We don’t wanna sit around watching covid docs, but after her last movie, we trusted Nanfu Wang to make a good one. The initial hook is her Chinese/American family getting caught a world apart when lockdowns begin, but the family-reunion adventure-film doesn’t play out. Instead, she sends Chinese reporters into hospitals and on other missions, spends all day and night sifting through their footage and various social media posts, piercing the censorship veil to locate real stories of the virus’s initial spread, its early damage and the government’s control over the media, before flipping back to the U.S. to discuss the same kind of political spin doctoring and poor decisions here.
“They told us there was a threat to America, but the weapons of mass destruction weren’t there.” I survived an endless difficult work day, and learned that Donald Rumsfeld had died, so this felt like the right movie to watch (though The Limits of Control was considered).
Thea Gill is a “constitutional scholar” (right-wing talking head) and Jon Tenney is a campaign reelection consultant whose boss is a conniving Robert Picardo (in his tenth Dante movie). When dead soldiers begin returning from the grave, seeking only to vote against the current administration, these three try to spin the news to their advantage, angering the soldier zombies. Our spin-artists’ buried family secrets rise along with the zombies, leading to panic and death for all. It’s all wickedly well written and blunt as hell, a quality I was attuned to having just discovered an intriguing letterboxd list called “Garish, Unpleasant &/or Heavy-Handed Movies: A Worthy 21st Century Approach.”
ExtaZus (2019, Bertrand Mandico)
1. The sword-wielding, red-haired Nirvana Queen, tastes a crystalline rock in front of the orally-attached twins, awakens in a green world surrounded by crystal-headed hook-handed persons, talks to a woman in a bubble with a strong French accent, gets aggressively tongued by a giant cave-mouth, then she disfigures the titular sunglasses-man who’d been typing her story with his Freddy Krueger fingers.
2. She convinces him to create a new heroine named Peach Machine, and he has her dance with death in the desert. Peach is unhappy with her role, and slaps his face off.
3. With the author dead, PM visits NQ. As NQ plays a dual-dicked statue like it’s a Robotron machine, PM approaches and makes out with the face on the back of NQ’s head.
Veslemøy’s Song (2018, Sofia Bohdanowicz)
The Deragh Campbell-as-Audrey short coming between Never Eat Alone and MS Slavic 7. It’s more lively than the previous feature, which is a good sign for the next one. She finds a book about her grandfather’s violin teacher Kathleen Parlow, who played lead on a music piece titled V’s Song that was written for her when she was 18. Audrey flies to NYC to hear the only known recording of this piece, but can only hear part of the record, since the archive will only play excerpts and will not make copies. Not a documentary, of course, despite the real people and events, since we hear the song in the film. Hand-processed film, full of texture and scratches.
The Sky Is Clear And Blue Today (2019, Ricky D’Ambrose)
German lesson repeating the film title… kids recite My Pet Goat to camera… scraps and stories from post-9/11 America. The story proper is about an American director named Helmar contracted by German TV to make a cheap 60-minute film about a photograph showing a happy get-together while the twin towers burned in the background. They cast lookalikes from the photo and resort to digital trickery to fake the location, after the real location owner (Glenn Kenny, introduced as “an especially unpleasant and gluttonous man”) refuses to let them shoot. But the director and eight others die in a fire during production – “it was just like a movie” said the survivors. Fits in nicely with my previous short, stylistically and in its blend of real events with fictional ones, matter-of-factly narrated.
Visit (2020, Jia Zhangke)
Oh noooo, a beautiful short about covid quarantine. I was still getting angry over The Plagiarists and wasn’t ready for anything this delicate and lovely. Add it to the list of movies that show off their directors’ DVD collections: shout out to Suzhou River.
Fire (Pozar) (2020, David Lynch)
Abstract animation solidifies into shapes: a house, a tree, fire. Still images, but the drawn page shakes under the camera. Nice string music with surface noise (added?). Through a burned hole floats a flying creature with hands reaching from its eye sockets. A welcome callback to the very early Lynch shorts blended with the Inland Empire-era web works.
France Against the Robots (2020, Jean-Marie Straub)
Single shot, a man walks along the lake and talks about the sad necessity of revolution, since the capitalist systems aren’t gonna reform themselves. Then the credits repeat, and the film repeats – but at a different time of day, and with more swans about.
Pigeons and Architecture (2020, Anne Linke)
A chill movie looking at how pigeons live in buildings, and how people who love pigeons illicitly feed them by shawshanking healthy grains down their pantlegs, something I will be doing wherever I go from now on.
A superb effect, mountains and fields of crinkled foil surrounding us in 3D, rapidly rotating and expanding, but never getting anywhere, the constant strobing of color inversions masking the loop point where the motion repeats so it looks like continuous motion that never progresses.
Icy blue and warm gold flicker, with blunt text sections (censorship of the Poltergeist DVD is used as an example of America’s shame). The visuals set up predictable patterns only to break them and reset. Watching right after She Dies Tomorrow, the colors flashing on my face, I felt like I was fulfulling some dark omen, or going crazy.
From movie music with vinyl surface noise to mad science lab electro-noises, flies buzzing in stereo, later an argument with the tape sped up. It’s no wonder I enjoyed the music – it was JG Thirlwell.
Jacobs called it “a reversion to my mid-twenties and that sense of horror that drove the making of Star Spangled to Death.”
David Phelps in Mubi:
Sort of reversing the structuralist impulse to let the movie’s internal system arrange the order, movement, and duration of its materials, Jacobs plays his movies like 1st person interrogations of his footage, the artist constantly adopting and discarding new approaches toward his material … Jacobs’ movies can operate like works in progress; abstract expressionism’s emphasis on process seems to carry not only through Jacobs’ compositions, successions of half-completed movements, but his own approach over the duration of the movie.
The Party is a small private party held for political party member Kristin Scott Thomas, just appointed (elected?) minister of health – so I thought there’d be more political stuff, but if so, I missed it. The seven people onscreen represent five couples, only two of which are still – tentatively – still together at the end, with an offscreen eighth participant (it’s us! we’re implicated!) possibly about to get murdered in the final shot.
Kristin’s husband Timothy Spall acts comatose for half the film (amusingly so – he’s the most magnetic actor here, usually because he’s doing the least), finally blurts out that he’s been given a death sentence by his doctor and is leaving his wife to spend the rest of his short life with his girlfriend, the wife of Cillian Murphy, a coked-up banker who arrived with a gun to kill Spall having just found out of the affair. Emily Mortimer is pregnant with triplets, and her partner Cherry Jones seems hesitant about parenthood. Cherry also once slept with Spall (over 30 years ago, big deal). KST’s best friend Patricia Clarkson sits on the sidelines sniping at everyone, especially her soon-to-be-ex boyfriend Bruno Ganz, a weirdo “whole body healer”. And this is all… too much. Too many revelations and coincidences and big collisions for a 70-minute movie to contain without seeming overly contrived. Potter and her overqualified cinematographer Aleksei Rodionov shoot some striking black-and-white images in the intro, then there’s no time for more, since they’ve gotta run around following the actors’ mayhem. At least the actors don’t devolve into hysterics, so the thing holds up better than these things sometimes do.
After a light opening scene, we’re suddenly plunged into a street protest that turns violent, in high-color, stuttery shaky-cam. The filmmaker follows protests against Congo’s presidential government (which promised open elections but keeps postponing), primarily following three young guys. Christian is a fiery youth leader. Ben returns from exile, shares his individual ideas with the protest organizations. Jean-Marie was captured and tortured by the secret police, recently released. They have the same goals, just don’t always agree on tactics, and they’re getting nowhere but always feel like they’re close. All their hopes are pinned on an aging Lumumba-era politician – this is who they’d vote for, though his own positions in the present day aren’t clear. At the end of filming, Ben’s back in exile, Jean-Marie is nabbed again, and their politician has died, but the struggle goes on. This year at True/False we saw more than one movie that puts the film crew and their subjects in harm’s way, but this is the one where you feel it the most urgently.
Vadim Rizov in Filmmaker:
Preparations alternate with regular counterpushes of violence, the feeling that something must be done repeatedly butting up against the reality when attempts are made and nothing changes. This is not an excuse to just give up, simply a record of grim odds. Towards the end, we see one subject, bullhorn in hand, dropping truth in the middle of a market, but no one’s listening — they all have shopping to do, and lending an ear might be dangerous anyway. It’s a brilliant micro-image for the oft-futility and necessity of activism; a title card tells us elections delayed in December 2017 were delayed once again in December 2018. That date has yet to come, but a colleague noted the particular poignancy that the card will probably be true by then.
Catching up… I watched this three weeks ago, and the only note I took says:
Unfun intellectual/political word games
Obviously it’s a complicated (if unfun) movie, so a one-line review will not do. This is where my lack of biographical knowledge on Godard (and lack of interest in 1960’s politics) holds me back, because this feels like an escalation of ideas about consumerism and radicalism and societal ills from 2 or 3 Things and Weekend… but it also feels like a parody, its characters deluded comic-book Mao radicals. This doesn’t seem right, since the ideals of our main characters seem similar to Godard’s own, in his later, more boring works.
Feels like we spend forever in the primary-color apartment with young commies Jean-Pierre Leaud, Juliet Berto (her first year in film) and Anne Wiazemsky (star of Au Hasard Balthazar the year before). But there’s also an assassination attempt, a guy exiled from the group, suicide, some fun self-reflexivity, and an endless train conversation with a philosophy professor. Literature references abound, apparently, and name-dropping of Katy’s favorite theorists.
Played Venice the year Belle de Jour won, tying China is Near for a jury prize.
“Why don’t you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?”
Brilliant visual display of espionage, duplicity, politics and memory (real and false), with at least five perfect performances, but the one who towers above them all is Angela Lansbury as a power-hungry politician’s-wife.
A group of Americans is captured with help from their traitor translator Henry Silva, then Laurence Harvey (Darling, Room at the Top) is brainwashed by the Enemy and sent back to the States, but his fellow soldier Frank Sinatra starts to remember their capture and realize something is amiss. Meanwhile Sinatra falls for Vivian Leigh, Harvey kills his girlfriend (Leslie Parrish of Li’l Abner), and Harvey is being controlled by his evil mother to put his weak-willed stepfather in power, but he turns on them at the last minute.
Sinatra and his girl:
Harvey and his mother:
A movie featuring a wannabe-president supported by a foreign power who puts ketchup on his steaks. I originally planned to double-feature this with A Face in the Crowd, but maybe The Dead Zone would be more appropriate. Frankenheimer made this the same year as Birdman of Alcatraz, a couple years before the similarly paranoid Seconds.
“You know what the people are. You know that the inner compass that should direct the soul towards justice has ossified in white men and women … White people cannot bear the thought of sharing this country’s infinite abundance with Negroes.”
I’m not fully convinced that Daniel Day-Lewis’s Abe Lincoln is realistic – he seems too wise and charming, too capable and upright, too able to manipulate fellow politicians who ought to know better, too perfectly Spielbergian. But that kind of politics sure felt good to watch in the present day when leaders of the “Party of Lincoln” run our government like cartoon villains. This is actually covered in the film when TL Jones dresses down a spineless adversary: “The modern travesty of Thomas Jefferson’s political organization to which you’ve attached yourself like a barnacle has the effrontery to call itself the Democratic Party.” Even after all the acclaim I wasn’t sure it’d be that captivating a film, but every performance is on point, the story is true-ish and meaningful and inspiring, there’s drama and humor and it’s got the best lighting I’ve seen in any movie all year.
Opens unexpectedly with post-battle David Oyelowo talking to the president. Besides Lincoln and his wife Sally Field and son Joey Gordon-Levitt there’s David Strathairn as the hesitant secretary of state, James Spader and John Hawkes as the president’s lobbyists sent to change senators’ minds (via bribery if necessary), Tommy Lee Jones (with a hairpiece so ridiculous he makes a joke of it himself) as a radical leftist senator. Walt Goggins and Adam Driver pop up, and Stephen Henderson of Fences, and Jackie Earle Haley and hundreds more.
Soldiers sent to meet the confederate delegation: