Alloy Orchestra returned, with a double-feature this time! First up was this highly ridiculous adventure story, full of corny nonsense, but also featuring some fabulous stop-motion dinosaurs and a cool monkey.

A beardy madman (Wallace Beery of wrestling picture fame) insists to a roomful of people, Lost City of Z-style, that his previous expedition had discovered a plateau where dinosaurs still live, but everyone on his team is now missing so he needs a new team. Sportsman Lewis Stone (Stars In My Crown, Queen Christina) would like to come find new creatures to shoot, and his buddy, romantic doof reporter Lloyd Hughes (title star of Rip Roaring Riley), gets himself invited to impress a disinterested rich girl. Professor Arthur Hoyt (the director’s older brother, mayor of The Great McGinty) comes too, and so does Beery’s dead ex-teammate’s daughter Bessie Love (her final film was The Hunger). Everyone proves to be pretty capable (especially the monkey) at getting into trouble and getting back out of it, and the doof falls for Bessie. More impressive than the “oh shit we’re dead, might as well die together” romance is that the dinosaurs, which would seem to have limited area to live and breed, are constantly killing each other and falling into tar pits. The humans manage to bring a live brontosaurus home to London, where it escapes and nearly goes full King Kong, finally destroying a bridge and either swimming away or drowning, it was hard to tell which.

The evening highlight was A Page of Madness, which had a more experimental score and blew everybody’s minds.

I’ve previously written up McCay’s Little Nemo (aka Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and His Moving Comics) and How a Mosquito Operates and The Sinking of the Lusitania, and Bill Plympton’s restoration of The Flying House. Well, I got my hands on the Master Edition DVD, so now I’m watching (in most cases rewatching) the rest.


Gertie The Dinosaur (1914)

Similar to Lusitania, the full movie is more than the animation – it opens with a documentary account of the cartoon’s inspiration, with intertitles explaining to audiences unfamiliar with animation how work-intensive the process was. Per the commentary, the shorter version of this film lacks the intro and titles and was played in a live show with McCay on stage interacting with his dinosaur, giving commands and having conversation. I like how the commentary says Emile Cohl and J. Stuart Blackton were McCay’s primary influences, but that McCay also publicly claimed to have invented the animated film.

Gertie attacks the camera/presenter:

Guess what’s about to happen to that stack of original Gertie drawings:


The Centaurs (fragment)

Because you can show topless women if they’re half horse. A weird, slow-moving little piece that Canemaker imagines may have been part of McCay’s vaudeville act a la Gertie.


Gertie On Tour (fragment)
Gertie torments a trolley then dances for a crowd of dinosaurs. Animation scholars today don’t know why.


Flip’s Circus (fragment)

Little Nemo character Flip performs a stage show with a mini-Gertie, which finally eats Flip then vomits him out. Serves him right, really, since Flip spends half the movie beating the thing with a club.


Bug Vaudeville (1921)

Sketches of insects doing circus-like stunt routines on a stage, each one lasting about twice as long as it could. All this is being dreamt by a hobo under a tree (his head appearing MST3K-style watching the insect action) who frustratingly ate some cheesecake, not rarebit.


The Pet (1921)

Cute little creature walks into a house where a woman feeds it. It grows visibly larger while eating. As as it grows, it eats increasingly large things, from food to dishes to household decorations, finally to buildings and airplanes, until the army blows it to bits. Favorite scene: the pet drinks from a hose, then slurps up and eats the hose like spaghetti. Of course this is all just a rarebit dream by the man of the house, who eats dinner at “the club” and resents his wife for wanting a pet. Plympton’s redo of The Flying House is great and all, but I think this was my favorite of the rarebit fiend shorts.

The included documentary, Remembering Winsor McCay (1976) by John Canemaker, is cool for providing first-hand accounts of McCay’s life and work by his younger assistant John Fitzsimmons. But since the films are silent, I’d already played them with Canemaker’s commentary, which reuses all of Fitz’s stories and comments.

First film watched in 2016 and it’s… pretty good? Kinda of a Lion King-cribbing story with dialogue mainly consisting of Big Life Lessons and setup for them. We liked the concept – talking, farming dinosaurs and barking, feral humans – but I paid more attention to the (beautiful!) lighting than the characters. Only voice I definitely recognized was Sam Elliott as the daddy t-rex rancher, but we’ve also got Jeffrey Wright as Mufasa and Steve Zahn as an evil pterodactyl.

Arlo is small, afraid of everything, bad at his chores, and present when the river floods and his dad dies. Will he go on a great adventure and learn how to overcome his fears and become a responsible adult? Yes! He and the human he names Spot help each other out, dodge carnivorous dinos, find food and figure how to get home, all set to blandly soaring music. I sound like I’m being dismissive, but I got so emotional my head hurt.

Director Peter Sohn made Partly Cloudy, the stork short. Original/replaced director Bob Peterson cowrote Pixar’s best features, but even better, he’s the voice of Roz in Monsters Inc and Dug in Up. Changes between the cancelled version of the movie and the final release: Arlo is younger, major unspecified story changes and whole voice cast replaced except for Frances McDormand as Arlo’s mom.

Sanjay’s Super Team (2015, Sanjay Patel)

Imagination-memoir, in which young Sanjay learns to fuse his interest in a televised superhero team and his dad’s Hindu prayers. A bit of culturally-diverse fun, and a massive improvement over Lava. Looks like Patel has been with Pixar since at least A Bug’s Life.

I watched this again after seeing Intolerance and realizing this was a parody. I didn’t love it the first time – maybe my least-loved of all Keaton’s features, so thought I need to give it another shot. Well, I still don’t love it but it’s got some good scenes.

Love triangle:

Three time periods – modern, roman and caveman (with stop-motion dinosaurs) – featuring the same cast: Buster wants The Girl (Margaret Leahy, who won the role in a beauty contest), but she’s grabbed away by Wallace Beery (best known as the star of Barton Fink‘s unfilmed wrestling picture). The Girl’s parents (Lillian Lawrence and Keaton’s longtime anatagonist Joe Roberts) prefer Beery, but Keaton’s tenacity and stunt-survival skills win the girl’s hand in the end.

Her parents:

Best bits: Keaton jumping from one building to another and missing (an actual stunt-gone-wrong), his car falls apart while he’s driving it, Buster’s rival plans to pummel him during a football game – come to think of it, all my favorite parts are from the modern segment. The cave era is all downhill after the animated dinosaur. Roman spends too much time with a man in a lion costume, and has a classic bit of racism when all the negro servants come running when they see Buster throwing dice.

This completely lived up to expectations. I’ve been a big Malick fan since The Thin Red Line, and this movie showed plenty of his current style (whispered voiceovers about pained relationships as the camera pans up through the trees) while forging a whole new one, had the boldness to turn a man’s memories and inner life into a visual montage of the history of the planet Earth. It shows small moments, real and imagined, and becomes almost completely untethered to plot. It’s almost unbelievably gorgeous in the way it looks and moves through time. But all this is what I expected, from reading vague reports of the film’s genesis as Malick’s intended follow-up to Days of Heaven, to its winning the top prize at Cannes last month, to the rapturous critical acclaim it’s been receiving upon release. I expected the best, most ambitious movie of the year, by a long shot, and that’s pretty much what I got, so I’m gonna have to process it for a while.

Jack and his brothers live in a quiet Texas town with proud, hardass father Brad Pitt (representing Nature in the film’s mythology) and pure, uncritical mother Jessica Chastain (representing Grace), both of them loving in their own way. Years later, Jack is Sean Penn working at a giant, modern architecture firm, looking world-weary. He chats with dad on the phone (we don’t get to see Brad pull out the Ben Buttons old-age makeup), but Katy guesses that mom has died, maybe recently. Oh, also there’s the history of the universe and of life on earth, with CG dinosaurs. The movie scatters its narrative for so long, it’s like a two-hour trailer for a life-length feature (or perhaps just the rumored six-hour cut). It’s like nothing else, ever, not 2001: A Space Odyssey or Malick’s earlier movies or anything else it’s being compared to.

Production design by “man in the planet” Jack Fisk (all five Malick features, four by Lynch plus There Will Be Blood and Phantom of the Paradise), shot by Emmanuel Lubezki (The New World, Sleepy Hollow, all the Alfonso CuarĂ³n movies), music (very good, sometimes too large and overpowering) by Alexandre Desplat (Fantastic Mr. Fox, Birth) and edited by a bunch of guys (including, counterintuitively, Jarmusch’s buddy Jay Rabinowitz).

It’s not hard to find people walking about Tree of Life, but it’s surprisingly hard to find film critics as unhesitatingly impressed by it as I was. Suppose they’re doing their job, hesitating to fully recommend the most narratively unhinged major film of the year. I haven’t been recommending it around much myself. P. Bradshaw in The Guardian calls it “a rebuke to realism, a disavowal of irony and comedy.” The movie has no built-in defense against people who snicker at the cartoon dinosaurs and the whispered voiceovers and the biblical metaphors. It takes itself very seriously and demands that you do the same, or the whole thing could fall apart.

What was initially announced as Auteur Completion Month is now the longer-term Auteur Completion Project (because it can’t be “completion” if I give up when the month changes). I don’t especially aim to watch everything Mel Brooks has been involved with (never saw Dracula: Dead and Loving It because his previous two were so bad) but I noticed that his one classic-era comedy feature (oops, besides The Twelve Chairs) I’d never seen was the one Jonathan Rosenbaum placed on his 1000 favorite movies list. And now that I’ve seen it, I must conclude that it was a half-remembered nostalgic favorite for JR, not one that received much recent, critical thought.

Starts off unpromisingly, with a jokey Orson Welles voiceover (the year before Slapstick; maybe the great man should’ve hired an agent) and a hokey caveman sketch starring 50’s comedian Sid Caesar (whose last movie to date was Stuart Gordon’s The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit). Catalog of human innovation (“the first artist… the first art critic!”) like one of those punny water-treading late Tex Avery shorts, or a sub-Mr. Show sketch (“man’s greatest achievement: the wheelbarrow”).

Some biblical business follows (including my favorite gag, the 15… 10 Commandments). Next: waaay too much time (over half the movie?) spent in Rome running away from Emperor Dom DeLuise, Empress Madeline Khan and 50’s comedian Shecky Greene.

L-R: possibly Ron Carey (Silent Movie, High Anxiety), maybe Mary-Margaret Humes (of an upcoming Michael Madsen/Roddy Piper horror film), definitely Gregory Hines (in his first film), and grimacingly Mel Brooks. I didn’t take very good notes.

Making up for the overlong Roman piece is an extended, extravagant musical version of the Spanish Inquisition, which could’ve stood on its own as a great short film. By now, narrator Welles has wandered away from the movie, off to film some Moby Dick closeups of himself.

Then Brooks is King Louis XVI of France, and also the piss-bucket boy chosen to replace him in event of a revolution. He helps the daughter of a deranged, imprisoned Spike Milligan free her father and… hell, I can’t remember the storyline, but it involves Harvey Korman (Lord Love a Duck, voice of the Great Gazoo on The Flintstones) as a character named Count De Monet, and in my second favorite joke of the movie, Brooks tries to run down a forced-perspective hallway.

Bunuel did it first:

“Coming attractions” finale features a cute Jews In Space trailer, a premonition of Spaceballs.

Cameos by Moon Over Parador director Paul Mazursky, Diner director Barry Levinson, Hugh Hefner as himself, freshly Oscar-nominated John Hurt as Jesus, Jackie Mason, and an uncredited Bea Arthur.

Time out from Shocktober to watch some Pixar films in 3D – coincidentally the only two Pixar films I’d not seen in theaters. The 3D effect works nicely, but I didn’t find it especially amazing or engrossing here, not as much as with Coraline. Seems like a plain ol’ 2D double-feature would’ve been equally effective.

I was hoping Katy would be wowed by the sequel, but it was late and she was tired. In fact, it was too late… after the tenth time the toy dinosaur told us to go buy snacks during the intermission segment, I went to buy snacks only to find that the snack bar had closed.

The barbies in part 2 are awesome, but the ones in Small Soldiers have got ’em beat.

I still think the “When She Loved Me” song is pretty.