I followed along for a while, as this arthouse mystery quickly turned into a twisty goofball survival thriller, until I started getting flashbacks to The Catechism Cataclysm, and then I was really too distracted to take anything that happens seriously. I think I’m missing religious aspects, since the letterboxd summary mentions the stations of the cross. Of course, as usually happens, I read some articles and interviews afterwards and came to appreciate the movie more.

Ornithologist Fernando (“the body of Jason Statham lookalike Paul Hamy, the voice of director João Pedro Rodrigues,” per Mark Peranson) is cataloguing the storks and vultures along a river when some rapids catch him off-guard and his kayak crashes. He’s rescued by travelers Fei and Lin, who are following a pilgrim path to Santiago, making me realize I forgot to watch the short Morning of Saint Anthony’s Day, which may be related, but then they tie him up and threaten to castrate him, so maybe not. Fernando escapes but loses his medication, and we don’t know what it was for, or if any part of the movie turns out to be hallucinated from lack of meds. He runs into some ritual partiers and gets peed on by one of them, makes out with (and murders) a deaf-mute sheepherder named Jesus, rescues a dove at a shrine, cuts off his own fingerprints, gets shot by topless woman hunters, and awakens as Antonio, then is then murdered by Jesus’s twin brother Thomas.

Even if the whole thing felt somewhat goofy, I enjoyed the mystery of the killings and rebirths at the end, and the bird photography. Music is all quavering feedback. João Rui Guerra da Mata was a collaborator, and the only familiar element from their Last Time I Saw Macao was the use of still photographs. Won best director at Locarno, where it played with Hermia & Helena, By the Time It Gets Dark, The Challenge, The Human Surge and a bunch more that still haven’t opened here and probably never will. Oh yeah, look at that… you have to go back six years to find a Locarno movie that played theaters near me – it’s the festival of doomed distribution deals.

Peranson:

Rodrigues’ blasphemous exploration of the transformative process of religious awakening, through a serious of wild—at times sexual—adventures focusing on the pleasure and the pain of the body is a modern film, in line with Godard’s Hail Mary or Buñuel’s The Milky Way.

Sicinski:

The Ornithologist is as shapeless and picaresque as the conventional Lives of the Saints, forming a clothesline more than a narrative. Granted, when this concerns getting peed on and being hogtied and swinging with your junk hanging out, as is the case here, it feels a bit more dreamlike, which is probably what Rodrigues is going for. At the same time, The Ornithologist gets a bit tiresome in its relentless punishment of the nonbeliever.

Rodrigues:

I wanted to be an ornithologist when I was a kid … Cinema interrupted this, and in a way I replaced this love of watching and observing birds in the wild and being alone, although I never felt alone because I felt surrounded by nature and living creatures.

The short looked at a post-apocalyptic celebration of St. Anthony, while The Ornithologist looks at St. Anthony more directly … the film is always set in a place that has never changed since ancient times, in a natural world that hasn’t changed very much at all. Those rocks were there when St. Anthony was alive. When I was going to these unchanged places, I thought I was going back in time. It’s a landscape that belongs to all times and has no time.

I knew this was a new feature edit of a multi-screen installation piece in which various Cate Blanchetts recite historical manifestos, but didn’t realize it would have such terrific photography and production design, or be entertaining and engaging enough to captivate a huge, packed theater at 10:00 AM. Cate solemnly recites the dada manifesto at a funeral, prays one at the dinner table, spits and curses one as a bearded homeless man, performs one as a puppeteer, sneers one as a backstage rock star, bounces one between a pair of newscasters (with a twist artifice-revealing ending) and teaches a few I recognized (Brakhage, Herzog, Von Trier) to schoolchildren.

Ideas about conceptual art, realistic art, the meaning or need for art, the future of art, freedom and dreams, reality and unconscious, truth and imitation and authenticity (thanks to Katy for taking notes) all complement and contradict each other from Cate to Cate. It’s not a 90-minute speech, either – there are moments of silent wonder like this one:

Sounds like an American-ready comedy premise (which is why there’s a rumored remake): uptight daughter gets a visit from her goofball dad who tries getting her to lighten up. Generic versions of this story have been made before, but this one uses some unique characters to change the trajectory, eventually revealing the daughter was maybe right to hide her true nature beneath a serious businesswoman facade, because when she lightens up, she’s almost psychotically awkward (shades of Ade’s debut The Forest for the Trees).

The infamous nude scene was different than I expected, at least. You figure a nude scene will be about sex in some way, and it’s not. Out of a combination of the quirky strangeness that her dad’s visit has perhaps inspired and frustration at a dress zipper, Ines (Sandra Hüller: Requiem, Amour Fou) answers the door to her party guests in the nude, then starts insisting they disrobe as well. Meanwhile her dad Winfried/Toni (Peter Simonischek) has dramatically upped his costume game from a moppy wig and false teeth to a giant Bulgarian hair-monster costume, and arrives at the party without saying a word, freaking out the already scared naked party guests. It’s clearly a very good movie, and even if I have trouble understanding Cinema Scope’s film-of-the-year acclaim, this may be the scene of the year.

Ade, probably predicting the failure of next year’s remake:

When I tried to shorten the film, it gets very banal and less complex. The film needed a certain length … The moment you take out 20 minutes, then you have the father coming, he’s an idiot, she’s a businesswoman… it gets very simple, very fast.

Six more Charlie Brooker-written dystopian fictions, now streaming in our dystopian reality.


Nosedive

Not the best opening to the new series, too blunt and screamy for my tastes. A yelp/ebay/etc star-rating system gone out of control, with everyone rating everyone else over every interaction, and all social status and even home loans depending on personal ratings. Lacie (Bryce Howard of Lady in the Water) gets increasingly desperate as her plan to increase her ratings for a society wedding backfire, and she spirals down until she can’t even get picked up hitchhiking due to her short-term social media reputation. Trucker Cherry Jones gives her an inspirational speech about living outside society, then Lacie crashes the wedding. Directed by Joe Wright (Atonement), cowritten by Parks & Rec‘s Michael Schur and Rashida Jones, and featuring the best Black Mirror music ever, courtesy Max Richter, who incorporates the downvote sound effect into the music during Lacie’s death spiral.


Playtest

Cooper (Wyatt Russell, the guy who pretends to still be in college in Everybody Wants Some!!), kind of a likeable idiot, gets stranded while traveling the world, signs up to earn some quick cash playtesting a VR game. I’m a sucker for movies with dream/game layers where you can’t tell what’s real, and this was a good one. The idea behind the game is a haunted-house horror experience that uses your mind’s own fears against you, and Coop’s biggest fear is losing his mind like his Alzheimer’s-afflicted father did, which is what happens when his attempts at trade-secret espionage interfere with the equipment and it fries his brain. Director Dan Trachtenberg made 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Coop playing an early, harmless demo:


Shut Up and Dance

I don’t think this one is based on any technology that doesn’t already exist. After trying to have affairs or look at child porn or other blackmailable offenses, strangers with prankster-infected laptops get dragged around the city making deliveries and being asked to do increasingly terrible things, including bank robbery (“I saw it in a documentary. It looked easy”) and fistfighting to the death. Then their secrets get leaked to friends and family anyway, a grinning trollface sent to each of the victims. Director James Watkins made The Woman in Black and Eden Lake, lead Alex Lawther played young Turing in The Imitation Game, and his older partner in crime was Jerome Flynn of Ripper Street, not Michael Smiley like I first hoped.


San Junipero

Just what I needed after the nihilism of the previous episode, a lovely story with complicated ideas about (virtual) life and (actual) death. Opens with a Lost Boys poster and Belinda Carlisle song on the radio and Max Headroom on TVs, pushing its 1987 setting hard, but then “one week later” we’re in 1980, and “one week later” it’s 1996. Shy Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis of Always Shine) met exhuberant Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) one night in a time-hopping Matrix fantasy world but didn’t have the nerve to follow through on their relationship, and now searches for her every week during their time-limited trials, as their actual, aged bodies live in separate nursing homes. The most human-feeling Black Mirror, and also the one that ends in the most inhuman manner, a robot arm attending to its databank of disembodied consciousnesses. The director did last season’s Be Right Back, also about personal/virtual relationships.


Men Against Fire

Not my favorite episode, by director Jakob Verbruggen (Whishaw/Broadbent miniseries London Spy) who makes a hash of the action scenes, but it’s one of my favorite evil technologies – military implants that help soldiers kill the enemy without hesitation by making the enemy “roaches” look and sound inhuman. Lead soldier Stripe, whose equipment glitches so he can see the truth, is Malachi Kirby of the new Roots remake. He’s briefly allied with Ariane Labed (Alps, The Lobster) before his partner catches up with him, kills Ariane and his equipment is recalibrated to brainwash him back into blissful ignorance and conformity.


Hated in the Nation

A combination of previous ideas – rogue hacker messes with people over social media leading to their deaths, and intrusive government technology leads to dystopian horror. In this case the gov-tech is bee-drones which replace the country’s dying honeybees and happen to double as ubiquitous surveillance devices. After our hacker uses a sort of twitter poll to let the people decide whose brains the bees will burrow into through their ears, cop Kelly Macdonald (voice star of Brave) tries to protect future victims. She finally gets lead beemaker Benedict Wong (Prometheus and The Martian) to try deactivating all bugs, but instead they go after everyone who participated in the online death polls, killing hundreds of thousands. A nicely apocalyptic way to leave off. Director James Hawes made a TV remake of The 39 Steps a few years back.

Rewatching this series for obvious reasons, after recently reviewing the prequel film. I remember season two becoming tedious, so I’m only watching the late episodes directed by Lynch and/or written by Frost, which will leave some major plot holes I can cover with synopses from wikipedia or wherever. So many characters to keep track of, and so many actors I haven’t seen since the show ended in 1991, and some I have.

Agent Dale Cooper – loves Tibet, doughnuts, clean air and good coffee. I’ve seen Kyle MacLachlan in Northfork, Portlandia, and that version of Kafka’s The Trial which I don’t remember at all but IMDB says I gave it a 7/10.

Lucy is the police receptionist who has feelings for Andy. Kimmy Robertson did voices in some Disney movies and The Tick.

Deputy Andy is dumb as hell. Harry Goaz worked with director David Lowery before his Ain’t Them Bodies Saints breakout.

Sheriff Harry Truman is a good lawman, secretly (everything in the show is “secretly”) dating Josie Packard. Michael Ontkean costarred in a Disney movie with four monkeys and Wilford Brimley, and was apparently in The Descendants.

Deputy Hawk is a good, quiet cop. Michael Horse was in Passenger 57 and a movie directed by John Travolta’s older brother.

Agent Albert Rosenfield works with Cooper, expresses contempt for the locals. Miguel Ferrer died the week I started season two, also starred in On The Air.

James Hurley is sweet but so dumb, per an audiotape of Laura’s. He runs around with Donna playing detective. James Marshall was one of the murderous privates on trial in A Few Good Men.

Maddy is Laura’s identical twin cousin, who appears in the show immediately after the show-within-the-show (soap opera Invitation to Love) introduces its own identical-twin plot. Sheryl Lee played twins again in the great Mother Night, also costarred in the unfortunate John Carpenter’s Vampires.

Donna Hayward is Laura’s innocent friend who ends up with James after Laura’s death. Lara Flynn Boyle was Ally Sheedy’s predecessor in Happiness, also starred in Threesome and the show The Practice.

Leland Palmer, Laura’s dad and killer and the town lawyer… is complicated. Ray Wise is incredible and prolific but I’ve seen him in too few things (Good Night and Good Luck, Bob Roberts).

Sarah Palmer is Laura’s traumatized mom with freaky hair. Grace Zabriskie got to look freaky again in Inland Empire and My Son My Son What Have Ye Done, was a regular on Big Love.

Will Hayward is the town doctor who ends up discussing dead and comatose bodies with Agent Cooper. He’s Donna’s dad of course, with a wife in a wheelchair and at least one other daughter. Warren Frost, Mark’s dad, did some Matlock, died just last week.

Ben Horne runs the town’s hotel, department store, and a brothel called One Eyed Jack’s over the Canadian border, is always trying to do business deals with rowdy groups of foreigners who get frightened off by murderous town rumors. Richard Beymer was in Angelina Jolie movie Foxfire, earlier Bachelor Flat and West Side Story.

Jerry Horne is Ben’s excitable little brother who loves exotic food, business deals and the local brothel. David Patrick Kelly was the military guy who Lysistrata ties up in Chi-Raq, also in the John Wick movies and played the president in Flags of Our Fathers.

Dr. Jacoby was Laura’s wacky psychiatrist and had an unhealthy romantic interest in her. I don’t think we see any other locals going to his office except Bobby one time, so he’s got enough free time to chase ghosts. Russ Tamblyn, Ben Horne’s best friend in West Side Story, had roles in Drive, Django Unchained and Cabin Boy, and played a “Dr. Jacoby” on General Hospital.

Audrey Horne is Ben’s daughter who has to avoid a horrifying meeting with him at One Eyed Jack’s while she’s retracing Laura’s steps. Sherilyn Fenn starred in Boxing Helena, which I have yet to find a decent copy of.

Major Briggs doesn’t know how to deal with his wayward son Bobby, leaks mysterious military intel to Cooper. “The owls are not what they seem.” Don Davis was a regular on the Stargate TV series, which ran for more seasons that I realized.

Bobby Briggs is excitable boyfriend of Laura Palmer and Shelly, sullen son of Major Briggs, rival of James Hurley, drug dealer friend of Mike (“Mike and Bobby” mirroring the evil Black Lodge “Mike and Bob”) and associate of Leo and Jacques. Dana Ashbrook was in the L.A. Crash TV series and the latest Bill Plympton feature.

Leo Johnson is a drug dealer, spouse abuser and murderer, is in a coma at the start of s2. Eric DaRe appeared with good company (Brad Dourif, Angela Bassett) in Critters 4.

Big Ed Hurley, James’s dad, married to Nadine but thinking about leaving her for Norma. Runs a gas station. Everett McGill was the villain(?) in The People Under The Stairs and appeared in The Straight Story.

Nadine Hurley, James’s mom though we never see them interact, wears an eyepatch and is obsessed with creating silent drape runners. Later she gets amnesia and super strength and falls for Bobby’s friend Mike. Wendy Robie was in Corbin Bernsen horror The Dentist 2.

Shelly Johnson is Leo’s abused wife, working at the diner, dating Bobby and conspiring to frame her husband for Laura Palmer’s death. Lynch’s character, Cooper’s boss, is sweet on her in season two. Mädchen Amick has been on every TV show at least once, plus the terrible Stephen King movie Sleepwalkers.

Josie Packard runs the sawmill, has a suspicious past, and I think was supposed to be a bigger deal but got left behind by the writers. Joan Chen was a movie star from The Last Emperor but wouldn’t fare as well in Hollywood, appearing in garbage action flicks Wedlock, On Deadly Ground and Judge Dredd.

Peter Martell helps Josie run the mill, isn’t as dumb as he looks. Jack Nance’s final film was Lost Highway.

Catherine Martell is married to Pete, resents Josie for owning the mill, which used to belong to Catherine’s brother/Josie’s late husband Andrew, who of course turns out not to be dead. Piper Laurie played Carrie‘s crazy mom, later in The Crossing Guard and The Dead Girl.

Norma Jennings is dating Big Ed, runs the diner, unhappily married to Hank. Peggy Lipton is Rashida Jones’s mom, appeared in modern classic The Postman.

Hank Jennings is a criminal in cahoots with Leo and Jacques. He thinks he killed Josie’s husband, gets out of prison halfway through s1. Chris Mulkey acts in a ton of movies, recently Whiplash and Cloverfield.

Margaret has a log that sometimes sees things. Catherine Coulson starred in early Lynch short The Amputee, died before the reboot filmed but not before appearing as “Wood Woman” in a Psych episode.

Julee Cruise, house musician at the Roadhouse. I have her album The Voice of Love, produced by Lynch and Badalamenti.

The Giant appears to Cooper in dreams and visions, dropping cryptic clues. Carel Struycken played Lurch in the Addams Family movies and appeared in Men In Black.

The Waiter might be an alternate form of The Giant. Only Cooper can see the two of them. Hank Worden did nothing after Twin Peaks but plenty beforehand as a Westerns regular (marshall in Forty Guns, drunk in The Big Sky).

The Man From Another Place is maybe Bob’s boss or partner, speaks in reverse, is somehow connected to One-Armed Mike. Michael J. Anderson played a similarly mysterious fellow in a curtained room in Mulholland Dr., was a regular on Carvivàle.


Season two, Cooper recovers from a gunshot wound. I think Josie ended up being the shooter, but skipped enough episodes that I’m not sure why.

“You’d better bring Agent Cooper up to date.”
“Leo Johnson was shot. Jacques Renault was strangled. The mill burned. Shelley and Pete got smoke inhalation. Catherine and Josie are missing. Nadine is in a coma from taking sleeping pills.”

A bunch of new characters show up… I missed most of their intros, but got to see a few of them die. Sadly I missed cross-dressing David Duchovny completely, and I saw Billy Zane but don’t remember what his deal is.

Annie is Norma’s younger sister, starts dating Cooper then gets kidnapped by Earle. Coop’s searching for Annie when he ends up in the Black Lodge. I haven’t seen Heather Graham lately but it seems she was everywhere in the late 1990’s: Swingers, Austin Powers, Scream, etc., and most notably Boogie Nights.

Dick Tremayne was Lucy’s classy lover while on break from Andy. When she gets pregnant and isn’t sure which is the father, Dick and Andy get competitive. Ian Buchanan starred in On The Air and did a million soap opera episodes.

Windom Earle is Agent Cooper’s rival, who gets tangled up in the crimes and horrors before having his soul sucked out by Bob in the final episode. Kenneth Welsh, seen here about to murder Ted Raimi, seems to be tenth-billed in bunches of horror/action movies.

Andrew Packard returns from the “dead” in season two only to be blown up in the finale, along with poor Pete and probably Audrey who was chained to the vault door at the time. Dan O’Herlihy, Bunuel’s Robinson Crusoe, was also in The Dead, Fail-Safe, Imitation of Life and Odd Man Out.


I was surprised that nothing supernatural happens until the end of episode 3, four hours into the series. Really a top-notch melodrama with excellent casting, at least for a while. Here’s hoping the reboot is great.

Rewatched this in less-than-optimal conditions (not on my fucking telephone, at least), but I’ve seen it so many times already. It’s hard to watch without the fan theories I read online in 2002 popping into my head… can’t let the mystery of it all wash over me when my mind keeps fitting the pieces into a puzzle. Granted, the theories work pretty well. And each scene is fantastic whether it makes narrative sense or not.

Classic Hollywood: landlady Coco is Ann Miller of Kiss Me Kate and On The Town, and the ranting woman wandering the apartment halls is Lee Grant of Detective Story and Shampoo. Betty’s new friend at the airport is Mary’s mom in Eraserhead. Since this came out I’ve seen Naomi Watts in a few things (none of them very good except Eastern Promises), Laura Harring in nothing, and Justin Theroux in Wanderlust and Charlie’s Angels 2. Most upsetting is when Patrick Fischler, the scared guy in the diner, shows up in a movie or TV show, as he does more regularly than his Mulholland costars.

Learned from the interview extras: Lynch says the title Mulholland Dr. was originally for a cancelled Twin Peaks spinoff, and The Cowboy is wearing Tom Mix’s original clothes.

2500th post!

Reviews of the long, long-awaited new Phantasm sequel are in, and they’re all negative. The digital effects are so bad, you guys. The spheres have no sense of physical reality and move in perfect straight lines. The plot is bizarre, the sets and cameras are cheap, the trailer was better, and so on. These things are true, but I’ll gladly take this Phantasm sequel over no Phantasm sequel.

New characters: Dawn Cody is the hottie who gives Reggie a ride to her house then gets killed, showing up later under a different name. Chuck is an anti-sphere militant short enough to masquerade as one of the robed beastie creatures. Old characters: they bring back the Lady In Lavender from the graveyard in part one, of all the crazy things, and also nunchuck-totin’ Rocky from part three in a cameo. Speaking of cameos, that’s all Jody’s role amounts to – a couple minutes driving the digitally-souped-up Barracuda before it recedes into the sphere-dominated wastelands.

The movie has its fan-service showdowns, apocalyptic hellscapes and bloody sphere-killings, but it’s a proper Phantasm movie, which means it is properly unusual. I don’t think fans were clamoring to see Reggie losing his marbles in a rest home or dying peacefully in a hospital bed. At the end of part one Mike is told that there were no spheres or tall man, that Jody died naturally, and this one doubles up on the reality-questioning, with Reggie flashing between the rest home and different horror/adventure scenarios (along with The Tall Man, Reggie’s rival and/or roommate). The ball implanted in Mike’s head is referenced, Reggie and the others warp between dimensions through the usual portals, plus via mini torture-chamber mind-control portal, plus unwillingly by insanity or chance. None of this gets quite explained in a way that privileges one reality over another, and the parts are shuffled just enough to leave the series on unsteady ground, letting us write our own version of the ending. That’s all you can ask of a series as strange as this one – to take the characters on one more ride, and leave things just as mysterious as they began.

Not an exceptionally good-looking movie thirty years later, and not usually fun enough to justify the dull dialogue and tired plotting (amnesia leads to mistaken identity) but it comes alive whenever Madonna is onscreen. It was on Linklater’s list of the best 1980’s movies, and has been appearing on lists of women-directed films lately, but the thing that stuck in my mind and always made me want to see it was hearing it was inspired by Celine & Julie Go Boating. Apparent Rivette influence – one woman (Rosanna Arquette of Crash and After Hours) starts following another (Madonna in her first major film role), identities get mixed up, and a magic show is involved. There’s no Fiction House, sadly.

Roberta is married to spa king Mark Blum, wears appalling 80’s clothes and big glasses, follows the hookups of the cool and mysterious Susan and her man Jim (Robert Joy of Atlantic City, a mutant in The Hills Have Eyes Remake) in the classifieds, builds up the nerve to follow Susan around and buy her pawned jacket. Roberta’s knocked on the head and mistaken for a prostitute by NYPD, then rescued by Jim’s projectionist friend Dez (Aidan Quinn of Benny & Joon, The Handmaid’s Tale) who thinks she must be Susan.

A neighbor plays saxophone, seen backlit through a window, and I thought “1980’s, New York, saxophone, it’s probably John Lurie” and was right! Also appearing: Richard Hell (Madonna’s boyfriend who gets killed in prologue, setting off the chase), Steven Wright (dating Roberta’s sister[?] Laurie Metcalf) and John Turturro (manager of the magic club). Writer Leora Barish also did a Chantal Akerman movie and Basic Instinct 2, a weird career. Seidelman also made Smithereens and a movie about a robot John Malkovich, and directed some Electric Company reboot episodes which means I’m technically her collaborator and shouldn’t be talking smack about her most famous movie. Good acting and a pleasantly goofball flick, I’ve got no hard feelings.

Couldn’t enjoy this as much as I should because I was in a weird state of mind, but it’s supremely entertaining, recalling Bound in its story of fortune-seeking men double-crossed by crafty female lovers.

The first half is told from the perspective of Sookee (Tae-ri Kim), a pickpocket working for handsome Jung-woo Ha (Ki-duk’s Time), who has his eyes on bigger marks, posing as a Count and getting Sookee hired as handmaiden to Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim of Right Now, Wrong Then). The plan is to convince the Lady to marry the Count, then commit her to an institution and share her wealth, but Sookee is double-crossed and committed instead. The second part follows the Lady, who lives with her book collector uncle (Jin-woong Jo, only 40 but given gray hair and mustache) at his increasingly sinister estate, revealing her own moments and motives, some of which I’ve now forgotten because it’s been a very long month, but it’s an audacious and elegant movie and when it comes out on video I’ll happily get lost in it again.

Well-presented to English speaking audiences with Japanese and Korean dialogue in different colored subtitles. This is the year of Hokusai – first the animated biopic, then his wave appearing in Kubo and his porno octopus in this movie. I double-featured this at the Alamo with a 35mm screening of Possession, which was completely incredible and now cemented as one of my favorite movies, and which also features a porno octopus.