actually a treasonous scam-artist, eager to sell out. Government agents working for the CDC (headed by Laurence Fishburne) and some local labs (headed by Elliott Gould) are the good guys – not just good but angelic. They sacrifice themselves, working extremely hard and always putting others ahead – Fishburne gives his own dose of the long-awaited vaccine to the child of poor CDC janitor John Hawkes (because in Atlanta all our janitors are white guys), Jennier Ehle uses herself as a vaccine test subject to speed the process, and Kate Winslet dies trying to discover the virus’s source. So most of the way through the movie when some anti-government protesters appear outside the CDC, the viewer has automatic hatred for them. What sort of mindless malcontents would protest against these selfless public servants?

Heroes behind the scenes, Ehle and Martin:

Hero Fishburne with regular non-hero Hawkes:

The emotional Minnesota civilian center of the movie is Matt Damon, whose dead cheatin’ wife Gwynyth Paltrow was patient zero (as amusingly illustrated at the end of the movie). Marion Cotillard is a CDC researcher gently kidnapped in China by Chin Han, held for (fake) vaccine ransom. Bryan “Malcolm’s Dad” Cranston works for FBI I think. Demetri Martin, strangely, is Jennifer Ehle’s coworker. Soderbergh and writer Scott Burns (The Informant, Bourne Ultimatum) should’ve been hired for those 9/11 movies, or some kind of corporate response film to the Occupy movement (if anyone in power felt that Occupy required a response).

Jude Law in puffy suit:

Buy from Amazon:
Contagion blu-ray

Wanderlust (2012, David Wain)

Happily this was more Role Models than The Ten, a conventional-looking comedy full of State alumni and good writing. Only the second Jennifer Aniston movie I’ve seen (and unfortunately the first wasn’t Leprechaun). She and State/Wain regular Paul Rudd are a married couple who flee New York for Atlanta and stay with Rudd’s asshole brother Ken Marino and his drunk wife, then end up at a commune. Aniston hooks up with sellout Justin Theroux, while Rudd can’t manage to score with Malin Akerman, but since it’s a comedy, the married couple pulls through.

As per Role Models and Wet Hot American Summer, the movie freely uses hacky old plot points (slimy land developers are trying to tear down the commune) and messes with them (the commune would be safe if Alan Alda, hilarious as the only remaining member of the commune’s original founders, could remember where he put the deed). I enjoyed all the background cameos by Craig Wedren, Joe Lo Truglio as a nudist winemaker, overenthusiastic Kerri Kenney, Todd Barry as Rudd’s coworker in the city, and David/Michael/Michael as TV commentators.

Katy liked it too, pointed out that the title is off-base.

General Orders No. 9 (2010, Robert Persons)

“You are not a witness to the ruin. You are the ruin. You are to be witnessed.”

The quote made me space out for a while, since people near me in the theater had been mentioning Collapse before this one started.

A slideshow of a movie, like a PBS version of The Tree of Life. It alternately seems to be a prayer, a history lesson, and a curse against the city of Atlanta. The movie never feels like explaining its ideas in depth, preferring to crossfade into the next evenly-spaced slide, having the unhurried narrator repeat something he said a half hour ago, valuing experience and images over explanation.

I was pleased that shots of N. Dekalb Mall were used as signifiers of the big corrupt city, since I’ve been angry at that place since I left a screening of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World covered in ants. Less pleased by the rumbly drone of the music, which only seemed to brighten once in a while.

Ebiri liked it.

“This isn’t a lament for the Old South, or even really for The Way Things Used To Be. There’s an abstractness to the imagery and to the discourse that suggests Persons is talking about a symbolic passing. … The film’s tendency to avoid humans comes across as an attempt not to seal itself off from experience, but to make its imagery even more subjective. … Persons’s lament – his surrender – doesn’t feel like a search. Perhaps because he understands the thing he seeks might never have been there in the first place.”

Cheers to Carros and Fearon for the sweet map graphics.

“The weathervane is the center of it all.”

WonderRoot Filmmakers’ Night

WonderRoot’s Generally Local, Mostly Independent Filmmakers’ Night

Atlanta, Day One (John Duke and Kris Valeriano)
I liked. KV wears a three-dollar suit, tours picturesque ruins of Atlanta before he starts breaking down. I dig the editing at the end, as it cuts between scenes where he’s in the same physical pose, giving the impression of one movement transporting across locations.

Mouth 2 Mouth (Patrick Coll and Chris Chambers)
Hilarious, very short animation.

Until Dust (Nathan Honnold)
I remember saying to Jimmy afterwards that it’s good to know I’m not the only Guy Maddin fan in Atlanta, but I don’t remember much else. Oh wait, here it is on Vimeo! Blurry-focus titles, one of which says “hairdressing school,” yep, I stand by my Maddin comparison. Too bad it’s one of the only pieces projected interlaced, since it was shot originally on super8 film.

Rex (Jackson McDonald)
A guy picks up girls to feed to his hungry dragon. Shot decently and colorfully, complete with flashbacks.

Breathe (Fletcher Holmes)
Clever special-effects demo, shot underwater and somehow keyed, breathing SFX added later prompting a “how’d you DO that?” from the crowd.

17 Degrees Ain’t Nothing (Carlton Mackey and Dane Jefferson)
Two dudes got a camera, but what to film? They chose to interview some homeless people for an hour – and that hour changed their lives (the lives of the two dudes, not of the homeless people). A year later, footage is edited, theme songs are written, still photos are panned and zoomed, and lessons are learned.

The Charm and Rant of Charlotte Pomerate (Beth Malone)
The filmmaker has, what was it, a grandfather involved in “very far left” politics? And his wife wrote children’s books. And she was interviewed by her granddaughter, then the interview was turned into a claymation video… but it’s more “clay” than “mation”. Clay-still-life. Combines two styles I don’t like (documentaries about one’s relatives + animating audio conversations) but it was cute so I couldn’t stay mad.

Passion Seeker (Chris Chamber)
Video for a song by Little Tybee and Adron edited from 1930′s-90′s film clips. Played at around 2fps, and it’d be important to know whether that was intentional. If so, I’m not a big fan. If not, hey WonderRoot, I can give you advice on how to fix that. The song was nice.

Christmas and Hanukkah (Garry Bowden)
“Love is coming for us all,” says the description. A straight-faced romance soap-opera that inspired derisive laughter from the audience. Could Bowden be the Tommy Wiseau of Atlanta? Could he even be of Atlanta? I didn’t recognize any of the scenery, and it’s mostly shot outdoors. Story follows two people who find each other after sour breakups, shot by a man with a handicam but without a plan.

Heaven (Chris Sailor)
Heaven is a parking lot where echoes both precede and follow your words. You should be quiet, according to the man behind you in a creepy mask, but you are not. Also, you’d like a cigarette.

One Minute Fluid Toons on Paper (Brett W. Thompson)
Finally, the long-awaited return of Fluid Toons! Less narrative (and without the awesome sound effects) than the last installment, but any Fluid Toons is good Fluid Toons.

Godamsterdam: Yellow Fever (Ben Cohen)
Part of a web series celebrating political incorrectness. It’s no Sarah Silverman Program but it made me chuckle. Probably the most ambitious project here, setting up a regular cast of characters and a whole series of shorts, with higher than usual production values.

Shorts watched March 2009

The Ugly Duckling (1939, Jack Cutting)
Katy said the baby swan wasn’t ugly enough, but I think it’s that (1) he’s different from the ducks and therefore ugly to them, and (2) when he sees his reflection in the funhouse ripples of the water he appears ugly. IMDB says it was the final Silly Symphony cartoon, but it wasn’t very musical… no songs about what it’s like to be a duckling.

Katy: “They’ve turned The Ugly Duckling into a marital dispute.”
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Me: “Hey there were six baby swans in that shot! There are only s’posed to be five.”
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Atlanta (1996, Miranda July)
Miranda July’s performance as both the 12-year-old swimmer and her overbearing mother is wonderful. However, this is “video art”, which means it’s like a short film but it’s full of video static and looks like shit. The sound was defective on my copy, and since it’s all interviews, the sound is kinda important.
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The Summit (1995, The Bros. Quay)
For the first minute I thought “hey wow, the Quays have made something totally different from their usual pretentious goth stop-motion” and I was happy. A few minutes later that thought still stands, but I am not happy. In what language are these guys giving monologues in a featureless room? Oh wait, I get it, “summit”. Funny. Some sites list this as a short satirical art piece, another calls it a 70-minute failed pilot. I saw the short version. The Quays come out and shake their hands at the end. Jonathan Stone, one of the two guys, was in Institute Benjamenta.
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Jumping (1984, Osamu Tezuka)
Half a funny concept piece about someone who is an awfully good jumper and the places he ends up (incl. stereotype-africa and hell itself), and half a showoff reel of first-person perspective animation. Excels at both… wonderful.
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Sisyphus (1975, Marcell Jankovics)
Another showoff reel, this time of bodily poses and stress as Sis. rolls the rock uphill, but this one not as delightfully enjoyable as Jumping, and all full of horrible gasping groaning noises.
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5/4 (1974, Hieronim Neumann)
A split-screen stunt used to more wonderful effect than Timecode (or About Time 2), sometimes seeming to fragment a single image, and sometimes looking like different takes of the same action. Playful. Music is light and quiet and not in 5-4 and there are spacey 70′s-sci-fi sound effects whenever something cool happens, which is most of the time.
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