Archer season 6 (2015)

Reboot season, back in their spy agency doing spy stuff. Dealing with Archer and Lana’s baby (and their getting back together towards the end), the return of Barry and Katya and Christian Slater, lotta betrayals and fuckups – the usual. As always I tried to watch an episode a week, then one a day, then six all at once. Enjoyed the attempts to bring back retired catchphrases – this show has the best writing. Cheers to Jared and Mike and Ron and the others.


Review season 2 (2015)

Forrest loses his new girlfriend after blackmailing her, experiences a glory hole, loses his next girlfriend trying to join the mile high club, burns down his dad’s house pretending to be a little person, loses his next girlfriend to a dangerous cult that he started, gets the perfect body, gets shot by his dad “doing a William Tell,” gets lost on a rowboat and buried alive, kills a guy, gets in a violent prison pillow fight, watches his imaginary friend get murdered, continues to get in trouble with his ex-wife, and finally “believes in a conspiracy” that his producer Grant (James Urbaniak) is trying to destroy his life, and rushes him off a bridge to both of their presumed deaths, but we’ll see in season 3. I enjoyed it more than season 1, this time knowing from the start that Forrest is massively deluded about the importance of his show and will sabotage himself and everyone he supposedly cares about for the sake of a review.


Bob’s Burgers season 2 (2012)

Home sick and unable to do much of anything, this made me forget all troubles for a while. Bob is involved in two hostage situations, buys a food truck and gets addicted to video gaming. The kids get lost in an abandoned taffy factory, avoid schoolwork and sabotage Bob’s guest segment on a local talk show. Too many big guests to list, but Megan Mullally stood out as both Linda’s sister and a knockoff Tori Amos.

Looking up the directors on IMDB I discovered a Mike Judge show called The Goode Family, which sounds intriguing, and makes me wonder why I’ve apparently never looked up Mike Judge on IMDB… oh no, he cowrote the new Johnny Knoxville movie.


Dream Corp LLC season 1 (2016)

A dream therapist (Jon Gries, Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite) runs an extremely ramshackle operation, recruits his patient from the first episode (Nick Rutherford, a SNL and Axe Cop writer) to be another “doctor”. There’s a patient-of-the-week and various operational and interpersonal problems and low-rent sci-fi scenarios, with rotoscoped dream sequences, and it’s all pretty wonderful. Also featuring Stephanie Allynne (One Mississippi), Ahmed Bharoocha of Comedy Central show Dead Kevin, Mark Proksch of The Office U.S., and original Office writer Stephen Merchant as the robot. Guests included Mary Lynn Rajskub, June Squibb (Nebraska, About Schmidt), Dan Gill (Creative Control), and the voice of Liam Neeson as itself.


Who Is America? (2018)

“37 percent of lesbians dress like Charlie Chaplin. Why? We don’t know.” Sacha Baron Cohen has a new set of disguises, waves a beeping pervert detector at Roy Moore, makes murder jokes with OJ Simpson, and gets a GA state rep to resign. Essential television.


Mystery Science Theater 3000 season 11 (2017)

Good to have the show back. I watched while falling asleep over about 70 separate nights, so it’s all half-awake fragmented bits, and I was already thinking of rewatching but hey look, season 12 just came out. I don’t find the voices distinctive enough, and someone rightly pointed out that they’re overly chatty and could stand to cut a few jokes. Callbacks to jokes from the classic episodes, nice guest appearances and host segments, with at least one all-timer musical number (“every country has a monster”). Movie highlight was probably the two-part Wizards of the Lost Kingdom.


Apocalypse: a Bill Callahan tour film (2012, Hanly Banks)

Either this is one of the best concert docs I’ve ever seen, or I was just in an extremely Bill Callahan mood. Watched the night he performed at Hanukkah, then again the next day – an Apocalypse-era concert, each song (for the first half?) with a different visual treatment, and short interview or tour-life segments between songs.


Flight of the Conchords: Live in London (2018)

Another fine musical hour – coincidentally, Bill Callahan doc director Hanly Banks worked on the Conchords TV series. I’ve conveniently forgotten most of the songs from the show and albums, so they all seemed new to me.


Documentary Now season 1 (2015)

Such a weird niche idea, I can’t believe it’s allowed to exist. The writers/directors, including lead actors Armisen and Hader, mostly come from SNL.

A Grey Gardens knockoff devolves into found-footage horror. A 1980’s TV doc about the true story of a Nanook-like early doc uncovers some Forgotten Silver-like cinematic inventions. A Vice-like publication keeps sending clueless reporters to their deaths seeking a Mexican drug kingpin. A Thin Blue Line-like investigation into a botched murder trial includes fabulous slow-motion re-enactment footage. An Iceland town holds a quaint Al Capone festival (this was actually filmed in Iceland). Finally their masterpiece, in the vein of A Mighty Wind or the Josh Fenderman story, soft-rock legends The Blue Jean Committee.

Kunuk Uncovered:

The Eye Doesn’t Lie:

Watched right after Christine. I didn’t love Greene’s Actress (or Christine), but they made for good prep-work for this masterpiece whatsit. A sort-of documentary following Kate Lyn Sheil as she preps to play Christine Chubbuck, presumably in a feature along the lines of Christine, though we see few any details about the feature and nobody’s helping her with character prep.

The first movie I’ve seen to film its own crowd release notice:

Kate’s in Florida where it happened, and locals seem to have no memory of Christine or her fate. She goes through library microfiche, reads books about suicide, does some serious tanning and gets fitted for a wig, goes gun shopping and finally gets a peek at some archive footage of the real Christine. It all leads to a joke of an ending, Kate finally building up the nerve to shoot herself, but the entire process leading up to that was fascinatingly staged (or “staged”).

First-person movie with barely-seen narrator/protagonist. It’s kind of an essay film about revisiting the city where he grew up after being gone thirty years, noting the changes. But it’s also an interesting new thing – a noirish murder/mystery played out mostly in audio, with the visuals in the same style as the essay-documentary sections, almost as if the footage was shot and then the filmmakers belatedly decided to make a completely different kind of movie.

Guerra da Mata:

We do have several references, like from Josef von Sternberg’s film Macao … One of the first shots of our film is a travelling shot by boat, like in the beginning of the Sternberg film. We liked the idea of having documentary images introducing a plot that was actually shot in a Hollywood studio.

Rodrigues: “And we decided to do the opposite: inventing a plot mostly shot with documentary images.”

A couple of lipsync musical performances (one in the opening, presumably performed by noir-figure Candy, another in the middle by a canal boater) help tie the threads together. Unexpectedly, the noir story ends up involving a bird cage containing a Kiss Me Deadly-style glowing secret (it turns people into animals). So I followed the movie with pleasure, though after the fact I think I admire it more than love it.

Things I didn’t get because I don’t know my film history: Candy was performing Jane Russell’s song from the movie Macao in the introduction. This gets discussed in the film itself for us clueless types, as does some Macao history – it was occupied by the Portuguese for centuries then handed over to China in 1999.

Second appearance of Astro Boy today, after spotting him in Yi Yi. First movie I’ve seen by either of these Joãos, who also made To Die Like a Man and The Ornithologist together.

Great interview in Cinema Scope. They got funding for a Macao documentary then decided to make something else based on Guerra da Mata’s memories of living there, but they still only had the budget of a documentary.

Rodrigues:
“We wanted our film to be playful, and I think that this is a really wide range: Chris Marker, James Bond, film noir … sci-fi.”


Alvorada Vermelha / Red Dawn (2011)

I think the directors mentioned that making this short led to Macao, so I had the bright idea of watching them together. No spoken words, opens with a shot of a high-heeled shoe on the road, which could easily be from the other film (which also opens with a shoe close-up), and both movies share a glimpsed mermaid character… but for the most part, this is a documentary set inside a slaughterhouse where lots of fishes and chickens are killed and cut up, thus it’s kinda no fun to watch.

First off, happy SHOCKtober. I kicked off the season with the restored Phantasm at the Alamo. Surprisingly complicated mythology for a late-1970’s indie horror. I’ve covered the series before and will be watching again when blu-rays (and part five) come out. I want to say I noticed the Bad Robot 4K remastering job and that the movie’s new transfer was a revelation, but nah – I’ll probably have to compare a couple scenes to the old DVD to notice the difference.

In related news, I never understood the “happy holidays” War On Christmas controversy until I started seeing everyone refer to SHOCKtober with the bland name “31 days of horror”. Come on, people.


“It’s exploitative. I have cinematic standards”
“No one gives a crap about cinematic standards, okay? It’s not the 1800’s.”

His last few movies got some rough press coverage, so this is the first M. Night movie I’ve watched in a decade, since Lady in the Water (which I liked). And it’s… pretty good. Said to be a “found footage” movie, but that seems a misuse of the term. It’s a fake documentary “shot” by its teen actors – and edited by them too, since they survive the ordeal, so the footage hasn’t been “found” Blair Witch-style.

Mom Kathryn Hahn (Parks & Rec) hasn’t spoken to her parents in 15 years but they wanna meet their grandkids, so she sends her two preposterous teens – pretentious-vocabulary Becca and junior-rapper Tyler – to visit them alone. The twist that they’re not really the grandparents but mental patients who have murdered the real grandparents and stashed them in the basement occurred to me pretty early, so instead I pondered why they’re doing it.

A couple of good things: the first-person camera technique is obviously being controlled by a very good cameraman (or the kids have been well-trained to hit their framing marks). Documentary-vet DP Maryse Alberti also shot Velvet Goldmine, and despite what I’ve heard about M. Night’s Last Airbender 3D debacle, he wants his movies to look good, so we don’t get an indifferent-looking movie. And for most of the movie, the “horror” is explained away by the fake-grandparents as embarrassing troubles of old age. The secret in the barn is incontinent grandpa’s old diapers, and the bumpy scratchy noises in the night are caused by grandma’s sleep disorder. So it was heading in an interesting direction (aging is the true horror) but then no, they’re psycho killers. I thought the emotional epilogue about forgiveness worked better than the critics seemed to.

Adam Cook in Cinema Scope was feeling emotional as well:

[Post-twist] the film gains a new dimension, one that upon a second viewing reveals the film to be aching with pain, not just between our heroes with regards to their father, but between this mentally ill couple who, in their own demented way, are trying also to reconnect with their deceased children – who died by their hands. Mental illness has figured into most of Shyamalan’s films, and the separation between sane and insane is an uneasy one that complicates the film’s layers of trauma … Found-footage horror may seem an unlikely way to create a tender portrait of damaged people clinging to each other, but then again Shyamalan’s tales have always used unusual means to tell personal stories of hope that resonate deeply – that is if you can take the leaps of faith they require.

I’ve watched this before, and both times I knew the general idea (documentary footage is being faked, people involved in real events are restaging them for the camera), but I was noticing this time how in some movies Kiarostami never tips his metafictional hand. We know from interviews and DVD extras that the movie theater (and the movie) never existed in Shirin, that the drivers and riders of Ten were never in the car at the same time, and that everyone in Close-Up is performing the role of themselves, but you can’t necessarily tell these things when watching the films.

Farazmand is a reporter who hears about a man (Sabzian) impersonating Mohsen Makhmalbaf, receiving money from a middle-class family while acting like he’s prepping a film shoot. He arranges to get Zabzian arrested for this, after which AK visits the man in jail and records his court date, discussing his intentions in pretending to be a filmmaker.

When Sabzian is interviewed by Kiarostami, realizing AK knows the real Makhmalbaf:

In the commentary, Rosenbaum calls it “a film about impersonation” right as Farazmand is telling the taxi driver and policemen that he aspires to be a famous journalist while he’s clearly unprepared (can’t find the house, not enough cash for the cab, didn’t bring a tape recorder). They discuss how the film is called Close-Up when Kiarostami loves to film in long-shot.

Asking directions from turkey man while looking for the Ahankhah house:

They also discuss the dead time and story distractions, how the film spends time in turn with almost every character.

JR: “Most people would agree that the members of the family come off overall less sympathetically than Sabzian does … they’re more defensive.” His co-commentarian Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa says the rumor is the family originally did not withdraw their complaint against Sabzian, but later agreed to do so for the film. She also says that Sabzian points out that because of Close-Up, the family did in fact get to be in a film as he promised them. Even these experts don’t know whether the filmed trial is real or staged.

The Complainants:

I get the two sons confused, but can you blame me?

JR: Many of Kiarostami’s films from here on are “about the unequal relationship between filmmakers and the people they’re filming who are much poorer and are relatively powerless”.

Two Makhmalbafs:

JR: “I think the real subject of this film … is not impersonation or fraud, it’s the social importance of cinema and how it affects everything – how it affects things socially, how it affects people’s sense of power, their sense of ethics, their sense of identity … and their sense of truth, and perhaps truth is the thing that gets the most severe unpacking in this film.”

Katy and I disagreed over which was the bigger twist ending: the revelation of Sarah’s real father, or that half the family home-movie stock-footage was faked. I figured the way the movie was going, something bigger than her mother’s death, which we learn about early on, had to be coming – the stories have to be building to some family secret, so the fact of the affair was less surprising than the betrayal of the documentary form, as we briefly see Polley directing her own “mother” in the re-enactments.

Polley:

I wanted people to constantly question what they were seeing and if it was real or if it wasn’t, because that was my experience. My experience going through the story was “Is what I’m hearing fact? Is it nostalgia? Is it subjective? Is it objective?” So I wanted the audience to have a paralleled experience to that and that’s why we worked so hard to make the recreations as accurate as we possibly could.

Incidentally, Sarah’s mom was a casting director and acted in a late-80’s TV series, dad Michael has acted in Slings and Arrows, and biological dad Harry Gulkin was oscar nominated for a movie appropriately named Lies Me Father Told Me.

Cinema Scope’s A. Nayman admires it partly, but finds it all too carefully filled with self-regard.

I didn’t let Katy see the box, and didn’t tell her it was fake, to see how long it took her to figure it out. But she didn’t ever, so I told her over the end credits. She is still mad.

Codirected with Costa Botes, who I think made the Lord of the Rings making-of docs. I’d forgotten all about “Stan the Man,” the unfunny comic who attacks people then runs away, with Colin filming on hidden cameras.

Plastic Bag (2009, Ramin Bahrani)

An American Beauty plastic bag, dancing with me for twenty minutes. Only this bag’s journey is very well filmed and the bag has the voice of Werner Herzog – two innovations that would have greatly helped the last plastic bag movie I saw, The Green Bag. A blatant environmentalism screed, but I really enjoyed it. I thought it’d have the same ending as Children of Men, but it had the same ending as AI: Artificial Intelligence instead.

The Dirk Diggler Story (1988, PT Anderson)

An actual fake doc, but not a polished one. I thought it was rigged to look amateurish until I read online that it was actually edited on two VCRs by young Anderson. Narrated by PT’s father Ernie Anderson, a big-time TV announcer. It’s nice that he was willing to participate in his 18-year-old son’s movie about pornography, homosexuality and drug addiction. The most fun part of the movie is hearing this straightlaced announcer pronounce titles like “White Sandy Bitches” and “Bone To Be Wild”.

Dirk is explicitly bisexual in this one, but otherwise it hits some familiar plot points from Boogie Nights: Dirk’s drug addiction, his ill-advised recording career, his buddy Reed. There’s less nudity in the short, and it ends with an on-set fatal overdose for Dirk. My favorite bit that didn’t make the feature was a group prayer for God to protect us against premature ejaculation.

Horner (Burt’s character) is played by The Colonel in Boogie Nights, the only actor who returned. Well, Michael “Diggler” Stein had a cameo as “stereo customer”. He turned writer/director after that – his last film starred Andy Dick and Coolio.

Las Hurdes/Land Without Bread (1933, Luis Buñuel)

A half-hour documentary that has been discussed to death – how much of it is real? Can it be considered surrealist? Etc. Taken at face value as a portrait of an extremely poor mountain community, it’s well made, interesting, and too vibrant (and even humorous) to blend in with your average educational short. I still can’t believe they had a donkey killed by bees, and shot a mountain goat then hurled its body off a cliff, all to make points about the difficulty of life in this place. At least they didn’t kill any people on camera, although the narrator may have exaggerated (or undersold, who knows?) their conditions. Was released in ’33, had a French voiceover added in ’35 then a newsreel-toned English voiceover in ’37 – I saw the French version. I assume the bombastic music was on all three versions.

Senses of Cinema calls it “a documentary that posits the impossibility of the documentary, placing the viewer in the uneasy situation of complicity with a cruel camera probing the miseries of the urdanos for our benefit.”

The Old Lady and the Pigeons (1998, Sylvain Chomet)

This 20-minute movie gives me inexpressible joy. It’s a good antidote to the world-weary realism of The Illusionist, back way past the anything-goes surrealism of Triplets of Belleville into a pure comic cartoon world. A starving policeman dresses as a pigeon, barges into a bird-feeding old woman’s house and demands a meal, then does the same all year until she tries to eat him for Christmas dinner. Full of delightful little details (and at least one sad bird death).

The Italian Machine (1976, David Cronenberg)

“Let’s figure it out, Gestapo-style.”
A series of betrayals leading to an obsessed mechanic gaining ownership over a unique motorcycle. Made for TV, so people call each other “meathead” and “turkey”.

Beardy Lionel (Gary McKeehan of The Brood) hears that a collector’s-item motorcycle is in the hands of a collector. This will not stand, so he grabs his buddies (Frank Moore, second-billed in Rabid, and Hardee Lineham who had a cameo in The Dead Zone) and heads over posing as reporters to figure out how to free the bike from the boring rich guy (played by Guy Maddin’s buddy Louis Negin). Lionel sucks at pretending, though, so they’d be screwed if not for Ricardo, a dull cokehead hanger-on at Negin’s house who helps them out. Cronie’s fascination with automotive machinery peaked early with this and Fast Company, then came back with a brief vengeance with Crash.

Our beardy hero first meets Louis Negin:

Bottle Rocket (1992, Wes Anderson)

Cute sketch, with the Wilson brothers and Bob from the Bottle Rocket feature, plus the gun demo scene shot exactly the same way (just in black and white). They’re budding criminals, robbing Luke’s house then a book/video store, taking one guy’s wallet. No Inez, Futureman, Kumar or James Caan.

Something Happened (1987, Roy Andersson)

An AIDS lesson with didactic narration, illustrated with Andersson’s expertly composed setups of depressed-looking white people. One particular pale balding guy is seen a few times. It ends up less depressing than World of Glory, at least. Commissioned as an educational short but cancelled for being too dark

Within The Woods (1978, Sam Raimi)

Ah, the ol’ Indian burial ground. “Don’t worry about it,” says Bruce Campbell, “You’re only cursed by the evil spirits if you violate the graves of the dead. We’re just gonna be eating hot dogs.” Then he immediately violates a grave of the dead. Nice test run for The Evil Dead, with many elements already in place, like the the famous monster’s-pov long running shot, girls being attacked by trees, evil lurking in the cellar, knifing your friend as he walks in the door because you thought he was a demon, and of course, “JOIN US”. Hard to make out the finer points of the film since this was the grossest, fuzziest, lowest-ass-quality bootleg video I’ve ever seen.

Clockwork (1978, Sam Raimi)

Woman at home is stalked by jittery creeper (Scott Spiegel, director of From Dusk Till Dawn 2). He sticks his hands through her crepe-paper bedroom door, stabs her to death, but she stabs him back, also to death. It’s not much in the way of a story, but Raimi already has a good grip on the editing and camera skills for making decent horror. How did 19-year-old Raimi get his lead actress to take her clothes off in his 8mm movie?

Sonata For Hitler (1979, Aleksandr Sokurov)

Music video of stock footage from pre-WWII Germany stuck inside a ragged-edged frame surrounded by numbers and sprocket holes. Halfway through, the music mostly fades away, replaced with foreboding sound effects.

Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers (2001, Simonsson & Nilsson)

Drummers break into an apartment, play catchy beats in the kitchen and bathroom, with a slow bedroom number in between, then a destructive romp through the living room. But just as they finish, the inhabitants return. Clever and fun, and just the thing that probably should not have been extended into a two-hour feature.

This was unexpectedly awesome. Between this, Regen and A Valparaiso, it’s time to consider adding Ivens to my list of favorite people. Sort of a Beaches of Joris, but less confessional to camera, shot more like an allegorical feature film starring himself. Always playful and never loaded with dialogue, with the occasional film reference, fable flashback or appearance by a prankster tiger-monkey.

Joris sets out to film the wind, goes to China. He trades a print of one of his films (“my first love story in 1930”) for a wind-creating mask. He sets up an array of microphones in the desert. He gets carried over mountains and enters political negotiations to film at a cultural landmark (the Terracotta Army), then gives up and recreates the landmark using models bought from street vendors.

At one point when he walks up to a massive Buddha statue which watches with a thousand eyes, closeups cutting from an eye to the camera lens, I thought strongly of Antonioni’s short Michelangelo Eye to Eye, also made by a director in his 90’s. But while Antonioni has always seemed associated with monuments, this was just a leisurely sidetrack for Ivens before returning to the matter of the wind, sixty years after he filmed the rain in Regen.

Senses of Cinema:

This is an unusually personal account of his lyrical rather than his political obsessions, largely directed by Marceline Loridan-Ivens, his wife and collaborator since the Vietnam films. … Joris Ivens died in 1989, only days after joining protesters against the Tiananmen Square massacre in Paris.

Mango Grove:

Ivens originally planned to use two crews; Ivens’s crew would film the wind, while Loridan’s crew would film Ivens’s crew filming the wind. Complications arose. Ivens was sick and, in a particularly serious incident, required on-the-scene surgery. … Thus the two crews became one. The Wind became Loridan’s film.

Speaking of Loridan, this also sounds good (from ivens.nl):

With La Petite Prairie aux Bouleaux, Marceline Loridan-Ivens made her feature film debut, at the age of 74. … She had agreed with Joris Ivens after A Tale of The Wind, their last project together in which documentary and fiction are mixed together, that she would make the tale of the fire. For a long time she dared not return to Birkenau, but finally she succeeded where Steven Spielberg and Roberto Benigni failed, she got permission to film on the premises of Birkenau. … It is a film about the pain and illusive character of the memory.

Rosenbaum:

The film is clearly addressed to the West and not to China … and the overall message is to listen to all that China has to say. … Both poetic essay and meditative fiction, A Tale of the Wind has certain affinities with movies as different as Jean Cocteau’s The Testament of Orpheus, Chris Marker’s Sans soleil, and Souleymane Cissé’s Brightness, but it is too proud to owe its vision to any source beyond Ivens’s own far-reaching experience and research. Part of the film’s inspired thesis appears to be that cinema and history, fantasy and documentary, have a lot to teach each other.