All I knew from Guzmán was The Battle of Chile, which is newsreel documentary with explanatory postscript. I heard this was another doc about Pinochet horrors made forty years later and thought ah, more of the same. But this is something very different: a poetic, visual doc encompassing early man, human history and the cosmos, past and present colliding in beauty and horror.

One of the movie’s subjects, Lautaro Núñez, explains:

The astronomers created an enormous telescope … They are in the present recording a past which they have to reconstruct. They have only minute clues. They are archaeologists like us. … Why are there archaeologists and astronomers in the same place? The answer is simple. Here, the past is more accessible than elsewhere. The translucency of the sky is, for the archaeologists of space, what the dry climate is for us. It facilitates our access to evidence from the past.

Guzmán: “And yet, this country has not yet considered its past. It is held in the grasp of the coup d’etat which seems to immobilise it.”

Guzmán slowly brings the focus from ancient archaeology to more recent, focusing on a group of women who have combed the desert for decades looking for the graves of their relatives who were murdered and disappeared by Pinochet’s men. Then he connects even this to the cosmic, all with beautiful photography.

Astronomer Valentina Rodríguez’s parents are among the dead. “Astronomy has somehow helped me to give another dimension to the pain, to the absence, to the loss. I tell myself it’s all part of a cycle… we are all part of a current… like the stars which must die so that other stars can be born… nothing really comes to an end.”

Third movie called Leviathan I’ve seen, and another has just been announced. First Andrey Z. movie I’ve seen since The Return, and this was less mystical and mysterious than I’d expected from that one. But there’s still room for ambiguity in this generally straightforward story of a family’s obliteration by greedy, corrupt government officials as well as typical relationship drama. Wonderful looking movie, making the fact that it’s relentlessly grim easier to take.

Lilya (Elena Lyadova of Andrey Z.’s Elena) is Kolya’s second wife, after the death of his first. She and Kolya seem happy, but his sullen teenage son isn’t taking the replacement mom very well, and she is obviously more attracted to Kolya’s visiting military buddy Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovichenkov of Paragraph 78), a lawyer helping try to save the family’s land, home and business from being taken by the city (to “build a town hall” according to court statements, but actually to build a lake house for friends of the mayor (Roman Madyanov of the recent Russian 12 Angry Men remake)). Dmitri’s a good lawyer and investigator, arrives with a folder full of mayor-incriminating documents in order to get a fair price for the property, but then he has a Very Bad Day, getting caught and beaten up by his friend for having sex with his wife while on a picnic trip, then getting kidnapped, beaten again and nearly murdered by the mayor’s thugs. So he straight-up ditches town, returns to the city without telling anyone, and sad Lilya stands atop a rocky cliff, then is washed up dead the following day. Kolya is sent away for murder, mayor has the house demolished and the son is adopted by neighbors. Supposedly Lilya’s murder weapon is discovered by investigators on the property, but the whole justice system has been proven to be corrupt, so we never know if Kolya really killed her (unlikely), if the son did it (he’s shown being extremely bothered by her, but the movie never suggests he’s psycho enough to kill his stepmom), if it was government thugs, or if they’re taking advantage of a conveniently-timed suicide.

Also within: the church collaborates on the corruption deals, and an absolute ton of vodka is consumed. Won best screenplay at Cannes, nominated for a foreign oscar alongside Ida and Timbuktu. In a January interview, Andrey Z says he has four new screenplays and his producer is deciding which to film next. He’s also encouraging piracy of this film within Russia since its profane dialogue has been censored in theaters. On politics: “There is discussion in society, but it’s pointless. I have a feeling of the absolute futility of pretending to the right to have a say in any situation.”

S. Tobias:

Leviathan itself feels like a brave, lonely act of rebellion against the system, deeply pessimistic about the possibility of it ever working in the people’s favor. It advocates for a stiff drink.

“Can’t talk – some peace protestors are trying to kill me.”

Kinda silly and obvious as a thriller, but well acted and assembled so you enjoy the ride at least. And man does Ewan McGregor ever blow it, when he finally gets evidence that the prime minister’s wife Rosemary Cross has been pulling the strings all along as an undercover CIA agent, what does he do? He tells her that he knows. He tells her! So she has him killed, end of movie. It’s too bad I watched Dollhouse before this, because I saw her as a schemer all along.

Mouseover to see McGregor’s reaction to the PM’s memoirs:
image

McGregor is taking over the PM’s memoirs from the previous ghost writer who died mysteriously last week on the ferry to PM Pierce Brosnan’s U.S. island hideaway. All is quiet until allegations of torture and other war crimes come out and the press mobs the island, and during the distraction McGregor starts digging up the dirt his predecessor had left clues about. Kim Cattrall is the PM’s assistant, Tom Wilkinson a friend/rival/neighbor, and Eli Wallach an old man who feeds Ewan clues.

This film’s attention to detail is impressive – they’ve noted how the news tends to misspell basic words:

NYTimes:

It would be easy to overstate the appeal of The Ghost Writer just as, I imagine, it will be easy for some to dismiss it. But the pleasures of a well-directed movie should never be underestimated. The image of Mr. Brosnan abruptly leaning toward the camera like a man possessed is worth a dozen Oscar-nominated performances. And the way, when Lang chats with the Ghost — his arms and legs open, a drink in hand, as if he were hitting on a woman — shows how an actor and his director can sum up an entire personality with a single pose.

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Dollhouse season 2 (2010)

We watched this sporadically over the last year with months-long gaps between episodes (moving across country and all that) so I lost some details of the always-complex plot, like where we left off with Alpha before the final flash-forward episode. Still one of my favorite shows. Many allegiance shifts, and Summer Glau is introduced as Topher’s headquarters counterpart/love interest.

Costars of the two “epitaph” episodes: Felicia Day (Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog), Zack Ward (of TV’s Titus) and young Adair Tishler loaded with Dushku-Caroline’s personality.

Since Dollhouse ended, Dushku is voicing an animated She-Hulk, Harry Lennix did a Superman movie or two, we’ve seen Topher in two Whedon movies, Paul Ballard appears in different sci-fi series, Victor did TV shows with Halle Berry, Dennis Quaid and Madchen Amick, Sierra’s on two different nuclear war dramas, Olivia Williams is on a third nuclear war drama, sci-fi hero Summer Glau joined Arrow, The Cape and The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and Alpha is on Suburgatory, also voicing characters in the last three Disney movies.

Veep season 2 (2013)

I admit I didn’t care about plot or politics, just sped through this season for the relentless jokes. Looks like we’ll have a big campaign next season, since after the endless scandals the president has announced he’s not running again.

Added to the cast: Veep’s daughter Sarah “daughter of Keifer” Sutherland, Gary Cole (voice of Harvey Birdman), Randall Park of Larry Crowne and every comedy this year, Dan Bakkedahl of highly-rated comedy Legit, Kevin Dunn of True Detective (also Shia’s embarrassing dad in the Transformers movies), and great guest spots by Allison Janney and Dave Foley.

Futurama season 6 (2010-11)

More great episodes.

With owls!

And the best season finale ever.

Total acting showcase, starring two oscar winners and three multiple-nominees. So who do you get for the sixth-billed slot? Louis C.K., hell yes!

Scammer Christian Bale attracts scammer Amy Adams, who both attract the attention of overeager federal agent Bradley Cooper, who wants to go big with the scams and nab charismatic mayor Jeremy Renner. Also Bale is married to Jennifer Lawrence, who seems to have been pried into the movie. Also Robert DeNiro plays a scary gangster, and the scammers screw over the agent (and, reluctantly, the mayor) at the end.

A brilliant flashback drama full of slow-boil tension leading to an explosive action scene and devastating business-as-usual finale. Tatsuya Nakadai (star of Kill! and of the snow-lady second segment of Kwaidan) asks a local clan for permission to commit ritual suicide in their courtyard, and the stooge in charge (Rentaro Mikuni, star of the first Kwaidan segment and the chained son in Profound Desire of the Gods, seeming older here, perhaps because of his baldy-samurai hair) tells of the last guy who tried that, how he was forced to go through with the suicide rather than being given some money to go away. But Nadakai knows this already, since the last guy was his son-in-law (Akira Ishihama of some Kinoshita films) whose death led his young wife Shima Iwashita (the daughter in An Autumn Afternoon) to her own. Nadakai’s plan is to demand an apology, and when the clan attacks he takes down as many men as he can (having killed some key guys earlier, as the flashback structure very gradually reveals). Rather than admit any blame, the clan leader orders a total cover-up, saying the others died of illness. A cynical movie, but thrilling in execution (with tastefully-deployed pre-’70s shock-zooms), the movie Kobayashi made before Kwaidan.

J. Mellen for Criterion:

In the film’s condemnation of the Iyi clan, Kobayashi rejects the notion of individual submission to the group. He condemns, simultaneously, the hierarchical structures that pervaded Japanese political and social life in the 1950s and 1960s, especially the zaibatsus, the giant corporations that recapitulated feudalism.

With Poitras in the news so much, I’m getting around to watching her follow-up to My Country, My Country – supposed to be the second in a trilogy, but now that she’s embroiled in spy drama, I wonder if plans have changed for the third film. I kinda understood and kinda liked My Country, but The Oath is all-around incredible.

Two brothers-in-law worked for Osama bin Laden shortly before 2001, and now Osama’s bodyguard and Al Qaeda trainer Abu Jandal is free in Yemen, driving a cab, and Osama’s driver Salim Hamdan, who was much lower in the chain than Jandal, having never taken “the oath” or being trusted with insider info, has been in Guantanamo for most of a decade.

The movie follows Jandal, who holds jihadist meetings at home and discusses his history, and Hamdan’s lawyer, who’s refreshingly outspoken about his own military bosses’ injustices. Hamdan was “the first man with a personal connection to bin Laden captured after 9/11”, and his victorious 2006 case led to a new law being passed which was then used against him retroactively. His lawyer argued that you just can’t do that. They did anyway. Jandal was in prison during the 9/11 attacks and knew nothing of them. When he was told the details, he turned on his former comrades (he’d personally known all 19 hijackers) and told the FBI everything he knew about Al Qaeda’s operations. Unbelievably, Hamdan is released from Guantanamo and returns to his family in early 2009, but refused interview requests. Jandal: “He has become very quiet and introverted because he spent most of his time in solitary confinement. I no longer own a taxi. I had to sell my car because I was in so much debt. I am now in desperate need of income.”

The Trap and The Power of Nightmares felt like they presented central points (clearly expressed in the open of each episode), then assembled evidence in an orderly fashion, supporting their points in a complex, sometimes roundabout way. This one presents a number of points with related themes. Each episode opens with different titles and explores different events which don’t directly relate back to each other. During episode 2 I was wondering when the Ayn Rand story would come back, but during #3 I realized it had been there all along, that this time Curtis is drawing the connections without explicitly calling back to previous subjects all the time. The movies are starting to link together in interesting ways. At this point, you could fill an “art and world politics” course just by running all his movies and assigning his blog as the textbook.

Episode 1 “begins with a strange woman in the 1950’s in New York,” connects Ayn Rand with Alan Greenspan and Silicon Valley, tracing the failures of her personal life and lack of acceptance in her philosphies, comparing to their massive influence decades later among people in power over the global economy. Rand rejected altruism and supported rational egoism, so surprisingly there’s no relation to the RAND Corporation discussed in The Trap, which worked on game theory, positing human behavior as perfectly selfish.

Part 2 is about natural ecosystems, and the myth that they remain perfectly in balance – Curtis says more recent, complex models show them to be in constant flux. Loved the ecology discussions, the scientific project that attempted to precisely measure every detail of a particular field. This is shown alongside early communes (humans trying to live in perfect balance without power structures) and recent national revolts (glorious-looking uprisings by “the people” against authoritarian power, only to see it replaced by new authoritarian power a year later).

Part 3 discusses the social tendency to view people as individually unimportant parts of a large, self-balancing system. We get stories of a game-theory biologist and his colleagues who theorised that all behavior of living creatures is a result of the needs of their genes – more depowering thoughts. We close in Africa where another animal behaviorist, Dian Fossey, was working, showing how false theories on human behavior and evolution combined with the desires of technology companies led to disaster for the people of Congo/Zaire and Rwanda.

So the movie’s often-mentioned “rise of the machines” isn’t literal so much as a social-control concept, caused by simplifying models of natural behavior. It seems perfect that I finished watching this the day before seeing The World’s End, which is about the rise of actual machines that aim to simplify human behavior.

I also read a bunch of articles from Adam Curtis’s amazing blog – sadly without the video segments since I was sitting at the airport sans wifi. Essay called “You think you are a consumer but maybe you have been consumed” about Texas oilman HL Hunt, caricatured in Ken Russell’s Billion Dollar Brain. “The roots of so much of the distrust of the media today lie back with him and his ideas.” One called “Paradiabolical” on Somalia and Algeria, one on England’s history of bumbling spies, and one on animal shows before the rise of David Attenberg Attenborough.