Opens on a mining accident in Ethiopia… camera goes inside a dark gem, though the cosmos and out of Adam Sandler’s ass (rivaling the ants transition in The Human Surge), spends a couple hours following his final few days, back into his body through a fatal bullet hole and into the gem-cosmos. The movie itself is almost a horror, in that you’re watching a character make every bad decision and you want to scream at him to chill out, but it’s also a thrill to see where this many bad decisions will lead… and the thing is, both of Howard’s big gambling bets are winners, but his history of fuckups conspire to rob him of the rewards.

Halfway through the Skandies and already three acting awards: for first time actors Kevin Garnett (as himself, but still) and Keith Williams Richards as Arno’s raspy-voiced tough-guy… and on the opposite side of the showbiz spectrum, Frozen star Idina Menzel, as Howard’s soon-to-be-ex wife, who delivered the line to Adam Sandler that drew applause at my screening: “I think you are the most annoying person I have ever met.” I assume that Sandler is due for a Skandie, and if his brother-in-law/loanshark Arno (Special Effects star Eric Bogosian) and his employee/girlfriend who makes off with the cash at the end (Julia Fox, another first-timer – Matthew Eng wrote about her perfectly in Reverse Shot) aren’t coming up, they must’ve just missed. Good Time still has the edge, but this was great.

Jeez, this is the second time in a few months that I’ve watched two current 4:3 movies in a row. I suppose this one justifies it with the VHS tape tie-in (though what can justify the VHS tapes), and The Lighthouse is set on a lighthouse so I’ll allow a taller ratio… Nightingale maybe just for the period setting, overall the weakest 4:3 justification of the bunch, and I just dug the look of The Mountain so it can take whatever ratio it wants. D’Ambrose said that he made each of his shorts to work out a different filmmaking problem, and it seems like he’s still working things out – he’s almost got a movie, but this felt more like an exercise. Of course then I watched the credits and changed my tune; this is obviously the latest high masterpiece from savvy executive producer Brandon Bentley.

Keith (left) with the disappeared David (Bingham Bryant of Spiral Jetty):

Somebody Up There Likes Me star Keith Poulson meets David, who is writing about a late, controversial political theorist, and gives Keith a job itemizing the videotapes from the theorist’s travels and describing their contents. “I rarely saw anyone in any of these recordings. Their importance was unclear.”

There’s a riot and murder or two, but the movie describes these in documents, maintaining its quiet, measured tone in the main action. A wordless art gallery scene worked for me, the talky panel on translation did not. “Do you think this is uninteresting?” was the first line I heard upon resuming the movie, after pausing to see if anything was happening in the news (D’Ambrose told Filmmaker that scene died in Berlin and he hoped the NYC in-crowd would find it funnier). On the plus side: the great Tallie Medel (The Unspeakable Act).

Style quirks: studio-audience applause over the first shots of actors… blackouts between scenes are video-green… small roles are filled out with a bunch of film critics I read… of course lotta close-ups on documents. Phil Coldiron does not appear, but wrote a major Cinema Scope article on D’Ambrose, which I can only partly follow.

Vadim Rizov:

Consistently clipped editing keeps the tone fluid: humor is in the cuts, and the film is never needlessly dour, deliberately refusing to dutifully find its way to a neatly summarizable Statement About The Zeitgeist.

D’Ambrose:

I don’t think of Todd and Karen and most of the characters as “intellectuals” – I can’t take them seriously as thinkers, I think of them as part of a milieu … I’m grateful I didn’t end up calling the movie The Millennials, which was the original title.

Comically gentle music plays over the title Cannibal Holocaust, and I can’t tell if it’s irony or if this is just typical Italian-Horror dissonance. Then we open with a dude on an NYC skyscraper telling us that man is on the verge of conquering the galaxy, but blah blah. This movie has appeared on horror lists for decades, but I would never watch it, because ages ago we made the mistake of renting Umberto Lenzi’s knockoff Cannibal Ferox, which was so distasteful it put me off Italian cannibal horrors for years.

Professor Harold agrees to “journey into Amazonia” to find a disappeared film crew of four absolute losers, introduced via their own rushes: Alan is the director, Faye his “girlfriend and script girl,” and the two cameramen Jack and Martin are “inseparable friends.” This is set up as a found-footage doc, but the moment I meet these bozos I don’t buy a thing they say. It’s a clever conceit though, and as far as Italian courts of the early 1980’s could tell, this is how Americans really behave, so the movie-in-a-movie was assumed to be true and director Deodato was accused of murder.

“Hey professor, I recognize these teeth.” Dr. Harold and his army crew lose a man to a blowgun dart while while they are butchering natives, then they come across the teeth of Felipe, the movie crew’s guide. Meanwhile there’s footage of jumping monkeys, sloths and macaws, before we’re subjected to a mud-covered girl getting raped with some bloody object then murdered. It’s kind of a not-bad, actiony movie, except for the misogyny and probably racism. The prof’s crew is brought to the Tree People’s hideout and Harold decides to “become like them” and strips in the river, where he’s quickly surrounded by excited nude women. Have I mentioned that Harold is played by porn actor Robert Kerman? He also played a cop in Night of the Creeps, and IMDB says “then one day his female agent fired him for no clear reason.” Females, eh?

Porn Prof with Salvatore Basile, an assistant director on this and Cobra Verde:

The film crew is long dead but the prof returns to NYC with the footage from their would-be documentary titled The Green Inferno (yo, Eli Roth). A rookie Italian mistake, which should have been disqualifying in the murder trial: the “found footage” is dubbed. I turned away from the screen during the infamous turtle slaughter scene, which felt very long. Our film crew finds a village, and just frightens and torments people, then burns some villagers to death for no apparent reason except they’re horny and drunk on power, the director and his girl proceeding to then have sex in front of their cameramen and the entire village.

The Yanomamo freak out over a tape recorder:

“Been walking through the jungle for days with the harrowing feeling that we’re moving in circles” – this predates The Blair Witch Project by two decades. Their guide Felipe is bit in the foot by a snake and they quickly chop off his leg – not quick enough, I reckon. When they come across the Yanomamo “tree people,” they ingratiate themselves by immediately raping a woman, and when the script girl interferes (not to prevent the rape, but to protest that recording it wastes precious film) they assult her too. The tribe catches up with the crew, and when Jack is first on the menu, the cameramen don’t seem like “inseparable friends,” as the other enthusiastically films the butchering. Faye is gang-raped, of course, and the other two are quickly dispatched when discovered. The movie gets to have it both ways as Harold condemns the doc footage as inhuman. “I wonder who the real cannibals are,” as the camera meaningfully pans up to the NYC skyscrapers.

Our director Deodato was assistant director on Django, later known for making unsavory stuff like a Last House on the Left remake and this movie’s predecessor Jungle Holocaust. The writers worked on Devil Fish and Demons 5: Devil’s Veil. Composer Riz Ortolani has hundreds of credits, including Don’t Torture a Duckling and The Dead Are Alive. DP Sergio D’Offizi also shot Deported Women of the SS Special Section and Today We Kill, Tomorrow We Die!

Claire Diane on Letterboxd:

This film is an evil spell … I have no idea how to rate it, as conventional senses of quality really have no place with a film like this. It is profoundly repugnant and yet also seems somehow a pinnacle.

Back to Main Squeeze on Saturday morning, then our third film of the weekend at the Missouri, preceded by a guy with one of those whirlygig keyboard amps. This doc felt longer than its 95 minutes, but I wouldn’t mind watching it indefinitely. Wide variety of New Yorkers asked about their futures with good photography. I kept feeling that like Treasure Island, a central point of focus wasn’t coming through, but I also wasn’t hoping for a climate change essay doc, so I went with it. Starts to revisit its subjects – somewhat racist ex-cops in a bar, a white couple concerned about media reports of crime, the Afronaut. I need to watch more NYC movies – maybe In Jackson Heights.

Story in Filmmaker:

I’m interested in how power circulates, the ways in which it micro- and macro-confines us and can liberate us . I also think that, sure, we can call all films in some ways political, insofar as they’re made within certain power structures and get launched into the world within existing power structures. They can either reinforce the status quo, because they do very little to shake up our understandings of how the world works, or they can enable us to grapple with things differently … I also dislike message-y films, or whatever you want to call the films that see their role as delivering a particular policy line and/or demanding that people respond in very narrow terms to whatever they’re seeing. I’m much more interested in how cinema can reawaken the senses and our critical capacity to be in the world differently. That, for me, can have longer term results.

After Whose Streets and Kinshasa Makambo and so many others, it was hard to get used to the police being the good guys again. Fortunately, the majority of them are still portrayed as racist villains destroying the lives of poor people, which is very in-character, but our heroes are the NYPD 12, whistleblowers calling out the force for continuing to require arrest quotas after the practice had been banned. At the same time we’re following an ex-cop, a loud, personable P.I. fighting to free Pedro Hernandez, who was arrested on sketchy evidence. It’s easy to undervalue an issues doc with slick visuals following a big news story in the boundary-pushing environment of True/False, but this is a great primer on the issues the NYPD 12 raise, well-paced and informative without ever resorting to narration or interview footage, which seems hard to pull off. It covers why good policing matters, how retaliation silences other cops and keeps the stinking system running (featuring damning hidden-camera footage of the retaliation), and who it benefits: $1 billion of the city budget comes from arrests. The NYPD 12 case is still unresolved at the end, but Pedro was released from Rikers (and in attendance at the festival). This and one of the secret screenings were both about fighting within the system to stand up for the oppressed, both maybe more “useful” than artistic, but important.

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.

Better than Hugo from the same author, which was also a Christmas-release historical city-roaming kids’ adventure by a sometimes-favorite filmmaker. Ben, a 1970’s boy suffering recent hearing loss, runs away to New York, meeting a friend named Jamie and hiding out in museums. This is cut with scenes of 1920’s Rose (the magnificent Millicent Simmonds) in a similar situation, visiting some of the same spots. As soon as Ben meets up with grown Rose (Julianne Moore) the fun back-and-forth editing games end, and we’re caught up on the fifty intervening years through long exposition scenes, a shame. I also thought Personal Shopper did a better job dramatizing onscreen text (Ben and Grown Rose have to speak via notepad), but overall this was charming.

Griffin Dunne (An American Werewolf in London) is a hopeless single dude working a boring job with Bronson Pinchot. After work he meets diner patron Marcy (Rosanna Arquette of Desperately Seeking Susan the same year), bonding over their shared love for Henry Miller, and she refers him to her artist roommate Kiki (Linda Fiorentino of Jade). After an undercranked cab ride to their loft, his night spins out of control in tragicomic fashion. Not to get all auteurist on a 1980’s wild-crazy-night picture, but it’s better-looking and more intricately designed than this genre generally gets.

O’Hara and Bloom:

Buncha people with tendencies to panic and lose their cool about small things, not excepting our main man – in Marcy’s bed smoking a bad joint he suddenly sneaks out ranting about needing paperweights. He gets into a barter situation with bartender Tom (the late John Heard), gets shamed by Kiki’s dom boyfriend, wanders over to waitress Teri Garr’s place, then to Catherine O’Hara’s place, then a beardy guy’s place, then Verna Bloom’s place – what is it about Griffin Dunne that makes everyone want to take him home? Verna paper-maches Griffin to hide him from an angry mob who believe he’s responsible for a string of break-ins, then the actual thieves Cheech & Chong steal him, believing he’s art. It’s a very good ending, pulling Griffin abruptly out of the situation and back to his office, which could make the whole thing seem like a harmless dream if not for Marcy’s suicide.

Teri Garr is skeptical:

John Heard is skeptical:

Made by Scorsese between King of Comedy and The Color of Money, after a first attempt to make The Last Temptation of Christ fell apart. Reportedly the flashy camera moves were designed as a Hitchcock parody. Joseph Minion wrote (with some help from Kafka), also wrote Vampire’s Kiss and Scorsese’s episode of Amazing Stories. Tied with Blood Simple at the first Independent Spirit Awards, but it was better-loved in France, where it got a César nomination and won best director at Cannes.

Mouseover to make Dick Miller wink at you:
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I watched a couple of Henry Hills shorts in 2011 and loved them to death, have seen them a few more times since. Checked out his DVD last year, which was less exciting, but I’ve gone back to it now and found some great stuff.


Bali Mécanique (1992)

Bali music and dance intercut with other festival scenes, daily life and architecture. The central performance is great – I love that eye movements are part of the dance – and editing is on point. Think this is my favorite of his non-New York films.


Electricity (2007)

Rhythmic rattle and clank, as streetcar rails slide past ancient building, interrupted by a dystopian white tower broadcasting numbers stations. Shot in Prague.


Kino Da! (1980)

Poet/activist Jack Hirschman sits reading in the grass, Hills creating new poetry by editing the hell out of his words.


Little Lieutenant (1994)

Dance and movement, mostly before greenscreen or projected sets, edited to a wackadoo music montage (Zorn, of course). Clips of war footage towards the end. This is one of the good ones, codirected with dancer/choreographer Sally Silvers.


Porter Springs 4 (1999)

Whew, more playful and less rigidly structuralist than the previous Porter Springs. More scenes from the country house on the lake, this time injecting sound clips, songs (I recognized “Cigareets, Whusky and Wild Wild Women”), photographs, home movies, single-frame montages, exposure tricks, silent scenes of shadow and water (callback to the first film?), a whole segment focused on the filmmaker’s feet


Failed States (2008)

1. Amusement park lights and motion, silently contrasting an upsetting-looking spinning and twirling ride at daytime vs. night.

2. Adding a ticking clock, and someone reciting letters and syllables, the rides edited against twiring camera on city streets and people spinning on their own feet.
Finally the sound drops away and the camera keeps endlessly spinning.

3. Spinning and twirling at an India street festival and the carnival rides, each with its own music.

This one has made Sicinski’s top ten of the year, along with films by Ben Rivers and Jennifer Reeves, and was on my Decade List long ago.