More Television 2014

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.

American Hustle (2013, David O. Russell)

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.

Harakiri (1962, Masaki Kobayashi)

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.

The Oath (2010, Laura Poitras)

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.”

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (2011, Adam Curtis)

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.

Screening Room: John & Faith Hubley (1973)

I got a collection of the Screening Room series, in which Robert Gardner (a great filmmaker himself) interviews creators of avant-garde, animated and short films and shows their work. The plan is to watch some of these and supplement them with other shorts by the filmmakers. In the Hubleys’ case I’ve got plenty, since I bought all their DVDs when they were in print – probably watched most of the films a decade ago but now I can’t remember one from the other, so need to see again. Since I already had all these movies (except possibly Children of the Sun) I would’ve appreciated more time spent in conversation with Gardner, but when this aired I’m sure it was more important to show the work itself.

Eggs (1970)

Birth and Death share a car, drive through civilization debating (over)population. Then Quetzalcoatl shows up and sends them both to a new planet, announcing that the old one is on its own. The dialogue recording is a little too beatnik, but it’s a nice film, good one to start the program. John mentions to Garner that an advantage of animation is being able to tackle huge social issues in the abstract.

The Hat (1964)

One of my favorites, with Dizzy Gillespie and Dudley Moore as two border guards riffing on the idea of war and artificial boundaries after one drops his hat onto the wrong side of the line.

I also flipped through their book adaptation of The Hat, an attempt to turn the rambling dialogue into written form (with illustrations)… doesn’t seem to have worked as well.

Children of the Sun (1960)

Child play and fantasies (accurate to a fault), ending with a weird string-music motion child collage.

Zuckerkandl (1968)

Opening narrator sounds like WC Fields. An illustrated speech given by Robert Maynard Hutchins about Freud student Dr. Zuckerkandl, who is animated as a tiny man with an amusing accent. Mostly I distracted myself watching him and thinking about animation and missed the part where he’s supposed to be the father of modern times. Oh nevermind, internet says it’s a fiction/parody of psychology, which I suppose accounts for all the laughter during Hutchins’ speech. Regardless, another weird choice for an animated film.

Moonbird (1959)

The cutest of their children-voices movies that I’ve seen – Mark and Hampy dig a hole, lay bait (candy) and set a trap to catch the elusive moonbird. Won the oscar over a Speedy Gonzalez, a biblical Disney and an Ernest Pintoff musical short.

The Adventures of * (1957)

Fun, visually exciting short about how aging crushes your imagination and sense of fun – but with a happy ending.

Urbanissimo (1967)

Another favorite. A farmer is startled by a giant, resource-scarfing mobile city that steals his fruits and spits out canned fruit. Entranced by the music of the city (a nice jazz score by Benny Carter) he drops everything and runs after it. Presented by the National Housing Agency of Canada.

Dig (1972)

Educational short about geology. Adam is going to the store for milk when he falls deep into the earth’s crust. Guided by a talking rock (Jack Warden, the president in Being There) he learns about quakes, salt, stalactites, different kinds of rock, fossils, volcanoes. Songs ensue, including “So Sedimentary,” which Dump has covered. Blacklisted actor Morris Carnovsky protects “the tomb of the earth,” through which they go back through prehistoric eras. Finally Jack returns to his mom (Maureen Stapleton, Emma Goldman in Reds) with his new pet rock (and no milk).

This is Not a Film (2011, Jafar Panahi & Mojtaba Mirtahmasb)

Set up to be a doc of house-arrested filmmaker Panahi by his documentarian friend Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, with Panahi explaining and roughly staging the next film he would have made if the authorities had let him (coincidentally[?] to be filmed inside a house, concerning a girl who is not allowed to leave). But Panahi cuts off the play-acting and gets philosophical, showing scenes from his work and telling us that if films could be explained, they wouldn’t have to be made. He then takes over the not-film, finally picking up the camera, following a maintenance man outside to a small-scale replay of Offside‘s finale. Throughout, there are definite signs that either this movie was much more cleverly planned than it’s meant to appear, or that Panahi’s life is full of happy coincidences and unplanned art. Either way, I’d been afraid that this would be a movie solely acclaimed because of its subversion, its very existence as political protest, which would’ve been enough, but was delighted than the entire work justifies its Cannes-acclaimed reputation.

Panahi’s daughter’s pet iguana provides the special effects, an unseen neighbor who needs a dog-sitter so she can participate in the celebratory new-year fireworks provides humor, and Jafar’s phone conversations with his attorney provide context on the project.

Panahi attempts to use the internet inside Iran. “Wherever you go, it’s blocked. Most websites are filtered. The rest don’t say anything.”

Mirtahmasb: “Take a shot of me, so in case I’m arrested there will be some images left.”

Panahi’s next film was going to be made with Mohammad Rasoulof, who now suffers the same political fate as Panahi and filmed his own response while out on appeal, Goodbye, which hasn’t made it to video yet.

M. Peranson in Cinema Scope:

Of special note… is Panahi’s bootleg DVD collection, which features the Ryan Reynolds-in-a-coffin film Buried facing us, clearly placed there to make a point.

The work feels completely effortless but my money says it’s an elaborate sound and image construction: though it claims to be a day in the life of Panahi, Mirtahmasb explained in interviews that the film was shot over four days.

Century of the Self (2002, Adam Curtis)

Quoth a banker: “We must shift America from a needs- to a desires-culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed.”

Another Adam Curtis miracle. Katy and I are pleased as punch by the film’s research, structure and presentation, while being terrified by its content.

Curtis tells how Freud’s theories were pitched in the States by his nephew Edward Bernays, who thought to use his uncle’s psychological techniques in advertising and public relations, a field he effectively started. Freud’s theories are thought to explain the rise of naziism, so the American power elite looks to his daughter Anna for ideas on how to control the peoples’ minds. Former Freud student Wilhelm Reich who became a sex hippie (see also W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism), is the godfather of the opposite side: freeing your mind from conformity, and while Reich himself is imprisoned, his work destroyed by the U.S. government, his ideas inspire industry to promote self-identity through spending. Still later, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton (so apparently well-meaning, yet so deflated by the Adam Curtis docs) use focus groups to turn government and politics into a kind of marketing. And Curtis uses the same language that he’d return to in The Trap: what our leaders and big business presented as a new form of freedom became instead a form of control.

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.