Tao catches up with his old buddy Dong, a former photographer who’s figuring out what to do next while being needled by his family, wishing he could just stay drunk and hang out with his friends and listen to punk rock, dreaming of returning to his pastoral home town far to the north. Dong’s mom works with fabric, dad sells flutes, and Dong is coerced into starting a jade business. This doesn’t work out – Tao films Dong listening to a jade dealer explain what kinds of stones to buy and how to convince customers into spending more than a piece is worth, then venting into the camera later about this business being an elaborate scam, and that’s the end of the jade story. Dong has lived his whole life in Post-Mao China but still can’t adjust to capitalism.

I’m not always clear on chronology or location. We’re in Kunming in 2011 on Dong’s 30th birthday talking about taking a trip to Hailar, then “Spring arrived in 2013,” and Dong is on a train, pointing to cities on the schedule, talking about his parents and his childhood in Hailar. So, we assumed it’s 2013 and the trip has begun, before realizing a few scenes later that it’s still Dong’s 30th birthday and they’ve gone nowhere, will go nowhere (except for the jade expo) until the final minutes of the movie.

Watched because of a specific interest in China this year, to be further explored soon. Kunming is in the far (central) south of the country, and Guangdong (the jade expo, and the beach where the promo stills were shot) is far to the east, on the south side near Hong Kong. Beijing is in the northeast of the country, but Hailar is even further northeast, around the eastern tip of Mongolia, a stone’s throw from Russia. According to the description of his previous film, post-earthquake survival semi-doc On the Way to the Sea, Tao Gu and his family are from Wenchuan, just northwest of Chengdu and not near any of his Taming the Horse locations. I haven’t figured out the part where drunk, crying Dong says he wants to kill himself in Yanjiang where he first saw the sea, since Yanjiang appears to be just on the other side of Chengdu from Gu’s hometown, 15 hours from the nearest ocean.

Punk Rock tells the Truth:

The original Faces Places, displaying and discussing L.A.’s murals with the artists and residents.

No onscreen text – she introduces the artists verbally, and when the camera shows a new piece (constantly), a whispered voiceover says the name of the painter.

The Illegals perform probably the best-ever punk song in a Varda film.

Agnès talks about the sky with a hare krishna holding an Alice Coltrane record. Juliet Berto shows up regularly, just wandering through. Street artists (and punk bands) sure didn’t dress very cool in 1980.

This is from Varda’s second Los Angeles relocation, the first a decade earlier represented by Uncle Yanco, Black Panthers and Lions Love.

War becoming commodity… following the money (but not very specifically)… skims from a few Adam Curtis movie topics. Rough camerawork making it look like interviews were stolen, when they seem to be interviewing for this very movie. A Michael Hardt sighting. A way to pass the time on a Thanksgiving weekend afternoon, my sleepy viewing companion wanting more new information about the global arms trade, while I’m wanting more Double Take-ry.

Preparation and conflagration of a two-day incendiary festival in a fireworks producing town. Day one is the Castles of Fire, then day two is the Bulls. We spend time with participants, mostly paying attention to stories about when things have gone wrong during past festivals leading to death and disfigurement, then watch the pretty sparks with the tension of hoping not to see anybody caught aflame. Missed this at True/False but it played on PBS in an apparently edited version. Lindy Lou, Juror Number Two seems to be cut even more, so this calls for investigation.

Terrific shots of awesome mountains with Willem Dafoe spitting wisdom about the sublime, the combination of beauty and terror that scaling these beasts engenders. Almost the entire movie is in slow-motion, the camera always gliding on helicopters or drones. From the history of mountain climbing forward, it gets more dangerous – now that just anyone can climb Everest if they’re rich enough for the gear and sherpas, the serious new climbers embrace a higher risk factor. This culminates in a Red Bull-branded extreme sports montage, which Dafoe solemnly condemns after showing us rad footage of it for fifteen minutes, the movie getting to have it both ways.

Nicely put-together doc on Mr. Rogers, the fascinating man, his underrated show, and its legacy. The school of critics who claim Paddington 2 as the best film of 2018 have highly recommended this one – you’re supposed to weep from start to finish at the reminder that there used to be such goodness in this world.

Heartwarming characters don’t exactly make for a heartwarming doc, since they still have to live in the real world, working every day to achieve their goal. The price of failure is someone gets shot, and the measure of success is nothing noticeable, just life going on. To get into the spirit, we interrupted our viewing of this movie, taking about a month between the first and second halves, but this didn’t seem to improve the viewing experience.

“This might sound strange, but the whole social infrastructure is slowly crumbling.”

This could be a companion piece to Collapse – it’s another monologue/interview with a lone man about how fragile and doomed our economic system is. Filmed evocatively in the empty office spaces of an abandoned bank, Rainer Voss was a top investment banker, now washed up and telling all about the operations, the personalities, the daily work life, the lies they told to their customers and themselves.

“Is deregulation to blame? No. Was it a prerequisite? Yes.”

He also discusses his family life, and sounds like a terrible dad. For the first half I thought his scarf was a fashion statement, then I realized it’s winter and the empty building is unheated. This movie sounds dry from a description, but people like me who are sure that society as we know it is dying, but not sure how it’s gonna go down, ought to find it gripping