Auteur Shorts watched mid-2011

Plastic Bag (2009, Ramin Bahrani)

An American Beauty plastic bag, dancing with me for twenty minutes. Only this bag’s journey is very well filmed and the bag has the voice of Werner Herzog – two innovations that would have greatly helped the last plastic bag movie I saw, The Green Bag. A blatant environmentalism screed, but I really enjoyed it. I thought it’d have the same ending as Children of Men, but it had the same ending as AI: Artificial Intelligence instead.

The Dirk Diggler Story (1988, PT Anderson)

An actual fake doc, but not a polished one. I thought it was rigged to look amateurish until I read online that it was actually edited on two VCRs by young Anderson. Narrated by PT’s father Ernie Anderson, a big-time TV announcer. It’s nice that he was willing to participate in his 18-year-old son’s movie about pornography, homosexuality and drug addiction. The most fun part of the movie is hearing this straightlaced announcer pronounce titles like “White Sandy Bitches” and “Bone To Be Wild”.

Dirk is explicitly bisexual in this one, but otherwise it hits some familiar plot points from Boogie Nights: Dirk’s drug addiction, his ill-advised recording career, his buddy Reed. There’s less nudity in the short, and it ends with an on-set fatal overdose for Dirk. My favorite bit that didn’t make the feature was a group prayer for God to protect us against premature ejaculation.

Horner (Burt’s character) is played by The Colonel in Boogie Nights, the only actor who returned. Well, Michael “Diggler” Stein had a cameo as “stereo customer”. He turned writer/director after that – his last film starred Andy Dick and Coolio.

Las Hurdes/Land Without Bread (1933, Luis Buñuel)

A half-hour documentary that has been discussed to death – how much of it is real? Can it be considered surrealist? Etc. Taken at face value as a portrait of an extremely poor mountain community, it’s well made, interesting, and too vibrant (and even humorous) to blend in with your average educational short. I still can’t believe they had a donkey killed by bees, and shot a mountain goat then hurled its body off a cliff, all to make points about the difficulty of life in this place. At least they didn’t kill any people on camera, although the narrator may have exaggerated (or undersold, who knows?) their conditions. Was released in ’33, had a French voiceover added in ’35 then a newsreel-toned English voiceover in ’37 – I saw the French version. I assume the bombastic music was on all three versions.

Senses of Cinema calls it “a documentary that posits the impossibility of the documentary, placing the viewer in the uneasy situation of complicity with a cruel camera probing the miseries of the urdanos for our benefit.”

The Old Lady and the Pigeons (1998, Sylvain Chomet)

This 20-minute movie gives me inexpressible joy. It’s a good antidote to the world-weary realism of The Illusionist, back way past the anything-goes surrealism of Triplets of Belleville into a pure comic cartoon world. A starving policeman dresses as a pigeon, barges into a bird-feeding old woman’s house and demands a meal, then does the same all year until she tries to eat him for Christmas dinner. Full of delightful little details (and at least one sad bird death).

The Italian Machine (1976, David Cronenberg)

“Let’s figure it out, Gestapo-style.”
A series of betrayals leading to an obsessed mechanic gaining ownership over a unique motorcycle. Made for TV, so people call each other “meathead” and “turkey”.

Beardy Lionel (Gary McKeehan of The Brood) hears that a collector’s-item motorcycle is in the hands of a collector. This will not stand, so he grabs his buddies (Frank Moore, second-billed in Rabid, and Hardee Lineham who had a cameo in The Dead Zone) and heads over posing as reporters to figure out how to free the bike from the boring rich guy (played by Guy Maddin’s buddy Louis Negin). Lionel sucks at pretending, though, so they’d be screwed if not for Ricardo, a dull cokehead hanger-on at Negin’s house who helps them out. Cronie’s fascination with automotive machinery peaked early with this and Fast Company, then came back with a brief vengeance with Crash.

Our beardy hero first meets Louis Negin:

Bottle Rocket (1992, Wes Anderson)

Cute sketch, with the Wilson brothers and Bob from the Bottle Rocket feature, plus the gun demo scene shot exactly the same way (just in black and white). They’re budding criminals, robbing Luke’s house then a book/video store, taking one guy’s wallet. No Inez, Futureman, Kumar or James Caan.

Something Happened (1987, Roy Andersson)

An AIDS lesson with didactic narration, illustrated with Andersson’s expertly composed setups of depressed-looking white people. One particular pale balding guy is seen a few times. It ends up less depressing than World of Glory, at least. Commissioned as an educational short but cancelled for being too dark

Within The Woods (1978, Sam Raimi)

Ah, the ol’ Indian burial ground. “Don’t worry about it,” says Bruce Campbell, “You’re only cursed by the evil spirits if you violate the graves of the dead. We’re just gonna be eating hot dogs.” Then he immediately violates a grave of the dead. Nice test run for The Evil Dead, with many elements already in place, like the the famous monster’s-pov long running shot, girls being attacked by trees, evil lurking in the cellar, knifing your friend as he walks in the door because you thought he was a demon, and of course, “JOIN US”. Hard to make out the finer points of the film since this was the grossest, fuzziest, lowest-ass-quality bootleg video I’ve ever seen.

Clockwork (1978, Sam Raimi)

Woman at home is stalked by jittery creeper (Scott Spiegel, director of From Dusk Till Dawn 2). He sticks his hands through her crepe-paper bedroom door, stabs her to death, but she stabs him back, also to death. It’s not much in the way of a story, but Raimi already has a good grip on the editing and camera skills for making decent horror. How did 19-year-old Raimi get his lead actress to take her clothes off in his 8mm movie?

Sonata For Hitler (1979, Aleksandr Sokurov)

Music video of stock footage from pre-WWII Germany stuck inside a ragged-edged frame surrounded by numbers and sprocket holes. Halfway through, the music mostly fades away, replaced with foreboding sound effects.

Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers (2001, Simonsson & Nilsson)

Drummers break into an apartment, play catchy beats in the kitchen and bathroom, with a slow bedroom number in between, then a destructive romp through the living room. But just as they finish, the inhabitants return. Clever and fun, and just the thing that probably should not have been extended into a two-hour feature.

Drag Me To Hell (2009, Sam Raimi)

These days when I hear “Sam Raimi’s got a new movie” I’m not all that excited. When I hear he’s got a new horror movie it sounds slightly desperate so I’ll wait for reviews. When the reviews are all positive I run out to see it. But I am hereby calling bullshit on those reviews, because this isn’t a great movie, or a creative revitalization – it’s a generic horror flick. Alison Lohman (the lead reporter who I don’t remember liking much in Where The Truth Lies, also in Big Fish) gets gypsy curse, spends the whole film understanding then trying to rid herself of said curse, puts boyfriend (Justin “Mac Guy” Long) and spirit guide in danger (not to mention getting herself in all sorts of embarrassing situations), and so on. It’s funny/horrifying that she does get dragged to hell in the final minute, her screaming face melting off as demon claws pull her beneath the molten rocks, but the 99 minutes before that weren’t worth the payoff. What’s worse is the visual style… I don’t mind missing those Evil Dead low-budget hallmarks like the anamorphic lens spin, the stop-motion and camera-speed effects and the slow 360-degree “where’d the danger go?” pan, and I don’t miss Bruce Campbell (not after My Name Is Bruce), but these things are replaced by a movie consisting of close-ups 85% of the time, as if shot by a damned TV director or an indie neo-realist. I mean, the movie had its effective shocks and a sad/hilarious old gypsy woman and David Paymer, so I don’t regret watching it, but I do regret that it wasn’t a whole lot better.

Maniac Cop (1988, William Lustig)

I was hoping for another inventive cult-classic a la Brain Damage or writer Larry Cohen’s The Stuff, but I got your standard, straightforward, low-budget horror-thriller with no invention or visual flair whatsoever.

There’s even nothing special about the performances, which is a real crime considering it stars Bruce Campbell (between Evil Deads 2 and 3), Tom Atkins (the cop in Night of the Creeps!), Richard Roundtree (Shaft!) and, um, Laurene Landon (It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive). Robert (“oh, z’no!”) Z’Dar is the titular cop and Sheree North (starred in Frank Tashlin’s The Lieutenant Wore Skirts 30 years earlier) is his crazy caretaker.

A maniac cop is terrorizing the city! Cop Bruce Campbell is cheating on his wife with a fellow cop, but surprisingly this is okay with the movie and Bruce’s wife is killed instead, the killer (actually his smarter mother-figure who works at police headquarters and tells him what to do) attempting to pin the murders on Bruce. There’s a making-of-the-monster backstory, lots more people are killed, then Bruce busts out of jail and chases the maniac cop, who accidentally kills himself… but is he really dead??? Spoiler alert: no.

Bruce Campbell didn’t do it, nobody saw him do it, you can’t prove anything
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Tom Atkins’ gun is a tiny film projector
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Sam Raimi, reporter
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The only novelty death: man’s face shoved in wet concrete
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This was huge-faced Z’Dar’s big break, landing him the highly desirable role of Joe Estevez’s sidekick in Soultaker two years later
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Spider-man 3 (2007, Sam Raimi)

Felt kinda empty and unexciting. Too bad. Bruce Campbell has a longer, funnier scene than usual, but otherwise it’s a big ol’ studio comic picture. The Sam Raimi that brought us Evil Dead is gone. Oh well, enjoy the aerial acrobatics and the sandman effects and wait in line for the next one.

Tobey is still our man, Kirsten is still better to look at than to watch, and Franco is still a rich and vengeful third wheel (feat. a welcome Daddy Dafoe cameo). But we need more baddies with half-assed excuses to dislike spiderman, so we’ve got Parker responsible for photographer Topher Grace losing his job, and we’ve got Thomas Haden Church who apparently killed spidey’s uncle and I think Topher convinces Haden that Tobey did something I dunno it doesn’t matter.

Coincidentally, Tobey turns the dude he fired into Venom, and the dude who killed his uncle turns into Sandman. but first, Tobey experiments with the Venom suit and goes all Chris Gaines in some horrible dance/club sequence. Sandy blows away unharmed, Venom “dies” strangely, and Franco dies by rocket sled, same as his dear daddy.

Also Theresa Russell was Haden’s wife but I didn’t notice at the time, and Bryce Dallas was Topher’s girl.

Anyway, there was some effects and stuff, and I dig Topher’s style. Movie was just good enough to keep seeing the sequels. This ranks somewhere between the grim and badly paced Batman Begins and the surprisingly decent X-Men 3.