Detective Robin (Elisabeth Moss of Queen of Earth) is visiting her sick mom in the New Zealand small town where she grew up. A 12-year-old girl is discovered to be pregnant then disappears, and Robin takes over the case.

The story sucked me in, and I appreciated the actors, particularly Moss and local drug lord (and missing girl’s dad) Peter Mullan and a too-rarely-seen Holly Hunter as the guru of a makeshift trailer-park of troubled women. I was hoping for a good movie given extra time to deepen and spread out, but it started to feel too television. Each episode develops the main plot a bit more, gives the main character a bit more backstory, and reveals a bit more of the town’s dark secrets. And the big hook at the beginning (pregnant child) and big reveal at the end (child-molesting club run by chief cop), along with Robin’s stories of past abuse and constant present threats and the women’s camp and whatever they’ve been through, all adds an icky air of sexual violence to the show. As the episodes progressed, I started to cynically believe that this isn’t helping anyone, just attempting to give an air of importance to an otherwise standard story, though I suppose the intent was to recognize the sexual violence present, mostly hidden, everywhere. Overall I did like it, the distinct characters in gorgeous settings, but not jonesing for season two.

Bonus subplots: clashes with local law enforcement, occasional stories of the women at the camp, some late revenge on one of Robin’s childhood rapists, a major on/off/again affair with her high school boyfriend (Thomas Wright of The Bridge), adventures of tight-lipped Jamie (Tui’s most trusted friend), threats of incest, a couple of deaths (most horribly Jamie’s) and a late reveal that the drug lord is Robin’s real dad.

Jamie:

Robin’s mom and stepdad:

Cowritten with Gerard Lee (Sweetie) and directed with Garth Davis (Lion). Same cinematographer as True Detective season one – that’s no surprise. I recently saw Peter Mullan as the evil father in Sunset Song – he’s good at being menacing. Local boss cop Al is David Wenham of Public Enemies. Moss won best actress at the golden globes and the show won best cinematography at the emmys, but Behind The Candelabra took best TV movie at both.

Sepinwall liked it:

The character work is rich and devastating, the atmosphere hypnotic, and the overall storytelling so good that even if the mysteries hadn’t been resolved, I wouldn’t have felt like my time was wasted … who done it ultimately isn’t as important as the toll the crime takes on our heroine, and on the community around her.

Maybe I’m just in a mood, but this seems like one of the greatest documentaries ever. In filming eight locations (four sets of antipodes – places on land directly opposite the globe from each other), much fun is had with lenses and camera orientation. The music and sound design is terrific as well as the cinematography, and the movie’s gimmick and structure aside, he is filming absolute magic and wonder. In fact, the antipode concept is only mentioned in some opening titles, and from there it’s just observation of the chosen locations, left to viewer’s imagination and his excellent visual transitions between locales to draw geographic connections.

Won an award at the 2012 True/False Fest. We hope to attend next year, so we’re catching up on some docs we missed.

Filming locations:

Argentina/Shanghai:

I looked up a little about Kossakovsky. He teaches a documentary class – among the rules he presents to students:

– Don’t film if you can live without filming.

– Don’t film if you want to say something – just say it or write it. Film only if you want to show something, or you want people to see something. This concerns both the film as a whole and every single shot within the film.

– Don’t film something you just hate. Don’t film something you just love. Film when you aren’t sure if you hate it or love it. Doubts are crucial for making art. Film when you hate and love at the same time.

– You need your brain both before and after filming, but don’t use your brain during filming. Just film using your instinct and intuition.

– Story is important for documentary, but perception is even more important. Think, first, what the viewers will feel while seeing your shots. Then, form a dramatic structure of your film using the changes to their feelings.

– Documentary is the only art where every esthetical element almost always has ethical aspects and every ethical aspect can be used esthetically. Try to remain human, especially whilst editing your films. Maybe, nice people should not make documentaries.

Hawaii:

New Zealand/Spain:

Fun comedy with spot-on performances, a step up from What We Do In The Shadows. Family crowd-pleaser with some harsher realities than most (Ricky Baker’s foster mother / Sam Neill’s wife’s death was horrifying, as was Sam having to shoot his beloved dog after a boar attack). Misfit orphan Ricky is homed with Bella, who dies soon afterward, so he tries to run off into the woods and grumpy old Neill ends up joining him, both of them on the run. Not enough of the director himself (he plays a priest) but we get a good dose of Rhys Darby as a foil-hatted master of disguise who helps our guys nearly escape at the end. In the coda, Ricky and his new family adopt Neill, kind of an obvious wrapping-up but it works.

Ricky previously appeared in a Sam Worthington movie about an international paper plane competition. I haven’t seen Neill since Sally Potter’s Yes. Bella was Rima Te Wiata, of recent comedy/horror Housebound. Rachel House, dedicated child-services Ricky-pursuer (who helps draw connections to Moonrise Kingdom) was in Waititi’s Eagle vs. Shark.

Shorts! I have discs and discs of shorts and rarely watch them. I’m awfully excited about the new blu-ray of avant-garde shorts from Flicker Alley, but how can I justify buying it when I’ve got a hundred shorts collections just sitting around unseen? Let’s watch some, shall we?

Doodlin’: Impressions of Len Lye (1987, Keith Griffiths)

Lye was a New Zealander who could’ve inspired Colin McKenzie through innovation and ambition. When standard animation techniques were too laborious and expensive, he started scratching and drawing directly onto film stock… and when film itself was too expensive he turned to sculpture – but kinetic sculpture, truly gigantic metal works, some of which he filmed. He’s designed a twisted metal “temple” which hasn’t yet been built.

Len demonstrates one of his metal works:

Lye lived in a lighthouse – flashbacks to Brand Upon the Brain – and moved to Samoa for a couple years, concentrated on “old brain” tribal art, wanting to reject Western art styles and doodle from the subconscious (see: Tusalava). Handmade films and unconscious creativity – of course Brakhage was a fan. After WWII, Lye was a director for the March of Time news series while working on silhouette photography.

I’d previously watched Tusalava at home, Kaleidoscope and Colour Flight at a Canyon Cinema screening, and Free Radicals and Rainbow Dance within the documentary Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Film. Here are some more I’ve been able to find. Quotations are by Lye biographer Roger Horrocks.

Birth of the Robot (1936)

The documentary didn’t even go into Lye’s stop-motion work. This combines character stop-motion with an abstract sequence. I believe a female robot sends raindrops made of music to turn a man who died driving his car in a sandstorm into a male robot. At the end it’s revealed to be an ad for an oil company, but who cares. “Lye enlisted the help of avant-garde friends such as Humphrey Jennings and John Banting to make the amusing puppets.”

Trade Tattoo (1937)

Musical montage of work in factories and docks and markets, exploding in shifting patterns with wild colors. I guess it was meant to be an ad for the postal service, or maybe a PSA telling you to post letters before 2pm. Partly composed of Night Mail outtakes!

A Colour Box (1935)

Color is less brilliant now that we’re down to standard-def, but this Re:Voir DVD still looks super nice. Abstract lines and patterns run down a film strip to bouncy music. I don’t think he edits to the music, just creates fast visuals then adds something upbeat on the soundtrack. Another postal service ad at the end, meaningless numbers (6 lbs. 9d.). “Lye’s first direct film, which combines popular Cuban dance music with hand-painted abstract designs, amazed cinema audiences. Color was still a novelty, and Lye’s direct painting on celluloid creates exceptionally vibrant effects … in Venice, the Fascists disrupted screenings because they saw the film as ‘degenerate’ modern art.”

Kaleidoscope (1935)

Watched this one before, an ad for cigarettes. Although the films have titles and credits, and the bulk of them is just music and animation with the product placement coming in at the end, so it’s more fair to say they’re sponsored shorts than advertisements. More white space in this one, with clearly defined shapes.

Rainbow Dance (1936)

Boldly colored silhouette mattes as a musician/sportsman whirls through changing backgrounds, leaving psychedelic trails behind him. An ad for savings accounts, obviously. “Lye filmed dancer Rupert Doone in black and white, then colored the footage during the development and printing of the film, adding stenciled patterns.” This is all making me itch for Jeff Scher / Norman McLaren retrospectives as well.

Colour Flight (1937)

More black in this one, a disturbingly pulsating smile behind wavy-line jail bars, then an eruption of dots and lines, some outer space imagery, and a last-minute ad for Imperial Airways (which was bought by British Airways in late 1939).

Swinging the Lambeth Walk (1940)

Okay, this one is synched to the music, wonderfully, with swinging soundwave lines and jellybean dots of color. I like that he uses filmstrip perforations to create patterns. Abrupt edits in the music, as he picks from multiple versions of the song. “For this film Lye did not have to include any advertising slogans; friends at the Tourist and Industrial Development Association, shocked to learn that Lye and his family had become destitute, arranged for TIDA to sponsor the film – to the horror of government bureaucrats who could not understand why a popular dance was being treated as a tourist attraction.”

Colour Cry (1952)

Something different, even more abstract and fuzzy, shadow images with bright, distorted colors, soundtracked by harmonica and yowling vocals. The doc says he used Man Ray’s techniques for this one, “using fabrics as stencils”.

Rhythm (1957)

Footage of an auto manufacturing plant, spastically edited to fit a musical rhythm. The doc mentioned that Lye had trouble with U.S. advertising companies. Chrysler paid for this short but wouldn’t use it because they apparently weren’t fond of the tribal drumming on the soundtrack.

Free Radicals (1958)

More African drumming. Scratched twisted lines rotating in 3D space. Funny that after all the colors and manic patterns he came back to simple white figures on a black background. “The film won second prize in the International Experimental Film Competition, which was judged by Man Ray, Norman McLaren, Alexander Alexeiff and others at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels.” Seen this a bunch of times on my laptop, and I’ll bet it’s awesome on a big screen. Hey Anthology Film Archives, ever think of opening a Nebraska location?

Particles in Space (1966)

Brakhage’s favorite. Plays like a sequel to Free Radicals, bringing some of the high-energy musical movement and complex patterns into its general design. Spots of white against an inky black, glistening like the ocean in moonlight. I think some of my listed release years are wrong – IMDB cannot be trusted.

Tal Farlow (1958)

Upbeat jazz guitar with synchronized white scratch lines which are definitely meant to evoke guitar strings. Finished by his assistant after Lye’s death in 1980.

I couldn’t find his “live-action film about the need to be careful in addressing letters,” or his first puppet film Peanut Vendor, or his war propaganda films. The new blu-ray mentioned at the top of this post includes Bells of Atlantis by Ian Hugo, which Lye worked on, so I’ll be watching that soon.

Amusing vampire comedy, directed and starring people from Flight of the Conchords. Shot reality-style (the film crew wore crosses), set mostly in the New Zealand house shared by four vamps: Taika Waititi with a sweet Andy Kaufman smile, fashionable Jemaine Clement, rough ex-nazi Jonathan Brugh and a Nosferatu horror named Peter in the basement. They turn a clueless new guy called Nick, who goes around town bragging he’s a vampire, attracting the vampire hunter who kills Peter. But Nick gets to stay because everyone loves his mortal friend Stu. The great ending twist is that the werewolves (led by Conchord manager Rhys Darby) turn Stu instead, which ends up uniting the two groups.

I actually only started watching it because Edge of Tomorrow was gonna take an hour to copy. Didn’t seem like an amazing comedy, just lightly enjoyable, though admittedly much better than a vampire reality show had any right to be. But Slant and Dissolve gave it masterpiece-level ratings and it made the front cover of Film Comment. And now it’s opening in town, which should teach me to wait a few months before watching new acclaimed indie films.

N. Rabin:

What We Do In The Shadows brilliantly juxtaposes the mundane with the supernatural, where superhuman creatures of the night are subject to the demands of a chore wheel and complain about five years of no one doing the bloody dishes (i.e dishes covered with blood). The movie gets terrific comic mileage out of the contrast between the decked-out ghouls and the ramshackle, go-nowhere town where they do their dark yet tedious bidding.

O. Ivanov:

As we watch the vampires make new friends and become reacquainted with old lovers, the film reveals itself to be a thoughtful and moving treatise on aging gracefully. Confronted with endless cycles of loss and regret, the vampires avoid melancholy by embracing the inexhaustible possibilities of love and friendship that life offers to even its unholiest creations.

I didn’t let Katy see the box, and didn’t tell her it was fake, to see how long it took her to figure it out. But she didn’t ever, so I told her over the end credits. She is still mad.

Codirected with Costa Botes, who I think made the Lord of the Rings making-of docs. I’d forgotten all about “Stan the Man,” the unfunny comic who attacks people then runs away, with Colin filming on hidden cameras.

A government paperwork wonk named Wikus is given the task of going door-to-door in the South African slums and telling all the aliens from another planet they are to be relocated. When he discovers one alien (and his young son) who has been reassembling their technology underground in order to retake control of their mothership, Wikus accidentally exposes himself to a chemical that transmogrifies him into an alien. Kickass action involving disintegration weapons and armored body suits follow. Weird, thrilling, completely unique movie – influences seem to be Cloverfield (handheld camerawork + action fx) and The Fly (Katy would not enjoy the Wikus-to-alien transformation).

The director on Peter Jackson’s involvement:

There’s no way I could have gotten this film made as what I wanted to make, without his involvement. So it’s much more than just saying, “Go and do what you want.” It’s “Can I put a guy in the movie who’s never acted before, but I think he can carry the lead role?” There’s no way that would have happened if he wasn’t producing it. So he said “Yes.” And then, “Can they keep South African accents? And they’re thick accents.” “Yes.”

Thought I was supposed to be impressed with Jane Campion. I’ve liked her movies that I’ve seen – this, Sweetie and Holy Smoke – but I can’t say I love ’em to death. Very capably-made dramas with unique performances, nothing especially transcendent though. Maybe my expectations were too high… I’ve been hearing that this is a must-see classic important film for a decade and a half now.

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Local Georgia girl Holly Hunter, who I haven’t seen since O Brother Where Art Thou, is a mute pianist come to secluded New Zealand in the mid-1800’s with her daughter (10-year-old Anna Paquin) to marry landowner Sam Neill (the year before his finest hour: In the Mouth of Madness). Right away, Holly meets brutish tattooed native-wrangler Harvey Keitel (on a roll, in between Bad Lieutenant and Pulp Fiction). He takes ownership of her precious piano and invites her over to play, offering her it back in trade if she’ll let him touch her. Harvey is obsessed with her and a music lover, which is more than Sam Neill’s got going for him, being impatient with Holly’s muteness, her music and her daughter, so eventually Holly is sleeping with Harvey. Sam finds out and chops off her finger, then apologizes and lets her go away with Harvey to live happily as a piano teacher with a Harvey-made false finger.

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I didn’t mean to watch a bunch of oscar-nominated films from 1993 all in a row, it just worked out that way. So now I can look at the list of nominees and see how this stacked up to Orlando and The Age of Innocence, while cursing Schindler’s List and Philadelphia. At least it’s good to see that Dave and Farewell My Concubine each got a chance, and can’t argue with Nick Park winning for a Wallace & Gromit movie. Personally, in ’93 I was more psyched about Jurassic Park, In the Line of Fire, Groundhog Day, A Perfect World and Wayne’s World 2.

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So this movie, The Piano Teacher and The Pianist all contain scenes of horror and mutilation, and Shoot The Piano Player has a perfectly unhappy ending. I wonder what awful things lie in wait with The Page Turner, The Tuner and The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes.

Flight of the Conchords: A Texan Odyssey
Short doc of the duo band at SXSW. Funny! Seen below massaging the feet of Peaches.
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Wallace and Gromit in A Matter of Loaf and Death (2008, Nick Park)
This was as fast-paced as the action scenes in the Wallace & Gromit full-length, and packed full of jokes and puns. Our heroes are bakers now, and a former bread company model, now grown fat on breads and pastries, is out for revenge on the bakery world. She gets cozy with Wallace, plotting to murder him with a giant cartoon bomb (among other things) while Gromit and the woman’s terrified pet poodle try to ruin her plans. Lovely movie, probably inspired by the name of cowriter Bob Baker and/or voice actor Peter Sallis’s appearance in the movie Who Is Killing The Great Chefs of Europe. Must check out Nick Park’s series Shaun The Sheep.
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Living in a Reversed World
Educational doc. Sadistic Austrian professor, trying to prove a point about perception, gets students to wear special mirror/prism glasses which reverse left/right or up/down and see if they can adjust. They can. He also puts goggles on a chicken, which I don’t think is a good idea.
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The Contraption (1977, James Dearden)
Closeups of construction. What’s he building in there? What the hell… is he building in there? Turns out to be a giant mousetrap for our suicidal handyman. Dearden later made Matt Dillon thriller A Kiss Before Dying. Contraption-builder Richard O’Brien had lately been in Rocky Horror, would play Mr. Hand in Dark City. Tied for best short at the Berlin fest… this is pretty neat, but I wouldn’t have thought it an award-winner.
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Cameras Take Five (2003, Stephen Woloshen)
Abstract hand-drawn animation set to Dave Brubeck’s Take Five. Liked it, not super busy, didn’t think people were doing stuff like this anymore.
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Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Double Feature (1966, Hubleys)
John & Faith animate two short musical numbers to Spanish Flea and Tijuana Taxi. Not slick like the Doonesbury short, homemade-looking. Cute pieces though (predictably about a flea and a taxi). Beat out a Pink Panther short and an anti-smoking PSA for the oscar. Rough year for animation, I guess. Lost at Cannes to a documentary on Holland (not by Bert Haanstra).
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The Tortoise and the Hare (1935, Wilfred Jackson)
Hare is kinda an asshole – supposedly his character was stolen by Warners as a prototype for Bugs Bunny. This plays like the other Silly Symphonies, not as good as the Three Little Pigs though.
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A Perfect Place (2008, Derrick Scocchera)
Sharp b-w cinematography and two very dryly comic actors (Mark Boone Jr. of Memento & Thin Red Line and Bill Moseley of all the Rob Zombie films) make for a good movie. In the first second, MBJ “kills” an acquaintance who was cheating at cards, then they spend the next 25 min trying to dispose of the body. Not the usual over-the-top situations either, movie keeps it cool. I guessed early on that the cheat wasn’t really dead but that didn’t make it less enjoyable. Dig the theme song by Mike Patton.
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MANT! (1993, Joe Dante)
Tracigally not a full feature. All the scenes shot for the film-in-a-film of Dante’s awesome Matinee were assembled into this short included with the laserdisc.
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Three excellent shorts by Norman McLaren. Fiddle-de-dee (1947, painted to an upbeat fiddle tune), Boogie-Doodle (1948, drawn with pen to a piano boogie) and Serenal (1959, etched and hand-colored to a Trinidadian string quartet number)

Fiddle-de-dee:
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Boogie-Doodle:
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Serenal:
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