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.

Nashville (1975, Robert Altman)

Think this is one of those seminal films that make people foam at the mouth about the 1970′s being the best-ever movie decade. Usually I’m skeptical, but this one lives up to the rep. Can’t believe it took me this long to watch it. One of Altman’s scattershot ensemble pieces illustrating life, sex, violence, media and politics over one weekend in the mid-70′s, closer to the messy truthfulness of Short Cuts than the more conceptually-unified Prairie Home Companion. Plot, then, defies simple description, so here are a bunch of character sketches instead.

Solo Opry stars:
Tommy Brown and Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson, suspicious neighbor in The Burbs) are the friendly male stars, while Connie White (Karen Black of Burnt Offerings, House of 1000 Corpses) and Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley, Nancy’s fred-krueger-killin’ mom in Nightmare On Elm Street) are bitter rivals. BJ is recovering from exhaustion, acts slightly crazy throughout the picture.

The Trio:
Up-and-coming band “Tom, Bill & Mary” consists of relatively uptight Bill (Altman regular Allan Nicholls), Mary (Christa Raines of Ridley Scott’s The Duellists) who is married to Bill but secretly sleeping with Tom, and bearded free-spirit Tom (Keith Carradine of Street of No Return) who sleeps with near every girl in the movie.

Politicians:
Third-party candidate Hal Phillip Walker (inexplicably running in state “primaries” in a misuse of political language) is often heard but never seen. His campaign manager John Triplette (Michael Murphy of Tanner ’88, X-Men 3) is everywhere, trying to recruit music stars for a rally. Del Reese (Ned Beatty of Deliverance, Network, Stroker Ace) is a heavy dude assisting Triplette. Triplette basically tricks Haven and Barbara Jean into appearing at the climactic rally.

Media:
Off on her own is BBC journalist Opal (Geraldine Chaplin, the year before Noroît). I was happy to see her at first, but her character is so awfully self-absorbed and oblivious to the world and personalities that she’s purportedly researching, she soon became mere comic relief.

Crazies:
The ever-present magician-looking guy on a three-wheeled hog was Jeff Goldblum’s third movie role (California Split was his second). Shelley Duvall, in the middle of her Altman film streak (ended with Popeye) plays a flamboyant girl often explained away with “she’s from California.” A boarder at her house named Kenny shoots Barbara Jean at the rally in the final scene, and the guy who tries to stop him, army private Kelly (Scott Glenn, just played Rumsfeld in W.) has been stalking B.J. throughout the movie. Poor Sueleen Gay (a great name, played by Gwen Welles of California Split) is an enthusiastic red-haired waitress who wrongly thinks she can sing, reduced to strip-teasing at a pre-rally bar party.

The Rest:
Sueleen’s coworker Wade looks out for her. Sad Mr. Green (Keenan Wynn, guy leading the attack on General Ripper in Dr. Strangelove, also in Point Blank, Piranha, Laserblast, Parts: The Clonus Horror) is the California girl’s uncle; his wife dies in the hospital. Barnett (Allen Garfield of Brian De Palma’s early films) is Barbara Jean’s controlling husband/manager. And Lily Tomlin, in her first film, is campaign fella Del Reese’s wife, mother of two deaf kids, who sneaks away to sleep with former flame Tom of the trio.

Movie made piles of money. Won piles of awards except at the oscars (lost to Cuckoo’s Nest), baftas (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) and grammies (Jaws). Acting awards were difficult – Golden Globes gave it four nominations just for best supporting actress, surely a record. Lots of gossipy maybe-true bits online: Nashville was going to be two movies, the unused footage was to become a miniseries, and a sequel was written and cast before falling apart.

Shot in wide-ass cinemascope with no close-ups (by the D.P. of Coffy and Silent Movie), so screenshots aren’t much help. Would be reeeeal nice to see on the big screen someday. Did not play the DVD commentary by Robert Altman because I didn’t want to listen to him drift in and out of sleep for 2.5 hours.

The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962, Timothy Carey)

Thanks to TCM for showing this rare cult film written, directed, produced and even distributed by goofball character actor Timothy Carey (of The Killing, Paths of Glory, One-Eyed Jacks and East of Eden – later of Head and two Cassavetes films).

Carey, with all the power he can muster, plays an insurance salesman who tires of the game, has an internal moral/religious/political crisis and decides that anyone can be God. He gets his name changed to God, affixes a fake goatee, hires his Mexican gardener as his number-two man, gets sponsored by a shadowy political figure, and runs for high office. He names his group the Eternal Man’s Party, says his followers can be “super-human-beings”, it sounds like a dangerous cross between naziism, self-help dianetics, and The Holy Mountain. Plenty of people follow God Hilliard’s clearly sacrilegious message until late in the campaign newsmen start asking if he’s maybe an atheist. Atheists don’t get elected, but people calling themselves God do? Clarence has sent his wife and kids away so he can have sex with 16-yr-old groupies and live the decadent life of the rich and powerful, but amongst the atheism allegations he starts defying God to show Himself, wanders into a church and steals those holy biscuits that Catholics are so nuts about, starts stabbing one with a needle. Ha, nothing, he leaves the room, comes back, a trail of blood, miracle, movie busts into crazy color.

Coming out around the time of X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes and Carnival of Souls, and only a year before Shock Corridor, it’s not like it was the only weirdo movie in Hollywood those days, but its weirdness is still pretty damned impressive. Roughly edited with a cheap look but a good eye, clearly a personal movie.

Assisted by Ray Dennis Steckler (Wild Guitar, The Incredibly Strange Creatures…). Music composed by a 21-year-old Frank Zappa, four years before Freak Out. The title song ended up on the Cucamonga comp. Wife is played by Betty Rowland, who has very few credits, but one is a doc called Striptease: The Greatest Exotic Dancers of All Time, so we can guess where Carey found her. His Mexican gardener/assistant Alonzo turned up twenty years later in Scarface. Paul Frees, the professional voiceover guy who did the snake/narrator, was writing/directing The Beatniks around the same time… crazy.