“Cops are pigs / cops eat shit!” You know when your cynical movie opens with a couple of news guys chancing upon a car wreck and filming the dying victims before bothering to call an ambulance, the movie’s gonna end with the death of a main character and the camera looking back at us, accusingly.

Pausing to get a beer halfway in, I looked up the female lead Verna Bloom (paper-mache artist in After Hours, Mary in Last Temptation of Christ) and realized our lead is Robert Forster – I had no idea, never seen him young before. Forster wheels around town with his soundman (Peter Bonerz of Catch-22, later director of Police Academy 6: City Under Siege) in the lead-up to the ill-fated Democratic National Convention. They follow a kid home and Forster falls for his mom Eileen (Verna).

Robert and Verna enjoying some TV:

The movie has character to burn. Playful editing, very mobile camera, and full of Zappa songs. A black community confronts the white camera crew about exploitation in the media, the morals of Mondo Cane are discussed, and in a movie (/city/year) where police are the villains, the reporters discover that their TV bosses have been letting cops study their raw footage. After Forster is fired, and before he’s hired by someone else to cover the convention, he seems like a calm and okay guy, just a good dude who loves shooting film and hanging out with Eileen and her pigeon-loving son Harold – so it’s the profession that’s sick, not him personally.

This would’ve been a vaguely-memorable late’60’s anti-establishment movie, but for the ending. Harold goes missing, Forster’s at the convention, so Eileen walks the city wearing a bright yellow dress in the midst of the real police riots – some of the most intense location shooting I’ve seen.

Wexler shot everything from Burt Reynolds’ film debut in 1961 to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Conversation, to Hal Ashby and John Sayles movies, to concert docs and a Zappa video.

There’s shooting and there’s shooting:

Thomas Beard for Criterion on the movie’s True/Falsey nature:

Wexler has had a kind of double life as an artist, known both for his poetic reportage and for his role as a studio craftsman, and his bifurcated career is mirrored in the dual nature of Medium Cool … To watch a fiction film and subordinate its plot and characterizations to the documentary value of the world it depicts, or, alternatively, to watch a documentary and constantly question its veracity, is to read the work against the grain. Given the design of Medium Cool, a film that explicitly functions as both document and fantasy at once, to view it at all is to read it against the grain. It’s a movie whose very composition not only allows for but demands multiple kinds of perception and visual thinking; it preserves its own disorder.

Along with Talking About Trees, we’re catching up with movies we meant to watch at this year’s True/False. We had tickets to see this (plus two shorts) at 10:15pm on Saturday after four other screenings, but ran out of energy. It’s a mid-length movie combining three different kinds of things:

1. Modern news footage of police violence mixed with classic Black Panther film mixed with colorful HD shots of the director herself, posing and walking through the titular garden. This is sometimes set to music by Nelson Bandela (Random Acts of Flyness), and is overlaid with thin strips or entire areas of Mothlight flicker.

2. Concert film of Nina Simone in 1976, playing a rambling but wonderful song called “Feelings.” Incidentally, it seems like her entire persona was copped by Cat Power.

3. Street interviews, the director stopping women in Harlem to ask if they feel safe. The rest of the movie worked beautifully for me – I’d watch those sections all day long – but the interviews weren’t as enlightening. Of the True/False movies we’ve seen in the last 15 months that involve asking New Yorkers about their anxiety, I preferred Hottest August.

And since this was supposed to run at True/False with a couple of shorts, here’s something: a SXSW 2020 selection which moved onto vimeo instead. SXSW was the first fest to be canceled, and it happened while we were at True/False, the last fest to not be canceled. T/F got a last-minute premiere from SXSW on its final night, and I assumed everything else would move online and I’d hold a Quarantine Film Festival, but it turns out, after working hard for years to make your feature film and then getting accepted into fests, nobody wants to premiere on vimeo instead. Amazon’s doing a SXSW thing with only seven features, Mailchimp got all the shorts, and I watched this one then decided to focus on catching up with older films.

Blackheads (2020, Emily Ann Hoffman)

Stop-motion with 2D animation on top is pretty much my favorite thing… relationship-talk with zit closeups is about my least-favorite, so this short is gonna have to meet in the middle. Pretty fun example of displaying your influences – where Gaspar just stacked up his favorite books and movies for the opening scenes of Climax, Hoffman made miniature models of Persepolis and a Miranda July book for her character’s nightstand.

Intersection of a Japanese gang, a Chinese gang, a drug-addicted girl who sees ghosts, a crooked cop, a traitorous thief, a gangster’s girl out for revenge, and a floppy-haired boxer who wrongfully believes he has a fatal brain tumor, on one crazy night. Not as crazily awesome as I was led to believe, just a solid gangster action flick with one especially successful performance (the traitor).

Julie/Becky:

Traitor/villain Kase is Shota Sometani (tortured to death with a soldering iron in Lesson of Evil, maybe the narrator in Tokyo Tribe). Boxer Leo is Masataka Kubota of 13 Assassins. Revenge-girl Julie is “Becky” of a trio of Pokemon movies, and her late boyfriend Yazu is Takahiro Miura of Harmonium. The crooked cop: Nao Omori (Ichi the Killer himself, star of R100).

Leo with his girl Monica, freaking out on the subway:

Intense cops-and-robbers movie bouncing between long Tarantino hangout scenes and grossly brutal action, connected by a plot that throws typical movie morals out the window. Zahler’s Haneke-like trolling of his audience is revealed when the climactic bank robbery begins and a new mother who just returned to work is graphically murdered. But most of the movie is spent sympathizing with cops Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn, suspended for being caught taunting and brutalizing a suspect, slowly justifying their turn to crime. These guys are underpaid and oversupervised by paper-pushing weenies, and they’re just stealing from other criminals, so what’s the problem? At least Zahler doesn’t let them get away with it, instead rewarding a younger criminal (Tory Kittles of True Detective and Colony) with a family in need, who is maybe less evil than his compatriots.

“I don’t politic, and I don’t change with the times, and it turns out that shit’s more important than good, honest work.” I still can’t believe they made a racist-cop film and cast Mel Gibson. For all the bad morals and outrage, it’s a hell of a good movie, with better suspense and action than the last two, and at least as good dialogue as Puppet Master 12.

Michael Jai White (above, being dragged across concrete) is Tory’s partner, Udo Kier hooks up the cops with info on the heist crew, Vaughn’s wife from Brawl in Cell Block 99 plays the banker, Fred Melamed her boss, Tattiawna Jones (Keyhole) as Vince’s girl, and Mel’s wife is Laurie Holden, the mom in Pyewacket.

Asger is a bad cop – we don’t know this yet, but can assume from context – forced, along with his supervisor, to a desk job working emergency phones until a little matter gets cleared up. He catches a kidnapping case (which nobody else on the overnight shift seems as excited about) and does a bunch of things wrong (some also illegal) trying in earnest to help the woman caller who has been abducted by her ex husband, leaving their two kids home alone.

The whole movie is confined to a call center, the second half in a private room after Asger decides he doesn’t want coworkers listening in, so it’s a one-man show with little visual flair. Asger eventually discovers she’s being taken to a psych hospital because she just stabbed one of their children to death, but she escapes and is gonna jump off a bridge, and it’s his fault, so he monologues about his own crime, essentially confessing to murder in front of a bunch of cops. Mostly I bought the kidnapping twists, but I’m not sure about this ending.

Won the audience award at Sundance last year in the world drama competition along with Pity, Rust, and a bunch I still haven’t heard anything about. This is Möller’s feature debut, after a short which was also about a woman in a psych hospital. The movie is Danish, but Asger is Swede Jakob Cedergren. The day after watching, I learned about the Jodie Foster remake starring Jake Gyllenhaal.

Reliably a month behind on the blog, this was the first movie we watched in 2019. I maybe shouldn’t have read a (different) James Baldwin book right before watching this, since his language is never going to come through in a movie, but Jenkins tries hard to replace it with rich visuals. He gave the movie a “happy ending” which is that Fonny sees his family on weekends while doing years in prison on a trumped-up rape charge, so I wonder how he ends up in the book.

Our young couple is KiKi Layne and Stephan James (of the new series Homecoming). Her parents are Regina King (voiced both brothers in the Boondocks cartoon, played wives of Ice Cube, Will Smith and Cuba Gooding in the 90’s) and Colman Domingo (the Bishop’s accuser in Red Hook Summer), with sister Teyonah Parris (star of Chi-Raq, Coco in Dear White People). Fonny’s parents come over for the big announcement and get in a major fight – the movie has some surprisingly badass insult dialogue. Fonny’s restaurant bud is Diego Luna, Dave Franco plays a decent white(ish) landlord, and on the day of the crime they are hanging out with Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta), who presumably betrays them in exchange for a deal on his own arrest. Cops do not come across well in this movie, nor in most movies. Despite the cops, the prison, the rape, the uncooperative witness, the systemic abuses – the movie is pure loveliness.

Lightweight absurd comedy about a group of not-good cops. It’s self-consciously weird about the Mr. Oizo songs this time – one cop (eyepatched Eric Judor, a main guy in Steak) is a bedroom dance-pop producer, and other characters are playing similar instrumental grooves in headphones and car stereos. I can’t tell if I like it more or less than the other Dupieux movie I’ve seen because it’s been too long, but this one has more actors I recognize: Eric Wareheim (using his uniform to harass yoga women in the park) and Steve Little (a drug dealer trying to hide his gay-porn history from his family). Best of all, and I never thought I’d say this, playing a teenager (?) with the absolute most hilarious line deliveries: Marilyn Manson.

Yoga woman strikes back:

Little delivers drug packages duct taped inside a dead rat. Eric’s partner is MADtv regular Arden Myrin, and the main cop harassing Manson is Mark Burnham. I think he shoots a guy watering the lawn (Daniel Quinn), who ends up riding around in Little’s trunk for half the movie before making a valuable contribution to Eric Judor’s music composition. Both of Laura Palmer’s parents appear (separately). At least one person dies at the end (Little stabs himself in the neck with a gardening tool). It’s a silly bit of fun which would be forgotten tomorrow if not for the fact that it features Marilyn Manson, and – I cannot stress this enough – he is great.

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.

Wacky creature-buddy movie that gets dark fast and stays that way, with some bizarre character choices and a variety of clashing tones. I never got on board with the unreal look of the superpigs or the horrible overacting of Jake Gyllenhaal, and it’s the second time in a year that I’ve wondered why Tilda Swinton needed to be playing identical twins. Enjoyable movie when it focuses on the lead girl and her dumbfounding meetings with Paul Dano’s Animal Liberation Front (was ALF supposed to be a joke, or did nobody tell Bong about the cat-eating comedy connection?), and the mixture of Korean and English languages works well, including a good mistranslation plot point. I guess most importantly, the emotional heart of the thing, Mija and Okja rescuing a baby from the superpig death camp, is extremely strong.

Some points that are applicable to these times we live in: the company led by Two Tildas is tricking the public into eating genetically modified superpigs by claiming they’re “all natural” (and the public mightn’t care much either way, cuz they taste so good). The company is using city police as a private security force to brutally beat the law-breaking but nonviolent activists. And we get the plot device where the good guys expose the corporation’s misdeeds by broadcasting their hidden-camera recordings to the horrified public at the end, but in this movie it’s not clear that it makes any difference – the company changes leadership from one looney CEO to another, and the superpig-slaughtering machinery continues uninterrupted.

Cowriter Jon Ronson made Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes, is British, so I suppose he might also have been unaware of Alf.