LOL Forky. But was it worth making a whole theatrical sequel to showcase a makeshift toy who wants to be trash? Sure, why not, these have been reliably good, and it looked beautiful on the big screen, where we finally caught it before it closed so Joker could take over every theater. I suppose having the missing Bo Peep reappear as a bold carnival adventurer with misfit action-hero friends was a fun move, though I’m suspicious of Pixar/Disney’s intentions and read it as faux feminism. The door is open to more sequels, though Woody’s talkbox got removed by a ventriloquist-dummy surgeon and given to a friendless antique-shop Gabby Gabby doll, so there will be no more snakes in my boot.
Some movies watched before, during, and soon after the China trip:
The Illinois Parables (2016 Deborah Stratman)
I know I watched it late at night, in Alpharetta, and somehow took no notes, and enjoyed it. Landscapes and history lessons. Sure sounds interesting from the letterboxd writeups! Maybe kinda if General Orders No. 9 was much better, and had been highly influenced by Profit Motive.
Widows (2018 Steve McQueen)
After all the hype – the follow-up to his best-picture winner with an outstanding cast – somehow I lost interest in this by the time it came out, and caught up months later on the seat-back of a plane. It’s overwrought and overstuffed, but undeniably pleasurable in its performances and genre plotting.
I wonder if the male actors were sabotaged in an attempt to draw attention to the heist-gone-bad widows Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki and Michelle Rodriguez – or if they just misjudged the tone of the movie. Colin Farrell overacts as a cartoon-villain politician, Daniel Kaluuya plays a basic enforcer of a crime boss/politician stalking Viola Davis, and Liam Neeson goes from sympathetic victim to archvillain when he’s discovered by wife Viola (in the movie’s best scene) to be shacking up with the fourth widow after arranging the deaths of his buddies to get away with all the money. Does Viola throw aside spousal emotion for the sake of sweet revenge, killing Liams herself at the end? She does!
Transit (2018 Christian Petzold)
Watched at the Tara, huge, alone. Sicinski’s review says it all.
High Life (2018 Claire Denis)
I took no notes about this, mostly remember the ending of Robert Pattinson and daughter alone on the ship hurtling towards a black hole, and the haunting Pattinson-sung Tindersticks song. These two most recent Claire Denis features have helped offset the brutal unpleasantness of her previous two, and even though this one has its share of rape and murder, it also has beauty and wonder and general strangeness… and that song…
Us (2019 Jordan Peele)
Watched with Pro at Atlantic Station – on the secret screen with its own bar, not that this mattered. I don’t have a firm handle on the symbolism, but it’s a hell of a thriller regardless. See smart articles by Kyle, Monica, Mike, and Carol.
In Fabric (2018 Peter Strickland)
Watched at the glorious Plaza as part of the Atlanta Film Festival.
Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Secrets & Lies) visits a creepy clothing store during sales week, is talked into buying a cursed red dress by a cheerfully coercive saleswoman (Fatma Mohamed, speaking in retail-poetry). Marianne dates Barry Adamson (a Bad Seed!), gets chastised by boss Julian Barratt, and keeps getting injured until she’s finally killed in a car crash. It’s a strange tone overall, kind of a creeping dread mixed with splashes of comedy – but Marianne is a sympathetic character stuck in a crappy job, being intimidated in her own house by her son’s new girl (Gwendoline Christie of Top of the Lake season 2), so the campy horror-comedy gets overwhelmed by sadness. The dress survives, and gets shared by another guy with a crappy job (Leo Bill) and his girlfriend Hayley Squires (of the latest Wheatley and second-latest Loach), misfortune and death follow, but this time the department store burns down during a consumer brawl.
A lot of us filmmakers have had to do the kinds of jobs these characters do: temping, retail. The challenge is to usher those experiences into one’s films without it feeling like a vendetta, because a lot of those experiences are quite ball breaking. It’s more desirable to find humor there, to take characters like [Sheila’s employers] Stash and Clive and make them funny.
Election 1 & 2 (2005/06 Johnnie To)
Watched a couple of HK double-features on the long flight back from HK – on the iPad, tragically, so no screenshots. These are Hong Kong underworld power struggle movies – Lok (Simon Yam, star of at least six other To films) wins the election that Big D (Tony Leung 2: Evil East) thought he’d bought, so Big D revolts and threatens to start a war. Lok placates the dude, offering him the chairman position after Lok’s two years are up, and the two become friends – until the moment Big D lets his guard down and gets murdered.
Part two is more complicated, starring Jimmy (Louis Koo, the movie star in Romancing in Thin Air) as a businessman using his gangster ties to get ahead, but with plans to go straight – until he’s arrested and forced by the mainland government to run as their puppet chairman. Lok attempts to run a second time, which is against the rules, Kun (Ka Tung Lam, a cop in some of the Infernal Affairs movies) kidnaps some of the elders to get ahead, and Jet (Nick Cheung of Exiled) attempts to eliminate the competition. In both movies, the baton signaling the chairman’s power is hidden as a strategic move, then the baton is recovered through scheming and brutality.
A Better Tomorrow 1 & 2 (1986/87 John Woo)
I alternated these with the Election movies, and they’re either good indicators that John Woo is no Johnnie To, or that the 1980’s were a horrible decade for filmmaking. Gangster Ho (Ti Lung of a ton of Shaw Brothers movies) is protective of his cop little brother Kit (Leslie Cheung). He tries to get out, but they pull him back in! A few years later, Kit and Ho and his best friend Mark (Chow Yun-fat) sort-of team up to take down the gangster boss. The movie’s main attractions are guessing where the shifting loyalties will land, and watching Chow Yun-fat overplay his part as the super-cool guy, a schtik that nobody would fall for (jk, he became a massive star from this role and won the best actor award). At least he definitively dies at the end of the movie, so he won’t be in the sequel.
Part two is pretty much the same movie, Ho and Kit versus new gangster Lung (Dean Shek of Drunken Master), but it turns out Lung is being set up, so they all team up against the new superboss. Kit is killed as his baby is being born across town (by Emily Chu, also Cheung’s costar in Rouge the following year). The movie suffers from the lack of Chow Yun-fat’s stupid energy… ahhhh kidding, he appears as Mark’s identical twin brother, a non-gangster who transforms into a Mark-like badass after about twenty minutes.
Alternate prequels were filmed – producer Tsui Hark made the official A Better Tomorrow III, and Woo adapted his own prequel script into Bullet in the Head (in which Simon Yam played a character named Lok, an unexpectin’ Election connection).
Lu Over The Wall (2017 Masaaki Yuasa)
Schoolkid meets a manic pixie dream mermaid – sort of a Walk On Girl-distorted version of Ponyo. Not as thrillingly nuts as Walk On Girl – surprising, since that’s a teen drinking drama and this one’s about a rock music-loving mermaid. She gets discovered, captured, rescued, etc., less interesting for the story than the wavy-jumbly animation style.
Diamantino (2018 Gabriel Abrantes & Daniel Schmidt)
Loopy, extremely fun cult flick about a massive soccer star manipulated by his scheming sisters, a mad scientist, and a cop who masquerades as his adoptive daughter. Everyone spends the movie trying to catch him out, but Diamantino is too simply sweet to be scheming.
Lead actor Carloto Cotta also starred in Tabu, and appears in Mysteries of Lisbon and all three of the Arabian Nights. I’ve been rooting for Abrantes since his Brief History of Princess X, so glad this was wonderful. I haven’t watched many movies at the Plaza since getting back, but between this and In Fabric, they’ve been extremely Plaza-appropriate.
Katy hated this, and sure it’s not one of the better or even more memorable movies we’ve watched this summer, but when I heard that Johnnie To made a movie starring Andy Lau as a monk/stripper/strongman in a rubber muscle suit, I knew I had to watch it right away, and I regret nothing. Guess I’m on my own for Johnnie To’s comedy Love on a Diet starring Andy Lau in a fat suit…
This movie starts out crazy enough, with bodybuilder Lau making a nude getaway while a more serious crime is being committed, running into a cop and seeing a vision of her future. They team up and fight crime… but then Andy retreats to a mountain for years, battles his past self, and captures a reclusive killer… and we sense that they either filmed a three-hour epic then cut it to ninety minutes, or everyone was making it up as they went along. The staging of even simple scenes is better than it needs to be, the movie’s never boring, it features some villains straight out of the comics, and it follows through on its promise to kill Andy’s romantic interest (the cop, Cecilia Cheung of The Promise and Zu Warriors), so I admire it despite the parts that never really work (the editing, the muscle suit).
Kaili Blues (2015)
Watched this on Criterion to see what this Bi Gan guy is about, since Long Day’s Journey had apparently bypassed our city… then it opened the following weekend and we ran out to see it. They’re both set in the same area – Kaili is southeast of Chengdu, halfway to Hong Kong. Both movies center around an epic long take, the camera traveling all over town following a protagonist in pursuit of something. And they both have a slow, dreamy atmosphere. I thought of Tarkovsky more than once, and in the Kaili Blues extras he says watching Stalker changed his feelings about filmmaking, and I thought yes, of course.
Mirrors, watches/timepieces, a “wild man”, and talk of being in a dream. It’s kind of a journey film, as Chen heads to Zhenyuan (a two hour drive, if Chen had a car) to find his nephew. Characters are named Crazy Face and Piss Head, Chen gets rides from a rock band and a bullied guy, fails to deliver a shirt given by his doctor friend, also fails to pick up the nephew, though we’re led to believe the kid is fine. But there are ghosts and doubles along the way, subtle suggestions that we’ve become unstuck in time and narrative, and Shelly Kraicer’s Cinema Scope article does a good job sorting them.
A Long Day’s Journey Into Night (2018)
Darker, more sumptuously dreamy, and certainly longer than its predecessor (with a longer and more apparently complicated single take at the end). The Tara didn’t care to show it in 3D, I guess. Its New Year premiere in China was controversial for supposedly tricking people into seeing a slow art movie that nobody understood, but the one person I talked with in China who’d watched it said it was great.
Luo wanders Kaili, haunted by the deaths of his father and a friend, searches for a lost love (Wei Tang, Thor’s girl in Blackhat), and runs into his friend’s mom (Sylvia Chang the boss of Office, which IMDB has decided to rename Design For Living). We also meet people who may exist in alternate or dreamed timelines, which is to say that Luo beats his own non-existent son at ping pong.
Blake Williams in Cinema Scope:
By car and by foot, Luo follows her, much to her concern, and then loses her, much to his recurrent perplexion. Unable to grab onto anything solid in the present, he dips into his memories with her, flashing back to their days of being wild (circa the turn of the millennium), when her materiality was less unstable. Crime and jealous boyfriends adorn the architecture of Luo’s memories, which are presented in murky enough vignettes that we’re never sure if he’s recalling an actual event or some movie he once saw; most likely, he’s fusing the two together … If Bi’s cinema has been clear about anything so far, it’s that he is completely unburdened by narrative cohesion.
The second movie I’ve seen this year with a sea turtle girl at the beach. The wikipedia version of this movie is a frustrated teen off her meds who finds a community in a weirdo theater troupe, but conflicts arise between the girl (Helena Howard) and her mom (Miranda July), spilling into her acting and vice versa, and this is encouraged past the point of comfort by theater director Molly Parker.
The experience of watching it is something different, with editing and camera focus and framing just all over the place. Butter on the Latch was similarly disorienting, but more energy here from characters and story drives the thing into a jittery madness which is extremely fun to watch.
Only a couple minutes after Buster Scruggs ended, the opening titles of this movie announced that it’s a story told in six chapters – what are the odds? Unexpected suicides in both movies too. It’s not that I wanted a faithful remake, since the plot is the weakest thing about Argento’s Suspiria, but what made them turn a bonkers Italian horror about witches in a dance studio into a 2.5-hour movie set in Berlin during the Baader-Meinhof hijacking, with long sections about a psychiatrist who lost his wife in the Holocaust? What’s the meaning of Tilda Swinton playing both Evil Mothers in charge of the studio and also the psychiatrist? Nice plot twist with Dakota Johnson (the older sister in Bad Times at the El Royale) appearing to be the fresh-meat new girl with especially good dance-murder skills, later revealed to be the reborn Mother Suspiriorum come to cleanse the school by killing one or both Tildas. I mean, this was a lot of movie for a single weeknight, so I think that’s what happened. I have mixed feelings, but pretty sure I need to keep watching all of Luca’s movies (this is my second of the year).
Chloe Grace is a paranoid escaped dancer in the opening scenes, then disappears forever, followed shortly by suspicious Olga, who gets gnarled up in the practice room. Mia Goth (A Cure for Wellness) is the dancer who shows Dakota around, and Jessica Harper cameos as the psychiatrist’s dead wife. Most unexpected name in the credits: The Turin Horse cinematographer Fred Kelemen as one of the cops who Psych Tilda asks for help. Writer David Kajganich has also done a Body Snatchers remake and a Pet Sematary remake.
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky compares it to “the movies Nicolas Roeg was making around the same time, confounding mosaics of predestination and psychoanalysis … It’s a movie where most of the characters are liminal figures, mid-phase between identities. It is packed with doors, mirrors, ceremonies, rehearsals, shared secrets, and make-up, suggesting commonalities between the backstage world and the supernatural through collage.”
“I’ve never seen a truly impressive man.”
Minjung (You-young Lee of a movie called Late Spring which is somehow not an Ozu remake) is breaking up with her deep-voiced boyfriend Youngsoo (Ju-hyuk Kim, who died last year). She’s spotted by some other dudes, chats with them in bars, dates at least one, but each time she’s someone else – or claiming to be. She’ll claim to be a twin sister, or just deny having ever been where they say they’ve seen her. I suppose her multiple identities are open to interpretation, but I assumed it’s just one woman who claims to be someone else when she’s bored with a guy.
We’ve also got an older (?) guy with cool hair and a folding bike (Hae-hyo Kwon of On the Beach at Night Alone), Youngsoo’s buddy (Eui-sung Kim, who hung around the main guy’s guesthouse in Hill of Freedom), and of course a film director (Joon-Sang Yoo, lead of The Day He Arrives, lifeguard of In Another Country). She ends up back with Youngsoo, which is slightly unsatisfying since he was such a dick in the opening scene, but I dunno, she’s also wearing the same t-shirt in the bookend scenes so maybe the parts in between never happened. This was supposed to be Katy’s first Hong movie but she fled after ten minutes, saying the style was weird and felt like the PBS show Degrassi.
Emily Prime, a year older than last time, is visited by an incomplete backup copy of her third generation clone, who is using time travel to visit her own inherited memories. The clone hopes to copy Emily’s consciousness over her own, a process which somewhat succeeds, after some memory tourism, personality glitches, future history lessons, and of course, philosophizing on the meaning of life and our individual place within the universe.
The computer-animated mindscapes and off-world dystopian future visions are as great as in the previous film, which I’ve been known to call the best animated short of all time. So I had absurdly high expectations, and Episode 2 met them, feeling like a perfectly natural continuation of the first film. Not as many mindblowing new ideas in this one since he set up so much previously, but the writing (based around conversations with a six-year-old) is probably better, circling back to each idea and conversation in a self-conscious loop while expanding the ideas about memories and identity.
Veep season 4 (2015)
I’d planned to watch this right after Girls season 4, then wasn’t in the mood to hear anything about politics for a while, so postponed with more than a few seasons of Archer. Finally I returned to Veep, and you know it’s sorta about politics, but mostly just 30-minute episodes of nonstop insult humor, and I love it. Meyer has become president, and during her re-election campaign almost everyone resigns or is fired over scandals and personality conflicts.
Rick & Morty season 3 (2017)
It’s hard to love Rick & Morty while trying not to be one of those people who loves Rick & Morty, but it’s also impossible for me not to love Rick & Morty. This is like my TV Tarantino.
1. A series of mind transfers and brutal killings lets Rick escape from insect jail, rejoining Morty in a mad quest for fast-food szechuan sauce.
2. Dad moves out, Summer is alienated, Rick takes the kids to a Mad Max dimension, Morty gets a super-arm.
3. Pickle Rick nearly avoids going to family therapy with Beth and the kids.
4. R&M join the Vindicators, an Avengers knockoff, for an adventure in which Drunk Rick is the master villain.
5. “Rick & Jerry episode!” Rick takes Jerry on an adventure, admits to breaking up the family, Summer has body image issues.
6. R&M are addicted to adventures, while on vacation Toxic Rick and Ideal Rick get separated.
7. Set on the Citadel of Ricks, a sort of Godfather, Chinatown, Willy Wonka mash-up.
8. Morty’s Mindblowers is the new Intergalactic Cable.
9. Beth revisits the world Rick created for her as a kid, finds a friend who disappeared there, while Jerry is dating a warrior alien.
10. While Rick duels the President of the United States, the rest of the family reunites.
Superjail season 2 (2011)
I watched this entire season (under two hours long) whilst scanning book pages and probably drinking, and can’t recall any of it to mind. But it was great, and I took some screenshots. A+, would watch again.
Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later (2017)
A satisfying conclusion, if that’s what it turns out to be, with the ex-campers grown up (sort of) and employed (somewhat), reuniting in 1991 among current campers to save the camp from an evil and somewhat confusing Presidents Bush & Reagan nuclear plot. Nearly everyone from the series and movie returned, in one way or another, plus Adam Scott, Alyssa Milano as a suspicious nanny, Sarah Burns (Enlightened) and Dax Shepard (Idiocracy).
Black Mirror: White Christmas (2014, Carl Tibbetts)
Snowed into a cabin at the end of the world: chatty Jon Hamm and another dude who has barely spoken in years (Rafe Spall, Life of Pi, an Andy in Hot Fuzz), so Hamm tries to draw him out by sharing his own backstory, being paid to give live social/dating advice to awkward people while others watch on a shared party line, until one call ends in a client’s death. Since this was a longer, special episode, we get a second technology, demonstrated by Oona Chaplin of The Hour: the ability to copy your own consciousness into a “cookie,” like an Alexa or Echo run by a second self instead of a computer program – but the copied self considers itself the Original and its spirit has to be broken by manipulating time in the cookie, making it sit idle for years with no stimulation until it’s happy to perform menial tasks. This being Black Mirror I’ve now caught on that Hamm and the quiet guy are in some kinda interrogation device, which is why the circumstances of their years trapped in a cabin together have never been explained, and Rafe finally tells his story, of how he got “blocked” by his wife, who moved away and had another man’s child, and after the wife died in an accident, Rafe busted her dad’s head with a snowglobe. After a job well-done, Hamm is pulled out of the simulator, and a cop spontaneously speeds up the cookie clock, sentencing Spall to a near-eternity alone in the cabin.
Jon Hamm controls the cookie:
One Punch Man (2015)
Saitama is a young bald guy who enjoys acting like a superhero in his spare time, and is incidentally the most powerful man in the world. He attracts an android sidekick named Genos and they sign up to the league of heroes, the jokes being that the league members are mostly interested in themselves and their press and official hero positions, and that Saitama just wants a good fight but ends up defeating all foes with a single punch. A great assortment of heroes and villains which recalls The Tick, and a damned good opening theme song.
Genos vs. Mosquito Queen:
Currently stalled or proceeding slowly: The Deuce, The Knick, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Master of None, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Atlanta, The Thick of It, Blackish, Key & Peele, Futurama, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Enlightened, Review, Documentary Now, Lady Dynamite, Louie (yikes), Assy McGee and Steven Universe.