Some Television in 2011

The Mighty Boosh season 3

The one in which they work for Naboo at his shop. I liked this and season one better than S2 – it helps to keep the nonsense somewhat grounded with the workplace location. But it’s a minor quibble, and altogether quite a great show. Except for the moon.

Apparently the Boosh did some specials and a live show I’ve gotta find. Also, I keep thinking getting confused by this Richard Ayoade fellow – he played Saboo, not Naboo. Who was Saboo? Anyway, he stars in The IT Crowd, directed the movies Submarine and AD/BC: A Rock Opera and made the shows Man to Man with Dean Lerner, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and Nathan Barley, all of which sound good, and some of which co-star Howard Moon and/or Vince Noir. Howard also starred in Edgar Wright’s Asylum – and what’s this: Mid Morning Matters with Alan Partridge! Must find.

The Thick of It season 1

Even if the rest of the show had been useless, this would be worth watching for Malcolm’s daily, creatively profane insult spree. His first line in the series is “He’s as useless as a marzipan dildo.” But it’s a brutally good show all around, as I’d suspected, having seen the film version In the Loop a couple times. Hugh Abbott, minister of social affairs (his predecessor got sacked in the first episode) bumbles into various minor media scandals with help from his staff Glenn, Terry and Ollie, while trying not to be yelled at by Malcolm. It’s exactly how I assume government actually works. Hugh (Chris Langham, a writer on The Muppet Show) didn’t return, but the other main actors made it into the movie. Peter Capaldi (Malcolm) wrote/directed the short Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life, has appeared in a couple other things I’ve seen (like Neverwhere) but I wouldn’t recognize him from this unless he was swearing up a storm.

Arrested Development season 1

I can’t believe all that was only one season. Seems like four or five years’ worth of plot twists crammed into one. I mean, if they’ve already followed at least two incest plot lines, produced a long-lost identical twin brother, resolved a number of love affairs and hangups and family members moving in and out, sunk the family yacht, burned down the banana stand, broken out of jail a couple times and adopted a Korean kid, what’s left for the next two seasons? Creator Mitch Hurwitz also wrote Running Wilde with Will Arnett, an animated show full of Arrested Development alum called Sit Down Shut Up, and coincidentally, an unaired American remake of The Thick of It, with Oliver Platt as Malcolm. Iannucci says that was awful. Series directors included the Russo brothers (You, Me and Dupree), Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) and Jay Chandrasekhar (Super Troopers).

Mr. Show season 1

Obviously I’ve seen this all before, but I was hurting for some comedy to half-pay-attention-to whilst sorting receipts and other junk on my floor and realized I’ve never played the DVD commentaries all the way through. And now that my floor is half clean and I’m only four episodes into the series’s 30-episode run, it’s clear that I never will.

Still super funny: Ronnie Dobbs, all appearances by Jack Black and Brian Posehn, incubation pants, the hated milking machine, limberlegs, bag hutch, “dear globochem, somebody is trying to kill me.” I know they think it didn’t work, but I love that the early episodes each had interwoven sketches with thematic connections. It was really ambitious for a cheap sketch show shot in a restaurant.

Semi-related shows I still need to watch – there are so many – Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, Tim and Eric, more Aqua Teen, Ben Stiller Show, Running Wilde (again), Freak Show, Tom Goes to the Mayor, Breaking Bad, Funny or Die, Pity Card/Derek and Simon, more Sarah Silverman Program, Bob’s Burgers, Jon Benjamin Has a Van, Moral Orel, State of the Union and Bored to Death.

It Felt Like a Kiss (2009, Adam Curtis)

Different from the other Curtis docs I’ve seen in that it’s not assembling semi-obscure facts to analyze human/political behavior, but assembling well-known facts to create a mood, and lead to an understanding through experience. Of course I’m missing part of this experience, since the film was part of a multimedia show inside a deserted office building set to music by Damon Albarn and the Kronos Quartet.

Traces a semi-chronological historical path through key events (chimps in space), tragedies (kennedy assassinations, manson family) and future tragedies (WTC construction) but mostly uses pop songs as history, letting artist bios (tina turner, lou reed) and the lyrics themselves tell the stories of disenchantment.

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What results has Lynchian overtones with its dark seeds beneath 1950’s suburban pop, and shades of Craig Baldwin, using newsreel montages to create new stories, to confuse and not inform. But it’s still got Curtis written all over it, in the pacing and clip selection, that old familiar typeface, and the sense that the film makes your brain understand things in ways not explicitly told by the narration, making covert connections. Most importantly, when it was over I had the same urge to immediately watch it again that I got after The Power of Nightmares and The Trap.

C. Brooker:

Where his preceding works have occasionally been a touch eccentric, this one takes the piss. It is completely and utterly demented – in a positive way. I’m not saying it doesn’t make sense; if anything, it forges its own new brand of coherence whether you like it or not. This is a documentary running on alien software. I’m at a loss to describe it. For starters, the trademark Curtis voiceover has gone completely, replaced instead by occasional, simple captions. Music is at the forefront. Ominous soundscapes and bubblegum pop weave their way around the images: archive news, Hollywood movies. It’s hypnotic.

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Brooker also gets us some Curtis quotes. I’ve brutally edited so as not to copy his entire article:

I wanted to do a film about what it actually felt like to live through that time … Where you could see the roots of the uncertainties we feel today, the things they did out on the dark fringes of the world that they didn’t really notice at the time, which would then come back to haunt us. … The politics of our time are deeply embedded in this idea of individualism, which is far wider than … consumerism or anything like that. It’s how you feel. … But it’s not the be-all and end-all. It’s not an absolute. It’s a way of feeling and thinking which is a product of a particular time and power. The notion that you only achieve your true self if your desires, your dreams, are satisfied … It’s a political idea. … What you desire is the most important thing. But a great paradox of our time is that what you desire may not be coming from within you. … The iPhone is a good example. People really feel they want one – to express themselves. But they all want one, at the same time. Where does that come from? From within or without? Because we live in an age where the individual is paramount and everything is seen from the perspective of ‘you’, we’ve lost sight of the bigger forces at work. Which has limited us. Not only in our understanding of the world; it’s made us very powerless. I think that’s what I’m really trying to get at in this.

Curtis keeps a blog, which I need to start reading, and I’ve been watching Mr. Brooker’s own TV series, to which Curtis has recently contributed.

Collapse (2009, Chris Smith)

“In the new human paradigm everything will be local.”

L.A. policeman starts by talking about the CIA smuggling drugs into the country, moves on to the recent/current financial crises, explains the concept of peak oil (we’re running out) then leads us down the Road to global devastation, huge drops in population, suburbanites starving in their homes.

I need to start growing vegetables in our back yard this spring. Quitting my job, opening a bicycle repair shop. Can rain barrels be used for drinking water?

In The Loop (2009, Armando Iannucci)

This is a spinoff movie from a series called The Thick of It, which also starred Peter Capaldi as the terribly insulting PR guy, and which I must watch soon. Tom Hollander as the wishy-washy but morally secure minister and his head staffer Gina McKee (of MirrorMask) are new to the movie, but Tom’s assistant Chris Addison was in the show playing a different character. Kinda surprising, that, since in the movie he’s the new guy (and kinda our main character).

One lucky break: the new guy/main character isn’t a bland, naive kid who leads us insultingly through the situation, a conceit used by so many crappy movies. Everyone sorta knows what they’re doing here, and even though our guy is a fuckup (misses a major meeting, his girlfriend leaves him for cheating), he knows his way around his job. Anyway, movie follows these government guys as they trade secrets and rumors, fiddle with their publicity, and ultimately start an international war for the stupidest reasons possible – and it’s damned hilarious, and I’ve forgotten every joke so I must watch it again after catching up with the show.

Of course it’s not a british comedy without a Steve Coogan cameo (The Boat That Rocked, therefore, was not a british comedy). Here he plays Tom’s neighbor who starts a PR stink over a crumbling garden wall. I wouldn’t say it’s a non-comic role, but he has less funny dialogue than anyone else in the film, which seems odd.

Being There (1979, Hal Ashby)

I don’t know much about Ashby – I’m sure he’s wonderful, but it’s Sellers and the writing that make this one of my favorite comedies. It’s not Ashby’s last movie (he made 5-7 more) but it’s the last one I’ve heard of. He lets scenes linger longer than most comedy directors would, stretching the movie out over two hours, but not to its detriment (like Avanti!). Since most of the fun is in Sellers’ delayed reactions to the world around him, slowly taking everything in, the pacing works. Besides, the movie is called Being There, not Getting There.

Sellers vs. MacLaine:
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Round 2:
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Jack Warden was a good choice to play the president, and 80-year-old Macon native Melvyn Douglas (of The Old Dark House) brings essential humor to the role of the dying rich “kingmaker” with whom Chance the Gardener accidentally finds himself after getting hit by Melvyn’s wife Shirley MacLaine. MST3K punchlines Richard Dysart and Richard Basehart play the old man’s doctor and the Russian ambassador whom Chance talks up at a party, respectively.

Melvyn & Sellers:
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More Melvyn, More Sellers:
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Peter & Jack:
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Katy might’ve liked this, but the day I rented it she was mad at me for not wanting to watch a girl movie with her, and I figured suggesting we watch a male-centric political satire wouldn’t help anything. Actually I think I did suggest and it and she got madder, oops.

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The Power of Nightmares (2004, Adam Curtis)

Another 3-hour Adam Curtis documentary (no Yo La Tengo songs this time) and again it’s one of the most amazing, revelatory things I’ll watch all year. This time I didn’t take notes like I did with The Trap, so I’ll just have to take my word for it. I do remember that the founder of neoconservatism was a huge fan of television, especially Gunsmoke and Perry Mason. And that Al Qaeda doesn’t exist – or it didn’t until we invented it – I remember that. Man, I wish I’d watched this when it came out. But however depressing it is that I’ve spent the last five years not knowing most of this stuff, that’s balanced by the joy of watching it when neo-cons aren’t in power in the U.S. at the moment.

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Roger & Me (1989, Michael Moore)

It’s fun to see the pre-Awful Truth days when every corporate headquarters didn’t have an Official Michael Moore Policy and when Moore was thrown out of an event not because of who he is but because one of Ralph Nader’s relatives was with him. It’s also fun to see what a good movie Moore can make when he devotes all his time and energy to a single cause instead of bouncing from one populist hot topic to the next (Columbine, Fahrenheit) or tackling issues that are too large to fit in a movie (Sicko). He stays (mostly) in Michigan, covers a couple years’ worth of plant closings, visits and revisits local people (the eviction deputy, for one) and tries to get answers from (and stir up debate against) the corporate overlords and policies seen to be the cause of the problems. We’d been meaning to watch this for a long time, and thought the week of G.M.’s collapse (and Moore’s latest email about it) made for good timing.

Death By Hanging (1968, Nagisa Oshima)

Opens with the title “Are you for or against the abolition of the death penalty?”

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Movie gets straight to the point. After reading Tony Rayns say about In the Realm of the Senses that “there is no thing as the Oshima style,” I thought I’d check out one of his earlier films and see for myself. Sure enough, this has nothing in common with it or with Empire of Passion – it’s bonkers in its own particular way.

Oshima in 1964: “An artist does not build his work on one single theme, any more than a man lives his life according to only one idea. Foolish critics, however, want to think that works have just one theme running through them. Then when they find something that contradicts that one theme, they immediately say that they don’t understand the work. Our work has nothing to do with these foolish critics. We want to put into it everything we are thinking and experiencing now; if we didn’t, creative work would have no meaning for us.”

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R., a rapist and murderer, is hung but seems unhurt. Since his body won’t die, they rule him demented – but now he can’t be killed because a demented man can’t realize his guilt and understand punishment. The surly chaplain says they can’t even pray for him because last rites have already been administered. R. seems to have amnesia, so the men in the room (prison officials, doctor and so on) act out his crimes to jog his memory. They tell him his history, convince him he is Korean, awaken his mind and memory in order to kill him again.

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They get really into their re-enactments – the education minister (above) imagines that he has actually killed a girl on the roof of a building and the others think him hysterical – then one by one they begin to see the dead girl – then she’s not dead at all, rises up and starts to talk with R, says she’s his sister. The men are upset because R never had a sister, but that falls by the wayside, and eventually she and R are lying on the floor apparently naked under a sheet while the men all argue and cry and hallucinate around them. It’s that kind of movie. With its loooong shots and loose, imprecise framing, single location and shouty characters, it could’ve easily been done as a play.

Akiko Koyama, an Oshima regular, as the mysterious Korean woman:
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Oshima 1964: “Unless you see people living in their own country, their true identity escapes you. The tragedy thus grows clear; the Japanese and Koreans have superficial and uncertain views of each other, and cannot see things in their true light.”

1968: “Death By Hanging had as its starting point the events set in motion by the criminal Ri Chin’u, perpetrator of the Komatsugawa High School incident. In my opinion, Ri Chin’u was the most intelligent and sensitive youth produced by postwar Japan, as demonstrated by the collection of Ri’s letter edited by Boku Junan, “Punishment, Death and Love.” Ri’s prose ought to be included in high school textbooks. Ri, however, committed a crime and was sentenced to death. I had been thinking of devoting a work to Ri ever since he committed his crime in 1958. … We created R, a character who did not die after execution.”

1974: “In ancient times, revolutions began with the destruction of prisons. No, history called the uprisings that were strong enough to destroy the prisons “revolutions.”

R (left) with the priest played by Toshiro Ishido, the writer of Oshima’s Night and Fog in Japan:
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“Death only has meaning if we know it is coming.”

“I don’t want to be killed by an abstraction.”

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Recommended listening: That Man Will Not Hang by McLusky

Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America (1992, Craig Baldwin)

See, used to be I’d go to the video store and rent anything that looked interesting, and I’d come home with wild, awesome, insane movies. But one Tetsuo The Iron Man and a pile of Richard Kern films later, I start to get wary of the weird stuff. It seems the few weird, random films I rent these days are crappy movies trying too hard for cult success (Sukiyaki Western Django, Tokyo Gore Police). Eventually I get this crazy idea that I should seek out good movies instead of bad ones, and become obsessed with lists of great and important films and magazines like Cinema Scope. So imagine my surprise when C.S. did an article on Craig Baldwin, one of those purveyors of cult-reaching found-footage hyper-weirdness peppering the video shelves. Bug had been a C.S. recommendation and that wasn’t so bad, so I finally overcame my angry memories of Baldwin’s Negativland documentary Sonic Outlaws and I rented this.

And wow is it a mindblowing pile of awesomeness. Footage from ALL sources (godzilla/molemen/cartoons, star trek scenes played as news footage, actual news footage superimposed with sci-fi business) combine to form a tell-all exposé of aliens from planet Quetzalcoatl who landed on earth in the year 1000 and live underground for centuries, waking after nuclear bomb tests to affect global climate change and politics in South and Central America and the U.S., leading to annihilation of the planet in the future year of 1999.

Movie is a wild, hilarious masterpiece of montage, with the nutty stuff woven into actual history, then 45 minutes in, after I thought it had just ended, it refocuses on Africa and becomes kind of dull. Turns out this was the short RocketKitKongoKit (1986), with no opening title so I didn’t know what was happening. Story is more news reporting with less fanciful writing, with stuff on Mobutu (evil ruler of Zaire/Congo) and others I already can’t remember, and I think there was stuff about Germany in there. Loved the conspiratorial half-whisper of the narrator in the first film, so the dull, accented narrator of this one lost interest in comparison.

Next up on the DVD: Wild Gunman (1978), apparently featuring scenes from a dragon’s-lair live-action cowboy video game, but I guess they didn’t have laserdisc players in ’78. Clever montage of advertisements, cowboy shows, repeated bits back and forth (not quite Martin Arnold-obsessive, just for fun). All three movies are divided into numbered sections… the last one used reverse-images of a girl holding up numbers and this one’s got film countdown leader. Playful and fun, brings back the energy the middle film lost.

Internet says Baldwin is a Bruce Conner devotee – no surprise there.

Video distributor says:

Baldwin’s “pseudo-pseudo-documentary” presents a factual chronicle of US intervention in Latin America in the form of the ultimate far-right conspiracy theory, combining covert action, environmental catastrophe, space aliens, cattle mutilations, killer bees, religious prophecy, doomsday diatribes, and just about every other crackpot theory broadcast through the dentures of the modern paranoiac… a truly perverse vision of American imperialism.

T. Maloney in Senses of Cinema:

On the surface RocketKitKongoKit is the true story of a German rocket firm leasing land in the Congo (then called “Saire” under Mobutu’s reign), for testing rockets. The larger implications, that of Europe’s colonial attitude towards Africa in the 1960s and the exploitation of its people for a program the Europeans didn’t want in their own backyard, is not an entirely inaccurate one. History is, of course, highly malleable, and interpretations of any event can continue for decades – especially with relatively recent and well-documented events. The direct links between the ESA’s rocket program and deteriorating conditions in Africa are made more forcefully than would a more conservative historian, and the information is presented with the authority and integrity the documentary form affords.

and on Trib 99:

Organised into 99 chapters, each with a terrifying title screaming out in full screen capital letters, (9) the structure of the film invokes both conspiracy theories and biblical texts. And yet a great deal of the narration in Tribulation describes a readily verifiable history of American intervention in Central America from the 1960s through the 1980s. It is mixed in with vampires, voodoo and killer robots, but it is there.