Chloe Sevigny (early-career, between Gummo and Boys Don’t Cry) works in publishing with her coworker/roommate/frenemy Kate Beckinsale, and they frequent the disco run by Chris Eigeman (Metropolitan). Kate dates ad-man Mackenzie Astin (star of The Garbage Pail Kids Movie a decade earlier), and Chloe dates Matt Keeslar (Waiting for Guffman, Rose Red), who turns out to be a district attorney investigating the club owners. Not being Stillman obsessives (yet) we didn’t recognize cameos by the Metropolitan and Barcelona casts.

M. ditched the movie halfway in, because she hated all the characters, but I thought hating the characters was part of the point (maybe not, since it’s based on Stillman’s own experiences) and greatly enjoyed. This came out a couple months before 54, less than a year after Boogie Nights, and I skipped it at the time, which was maybe smart since it’s more to my tastes now than in 1998.

A John Carter-like attempt to film an influential comic which many sci-fi movies (including Besson’s own Fifth Element) have been ripping off for decades. I’ll bet this was better in 3D. The movie seems to want to be in VR, having Valerian put on special glasses when he wants to see into other dimensions (recalling Freddy’s Dead).

The Pearls, a peaceful race of white Na’vi, live on Shell Beach with their pets who can shit dark matter, until their planet is destroyed as collateral damage in a space war led by Commander Clive Owen. Survivors have invaded the International Space Station (now a massive free-floating city of a thousand alien races) and learned all the alien techs to built themselves a supership Shell Beach simulator. Commander Clive sees all this as a threat, and sends soldiers to stop them, or something.

But first, Major Tom Valerian (Dane DeHaan: Lawless, A Cure for Wellness) is sexually harassing his coworker Laureline (Cara Delevingne: London Fields, Paper Towns). According to my Alamo Drafthouse waiter, their relationship made some kind of sense in the original comics, but human behavior isn’t Besson’s strong suit, so he’s botched it. These two are sent to interrupt a trade between Pearls and a Hutt unmistakably voiced by John Goodman, and during their escape a bulletproof rhinobeast wipes out their team.

Valerian’s boss, the General, looks like a Weasley but is actually Sam Spruell of Snow White and the Huntsman… then there are a series of higher-ups played by Rutger Hauer and Herbie Hancock who we barely see. Our team is eventually separated, and Laureline goes underwater with a beardy submariner named Bob (Alain Chabat of The Science of Sleep) while Valerian gets help from a shapeshifting Rihanna (after murdering her pimp Ethan Hawke), who does a dance which will be my most-watched scene on netflix once it comes out.

Some effects shots are very cartoony, not fooling anyone, and the action choreography is quite bad when viewed the day after Atomic Blonde. The very long info-dump ending is bad, the plot is mostly bad, the teaching Valerian about the meaning of love is bad, so I spaced out in the last half hour and tried to figure who Dane DeHaan reminds me of – is it Nicolas Cage? He’s fine, don’t get me wrong – all the acting and filmmaking is generally spot-on, just in service of a poor script. There is one great bit in the ending: Laureline is left alone with Commander Clive and just keeps punching him.

Anna Karina (between Vivre Sa Vie and Alphaville) tells her classmate Sami Frey (Thérèse Desqueyroux, a couple William Klein movies) that her employer keeps cash in the house. She starts dating Sami’s friend Claude Brasseur (the younger Brasseur in Eyes Without a Face), who hears about the money, and the three plan (barely) a heist. Thanks to Arthur’s big mouth, some armed criminal relative finds out and intercepts them, then Anna and Sami escape following a deadly shootout. But the movie’s not about what it’s about, it’s about how it’s about it.

Another rewatch from 2003, a pre-blog year when I watched a ton of movies that I now barely remember. My belly is a table.

AM/PM (1999, Sarah Morris)

Montage of nicely photographed moments within and above a city (Vegas?), somewhat recalling Broadway By Light with the closeups on signage and unique framings of familiar city objects… “the disorienting world of corporate hotels and casinos which utilise and redefine the spectacle in relation to architecture,” per an official description. Each scene of urban life has its own little MIDI song.


Capital (2000, Sarah Morris)

Opens in a parking lot, then moves to things we don’t associate as much with the word capital – Washington DC pedestrians, police, mail sorting, the newspaper. I assume we see Bill Clinton get out of a helicopter, but the picture quality on my copy is worse than ever so I can’t be positive. Finally an edit from a restaurant called The Prime Rib to a close-up of cash money, that’s the capital I’m talkin’ about. The music changes just as frequently as the other film, but here it’s darker and less dance-beatsy. I preferred Henry Hills’ take, called Money… or I’d gladly rewatch AM/PM with the soundtrack from this one. Sarah has made a bunch more movies since these. Her cinematographer moved on to Leprechaun 6: Back 2 tha Hood and the Teen Wolf TV series.


As The Flames Rose (Joao Rui Guerra da Mata)

A new version of Cocteau’s The Human Voice (a copy of which sits prominently on our protagonist’s nightstand) with excellent photography, theatrical lighting changes and fun greenscreen trickery. The lead (only) actor is João Pedro Rodrigues, Guerra da Mata’s codirector on Last Time I Saw Macao, talking on the phone with a longtime lover soon after their breakup, on the day of a huge (real) 1988 fire in Lisbon that destroyed shops and offices and apartments. Joao watches the news coverage on TV, and sometimes his body or his entire room gets overlaid with flame imagery while he sadly discusses the day’s events and the crumbled relationship with his ex. After hanging up, he puts on a James Blake record (in 1988, ahead of his time).

Mouseover to give Joao a new view from his window:
image


Beauty and the Beat (Yann Le Quellec)

Rosalba puts on the red shoes and starts dancing uncontrollably, and I thought for sure there’d be a connection but no, the premise is that she cannot keep from dancing when she hears music, a condition she tries to hide while working as a Paris tour guide. Her driver has a crush on her, invites her on a date, but is obsessed with Northern Soul records. I guess her secret gets out – anyway there’s lots of music and dancing, and that is fine. He was Serge Bozon, director of La France, and she (clearly) is a professional dancer.


Chemin Faisant (Georges Schwizgebel)

Drawings with great texture, the lines transforming into new scenes while rhythmic music plays. I know that sentence would describe thousands of animated shorts, but it’s all I got. “Through paintings that interact on the principle of Russian dolls, we are drawn along the swirling path of the thoughts of a pilgrim, a solitary walker,” says a description online.


Overseas (Suwichakornpong & Somunjarn)

Some handheld followcam action as a young woman in Thailand goes to work as a squid sorter. After work she gets a ride to the police station to report a rape, to obtain a police report for a legal abortion. The cop, who looks to be about 15, is kind of a dick. Codirector Anocha Suwichakornpong made By The Time It Gets Dark, which I heard good things about last year.

Some ancient maps and drawings and texts about Joan of Arc – good timing, since I was just reading about Bruno Dumont’s new Joan movie before putting this on. Then a half hour spent at a strip club (or exotic pole-dancing, if there’s a difference). The girls spend most of their time trying to uncomfortably (to me) hard-sell patrons to join them in the expensive private cabins. In private conversations we learn this is a job where girls tend to stay too long, as we’ve recently seen in LoveTrue. “But in my case I know this is only temporary,” says the new girl.

New Girl and her mentor finally venture out into town and meet the girl playing Joan in the town celebrations, spending a moment alone with her horse in the woods. They go to the parade to see their new friend in all her glory, then wander to a church… it’s all pretty low-key, a pillow-film between more substantial LNKarno screenings, but it ends the way all movies should end: telling secrets to a falcon.

A hybrid-documentary, it turns out. Vernier looks prolific, and his Mercuriales appears to be a similar sort of movie. Of the actors, I’m only seeing that Damien Bonnard later starred in Staying Vertical… but who was he, a strip club patron? If so, you could barely make him out under the murky red lighting.

Single-take camera move (always on the move) through a crowded park in Chengdu, China – further into the center of the country than Katy will travel this month (while I watched this, she was some 900 miles east, in Shanghai). There’s dancing and games and crafts and napping and work and food and commercial demonstrations and so much music – I don’t think there’s a moment where you can’t hear live or recorded music playing.

The camera seems to be waist-high (I later learned that Cohen held the camera while Sniadecki pusher her in a wheelchair), and it’s not hidden – people stare back all the time, and most of my interest in the movie (since the park itself isn’t historically/architecturally fascinating) comes from watching the people, and seeing their reactions as they watch back. I wouldn’t say there’s enough people-watching interest to justify its full 75-minute length though, and roaming a park from my couch kept making me wanna get up and go outside. Funny how far removed this felt from last week’s people-watching doc Austerlitz. The ending is good, the camera circling around a crowd watching a dance routine then breaking through into the center, ending on a great image.

Dennis Lim got the press kit:

Over three weeks they shot 23 takes ranging from 45 to 100 minutes, with many more aborted because of mishaps like miscommunication with each other or children running into their path. The final film… uses a 75-minute segment from the 19th try.

F. Furtado:

In a film with such an evident voyeuristic aspect as this, one usually expects to see the shot at eyes height; but, instead, the vantage point in People’s Park is lower, an unexpected perspective which sometimes breaks with the more repetitive patterns of some of its moments and procedures … There is undoubtedly an element of intrusion in these images: people often look straight at the camera suggesting curiosity and, other times, irritation (the film never allows us to forget that the filmmakers are not an element that belong to that landscape; this is literally a foreign look).

Glimpsed through the crowd – man with rooster on a stick:

Vadim:

Bursts into musical numbers via karaoke fiends co-existing with refreshing indifference to each other, mass dances and sing-alongs to Cultural Revolution standards, the state otherwise conspicuous by its absence … Few people stand out in memory, the point being the democratic proliferation of things to watch.

Produced by the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab (Sweetgrass, Leviathan). Codirector Sniadecki made earlier HSEL movie Foreign Parts, and later The Iron Ministry, and both were thanked in the Manakamana credits.

Parisian Rocky (director Amalric) is taking an American burlesque show on tour through France (but not Paris, because he can’t get a venue). It’s not the most sharply defined storyline, so you just have to enjoy hanging out with this crew, which I did.

Amalric gives himself a weird character tic, always asking hotels and bars to turn off their TVs and music, and stealing handfuls of candies and matchbooks from sample bowls. He drags his kids to a couple of tour stops, and everyone sings a Radiohead song in a hotel lobby.

It’s a warm-hearted movie, nothing amazing until the (amazing) last few seconds. I’ll watch Amalric in almost anything (not Quantum of Solace), and I gradually became able to tell the women apart and get a sense of who they were, but really need another couple of hours.

I watched a couple of Henry Hills shorts in 2011 and loved them to death, have seen them a few more times since. Checked out his DVD last year, which was less exciting, but I’ve gone back to it now and found some great stuff.


Bali Mécanique (1992)

Bali music and dance intercut with other festival scenes, daily life and architecture. The central performance is great – I love that eye movements are part of the dance – and editing is on point. Think this is my favorite of his non-New York films.


Electricity (2007)

Rhythmic rattle and clank, as streetcar rails slide past ancient building, interrupted by a dystopian white tower broadcasting numbers stations. Shot in Prague.


Kino Da! (1980)

Poet/activist Jack Hirschman sits reading in the grass, Hills creating new poetry by editing the hell out of his words.


Little Lieutenant (1994)

Dance and movement, mostly before greenscreen or projected sets, edited to a wackadoo music montage (Zorn, of course). Clips of war footage towards the end. This is one of the good ones, codirected with dancer/choreographer Sally Silvers.


Porter Springs 4 (1999)

Whew, more playful and less rigidly structuralist than the previous Porter Springs. More scenes from the country house on the lake, this time injecting sound clips, songs (I recognized “Cigareets, Whusky and Wild Wild Women”), photographs, home movies, single-frame montages, exposure tricks, silent scenes of shadow and water (callback to the first film?), a whole segment focused on the filmmaker’s feet


Failed States (2008)

1. Amusement park lights and motion, silently contrasting an upsetting-looking spinning and twirling ride at daytime vs. night.

2. Adding a ticking clock, and someone reciting letters and syllables, the rides edited against twiring camera on city streets and people spinning on their own feet.
Finally the sound drops away and the camera keeps endlessly spinning.

3. Spinning and twirling at an India street festival and the carnival rides, each with its own music.

This one has made Sicinski’s top ten of the year, along with films by Ben Rivers and Jennifer Reeves, and was on my Decade List long ago.

We closed True/False fest with a crowd-pleaser (literally, there was spontaneous mid-film applause) about high school step-dance teammates in their senior year. Can they overcome poverty challenges at home, excel at their school work, get accepted into college and win the coveted state championship while growing as people and taking Black Lives Matter concepts to heart? Yes! Katy’s only reservation is that it’s an advertisement for charter schools at a time when they’re politically contentious. It’s far from the most structurally or artistically interesting movie we saw at the festival, but the girls are wonderful, and we were treated to a pre-film live dance and a post-film Q&A, which the excitable director beamed into via Skype. Enormously good vibes all around.

The same promo image everyone is using:


That wraps our True/False 2017.

Musicians seen:
13 Strings and a 2 Dollar Bill
Mirah
Prahlad
Open Mike Eagle
Jesse and Forever
Mary Lattimore
US Girls
Thanya Iyer
Very Be Careful (three times!)
Travis McFarlane
Bella Donna
DeQn Sue

Good Food and Drink (abridged):
Apples and sausage on a waffle at Cafe Berlin
Pierogies at Cafe Poland
Pizza and burrata at Midici
Excel wine-barrel saison, and Boss tacos at Craft Beer Cellar
Rock Bridge cinnamon imperial milk stout on cask at International Tap House
Double rye IPA and cold nachos (but good service) at Broadway Brewery
Pretzels and an array of belgian ales at Günter Hans
Cast Iron brown ale and a reuben at Uprise Bakery
Beet juice and a breakfast burrito at Main Squeeze
Quinoa Benedict and strange coffee at Nourish
Thai slice at Pizza Tree
Mushroom fries, taro chips and a spicy sour at Room 38
and a Lagunitas at Bier Station Kansas City (on the way)