I’ve started to appreciate how fast Wiseman’s cutting is – the movies are long but he wastes no time. We hear from preservationists, lectures on individual paintings, internal meetings. Some unusual perspectives: an art appreciation workshop for the blind, creating ornate picture frames, protests outside. Most mindblowing segment was about researching where a painting was commissioned, how the angles and lighting in the painting match the location where it originally hung.
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. ChloÃ« 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 GuzmÃ¡n 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 CastaÃ±eda 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 (CarnivÃ le, 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.
We have found another great Ruiz movie – the cinematography and music in this are not kidding around. Like La Flor, it opens with a diagram of the movie’s structure, then proceeds to blend some of Ruiz’s favorite things (pirates, painting, mirrors) into a meta-narrative folding in on itself. Death is extremely temporary here. Throw in some cannibalism and incest. And of course there’s a Ruiz film with morphing in it, why wouldn’t there be?
Guy Scarpetta in Rouge:
Here, the familiar features of Ruizâ€™s universe â€“ parallel worlds, baroque uncertainties, telescoping of different times, co-presence of multiple spaces, deconstruction of characters, transgression of every parameter of classical narrative â€“ are subject to an overflowing enthusiasm and gamesmanship … But we must not conclude that the film proceeds from the pure arbitrariness of an unbridled imagination. Quite the contrary, and this is the first great paradox to be emphasised: nothing, here, is left to chance … Nine narrative themes (in principle autonomous, heterogeneous) are posed as the raw material … the entire combinatory consists of making these cellular narratives cross each otherâ€™s paths, whether two by two or three by three, and also consecutively â€“ each of these telescopings engendering, almost automatically, a specific narrative (one which logically implies that the characters can double or reincarnate themselves, leap time frames, and belong in several places at once).
It’s taking a while to get through SHOCKtober writeups, ain’t it?
Here’s the rest of the Guillermo del Toro series.
Pickman’s Model (Keith Thomas)
Handsome Christian-Bale-ish lead guy Ben Barnes (of a Dorian Gray movie) is intrigued when older Crispin Glover joins his art class, drawing unspeakable horrors in cemeteries and saying stuff like “suffering is living.” Years later, Ben is still hanging around drawing rooms boring people about the values of modern art, visits the insistent Crispin’s studio, discovers the guy didn’t have a wild imagination but was realistically drawing the beasties emerging from the well-to-hell in his basement.
Keith Thomas? Hardly a master of horror, he made this year’s Firestarter remake (Filipe review: “very uninspired product… cheap and ugly looking.”) Here he makes every actor look foolish, and overdoes the sound design, though the subtle motion in the drawings was neat.
The Viewing (Panos Cosmatos)
I knew who directed this one as soon as the Oneohtrix music kicked in. Four TV talk-show guests are invited to rich Peter Weller’s new age bunker: music producer Eric Andre, alien astrophysicist Charlyne Yi, novelist Steve Agee, and ESP expert Michael Therriault (of a recent Chucky movie). Sofia Boutella is there somehow, and a henchman from Books of Blood. They enjoy their host’s special whiskey, magic joint, cocaine and fairy dust, and sinister alien meteorite… then some of them melt or explode, and the rest fight for their lives to escape. Fuckin’ cool.
Dreams in the Witch-House (Catherine Hardwicke)
Sharp-eyed readers will notice that I’m tagging these posts “Masters of Horror,” because really, what’s the difference between the two series? This is a special crossover episode, since we saw Stuart Gordon’s version of the same Lovecraft story in 2006. That was the end of practical effects creativity, and though the 2006 rat-person wasn’t brilliant work, it’s miles better than the lazy bullshit computer-rat in this version.
But I get ahead of myself – first Rupert Weasley grows up caring about ghosts after seeing his sister die, works at a brokedown spiritualist society, checks into a house where a woman who claimed dimensional travel once lived. There he has sleep paralysis and is visited by a cool witch and the aforementioned bullshit rat. Second episode this week about otherworldly paintings, as Rupert is warned the witch will kill him by sunrise, and this proves to be true, but I think he manages to resurrect his sister in exchange. Some good cursing, at least.
I was not hoping to be reminded of The Blazing World:
The Murmuring (Jennifer Kent)
As someone who rarely goes a day without singing “Murmuration Song” to my birds, a story about a bird-watching couple would be right up my alley. The pair (Essie “Babadook” Davis and Andrew “Walking Dead” Lincoln) are haunted by the ghost of their past (their kid died) and also by literal mother/son ghosts, with increasingly intense visits (not Jennifer Kent with a parental trauma movie). They’ve brought portable recording equipment to an island (reminiscent of Fire of Love) to study sandpipers when Essie starts sidetracking into ghost drama. It’s my first shocktober in our new old house, and all the stories seem determined to tell us that old houses are full of harmful vibes.
Fulci’s twenty-somethingth film is the second-earliest one I’ve heard of. Super stylish with a fun, twisty plot. Great black-void backgrounds and jumpcut editing in the dream sequences. Also it’s so poorly dubbed that even the inspector’s eerie whistling looks lousy – how do you fuck up dubbing whistling?
Our buttoned-up lead is Carol (Florinda Bolkan of Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion), obsessed with her hedonistic neighbor (Anita Strindberg of Your Vice Is a Locked Room), who soon turns up murdered. Carol’s husband Frank is having affairs (Jean Sorel, Belle de Jour‘s husband, that seems relevant) and seems suspicious, and his daughter Joan (Ely Galleani of Five Dolls for an August Moon) seems sympathetic. We’ve also got a lead inspector (Losey regular Stanley Baker), his main crony Brandon (Alberto de Mendoza of Horror Express), and Carol’s therapist (George Rigaud of All the Colors of the Dark).
Carol and Frank:
Some procedures are askew here in London, Italy. The cops allow neighbors to walk right into the murder scene, and the psychiatrist plays the cops tapes of Carol’s private sessions. Carol gets locked up in a clinic while the grown-ups try to straighten things out. The psych thinks Carol did it, has a split personality that places symbolic clues in her dreams. Carol’s dad takes photos of her husband Frank with Hotgirl Deborah (Silvia Monti of the previous year’s hippie murder film Queens of Evil), accuses Frank of the murder and having based the details on Carol’s dream journal to frame her, then finally blame falls on the dad, who kills himself.
Meanwhile some pale hippies (Penny Brown of City of Women, and a guy who looks like Irish Peter Fonda’s Ghost) are chasing people around. Little Joan fancies herself a private investigator and gets herself murdered. Of course the simplest explanation is that Carol did commit the murder, having been sleeping with the neighbor.
Joan and Hippie (who paints using throwing knives):
Been a while since I’ve seen a good essay doc. Stephens is fast becoming a fave after The American Sector and Perfect Fifths – though I have concerns about her longevity (she doesn’t expand much on her brain-cloud diagnosis in the voiceover). This is archive footage shot mainly by women on travels, in which the narrator tries to locate the feminine gaze. Chapter headings, and sections devoted to each traveler instead of mixing ’em together. Bonus points for including a sloth and a toucan.
Ida Western Exile (2015)
A little bit of Georgia O’Keeffe painting mountains, but the soundtrack of a woman making calls to companies to prep for a potentially dangerous solo trip takes over the movie – and ties it to the feature about women traveling.
Maybe the only movie that I tried to watch the last ten minutes of, then decided not to spoil because it looked good. I still put off watching it for a few years, only remembering “metal/horror.” Everyone I follow on letterboxd has seen this but only Kenji liked it – and Kenji is right, it’s good.
Crazy Raymond plays loud guitar to drown out the voice of the devil, kills his parents, then Jesse/Astrid/Zoey buy the house and play some loud guitar but not enough, as artist Jesse becomes possessed and starts painting intricate scenes of his daughter on fire. The implication is that the devil will cause him to kill his wife and daughter, but Raymond is still the threat, returning to murder everyone, and Jesse’s visions can maybe help. Set/filmed in Texas, and pretty metal, more metal than most horror movies. The girl was in Maps to the Stars, the mom in The Thirteenth Floor. Some of the music by Sunn O))).
Shout out to Melvins:
Advantage Satan (2007, Sean Byrne)
An early demon/metal/horror short by Byrne, bit of silliness, drunk couple fooling around on a tennis court gets trapped and killed by unseen forces.
American Sam witnesses a woman get attacked in an art gallery after hours, then gets stalked by the killer and suspected by the asshole cops, but seems fine just hanging around Italy and playing detective. He replays what he saw at the scene (nicely done, with freeze frames and zooms) and the Honeywell-brand police computer equipment prints statistics and an outline of the attacker. Sam follows some unusual leads, of course paintings are involved, while his friend gets killed and his girlfriend Giulia kidnapped. Turns out the killer is Monica, the apparent victim of the gallery incident, and we get neat psychological explanations of everything over the ending.
The bird > the poster > the movie. This was Dario’s debut feature. Sam is Tony Musante, who really is American despite the dubbing, has been in a couple James Gray movies. Giulia is British, a screamer in Berberian Sound Studio. The Inspector is from Hercules and the Captive Women, and murderess Eva Renzi from The Prodigal Daughter. DP Vittorio Storaro shot The Spider’s Stratagem and The Conformist, also in 1970, a productive year.
Sam, his girl Giulia, and their Black Power poster:
Victim Killer Monica:
This is the 500th horror movie in the blog, holy shit. We’ve been running for over 15 years, so that’s around 2.7 horror movies per month. We can do better, I know we can.
Up to the Expressionism chapter in the Vogel. Our Lady of the Turks was a bust, and I had Viva La Muerte lined up but it sounds depressing, so I’m turning to shorts: three from Expressionism then three from Surrealism.
The Reality of Karel Appel (1962, Jan Vrijman)
The artist looks like he is fencing with the painting, and the camera. Short doc portraits of artists aren’t usually the most creative, so I was surprised to see that Vogel picked a few. This is really good, with a jazz montage of Appel cruising a junkyard, and crashing sfx as he attacks a canvas. Appel contributed his own music.
Visual Training (1969, Frans Zwartjes)
Stonefaced blackeyed man eats his jam and toast in a bowl, then smears his breakfast all over a nude woman on the table. There’s lots of posing, and looking into the camera. Sounds like a Kurt Kren actionist short, but unlike Kren’s, this one is actually good. No audio, I played the opening track to Zorn’s Heaven & Earth Magick. Zwartjes made about thirty more films, and if they’re available somewhere I’d consider a marathon.
The Liberation of Mannique Mechanique (1967, Steven Arnold)
Another short with heavily made-up topless women, this time with less posing, the actors and camera in constant movement. Good use is made of feathers and a glass table, multiple takes of the same scene are strung together. Some pretty-whatever music, I should’ve kept playing Zorn. Debut short of Arnold, a DalÃ associate.
Magritte: The Object Lesson (1960, Luc de Heusch)
Cutouts of the paintings fade into each other. I barely know Magritte’s name but I know some of these images – “This Is Not a Pipe” and the hatted man facing away from us. He painted more birds than I realized. Vogel: “one of the few films to deal with the philosophical basis of contemporary art,” true enough. De Heusch worked with Storck, and previous to this he made a film about eating, which would’ve also fit into this program.
Eaten Horizons (1950, Wilhelm Freddie & Jorgen Roos)
Weirdo little short with abrupt picture and sound editing, fetishizing loaves of bread. A woman is opened up so her insides can be eaten, a loaf is cut and bleeds goopy guts. Freddie provides the art-world weirdness here, Roos (who’d just made a Cocteau doc) the cinema experience.
The World of Paul Delvaux (1946, Henri Storck)
Forming a trilogy of short docs about painters. I didn’t dig the music or the dramatic poetry reading, but it’s cool to zoom in and around the paintings, lingering on background details. This one’s all paintings – unlike the other two, the artist doesn’t appear in person. Vogel: “Storck’s outstanding work extends from early radical documentaries to later surrealist films.” He also worked with Ivens, and his other stuff looks interesting; political.