Still haven’t finished I’m a Virgo, not too far into The Curse, and one episode of Mindhunter was plenty. But I did get into some shows.

How To With John Wilson season 3 (2023)

1. John tricks a self cleaning toilet stall into running while he’s inside it, briefly decides to prep for nuclear emergency, gets kicked out of more places than usual, rides a party bus, spontaneously goes to burning man for a week but isn’t allowed to air any footage. A very poopy episode.

2. He cleans his ears and notices new sounds, interviews people who live in unusually loud apartments or who make an awful lot of noise, learns about a pollution detox place, interviews electrosensitive people – and notices that the common element everywhere is people arguing with their neighbors.

3. He asks a compulsive masturbator how to stay motivated, gets a cat photographer to take “before” photos of his body, but the photog’s cameras get stolen so he asks a mystery author to help find the thief by reviewing John’s footage… interviews the personal trainer of one of the 9/11 hijackers, films his own rejection from an awards season HBO afterparty, wonders what he’s doing in television, sadly tries to connect with old college life, then stumbles into the world of competitive pumpkin growing.

4. He goes to a rained-out Mets game, goes home with a superfan… has to clean up to host a sports party but his vacuum is broken, so goes to a vacuum convention and finds some moving personal stories there.

5. He digs up scandal in the birdwatching community – this leads inevitably to UFO abduction stories, lie detector test, wondering whether things from previous episodes were real. Everyone thinks his show is fake, which it sometimes is, so he tries making a different kind of movie, a doc on the titanic sinking. “There was fake news right from the beginning” says a guest expert. “What does Anne Frank have to do with this?” I saw the car explosion coming, I’ve seen movies before.

6. He asks a psychic where his missing package went and gets the death card. Looks into pizza delivery and medical/organ shipping, gets piano-organ shipping instead, so he drives to Arizona with an organ shipping truck, meets a guy who freezes dead customers, and goes to a party full of people with sci-fi-ass beliefs (The Matrix comes up more than once). Meets an employee who watched The Bachelor ten hours a day and made a complex excel sheet. RIP this show, it was very good.

From Alissa Wilkinson’s Vox interview:

Wilson can’t physically be everywhere, of course. The show’s team includes a second unit, who get what Wilson describes as a “scavenger hunt” list of types of shots to find that might be included in episodes. It sort of wrecks their brains, Wilson said: “Even after we’ve wrapped the season, they’ll continue to send me images of things that were on the scavenger hunt list, like houses that look like faces or something like that. Until they get a new list of things to shoot, they can’t turn off the part of their brain that’s trying to locate this stuff in their environment.”

Wilson interviewed in Filmmaker:

I feel like knowing that this was going to be the last season, I was able to unlock a few different things that I was afraid to put in previously. It allowed us to be more ambitious narratively and what we reveal about the production in terms of the spectacle of the whole thing. Also, what we reveal about how the show has impacted my life, which was something that I wanted to do … I did want the show to potentially have some kind of real-world impact, even though it was done through goofy, satirical means sometimes.

Archer season 9: Danger Island (2018)

Archer’s a one-eyed pilot who keeps crashing or getting shot down, his mother a business owner – everybody reimagined on a post-WWII island full of snakes and quicksand and cannibals, all after some treasure/plutonium. Kreiger gets to play a parrot, leaving the nazi role free for Cyril, so everyone can try on some new accents, and David Cross is an anthropologist studying the cannibals.

The Twilight Zone, Vol. 2 (1959)

Continued from late 2023… the workout routine isn’t very routine yet…

104. The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine

Sunset Blvd was a decade earlier, and Rod has clearly watched it, but he takes the story of a washed-up movie star obsessively reliving her glory days in a different direction. For a story about classic Hollywood, you get a classic Hollywood director: Mitchell Leisen, also past his glory days, who’d recently wrapped up his film career (whether he knew it or not) with some Jane Powell fluff. The great Ida Lupino qualifies for the part – she’d most recently been tenth-billed in Lang’s While the City Sleeps. For once there’s no hint of anything supernatural or even unrealistic until the twist finale. Ida sits alone every day in her screening room watching her roles from 20 years ago with the handsome young Jerry. Her agent/friend Martin Balsam (jury foreman of the 12 Angry Men) tries to get her to live somewhat in the present-day. He finds her a minor film role but she gets into an insult match with studio head Ted de Corsia (villain of The Naked City), and the agent arranges a visit from her former leading man but she’s upset to find he’s now a middle-aged supermarket mogul (Jerome Cowan, who appeared in High Sierra with Lupino). Finally she leaves reality behind and disappears into her eternal-youth film screen.

105. Walking Distance

Gig Young (Katharine Hepburn’s boss/bf in Desk Set) is an NYC hotshot worn down by the grind, come to visit the small town where he grew up, but he finds it’s in the same state he left it 20+ years ago – exactly the same state, complete with his eleven-year-old self. As he starts to figure things out he confronts his parents and neighbors, freaking everyone out. Cool canted angles as he frightens his young self off a merry-go-round, giving both of them a leg injury. Finally he has a surprisingly level-headed convo with dad (Frank Overton, a general in Fail Safe), who says maybe look for some joy in your own time and place and stop haunting us. Appropriately, director Robert Stevens returns from the first episode, which was also about a guy flailing around an out-of-time small town. Little Ronny Howard plays a local kid, and they shot on the Meet Me In St. Louis street.

The Kingdom season 3: Exodus (2022)

Old woman Karen (star of The Idiots two decades prior) watches The Kingdom on DVD, says “that’s not an ending” then sleepwalks with Hellraiser eyes into a waiting taxi to the hospital, where reception tells her the show is fictional and calls Trier an idiot. The story is that the hospital is real, and a combination of its personnel and some actors starred in the series – so we swing between pretend-documentary (Kingdom-show tourists walking the hallways) and straight sequel. I’m not sure it all comes together in the end, but also can’t complain about getting five new episodes.

The hospital’s soul is in trouble again, leading up to Christmas, threatened by murderer Krogshoj (who they’ve allowed to stay and run an opium den for emeritus staff), and giant baby Udo Kier (now in a bleaching pond ghost-realm), and the evil antimatter doppelgangers of Karen and her spiritual son Balder (also a hospital porter in De Palma’s Domino), and of course the selfish and useless Helmer Jr (the actor just played Dag Hammarskjöld in a biopic), and the devil himself: Willem Dafoe. It’s fun how the show manages to pile further abuse on ol’ Helmer even though he’s long dead. Halfmer’s quirky department co-head is Ponto (Lars “brother of Mads” Mikkelsen), his fellow Swede who alternately helps and sues him is Anna (Tuva Nuvotny, died first in Annihilation) and we’ve got some new admin staff and a computer hacker. Still around from previous seasons is Udo’s mother Judith, Mogge Moesgaard in a propeller hat, and Helmer’s gal Rigmor, who maybe dies in a building-climbing wheelchair incident.

The owls are exactly what they seem:

Adam Nayman in New Yorker:

Karen’s condition is played simultaneously for laughs and for a kind of implicit empathy. As black as the show’s hell-is-other-people humor can be, it’s rooted in a tender sense of human frailty. It is not particularly scary in a horror-movie sense, instead accessing a more ephemeral, existential sort of terror that, in von Trier’s hands, is indivisible from comedy … At once confrontationally repulsive and mesmerizingly abstract, [The House That Jack Built] was easy to interpret as a self-portrait of sorts, the story of a loner trying to reconcile his aesthetic impulses with his depressive misanthropy. It featured clips from von Trier’s own filmography, giving the proceedings a valedictory air. The same could be said for The Kingdom Exodus, with its endearing, old-school echoes of its predecessor. But, like The House That Jack Built, the series is ultimately too thorny to function as a victory lap. In 2017, Björk accused von Trier of sexual harassment on the set of Dancer in the Dark; he claimed that he’d only hugged her. In the new series, he coyly includes a running subplot about Halfmer’s alleged (and utterly hapless) impropriety toward a female colleague — a spoof of P.C. culture from the experienced but untrustworthy vantage of somebody who’s spent decades working and living on the edge of cancellation.

Michael Sicinski in Cinema Scope:

[Overgrown Baby Udo Kier] becomes one of The Kingdom‘s primary plot strands, and it tends to signify von Trier’s loss of interest in real-world matters like the abuses of science and industry on the Danish people. Instead, Kier’s malformed sacrificial lamb permits The Kingdom to double down on its most obtuse, lunkheaded ideas … if The Kingdom gradually reveals itself to be a case of diminishing returns, that’s because the series initially asks to be taken somewhat seriously as an artistic enterprise, but winds up abandoning any pretense of commentary or real-world purchase in favor of a cosmic shaggy-dog story that insists on pointing out how self-aware it is of its overall lack of substance.

Command Z (2023, Steven Soderbergh)

A grungy little show that feels unsettlingly like an advertisement, with substandard writing by a couple of podcasters. Heart’s in the right place I suppose, with a vidscreen Michael Cera ordering some shabby quantum-leapers to change history by talking evil billionaires out of destroying the planet. Among the culprits for killing the world are businessman Liev Schreiber, the Christian church, weak-willed dem congresspeople, a Ready Player One-style VR game, and Michael Cera (played in the present by Kevin Pollack, haha). Our saviours: standup comic Chloe Radcliffe, musical theater producer JJ Maley, and Roy Wood Jr.

The Underground Railroad (2021, Barry Jenkins)

This took me two years to finish watching, after opening unpromisingly (sound design all rumbling portent, slow-mo slavery-is-bad violence), setting up lead characters Cora (escaping from horrible conditions) and bounty hunter Blackhat Ridgeway with his dapper little companion Homer.

Cora rides the literally subterranean train line to enlightened South Carolina, where she works in a museum of slavery and fellow escapee Caesar works in an explosion factory, but the town’s Negro Betterment Society turns out to be sinister medical experimenters. In hostile North Carolina she finds a supposedly sympathetic family who had no plan beyond letting her live in their attic forever. Blackhat captures Cora here, and we pause to explore his background and family situation… a whole episode of a white guy talking about manifest destiny and the American imperative, oh no. Cora escapes, is joined by Fanny from the attic, finds cute William Jackson Harper at a vineyard town. We know he’s going to die – everyone in this show dies – but while the town is debating Cora’s fate, speechifying in church, putting America on trial, a white posse barges in to massacre them. Cora takes Blackhat to the railroad, finally kills him in an endless scene. More flashbacks, then Cora and Fanny head west.

The music is usually bad, dialogue often shaky, streaming compression fucks up the inky blackness of the train tunnels. Some next-level photography, but if you are a modern master at capturing light on prores video, why make a grueling 10 hour slavery drama with actors doing big corny accents?

Head writer Jihan Crowther did Man in the High Castle, others worked on Moon and The Leftovers. Cora and her mom Mabel costarred in The Woman King… Blackhat Joel Edgerton is the Master Gardener guy… The kid Chase Dillon did a Haunted Mansion remake. Fellow escapee Caesar was Mid-Sized Sedan in Old. Attic homeowners are Charlie Manson (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Mindhunter) and Lily Rabe (American Horror Story). Slaver Foghorn Terence is Benjamin Walker, title star of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Blackhat’s dad Peter Mullan played the Top of the Lake drug lord, and Will Poulter of Midsommar played a photographer.

Cora and Chidi:

Caesar and Poulter:

MVP Chase Dillon as the dapper companion:

Yellowjackets season 1 (2021)

Exasperating to watch this for ten hours and somehow they never get around to the dark-secret culty stuff from the plane crash until the final few minutes, setting up a second season that I don’t have the energy to watch despite now liking the lead actors more than ever. It’s very into its 1990s soundtrack, and I guess so am I, since my choice of favorite scenes was based on whether a Belly song was playing.

Present-day housewife Melanie Lynskey is married to Warren Kole (of Pick Me Up, a fellow high schooler who wasn’t on the plane) and sleeping with mysterious Franco-looking Peter Gadiot. Tawny Cypress (of that “save the cheerleader” series) is running for office, straining relationships with her wife and their messed-up son. Juliette Lewis and Christina Ricci are wildcards in their own way. Somebody dangerous is after them, may have murdered fellow survivor Travis, but is it the mysterious boyfriend, the husband, the kidnapped reporter, a political rival, a follower of freaky crash-kid Lottie, or nobody and they’re all being paranoid? If anybody watched season two, please let me know.

After pilot director Karyn Kusama sets the tone, a Norwegian who worked on American Gods alternates with Deepa Mehta(!), an original Blair Witch director, a guy from Empire, a Top of the Lake veteran, and an actual 1990s director (who made the Frances McDormand Madeline). The creators previously did a show called Narcos – joined here by writers from Animal Kingdom, How to Get Away with Murder, 90210 Reboot, Jane the Virgin, Scandal, and Hacks.

The Kingdom season 2 (1997, Lars Von Trier)

Hospital director Moesgaard gets hypnotized by a makeshift-office basement weirdo while the brotherhood is trying to root out occult influences. Bondo gets his cancerous transplant removed, but too late. Hook becomes a zombie due to Helmer malfeasance, becoming a murderous megalomaniac. New guy Christian wants to impress the cute Sanna by becoming the masked ambulance racer Falcon. Mrs. Drusse keeps looking for ghosts, including by helicopter. Rigmor shoots Helmer, who then kidnaps brain-damaged Mona, then loses her. Most importantly, Udo Kier is a gigantic baby in constant agony. Ends on a cliffhanger, but we’ll see you again in 25 years.

The Twilight Zone, Vol. 1 (1959)

I thought I’d do a morning routine of exercising to a Twilight Zone episode, but quit (for now!) after three. Doubtful that I’ve seen more than half of the original show, and not in a couple decades anyway.

101. Where Is Everybody

Earl Holliman (Forbidden Planet, Nightman) doesn’t recall who he is or how he arrived in a completely empty town, becomes increasingly panicked as he searches for human life or some explanation. Right after he logically determines that the town is too detailed for this to be a dream or delusion, we discover it’s a delusion – he’s a would-be astronaut losing his marbles after spending weeks in an isolation chamber.

This aired in Fall 1959, so before the Apollo program was developed. Director Robert Stevens was a veteran of this sort of thing from the early 1950’s Suspense and then-current Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Of the guys in the final scene, one played a senator in The Manchurian Candidate, another would later find TV fame on Peyton Place.

Earl stops to watch an obscure Douglas Sirk film:

102. One for the Angels

TV star and Disney’s Mad Hatter Ed Wynn is good as a street vendor who makes a deal with death (Murray Hamilton, mayor of Jaws) and death deals back. Laboriously told story, but that’s per 2023 me, who is well used to seeing Death in movies. Love how the plot hinges on Death himself getting so mesmerized by modern advertising techniques that he starts buying stuff he doesn’t need – he’s tried to tell us that the hereafter doesn’t consider work/professional achievements noteworthy, but capitalism triumphs over the heavens.

Death checks out the amazing tensile strength of that thread:

103. Mr Denton on Doomsday

Right after the Death episode we’ve got a guy named Fate. Hopefully these head-clunkingly obvious episodes are meant to ease viewers into the supernatural concept and things will get more elegant later on. Killer cast here – Lang regular Dan Duryea is a top gun-turned-town drunk, tormented by local bully Martin Landau (same year as his North by Northwest breakout), until Fate (Malcolm Atterbury of Rio Bravo) steps in and gives Dan a pistol and a fastest-gun-in-the-west elixir (ingredients: hightail lizard, rushroom). It’s not clear whether Fate is to credit for Dan’s weird ability to skillfully defend himself while waving his gun around blindly, though his rum shakes prevent him from shooting straight on purpose. This being The West, a young dude (Ken Lynch, a cop in NxNW) appears instantly to prove himself in a gundown with Dan, but they both drink the same elixir and only blast each other’s hands, Fate’s complex scheme to pacify the West a couple gunmen at a time. This is the first episode with a real lady in it: Jeanne Cooper, last-billed in The Intruder.

Cowboy Landau:

Also watched Dina Hashem’s new thing, which was low-key and good.

Some TV watched the first half of 2023. I’ve also been watching Underground Railroad for over a year, and Yellowjackets s1 for all of 2023, and I’m only halfway through either of those. Hourlong shows are my kryptonite, unless they are The Kingdom. Also in the middle of a couple shows with Katy (Schmigadoon, The Diplomat) which I don’t know if she’ll want to finish. But here are some shows I actually watched.

Painting With John season 2 (2022)

“Welcome to Painting With John season 2, the show where I do not teach you how to paint.” I heard season 3 was coming (edit: it’s here!), so it’s time to catch up. Some good birds in the paintings this time. It’s not all paradise; John tells us of his bats and termites and flooding. With the lo-fi composited segments (Synchronized Swimming and Cowboy Beckett) I started thinking of the Talking Heads song “Found a Job” – this could be the show he’s singing about.

I stopped keeping track of specific episodes, but they hide from the camera, turn potatoes into spearheads, speak to the show’s subtitler, relive the 1962 world series, get in an argument with the moon, tell a story I hope is true about a conference in Barcelona, and dance like nobody’s watching.

The Last Movie Stars (2022, Ethan Hawke)

“Characters rub off under the actor. One of the areas of great discontent is they probably feel that as human beings they are merely a collection of old characters that they’ve played. I sometimes get that feeling about myself, that I have become a series of connectives between the parts of the characters that I really like and I’ve strung them together into kind of a human being.”

Really great doc about Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, their lives and careers, getting deep into the art and philosophy of acting. A perfect lockdown series, largely archival footage with current actors reading interview transcripts from an old abandoned project, and Hawke zooming with the actors to discuss the movies and people involved.

TraumaZone: Russia 1985-1999 (2022, Adam Curtis)

1. We run from 1985 to 1989 pretty quickly, moving on to the good stuff. Chernobyl, Georgian protesters murdered by Russian army, retreat from Afghanistan, managers partnering with gangsters to loot industry, the first two oligarchs, some local keyboardy post-punk.
2. Yeltsin becomes president as communist supply chain plan falls apart. Each ep has a personal story wound through it – this one is a woman traveling to visit her sister for a food swap, and a girl begging for cash in the city.
3. Ukrainian wedding across the street from a Stalin-era mass grave. Moscow coup attempt while Gorbachev on vacation, Yeltsin disowned it. Military killed a bunch of people. Things moved really fast in Aug-Nov 1991 – all the power shifts at the top, and the titles say “and nothing changed.”
4. “Shock therapy” free market experiment does not work.
5. Protestors destroy parliament… which was then shot up with tanks. A mini-economy rises around a “very affluent minority.” Russia becomes more racist and opts to distract from troubles at home by invading Chechnya.
6. Lot of murdering going on, as the Chechen invasion goes badly and the Oligarchs buy up the country’s remaining resources. Wow at the oligarchs promising that if you vote for them, you never need to vote again.
7. The series comes to a merciful end, better in theory than as a viewing experience.

Atlanta season 2 (2018)

201. Alligator Man, feat. Katt Williams as Alligator Man
202. Al’s drug dealer robs him. Tracy (Khris Davis of the latest Space Jam) is staying w Al so Earn sleeps in a storage unit.
203. Clark County (RJ Walker of a Guy Pearce movie) has a manager who gets him advertising and soundtrack spots. Earn gets kicked out of every establishment trying to pay with hundreds – including Onyx, just down the street from Taqueria Del Sol.
204. Earn is a bad boyfriend, acts sullen at the Helen GA German festival then loses Van over a game of ping pong.
205. Al tries to get a haircut from hair/scam artist Bibby (comedian Robert S. Powell) who takes him on a ride of chaos through the city. Good one, and a welcome break from pitying Earn. Music by Flying Lotus and Thundercat, whoa.
206. Darius attempts to collect a free piano from the mansion of a tormented homicidal shut-in (Glover in albino-face). Get Out vibes.
207. Van goes to a New Year’s Eve party at Drake’s house, has encounters with guys attempting to be charming and coming off as creepy. Her friend Adriyan Rae ditches the group for another party… Danielle Deadwyler (star of Till) fails to start a fight with a white girl… Gail Bean gets too high, finds Darius who explains that the world is a simulation (and so was Drake).
208. Al’s celeb friend Ciara gives him advice on fame, but he’s not listening. So he tries to walk home, but gets robbed and threatened and chased and shot at and lost in the woods. Apparently filmed in East Point.
209. Trip to Statesboro on a bad campus visit. All their stuff gets stolen or destroyed, Earn loses a fight with Tracy (there for “security”) and maybe/almost gets fired.
210. Weirdly un-comic full-episode flashback. Al (in ROTC uniform) gets Earn out of trouble for wearing a bootleg shirt, deflects blame to another kid who kills himself. Filmed in Stockbridge, SE of the airport. Young Al played a bully in Brightburn, the suicidal kid is lately of Stranger Things.
211. On the eve of the Euro-tour, Earn is having doubts about his value and his future and his kid’s future, and I am calling bullshit because he’s rushed heading to the airport with a forgotten pistol in his backpack. But the show lets him get away, and Clark’s manager Matthew Barnes (lately of Creepshow: the series and Scream: the series) takes the fall.

Poker Face season 1 (2023)

episode 1: RIP to Natasha’s best friend Dascha Polanco (Joy, In the Heights), the friend’s bastard husband Michael Reagan (Adult Swim Yule Log) and casino manager Adrien Brody. Unknown whether casino security Benjamin Bratt (Demolition Man) will recur (edit: yep). Natasha Lyonne hitting the road, Adrien’s dad swearing revenge.

2: RIP to Brandon Micheal Hall (Search Party), dispatched by local creep Colton Ryan for a winning lotto ticket. Natasha is helped out by John Ratzenberger (!) and goth chick Megan Suri (of the new Searching sequel Missing) while trying to save trucker Hong Chau (Downsizing, Showing Up) before the bad guys catch up to her. Alice Ju (Russian Doll) is our new writer.

3: RIP to BBQ king Larry Brown, smoked to death by his brother Lil Rel Howery (TSA buddy in Get Out) for the crime of watching Okja and turning vegan. Co-conspirator Danielle Macdonald (Patti Cake$ herself) goes down too, Natasha helped out by voice-shifting DJ Shane Paul McGhie. Writer Wyatt Cain (Prodigal Son: a Lou Diamond Phillips crime psychologist series) and director Iain MacDonald (Shameless).

4. RIP to young drummer Nicholas Cirillo, electrocuted by his bandmates to steal his song, which he stole from a TV theme. Chloë Sevigny, John Darnielle and GK Umeh are a pathetic metal band touring on an ancient hit, their only new original song “Merch Girl” inspired by Natasha. MVP Chuck Cooper as the roadie who knows about capacitors in vintage amps. Writer Christine Boylan worked on Katy’s show Castle, director Tiffany Johnson was on the Dear White People series. Darnielle’s first Rian Johnson movie since The Life of the World to Come in 2010.

5. RIP to Reed Birney, presumably the Strawberry Mansion director’s dad, poisoned by the gals he ratted on in the 1970’s: TV veterans Judith Light and S. Epatha Merkerson. Natasha is working at the old folks’ home, befriends and then turns on the drug-dealing domestic terrorists. Not a big fan of the FBI-good-guy (Simon Helberg!), hippie-bad-guy formula, but easily the best written episode so far, excellently directed by Lucky McKee (The Woman, Sick Girl).

6. RIP to Jameela Jamil from The Good Place. Actors Ellen Barkin and Tim Meadows pretend to be trying to murder each other onstage, Jamil gets killed instead, and this somehow makes it not a crime? A young actor catches on, and stagehand Natasha intervenes before they poison her as well, then pulls a confession via hidden mic. Katy is getting tired of all the bad people and the killings. New director Ben Sinclair (High Maintenance) with a writer from a long-running crime show called Leverage.

7. Nobody dies for once, but the joint tampering by Tim Blake Nelson and Charles Melton (Hot Reggie in Riverdale) on a racecar leaves TBN’s daughter hospitalized. Natasha meets both the moms and all the drivers, puts the plot together with no cop involvement. Especially good episode, from the director of ep 3 and a Bojack Horseman writer.

8. The stop-motion episode… mad sfx god Nick Nolte works on his hermit epic with assistant Natasha while film producer Cherry Jones kills her guy (Star Trekker Tim Russ) and Nolte, and archivist Luis Guzmán helps Natasha (who is also this ep’s director) put it all together.

9. Less sweet sfx in this snowy cabin-bound ep, mostly just CG deer, and more gnarly injuries than ever. Natasha is nearly killed two or three times by Joey Gordo-Levitt, who holes up with his buddy David Castañeda in a motel, murdering klepto car aficionado Stephanie Hsu to cover their tracks and reprosecuting the murder they did ten years prior. Rian is back, written by two Zuckermen, who worked on a couple shows Katy watched.

10. RIP to Ron Perlman, the big boss who’s been chasing Natasha across the country, murdered by his flunky Ben Bratt, who defected to mobster Rhea “no relation” Perlman. Agent Helberg is back, Natasha gets little sympathy from sister Clea DuVall (Carnivàle, The Astronaut’s Wife) and goes back on the run. Directed by Janicza “Zola” Bravo, with style to spare.

Planet Earth (2006)

Apparently there’s also a U.S. version with Sigourney Weaver voiceover, so I suppose we’ll just have to watch this whole series again someday. Some of the footage felt familiar, and I just figured out why.

The Kingdom season 1 (1994, Lars Von Trier)

Extremely film-grainy restoration of this show I originally watched on dubbed VHS.

Most actors are best-known for this or some other Lars movie. Mogge (young glasses prankster, son of an admin, doesn’t really work there) showed up in Flame & Citron. His blackmailer Hook played a doctor in Downsizing. Old Mrs. Drusse (orderly Bulder’s mom who can hear ghosts) was in the psychokinetic doppelganger film The Man Who Thought Life. Red-haired Rigmor, deluded because she likes Helmer, played the cave woman in Jauja. And Bondo, who transfers a rare cancer into his own body to study it, was in Dreyer’s Gertrud.

They locate the dead girl Mary, tormented in life by her father Udo Kier then kept in a glass display for decades until buried at Bulder and company. But the spirits are unappeased, as Dr. Judith gives birth to… Udo Kier.

Watched this soon after reading Vox’s reviews of Joe Berlinger’s two new Ted Bundy movies, a documentary (“a bit of a slog”) and a “morally confused” Zac Efron feature. I was considering that maybe serial killer movies are a bad idea in general, but was also stressed out and feeling like watching some murders, so thought I’d torment myself by watching ol’ self-serious Lars alienate his fans. Divided into chapters, or incidents. “You might as well be a serial killer,” taunts Uma Thurman repeatedly in the first, until Matt Dillon finally, blessedly, beats her face in. Their self-conscious Tarantino conversation immediately calmed my concerns that this would be a grim, punishing movie. I keep forgetting about the campy prankster side of Lars – this was an escalating series of hateful murders, played for laughs and meta-commentary.

Segments are divided by short scenes, Dylan references, and stock footage in every aspect ratio and voiceover conversation with “Verge,” who turns out to be the late Bruno Ganz playing Virgil, Dante’s guide through hell, speaking of Jack’s murders as artworks. Next, Jack sets out to murder a woman alone at home (Siobhan Hogan, prison guard in Dancer in the Dark), talks his way inside with the most ridiculous excuses (he’s a cop but “my badge is at the silversmith”). He clumsily, awkwardly kills her then photographs the body, comes back inside to clean up and has to escape a visiting cop. Then he takes a date (Sofie GrÃ¥bøl, star of the series The Killing) and her two kids on a hunting trip and hunts them, kids first. Then the infamous double-mastectomy incident with a girlfriend (Riley Keough) whom he has cruelly nicknamed “Simple”. Then Jack, now known to the press as the serial killer Mr. Sophistication, is found out by his ammo supplier (Jeremy Davies of Dogville), and chased to his body-freezer home base by cops, where Virgil leads him into the underworld through a house made of the bodies of Jack’s victims.

I may have accidentally watched the censored version, but runtime is only two minutes different, so I’m not gonna sweat it this time.

Divided into two parts with multiple sections each. Rough-looking nymphomaniac Charlotte Gainsbourg is picked up by virgin shut-in Stellan Skarsgard. She tells her story, divided into two long parts with multiple sections, each section metaphorically tied to a different token from Stellan’s bedroom. He is presented as the most patiently nonjudgemental man in the world, then finally tries to rape her in her sleep, because after all, she’s had sex with basically everyone but him. It’s temping to call this a betrayal of his character, but really it seems too tragically real. With all the sexual escapades in the four-hour movie, this final minute is the part I keep thinking about.

Part one is a romp, then part two does away with the fun and games and much of the humor, as “Joe” goes too far and injures herself then can’t have proper sex for a while and has to visit a masochist (haven’t seen Jamie Bell since 2006, forgot what he looked like – he’s got a Ryan Gosling dreamy intensity here) and she becomes obsessed with her first/true love Jerome (Shia LaBeouf, then distractingly a different actor in the last few scenes) and tries to murder him when he takes up with Joe’s girlfriend Mia Goth.

For the most part, except when part two gets too heavy in the middle, the movie mixes things up admirably. It uses cutaway footage with different resolutions and aspect ratios, graphics and captions in part 1, and is overall full of intensely good dialogue. Fun meta-moment when Jerome returns to the story, Stellan tells her the coincidence is too strong and Joe replies you’ll get more out of the story if you just roll with it and believe me.

Christian Slater is Joe’s father, mainly seen during the “Delirium” episode when he’s dying in hospital, and Connie Nielsen (Demonlover) is her severe mother (does she even have lines?). Sophie Clark is Joe’s best friend in part 1, and Uma Thurman gets a huge breakdown scene as the wife of a man who has left her to live with Joe. But, as usual, too small a role for Udo Kier.

M. Sicinski:

… it functions a bit like a notepad, moving through different styles and tones without ever lapsing into stuntsmanship. This is a promiscuous film, one that intends to strip that descriptor of any pejorative scent. Like Joe, Nymphomaniac is exploratory and remains radically open, while retaining a core existential self. It can attach its diegesis to a character who may well weave in and out of objective truth; it may tip its hand into reflexivity, only to pull back and attempt to compel belief, both on the level of story and that of formal organization.

The Wholly Family (2011, Terry Gilliam)

A rich tourist couple in Naples argue amongst themselves while their son swipes a masked statuette from a street vendor. That night after the boy is sent to bed without dinner, it comes to life and an army of masked Italians taunt him with food he’s never quite able to eat (plus the heads of his parents). The family has a happy reunion in the morning, but they’ve become figures at the street vendor’s stand.

Very good little movie, with masks out of Dr. Parnassus, doll-parts out of Tideland and who knows what else.

The Discipline of D.E. (1978, Gus Van Sant)

This has been one of my favorite short stories for years (it’s by William Burroughs from Exterminator) and despite the movie’s ranking on J. Rosenbaum’s list of favorite films, I figured a satisfactory adaptation would be near-impossible. It’s fun, but really just reading the story aloud and illustrating on film.

Carrots & Peas (1969, Hollis Frampton)

A taster of the new Criterion set – I also rewatched parts of Zorns Lemma (thanks for adding chapter stops) and played the great commentary track on Lemon. Stop-motion carrots, cross-fade, stop-motion peas. Color filters, reversals and other craziness. Then around the one-minute mark it becomes a still life, barely changing for the next four. Meanwhile a lecture plays in reverse on the soundtrack. Some fiddling in quicktime reveals that it’s a fitness lesson of some sort.

The Town (1944, Josef von Sternberg)

An advertisement for small-town USA, filmed in Madison, Indiana. Boring, flavorless little industrial film – no reason at all to ever watch this, besides to see the depths to which the once-glorious Sternberg had fallen.

Turen til squashland (1967, Lars von Trier)

Holy cow, an animated romp with happy bunnies. One is kidnapped, so the hot dog man and other two bunnies ride a friendly whale to the kidnappers’ castle, where the missing bunny rides down its water spew.

Revolution (1967, Peter Greenaway)

A grim-looking leftist march of young men, not seemingly shot in any organized way, but edited to the Beatles’ Revolution, which is kind of funny since it’s got a lyric about “carrying pictures of Chairman Mao,” and some marchers carry anti-capitalist posters.

At first it’s a weird mix of the universe-history sections of Tree of Life with the shaky-cam family drama of Rachel Getting Married, but then it starts to come together. Oh actually before that is one of Von Trier’s typically outstanding opening sequences (think the sex/death of Antichrist and the musical watercolors of Dancer in the Dark). Here he uses the extreme slow-motion style of Antichrist, creating motion portraits of what seem like Justine’s depressive dreams, with stylised versions of images we’ll see later: Claire’s yard, the new planet above Earth, pictures from art books.

Part 1: Justine
Kirsten Dunst (last seen in Marie-Antoinette, again playing spoiled and detached) just married Michael (Alexander “son of Stellan” Skarsgard), heads to the lavish reception thrown by her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg of Antichrist; has any other Von Trier lead actress ever returned to work with him again?) and husband Kiefer Sutherland at his Marienbad-like estate. But despite the smiles in public, Justine keeps returning to her ultra-depressive funk, disappearing outside or to other rooms for long periods, leaving the guests waiting, much to the frustration of wedding planner Udo Kier (“she’s ruining my wedding”) who dramatically averts his eyes from the bride whenever he passes.

More drama: the girls’ dad John Hurt is pretty reasonable, but their mom Charlotte Rampling couldn’t be more awful. Justine’s employer Stellan is bugging her – at her own wedding reception – for some tagline for a client, sends round-faced new employee Brady Corbett to follow her. Laboriously, Justine makes it through all the stages and events of her wedding reception, but fucks Brady Corbett instead of her groom. I don’t think he finds out (I ran to the restroom) but nobody is happy with her at the end of the night – father and husband leave without her.

Part 2: Claire
Sometime later (the husband and parents are never mentioned again) Justine is having a crisis, summoned to Claire’s house so her sister can take care of her with homemade meatloaf. The world is all excited that a previously unknown planet has appeared from behind the sun and will pass very close to Earth – various conspiracy theorists say the two planets will collide (one of the images we saw at the start of the film). Kiefer is vocally sure that Earth is safe, and Kirsten is silently sure that it’s doomed – Claire is caught between them.

Of course it is doomed, because what better ending to a Lars Von Trier movie than the destruction of the planet, the fiery obliteration of every character we’ve met? Claire superstitiously stocks up on suicide pills and Kiefer scientifically stocks up on generators and candles and fresh water, but when Kiefer realizes that planet Melancholia has doubled back after its fly-by, he sneaks off to the stables with the pills, leaving the sisters and his son to face the end of the world together.

All set at a single location, a rich family detached from the rest of society. Interestingly IMDB says the advertising image that Stellan has assigned to Kirsten is based on a famous painting, “an unflattering portrayal of excess and spiritual emptiness in a mythical land of plenty.” Kirsten is unusually tuned-in to planet Melancholia, and seems to brighten up as it gets closer. Either she’s perversely pleased by the idea of the planet collision or is spiritually in-tune with the planet, or the cosmic intensity of her depression has summoned the planet in the first place.

C. Wisniewski:

Things go from bad to worse in ways that never seem to reflect real human behavior. … the confusing structure of Melancholia’s first half exposes Trier’s inability at approximating emotional realism. Justine is believably depressive and damaged, but nothing that happens around her has even a whiff of authenticity, first frame to last. I struggled through the wedding sequence to make sense of it all: how she knew her husband or how well or long they’d known one another; why she had agreed to marry and then why she’d decided to sabotage her wedding; and how all of this could possibly happen in one night. Episodic in the worst way, part one plays like a shrill and repetitive run-on sentence authored by someone who has a clear idea of what he wants to say but hasn’t adequately structured and packaged those ideas.

Trier’s world … seems like a lousy, sad, miserable place. I’m glad he got a chance to blow it up.

I told Katy I wanted to call this “post-feminist cinema” but she said “anti-feminist” would fit better. I’m gonna read what everyone wrote about this later on, but for now my first impression was that it’s a beautiful film of a less-beautiful story. Charlotte and Willem lose their young son and since he’s a psychologist he tries to help her through it using dodgy methods like taking her to the place she’s most afraid of. So he’s either doing a good job, or he’s misguided but still trying to help the best he knows how, or he’s an awful person who hopes to further incite his wife’s trauma so he can write an exciting book about it. I go back and forth, but what I’m sure about is that Charlotte turns out to be an evil witch. She watched her son die and did nothing to stop him, she drilled a metal rod through Willem’s leg, and she acts generally psycho until he stops her and is confronted by the ghosts of a hundred dead forest witches. Or something. Gotta say I actually liked it a whole lot, found it an effective and gorgeous horror movie, despite any political or character misgivings.

Second half of shorts listing from Cannes 60th anniv. celebration (first half is here):

It’s A Dream by Tsai Ming-liang

Occupations by a hatchet-wielding Lars Von Trier

The Gift, more weirdness by Raoul Ruiz

The Cinema Around The Corner, happy reminiscing by Claude Lelouch

First Kiss, pretty but obvious, by Gus Van Sant.

Cinema Erotique, a funny gag by Roman Polanksi with one of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s large-faced actors.

No Translation Needed, almost too bizarre to be considered self-indulgent, first Michael Cimino movie since 1996.

At the Suicide of the Last Jew in the World in the Last Cinema in the World by and starring David Cronenberg, one of his funniest and most disturbing movies.

I Travelled 9,000 km To Give It To You by Wong Kar-Wai.

Where Is My Romeo? – Abbas Kiarostami films women crying at a movie.

The Last Dating Show, funny joke on dating and racial tension by Bille August.

Awkward featuring Elia Suleiman as himself.

Sole Meeting, another gag, by Manoel de Oliveira and starring Michel Piccoli (left) and MdO fave Duarte de Almeida (right).

8,944 km From Cannes, a very pleasurable musical gag by Walter Salles.

War In Peace, either perverse or tragic, I don’t know which, by Wim Wenders.

Zhanxiou Village, supreme childhood pleasure by Chen Kaige.

Happy Ending, ironically funny ending by Ken Loach.

Epilogue is an excerpt from a Rene Clair film.

Not included in the DVD version was World Cinema by Joel & Ethan Coen and reportedly a second Walter Salles segment.

Not included in the program at all was Absurda by David Lynch (reportedly he submitted too late, so his short was shown separately). I saw a download copy… some digital business with crazed sound effects and giant scissors.