Nora and Jim are drunkenly in love, “but she had never told him the truth.” They take their son to Ireland, where her brother Christopher Walken is looking after grandma Lois Smith, and is incidentally tending to an ancient druid mummy which eventually comes alive and kills him. The couple’s son is allowed to play with the ancient dagger he found under their bed, while local girl Alice hangs around and narrates, and mom merges with the bog witch, and things get out of hand.

Family portrait through Guinness:

The lead couple was good at least – Mom is Alison Elliott of The Underneath (and Elle Fanning’s mom in 20th Century Women), dad is Jared Harris, who is son of King Richard Harris, and is not Sean Harris from Mission: Impossible. Based on Bram Stoker’s mummy horror The Jewel of Seven Stars, previously adapted by Hammer and by Fred Olen Ray and by Mike Newell. All these adaptations have been poorly rated, so maybe we should stop trying. This one doesn’t work, the whole vibe is off.

Almereyda in Filmmaker:

Well, it was supposed to be fast and cheap, but it became expensive and slow … It’s entirely in color, and it’s almost entirely in focus, not counting some flashbacks shot in Super-8 … I had some hopeful feelings about [horror] but I think it’s a wrong swerve for me … Genre is a way of traveling through familiar terrain, but I always hope to get someplace new. I may have only one life, but I’m hoping to make many movies, and many kinds of movies. If they’re true to themselves, there’s a way that they don’t have to exclude each other.

The Big Shave (1967, Martin Scorsese)

Scorsese’s queasiest film? Guy just keeps shaving until he is bloody all over, ending with a full cross-throat red slash. Jazz score with no direct sound, very student-filmy.

We’re Going to the Zoo (Josh Safdie +3)

Stop-motion opening title, nice. Woman on a long drive pulls over for a minute when she spills her coffee and hitchhiker Josh jumps in back with her little brother. They stop at a diner and dine-and-dash, but he runs back in and pays? He gets lectured about sex before marriage from a rest-stop cashier. They have a fun ride, drop him off, proceed to the zoo which is closed, then pick him up on the way back. Lo-fi camera.

When We Lived in Miami (2013, Amy Seimetz)

Scenes of a woman and her daughter in Miami, a day or two before a hurricane comes through, then it adds her cheating husband into the mix. Lovely editing.

The Lonedale Operator (2018, Michael Almereyda)

John Ashbery recalls his childhood love of movies, and the viewing of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which led to his beginning to write poetry at age 8. He’s interviewed in color 16mm, reading from his own letters, with photos and film footage cut in. He moved to Paris and binge-watched silents at the Cinematheque… pretty standard interview doc except for a cool bit of editing between classic films at the end, and the factor that this was filmed just months before Ashbery’s death. DP Sean Price Williams is just everywhere.

Pinball (2013, Suzan Pitt)

The director’s own paintings, detailed and turntabled then fast-cut to the music Ballet Mechanique. So far Pitt is 2 for 2, and there’s more on the Channel – hope it’s sticking around.

A great improvement on that Black Mirror with the inflatable husband-substitute… three acts of interactions with holograms programmed to behave like lost loved ones. First, Lois Smith (Minority Report, and not Almereyda’s Twister but the other one) is given a virtual version of her late husband, as his handsome younger self (Black Mirror star Jon Hamm), by their daughter Geena Davis and husband Tim Robbins. Here the word “prime” refers to the A.I. replica, not the original, as in World of Tomorrow. Already things are unsteady, since Hamm Prime is learning how to be a more accurate version of himself, and ditto Smith since her memory is becoming unreliable.

In the second part, Smith has passed away, and her prime provides little comfort for her daughter, who has committed suicide by part three, and whose prime provides little comfort for Tim Robbins. Great final scene where the three primes chat with each other, being open about topics which were forbidden to the living. Some of my favorite actors together in a room with a good script, something you’d assume would be done all the time, but which seems hard to pull off in practice. You can tell it’s based on a play, but it’s not overly stagey, with low-light and backlight effects and great unsettling string music by Mica Levi (Under the Skin).

I thought I’d do another Shorts Month, but February turned out to be pretty busy, so I only got to a dozen (plus the Oscar Animation program). Breaking them up into two posts…


Skinningrove (2013, Michael Almereyda)

After Experimenter and now Escapes, I thought it’d be worth watching everything I can find by Almereyda. This one is simply a slideshow, narrated by photographer Chris Killip who’d spent a few years documenting the titular fishing village. We get descriptions of who we’re seeing, how his (excellent) photographs were taken, and what happened after (two of the boys died in a storm). Killip says he’s never been sure what he should do with the photos – I suppose this is what.


Me the Terrible (2012, Josephine Decker)

Girl dressed like a pirate conquers New York, from the Statue of Liberty to Wall Street to the Empire State Building, until a gang of red-suited bicyclists steal her teddy bear in Central Park and she abandons the rest of the conquest. The adults seem to be lipsyncing to voices from old movies. Not at all like Decker’s Butter on the Latch, but fully wonderful in all new ways.


Split Persona (2017, Bradley Rust Gray)

Twin sisters Karrie and Jalissa have a majorly depressed mom. Jalissa always takes care of mom, so she asks Karrie to stay home for once, but apparently whenever mom is left home with Karrie she attempts suicide. Bummer of a little film, possibly made as a PSA for mental health care – it barely exists online, despite coming from the director of Jack & Diane. This was written by a Nelson, whose mom suffers from depression, and it stars a Nelson as the mom, but no word whether it’s Mom Nelson.


Second Sighted (2015, Deborah Stratman)

Movement through space. Stock footage. Water and earth… earth under water, and flowing like water. Graphic markups on photographs. Models and data and data models. Good stuff, and I didn’t even mind the soundtrack: drones, chimes and that chirpy chatter that accompanies old computer images. My first by Stratman – I’ve been seeing her name here and there.


Woodshock (1985, Richard Linklater)

Bunch of pretty annoying dudes clown around at a Texas underground film festival. Daniel Johnston makes an appearance, then the footage starts overlapping and running in reverse in order to get groovy and psychedelic. He calls this a “film attempt” in the credits, fair enough. I spotted GBH and Exploited t-shirts! Shot by Lee Daniel, who was still working with Linklater as late as Boyhood.


Gazing at the Catastrophe (2012, Ali Cherri)

Closeup of a man’s face, his skin tone shifting every couple of frames. A photoshop cursor strokes each of his features, slowly applying scars or burns to his visage, then the picture cuts away to stuttering video horrors for a few seconds, and repeat.

The first fifteen minutes of this ninety-minute movie was one long story about when Hampton Fancher was out of work, dating Teri Garr and getting into trouble. I was worried, but I’m here because of Experimenter, and don’t know who Fancher is, really, and I’m home alone on a snowy day, so let’s see where this leads. This segment is heavily illustrated with clips of performances by Garr (who I recognized) and Fancher (who I didn’t, because we don’t see him until part three).

Part two is text on screen and still photographs, covering Fancher’s family life, running away at 15 to become a flamenco dancer, marriage to Lolita star Sue Lyon, and acting career. Next, we see him in the present, and it’s another fifteen-minute, barely-relevant story, ending with his cheating death because he felt bad about dumping a girl while on a press tour.

“Actually, this story is so terrible I’m not gonna tell it.” Fancher’s best friend Brian Kelly (star of Flipper) is paralyzed while out with Fancher and has to quit acting. Then a short segment about Fancher’s attempted screenwriting career, a failed meeting with Phil Dick. All of this finally comes together majestically in the final segment, as a series of coincidences, friendships, bizarre interests and weird life choices culminates in Fancher writing Blade Runner. In the end, this doc was better than Blade Runner 2049 (which Fancher also wrote!)

First half hour covers Stanley Milgram’s (Peter Sarsgaard of Night Moves, Black Mass) obedience experiments, which I knew a fair bit about, but in school we covered their problematic ethics, not their much more problematic results, nor the connections Milgram made with nazi Germany – the elephant in the room. “The results are terrifying and depressing. They suggest that the kind of character produced in American society can’t be counted on to insulate its citizens from brutality and inhumane treatment in response to a malevolent authority.”

Jim Gaffigan as the confederate:

Winona Ryder plays his wife, and this is the second movie I’ve seen in two months with its emotional peak a shot of a distraught Ryder. Katy is actually annoyed at how much of a Winona fan I’ve become this year, but I’m sure if Beetlejuice 2 becomes a reality I’ll calm down.

Mike D’Angelo wasn’t a fan of the second half, when the movie follows Milgram’s post-obedience academic career: “Facts are the enemy of art.” Interesting though to see his other work (he came up with “six degrees of separation”) while the movie plays around with reality, using rear-projected photographs as sets, and having Saarsgard-Milgram visit the set of a TV movie starring William-Shatner-Milgram (played by Kellan Lutz of Twilight). “There are times when your life resembles a bad movie, but nothing prepares you for when your life actually becomes a bad movie.”

Also Dennis Haysbert as Ossie Davis:

Matt Singer:

Provocative stuff, much of which is tied together in the final scenes about Stanley Milgram’s philosophy that men are puppets who can be made conscious of their strings. Experimenter is almost a test to see if the same can be said of film audiences.