I thought I’d do another Shorts Month, but February turned out to be pretty busy, so I only got to a dozen (plus the Oscar Animation program). Breaking them up into two posts…

Skinningrove (2013, Michael Almereyda)

After Experimenter and now Escapes, I thought it’d be worth watching everything I can find by Almereyda. This one is simply a slideshow, narrated by photographer Chris Killip who’d spent a few years documenting the titular fishing village. We get descriptions of who we’re seeing, how his (excellent) photographs were taken, and what happened after (two of the boys died in a storm). Killip says he’s never been sure what he should do with the photos – I suppose this is what.

Me the Terrible (2012, Josephine Decker)

Girl dressed like a pirate conquers New York, from the Statue of Liberty to Wall Street to the Empire State Building, until a gang of red-suited bicyclists steal her teddy bear in Central Park and she abandons the rest of the conquest. The adults seem to be lipsyncing to voices from old movies. Not at all like Decker’s Butter on the Latch, but fully wonderful in all new ways.

Split Persona (2017, Bradley Rust Gray)

Twin sisters Karrie and Jalissa have a majorly depressed mom. Jalissa always takes care of mom, so she asks Karrie to stay home for once, but apparently whenever mom is left home with Karrie she attempts suicide. Bummer of a little film, possibly made as a PSA for mental health care – it barely exists online, despite coming from the director of Jack & Diane. This was written by a Nelson, whose mom suffers from depression, and it stars a Nelson as the mom, but no word whether it’s Mom Nelson.

Second Sighted (2015, Deborah Stratman)

Movement through space. Stock footage. Water and earth… earth under water, and flowing like water. Graphic markups on photographs. Models and data and data models. Good stuff, and I didn’t even mind the soundtrack: drones, chimes and that chirpy chatter that accompanies old computer images. My first by Stratman – I’ve been seeing her name here and there.

Woodshock (1985, Richard Linklater)

Bunch of pretty annoying dudes clown around at a Texas underground film festival. Daniel Johnston makes an appearance, then the footage starts overlapping and running in reverse in order to get groovy and psychedelic. He calls this a “film attempt” in the credits, fair enough. I spotted GBH and Exploited t-shirts! Shot by Lee Daniel, who was still working with Linklater as late as Boyhood.

Gazing at the Catastrophe (2012, Ali Cherri)

Closeup of a man’s face, his skin tone shifting every couple of frames. A photoshop cursor strokes each of his features, slowly applying scars or burns to his visage, then the picture cuts away to stuttering video horrors for a few seconds, and repeat.

I don’t have the critical skill to explain why a slice-of-life movie following a college baseball team’s party antics for the three days before classes begin seems so essential right now.

Katy liked it but the drunk girls gave her unpleasant flashbacks to Saturday Night Fever‘s rape scene and she was unhappy that the college freshmen looked to be in their mid-20’s.

Let’s see, Jake was our freshman protagonist, Beverly was the girl he likes and Beuter was his cowboy roommate… I guess Jay was the argumentative freshman pitcher with giant glasses… a week later, the rest of the guys are kinda a blur, so let’s watch it again.

Said to be spiritual sequels to Dazed and Confused and Boyhood, so let’s say it’s also a prequel to the Before series, creating a whole Linklater Cinematic Lifetime (much preferable to a Marvel Cinematic Universe).

It’s rare that an IMDB trivia article is truly interesting, but check this out:

The character Willoughby has a complete collection of the Twilight Zone television series on VHS. The Twilight Zone episode “A Stop at Willoughby” concerns a character who longs for a more idyllic past and takes drastic steps to recapture it. Similarly, in the film, it is revealed that Willoughby took drastic steps -falsifying his transcripts and lying about his age – so he could continue to play collegiate baseball and cling to an idyllic past.

M. Singer:

What initially appears like a mob of dumb jerks, reveals itself as a collection of lovably quirky and hilarious individuals of different backgrounds and beliefs … The team goes to a series of different clubs — disco one night, punk the next — which makes Everybody Wants Some both a lively survey of early ’80s pop culture and a microcosm of every college’s freshman’s search for identity.

D. Ehrlich: “Plotlessness is the new plot.”

We watched these on Mondays (“Before Mondays”) in January.

Before Sunrise (1995)

Celine and Jesse meet on a train, talk for a while, and he convinces her to disembark in Vienna and spend the day with him before his flight out. They ride the trains and buses, go record shopping, visit a cemetery, church and carnival (feat. The Third Man ferris wheel), talk to fortune teller, poet and theater guys, hang out in bars, cafes and plazas then end up in the park with a bottle of wine. Next morning at the train station, plans to meet again in six months. Standard, unadorned romance-movie setup. Nothing new here. But so, so perfect in the dialogue and details. Linklater won best director in Berlin.

Before Sunset (2004)

Carefully maintained real-time structure – only about one edit where I felt time might’ve elapsed, and then no more than a minute. It also shuts out all side characters once the main couple meets again at Jesse’s book event (right after readers succeed in getting him to admit that the girl he’s written about really exists). Conversation starts with reminiscing and explaining why they didn’t meet six months after last time, gradually turns more personal, revealing their dissatisfaction with current relationships, leading to one of my favorite-ever movie endings: Jesse, who parted with Celine last time to catch a plane, not making that mistake again.

Before Midnight (2013)

No more happy reunions – they’ve been together since the last movie and now have twin girls. Jesse is concerned about his son growing up with his mom a continent away and feels out Celine on the idea of moving there, which sparks a massive, movie-length argument that felt almost too real for Katy to handle. At least they’re in a new country, at the end of a writing retreat in Greece, but there’s little time for sightseeing. The first section of the movie has them in conversation with friends (including Athina Rachel Tsangari), a nice way of bouncing our main couple’s middle-aged ideas on love and romance off other couples of different ages.

Filmed gradually while its young stars (Mason: Ellar Coltrane, sister Samantha: Lorelei Linklater) grew up. That’s the hook, and it would make for a fascinating movie regardless, but Linklater has dug into his Before Trilogy bag of observational non-dramatic tricks and built something great. There are big plot points and dramatic moments, for instance when mom Patricia Arquette grabs the kids and flees her abusive, alcoholic husband, but it focuses just as much on smaller moments, and it’s true to its growing-up concept by not having every event have a consequence (e.g. Mason picks up a gun and nobody gets shot).

G. Klinger in Cinema Scope:

The film’s title is somewhat misleading: if Boyhood certainly chronicles Mason Jr.’s experience, it also allows us to see Mason Sr. and Olivia mature alongside their son. Olivia herself resides at the core of the film, heroic for her resilience and commitment to her kids, and tragic for her inability to make suitable decisions for her long-term happiness. Arquette is so sublimely perfect, so believable as a single mom struggling with poverty (even maintaining the same bad haircut for much of the film), that when her character finally breaks down toward the end, she achieves the kind of saintly purity that one associates with certain Bresson characters.

Feels a bit like The Informant!: a small-scope crime story with a nice fellow who becomes a criminal without losing our sympathy. Jack Black reigns it in, and even Shirley MacLaine, playing a crazy-mean old rich lady, doesn’t get to go gonzo, Linklater trying to keep anything from playing too Meet The Parents-broad. McConaughey arguably reigns it in too much, barely registering as himself. Katy didn’t love it, but dug the appearance of “76 Trombones”.

Shot by Mike Leigh’s buddy Dick Pope (also The Illusionist), all widescreen and colorful (except for a fun sepia-toned postcard backdrop standing in for 1937 New York). He and Linklater seem an overqualified group to shoot a minor teen coming-of-age thing with Zac Efron. I wouldn’t have minded if the movie had more of that Newton Boys energy, but I didn’t think it came to life until the final third, and even then I was more impressed by the recreations of Welles’s Julius Caesar production than anything Zac and Claire Danes were up to.

Zac, based on the character of Arthur Anderson (who went on to voice Lucky Charms commercials), stumbles into the ramshackle Mercury theater group on charm (heh), then is fired after the opening performance for trying to act noble instead of shutting up while the boss was trying to sleep with his girl. I hope this whole project was Richard Linklater’s attempt to make Welles’s family unleash The Other Side of the Wind and whatever other projects they’re preventing from being released. How do you fight back when your father is being portrayed on screen as a tyrannical sex-crazed egotist? Release his unseen works to remind the audience of his artistry! If it works, we each owe Linklater a fiver. Professional Welles impersonator Christian McKay does a good job, not going into hysterics like Angus Macfayden in Cradle Will Rock (the only detail in which this film improves on the great Cradle Will Rock).

Ben Chaplin (private Bell in The Thin Red Line) was my favorite as George Coulouris/Mark Anthony, though I didn’t recognize him and suspected him all along of being a young-looking Ciaran Hinds. Eddie Marsan, the foul driving instructor from Happy-Go-Lucky, was a flustered John Houseman. Zoe Kazan (Elia’s granddaughter, currently appearing in Meek’s Cutoff) is Zac’s savior from the theater crowd – he meets her shortly before getting involved with them, sees her again in the thick of it, then goes off to have a date with her after bittersweetly giving up on theater life. Decent enough movie, but if instead of joining Orson Welles’s Mercury Theater, Zac Efron was part of Kriminy Krafft’s Fiction House Theater or some other thing, I don’t think I would’ve bothered to continue after I paused halfway through to get some pie. Take away the Welles interest and there’s nothing here for me.

Fez from That 70’s Show and his girlfriend Maria Full of Grace sneak over the border with Luis Guzmán’s help, and they get jobs in the meat plant. Chrissy “Growing Pains” Seaver works at the McSomethingBurger after school where she has management potential and hopes of college. Oscar-nominated Greg Kinnear is a McSomething PR executive trying to clear up some rumors and student studies regarding shit in the meat.

Fez gets hurt on the job, Maria’s sister gets drugged up and has lots of sex with her supervisor, Maria gets away from the meat plant for a while but ends up back there working on the kill floor. Whole American dream thing doesn’t work out as planned.

Chrissy gets a visit from her inspirational rebel uncle Ethan Hawke, who turns her against the McSomethingBurger, leading her to quit her job and organize an attempted freedom raid on the local cow ranch.

Greg gets to interview two colorful, obstinate characters. Indie rancher Kris Kristofferson tells him that the meat plant is filthy and deceptive, and pally meat-packer/restaurant liason Bruce Willis basically tells him to fuck off and not go digging around anymore.

Avril Lavigne is in the movie, but I don’t know who she plays. Far as I can tell, she’s only in there in order to give people an easy way to ridicule the movie when I tell ’em I saw it… like Lindsay Lohan in A Prairie Home Companion. Ethan Hawke serves the same purpose, but I kinda like him.

Mostly an easygoing picture, feels pretty comfy to watch, except when illegal Mexican immigrants are getting their legs chewed off by the meat machines. The shit-in-the-meat stuff was of course no big deal since I’ve read the source book and stopped eating McSomething. Despite what any lefty film critics might shout, it seems a minor Linklater movie, way below the Scanner Darkly / Before Sunset level. An admirable picture, well done, would’ve been cool if it’d been a hit and exposed the ideas & research of the book to malls across America, but it died quickly and quietly instead.

Katy didn’t watch it but wanted to.

Yay, exactly lives up to expectations. Great adaptation of the book, great casting and animation and interpretation. Which means it gets fully depressing at the end, and makes me sad just to think about it. Sits inside the mind of a drug addict and tears his mind apart, turns it into not just a paranoid government conspiracy but a small-scale personal tragedy. Amazingly, unexpectedly, Linklater casts his jovial stoner hero from Dazed & Confused as the first addict whose mind falls apart… seems like a personal comment thrown into what is otherwise PK Dick’s vision (even including Dick’s list of dedications from the end of the book).

“We were all very happy for a while, sitting around not toiling but just bullshitting and playing, but it was for such a terrible brief time, and then the punishment was beyond belief.” “There is no moral to this novel; it is not bourgeois; it does not say they were wrong to play when they should have toiled; it just tells what the consequences were.” – PK Dick

More likeable than I’d expected. Don’t know why I thought it’d be a boring movie. Maybe just soured on the whole “western” thing after seeing The Wild Bunch and not liking it.

Anyway. Matthew “Willis” McConaughey is an alright thief with his explosives-expert partner, but could use a few more dependable men, so calls in his brothers Skeet “Joe” Ulrich, Ethan “Jess” Hawke, and eventually Vincent “Dock” D’Onofrio. They rob a whole ton of banks successfully, and finally pull off the biggest railroad heist in history, getting away with some millions of dollars and five bullets in Dock, who I couldn’t believe survived it. Eventually all get caught after the railroad job and get off with light sentences and live to a ripe old age.

Newton Boys

Completely fun, convincing movie that just gets better as it goes on. Great court scene, great ending and credits, lovely antiheroes, everything that Ocean’s Twelve wanted to be – a crime movie where the criminals are having such a good time that the audience gets caught up in in too. Don’t know why it’s got such a bad rap on the IMDB (5.7). I’d see it again.

Newton Boys