In which Varda proves she can find good cinema anywhere, by wandering down the street into all the small shops and turning her neighbors into movie stars. There’s too much of the magician, but his magic show serves to bring together the people we’ve been seeing in separate shops into one space. Since I can’t take screenshots off the Criterion channel, I’ve stolen a still from their website.

My first-ever Sammo Hung movie. This did have skeletons, a ghost pulling somebody into a mirror, a hopping vampire, an Evil Dead hand rebelling against its body, and a battle between magicians, but it’s really not a horror movie. Rather a comedy action flick: a likeable loser called Big Guts is getting cucked by his wife and set up by his boss, but keeps managing to survive. I can see the Sammo influence on Jackie Chan, using all the props in the room and looking panicked while doing cool moves. Magician Lau (Tai Bo) disapproves of his master’s murderous work-for-hire, kwaidans and protects Sammo, then defeats evil magician Peter Chan Lung. Internet says both magicians were in Enter the Dragon, all my early kung fu movie interests starting to come together. I think one of the Jackie/Sammo collabs like Project A or Dragons Forever should be next. This movie has convinced me that Sammo is cool, but it loses points for bird killing.

I thought it was the Plazadrome screening of part 3 that got me on a Nightmare on Elm Street kick this month, but no, it was probably this:

I imagined a widescreen stop-motion puppet Midsummer from the creator of The Hand would be magical. It turns out if you remove all the language from a Shakespeare play, reducing it to plot action with explanatory voiceover, you don’t even reach feature length without some padding in the form of dance scenes and overlong rehearsals of the play-within-the-play. Sticking it out, there is some beautiful puppetry and effects, particularly whenever Puck casts a transformation spell.

This is how to do remakes – start with a disreputable movie, cast a good lead and a hammy villain, and have as much fun as possible. Add a couple twists (vampire needs to be invited to come inside, but there’s nothing stopping him from setting your house on fire to drive you out) and some real dodgy digi effects, you’re done. I don’t feel strongly about it either way.

I guess this guy stars in Kick-Ass:

Anton Yelchin is our guy, with mom Toni Collette, girl Imogen Poots, and nerdy childhood friend who has grown apart Chris Mintz-Plasse. When new neighbor Colin Farrell vampires the latter two, Anton escalates to the world’s foremost authority on the dark arts, Vegas magician David Tennant. Oh wait, the screenshots are confusing on this matter, maybe he doesn’t get Poots, or he does get her then they turn her back – either way, the magician will have none of this nonsense, then steps up when convinced of the reality.

At True/False we saw a couple movies by Everson: the one-take-whatever Partial Differential Equation, and the very great Hampton. So I’m checking to see what else is out there.


Workers Leaving the Job Site (2013)

Silent handheld shot of the titular workers leaving the titular job site. Five minutes in – an edit! But it just cuts to another minute of the same thing. My least favorite film of workers leaving a job site, after the Lumiere and the Kaurismaki – or maybe it’s a tie for last with the Farocki.


Three Quarters (2015)

Silent again, medium shots of two guys doing magic tricks with cards and string and quarters, a hundred times more fun than watching them leave the job site.


Ears, Nose and Throat (2016)

1. Grainy outdoor night photography with fireflies, punctuated by left/right hearing-test tones.

2. Doctor with unsynched sound explains to patient that she has misaligned vocal cords and that’s why her voice gets tired.

3. She’s in a sound booth, unsynched again, telling about an argument she witnessed leading neighbor Chris to kill his friend DeCarrio. We’re outside the booth and I’m wondering if the opening scene was where the shooting happened.

4. We’re in the sound booth with her, hearing the tones she’s hearing.

5. Back at doctor’s office, room tone.

Ohhhhhh wow, DeCarrio was the director’s son, and the sound-booth woman a witness to his murder. That is a hell of a thing to make a film about.


Music from the Edge of the Allegheny Plateau (2019)

Two music performances, living room gospel and pickup truck rap, merged at the end by messing with the sync. The film title plus shots of a woman looking at a hillside through binoculars gives a (geo-)anthropological feeling, like the music is in the land and you can find it if you look hard enough.


Black Bus Stop (2019)

College(?) kids having non-sync discusions with imprecise focus and framing, start talking about a black bus stop and the sound doubles up on itself, cut to night with performance-art stances and choreographed performances and songs, I think all of them school/greek-related… then back to the meta-cacophony about the bus stop. Shot at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, codirected with History Department chair Claudrena Harold.

We had a True/False Makeup Weekend to celebrate One Child Nation‘s release in local theaters on the same day Amazing Johnathan premiered on streaming. As with this year’s fest itself, our programming was about half successful. We followed this one for a while, but as the filmmaker lost exclusive access to his subject, who also refused to quit or die, the director turned the movie towards himself (and itself) and tried to manufacture drama and stunts. Given how it ends up being about his competition with other Amazing Johnathan documentaries, and this one’s “twist ending” is its own executive producer credit, I’m surprised they didn’t film an addendum with our dude filming himself signing the Hulu deal. The other finished doc, Always Amazing, apparently scored a David Copperfield interview. In interviews, AJ says he likes the other movie just as much, which Berman says is impossible.

The opening scene sets up some teen school drama – girl who wants to fit in and act adult, lovestruck fool who obsesses over her, and his friends, the popular class president and their weirdo buddy Don. So it’s gonna be that kind of movie… except the lead girl (does she not have a name?) is gulping boozy drinks all at once, her throat bulging as they go down. The animation style keeps changing, and facial expressions extend off people’s heads when they get excited. It’s mentioned that the class president is famous for his cross-dressing and that Don hasn’t changed his underwear in six months. The lead dude lays out his scheme to follow the girl everywhere, bumping into her “by chance” until she thinks it’s fate that they should be together. Then she imagines she’s a train and cho-choos off into the night – this is all in the first four minutes. There’s singing and dancing, so I’m pretty sure it’s a sequel to Girl Walk: All Day.

Soon our girl is beating up a molester in another bar, meeting gamblers and gangsters and secret societies. She faces off against the droopy-eared elf leader of the criminal underworld, who she drinks under the table, the beginning of his rapid decline. There’s a nighttime book market with its own guardian spirit, a hallucinatory hot pot competition, the president using his panopticon to track down a guerrilla theater production rigged by Don Underwear to search for his missed-connection. I can’t tell if the movie believes in fate or is mocking its characters for believing in it. The night ends with everyone tired and sick, except our Girl, who delivers healing soup to everyone in town at once, Santa-like.

Don Underwear and his Apple Girl:

The first film by Studio Ponoc is also Yonebayashi’s third feature based on British children’s lit, with much of the familiar visual style and same crew members as Ghibli, so it’s more a continuation than anything bold and new. We’d also just watched Castle in the Sky, another movie where a girl with unexplained powers is chased from a floating castle. We played spot-the-reference as Mary finds a flower that turns her into a super-powerful witch, rides to witch school, then gets pursued by the schoolmasters who want to harness the flower’s power to crossbreed animals, or do some Captain America kinda thing, I dunno. It’s all very attractive, and impressive on the big screen, but like its witchy predecessor, it started to feel like we were just watching a kids movie.

“Full Moon Pictures presents”

Oh God, it’s happening. I delayed for seven years, watching the occasional Dollman or Demonic Toys movie, but there are still Puppet Master sequels to watch, and eventually I must watch them.

“A Charles Band Production”

Don’t be too impressed – IMDB says Band produced 30 movies that year.

“A Joseph Tennent Film”

Since his previous Puppet Master sequel only a year earlier, director David DeCoteau had made about seven movies under various aliases.

Retro Puppetmaster

It’s so retro that Puppetmaster is one word again – a throwback to the first movie, or a misspelling due to overall franchise confusion and underpaid titles writers?

Flashbacking from 1944 to “long ago” Cairo, a sorcerer is stealing the secrets of the gods, and everyone in this temple is repeating their lines of dialogue in order to pad the scene.

Vincent Price-ish sorcerer holding scroll of forbidden secrets:

To Paris 1902, and enter flamboyant Ilsa, who is acting her heart out, and uptight Marguerite, who seems to be appearing in this movie at gunpoint and reading her lines phonetically. “Don’t go into any opium dens,” Ilsa is advised as she heads for a puppet show. She meets Young Toulon (now played by Greg Sestero, soon to become infamous in The Room) backstage when sewer-dwelling Dark City fellows hire hit men to take out a hobo after the show.

Sestero is not strangling this hobo, he’s checking for signs of life:

The prop and costume budget on this movie seems higher than the talent budget. “I understand. You’re a 3000-year-old sorcerer from Egypt and you want to teach me the secret of life.” Afzel (Jack Donner, DiCaprio’s dad in J. Edgar) shows Young Toulon how to resurrect the soul of his dead hobo friend into a mute wooden puppet with oversized arms, telling him this is the most precious power in the history of the world, which I dunno. The new wooden puppets are cool: I call them Skeletal Surgeon, Primitive Screwhead, Sergeant Cyclops and Hobo Hulk.

“It is time to act,” say the Dark City Goons, and not a moment too soon… oh, but that’s not what they meant. While Toulon is off being arrested and beaten by Ilsa’s ambassador father’s soldiers, the DCGs head to the theater and psychically murder all the puppeteers by blurring the film over their faces. Cornered, Afzel proactively blurs himself to death.

Blur-attack:

Self-blur suicide:

After all this plot and dreadful dialogue delivery, Toulon only has 30 minutes left in the movie to transfer the souls of his dead friends into the wood puppets and direct them to murder the DCGs. “We shall be avengers.” It’s actually not bad as far as origin stories go.

They set out to search the country for the Dark City Goons, but they’re standing right in the other room, so we get our first showdown straight away: the DCGs’ film-blurring powers vs. a bunch of stabby, strangley little puppets. The DCGs are dispatched by a falling chandelier, then the voice of Sutek shouts “live again,” and two of them do, with newly green-glowing hands. The remaining DCGs (their leader, the appropriately-named Stephen Blackehart, was later in Super and both Guardians of the Galaxy) decide to get to Toulon by kidnapping his girl.

Lovely Ilsa: Brigitta Dau, a voice on My Little Pony in its least-popular era:

Blackehart, probably:

Second showdown, on a train this time, where everyone talks real slow to allow the puppets time to get into position. It’s all kinda underlit and non-dramatic, so DeCoteau tries tilting the camera around to build some energy. The puppets team up on one guy and Toulon punches the other out the window. As with the rest of the Puppet Master movies, it feels like they’re desperately stretching out scenes to make a contractually-obligated runtime.

In 1944 postscript, properly aged Toulon (series fave Guy Rolfe) builds anticipation for another movie by telling his puppets that he’ll tell them what happened to the original puppets “at another time” – but it would be four long years before the clip-show Puppet Master: The Legacy, a cheap and shitty move even by this series’s standards, then came the Demonic Toys faceoff, and in the 2010s a new nazi-themed trilogy began, so I guess we’ll never know.