Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz, not Michael Fassbender – I think of each as “the guy from Inglorious Basterds,” so get them confused) is a socially inept worker bee who doesn’t hate his video-game-reminiscent job, just hates having to come into work, so he gets permission to work from home on a special project from management (Matt Damon): proving “the zero theorem”. He’s aided/annoyed by Waltz’s direct supervisor David Thewlis, party-girl-for-hire Melanie Thierry (The Princess of Montpensier) and whiz-kid Bob (Lucas Hedges), who calls everyone else Bob so he doesn’t have to remember names. As Leth’s video therapist: Tilda Swinton – between this, Trainwreck, Snowpiercer and Moonrise Kingdom, she has really gotten into comedy lately.

Kinda about a search for the meaning of life (or a disproof of its meaning), with sort of a Dark City ending. Shot on the cheap in Romania.

Thierry at Leth’s glorious, delapidated-church home:

Sadly (so sadly) Mike D’Angelo might have put it best: “Like a relic from an alternate universe in which Brazil was made by an idiot.” Written by a creative writing teacher from Florida, it’s got its moments, but the story and characters and entire movie seem to add up to nothing (maybe the film proves its own theorem).

Leth and Bob at the park:

Berenice (1954, Eric Rohmer)

An Edgar Allen Poe story about a talky, sickly shut-in who stares at everyday objects all day is an odd choice for your first film. The guy (Rohmer himself!) lives with an epileptic cousin, becomes monomaniacally obsessed with her teeth, and eventually they get engaged since neither can deal with the outside world. But she dies one night, and he takes this very melodramatically, then awakens from a fugue days later having dug up the grave and stolen the teeth. It’s all narration and sound effects, shot by Jacques Rivette, still a couple years before his debut short.

Khan Khanne (2014, Jean-Luc Godard)

“This is not a film anymore, although it is my best.” What Godard sent to this year’s Cannes instead of appearing in person. Godard is his usual latter-day self, acting the scatterbrained professor, possibly quoting Hannah Arendt and/or referencing Chris Marker, cutting in excerpts from Alphaville and King Lear, using camera shots and sound editing that make it seem like he doesn’t know what he’s doing, ultimately making little sense to me, but with a weirdo bravado.

Adieu a TNS (1998, Jean-Luc Godard)

Swaying, smoking, Godard recites a singsongy poem over gentle accordion in three parts, the framing tighter each time. I’ve read that this was “a bitter and mournful farewell to the National Theater of Strasbourg.”

The Accordion (2010, Jafar Panahi)

Two brothers play music for spare change, not realizing they’re outside a mosque. A guy threatens to report them to the police, takes their accordion and runs. But it turns out he’s just a poor bastard hoping to earn money with the instrument, so the kids join him instead of killing him with a rock, which had been the other option.

The Nest (2014, David Cronenberg)

Single-take nine-minute shot from first-person perspective of surgeon (Cronenberg) interviewing patient (Evelyne Brochu, Tom’s ally/coworker in Tom at the Farm) who claims she has a wasps nest inside her left breast. Doubles as a commissioned short for some exhibition and a trailer for his first novel, Consumed, out this fall.

Gradiva (2014, Leos Carax)

Another gallery commission featuring a naked girl. This time the girl has gone to buy cigarettes, returns and has a short conversation with Rodin’s The Thinker.

The Legend of Hallowdega (2010, Terry Gilliam)

Unfunny fake investigation into haunted goings-on at the Talladega racetrack from a Daily Show writer. Just terrible. I won’t give away the twist comedic ending because I’m too embarrassed. Ends with a nice Wolf Parade song, at least.

On demande une brute (1934, Charles Barrois)

Early Jacques Tati, who wrote and starred as a hapless actor who accidentally signs up to be a wrestler. Despite all the time spent on audition scenes and the wrestling match, the only good bit is when he tries to keep his shrew wife from absentmindedly eating a pet fish at the dinner table.

Gravesend (2007, Steve McQueen)

Beautiful shots that seem to go on longer than they should, check, yep it’s the guy who made Hunger. One of those art installation pieces that is very cool to read about and less fun to watch. I wanted to like it, and almost did…

From the official description:

Gravesend uses a documentary approach to focus on the mining of coltan, employed in the manufacture of cell phones, laptops and other high-tech apparatus. The film cuts between two sites: a technological, highly automated industrial plant in the West where the precious metal is processed for the final production of microelectronic parts, and the central Congo, where miners use simple shovels or their bare hands to extract, wash and collect the ore on leaves. .. coltan, traded at an extremely high price, represents one of the key financial factors in the armed conflict of the militia in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where decades of civil war have cost several million human lives.

Away From It All (1979, John Cleese & Clare Taylor)

Fake travelogue disguised to look and sound like a real one (unless you recognize John Cleese’s voice), very gradually straying from the company line, slipping in notes of humor and aggression. Stock footage takes us from Rome to Venice to Ireland to Bulgaria to Vienna to New York, back to Venice to Acapulco, to a rapid montage of vacation spots as the narrator begins ranting about existential terror. Accompanied Life of Brian in British theaters.

Great to see this again, although maybe I should’ve sprung for the high-def version to see if it looks much better than my old letterboxed DVD. Katy agreed that the movie seems long, and opted not to teach it in her dystopian fiction course.

I’ve seen people call Brazil the centerpiece of Gilliam’s dream trilogy – Time Bandits being the dreams of youth, Brazil of adulthood, and Baron Munchhausen an old man telling dream-stories to children. It’s a lovely thought, but then what is the rest of Gilliam’s career full of dreams and visions?

Don’t think I knew who Jim Broadbent was the last time I watched this. He plays Sam’s mom’s plastic surgeon: “Snip snip, slice slice, can you believe it?” Jack Purvis of Time Bandits is rival doctor “the acid man”. Sam’s mom’s friend getting acid treatments (“my complication had a little complication”) is Barbara Hicks of Britannia Hospital, and her daughter is Kathryn Pogson, recently of The Arbor. Mrs. Buttle (I’d forgotten how good she is) was Sheila Reid (Felicia’s Journey, Lady Rawlinson in Sir Henry at Rawlinson End). I haven’t recognized Kim Griest in anything else but I see she was in Manhunter and CHUD. Mr. Helpmann (‘ere I am, JH) was in some Ken Russell films and Mountains of the Moon. Sam’s useless first boss was Ian Holm and his decisive, always-walking boss in Information Retrieval was Ian Richardson (later Mr. Book in Dark City).

The Wholly Family (2011, Terry Gilliam)

A rich tourist couple in Naples argue amongst themselves while their son swipes a masked statuette from a street vendor. That night after the boy is sent to bed without dinner, it comes to life and an army of masked Italians taunt him with food he’s never quite able to eat (plus the heads of his parents). The family has a happy reunion in the morning, but they’ve become figures at the street vendor’s stand.

Very good little movie, with masks out of Dr. Parnassus, doll-parts out of Tideland and who knows what else.

The Discipline of D.E. (1978, Gus Van Sant)

This has been one of my favorite short stories for years (it’s by William Burroughs from Exterminator) and despite the movie’s ranking on J. Rosenbaum’s list of favorite films, I figured a satisfactory adaptation would be near-impossible. It’s fun, but really just reading the story aloud and illustrating on film.

Carrots & Peas (1969, Hollis Frampton)

A taster of the new Criterion set – I also rewatched parts of Zorns Lemma (thanks for adding chapter stops) and played the great commentary track on Lemon. Stop-motion carrots, cross-fade, stop-motion peas. Color filters, reversals and other craziness. Then around the one-minute mark it becomes a still life, barely changing for the next four. Meanwhile a lecture plays in reverse on the soundtrack. Some fiddling in quicktime reveals that it’s a fitness lesson of some sort.

The Town (1944, Josef von Sternberg)

An advertisement for small-town USA, filmed in Madison, Indiana. Boring, flavorless little industrial film – no reason at all to ever watch this, besides to see the depths to which the once-glorious Sternberg had fallen.

Turen til squashland (1967, Lars von Trier)

Holy cow, an animated romp with happy bunnies. One is kidnapped, so the hot dog man and other two bunnies ride a friendly whale to the kidnappers’ castle, where the missing bunny rides down its water spew.

Revolution (1967, Peter Greenaway)

A grim-looking leftist march of young men, not seemingly shot in any organized way, but edited to the Beatles’ Revolution, which is kind of funny since it’s got a lyric about “carrying pictures of Chairman Mao,” and some marchers carry anti-capitalist posters.

Haven’t seen this in a long time. Love the Vertigo and La Jetee references, and the Vertigo-via-La Jetee references. Katy was pleasantly surprised that Brad Pitt used to have energy. With such a perfect script, I’m surprised the writers haven’t done anything except a Kurt Russell actioner since.

Where Are They Now: Madeline Stowe hasn’t been in movies since 2003, is starring in a new show Katy watches. Chris Plummer (Brad’s dad the famous biologist) came back to play Dr. Parnassus. His plague-unleashing assistant David Morse was in Drive Angry 3D last year. Jon Seda (Bruce’s ever-present fellow prisoner from the future who hands him a civil war pistol in the airport) is in Treme. And Bruce Willis has an upcoming movie called Looper, in which he travels from the future and his past-self sees him (almost) die.

Gilliam:

I loved the idea of trying to make people consider the thought that to save the world five billion people might die. . . . But now you know that the world demands that things change. The word “culling” comes to mind. There’s going to be a culling of human beings soon. I don’t know what it will be. David’s thing was that a plague will do it. War? Famine? These things, the old favourites, are always there. Basically, I think there are too many people. And it’s not just that there are too many people; there are too many people who all want all these things that we have. That’s the problem. It’s Malthusian: there’s population and resources and, when they hit imbalance, look out boys and girls!

I’d long put off watching this because of reports that it wasn’t any good. But of course it is good . . . it’s just maybe not GREAT. The lead girl (Jodelle Ferland, currently playing the one-armed undead girl in Cabin in the Woods), a playful innocent surrounded by grotesque adults, is captivating and manages to carry the movie. But despite all the darkness and death, the movie manages to feel slight. Maybe you need to see it in theaters – I would’ve liked to, but never got the chance.

Jeliza-Rose (great name) lives in an apartment with her junkie parents. When mom Jennifer Tilly overdoses, dreamer dad Jeff Bridges (the same year he was in some Full Monty-meets-Zach and Miri-sounding movie called The Amateurs), always going on about Jutland (part of Denmark?), takes her to the family’s abandoned, unsafe house in the country.

Tilly, following her second Child’s Play sequel:

J-R and her late father:

Soon he’s dead as well, stinking up the place, but J-R never loses heart, has fun narrating events to her troupe of doll-heads. She befriends an idiot boy named Dickins, and runs into his (mother? sister?) Dell, an amateur taxidermist who stuffs Jeff Bridges. The lunacy increases until Dickins finally manages to blow up the “monster shark” (passing train) and J-R wanders onto the crash site, mistaken for a surviving passenger and presumably taken off to a more normal life.

A nice family dinner. In background: mummy-dad Jeff Bridges

It snowed in Atlanta so everything shut down for an entire week. As is now traditional, I celebrated by watching a pile of shorts I’d long been planning to see (some as part of the Auteur Completist Initiative).

The Dreamers (1982, Orson Welles)
Welles as an old man narrates the story of opera singer Pellegrina Leone (Oja Kodar), who lost her singing voice in a fire. It’s all Welles and Kodar doing monologues. Maybe all of Welles’ films come down to monologues. Constructed from fragments, with black screens where footage was missing, narration recorded with the sound of rustling script pages. Ooh look, a Don Quixote reference. Not the most exciting of the many late-career Welles fragment films… personally I’d like to see more of The Deep.

Orson in his magician hat:

Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969, Kenneth Anger)
Good camerawork, but ridiculous movie. I think with his images Anger is trying to say that the military is a death-obsessed homosexual cult. I think with his audio Mick Jagger is trying to declare the death of interesting music. I think with his performance, Anton LaVey is trying to expose himself as a silly clown.

That is a nazi flag, but what is he burning?

Le Lion Volatil (2003, Agnes Varda)
Julie Depardieu (Guillaume’s younger sister) works for a psychic, while an aspiring magician named Lazarus Combes (Anton LaVey would be pleased) works at a tourist-trap dungeon around the corner. Every day on their lunch breaks they meet in front of the Lion of Belfort memorial – the same one featured in Rivette’s Pont du Nord and Paris s’en va. Their brief almost-romance doesn’t pan out, but more interestingly, Julie starts hallucinating variations on the lion – first it has a giant bone in its mouth (as supposedly suggested by Andre Breton), then it vanishes and is replaced by a giant housecat. Special effects + Vardaian whimsy = happiness.

Les Dites Cariatides (1984, Agnes Varda)
A tour of caryatids – human statues used as building columns or ornamental facades – throughout Paris, with poems by Baudelaire. “The Peloponesian city of Karyate aided Persia in a war against other Greeks, but Persia lost. The Greeks took revenge on Karyatian collaborators, slaying all the men and enslaving the women. They were paraded as spoils of war. The noble women were triumphantly shown in their lovely gowns and finery. To illustrate their punishment, architects used these statues on public buildings instead of columns.”

The Calligrapher (1991, Bros. Quay)
Three short (15-sec?) segments rejected as BBC2 ident bumps. My favorite kind of Quay film – awesome stop-motion with no human actors, repetition or long-winded confusing mythological story.

Storytime (1968, Terry Gilliam)
This came out while the show Do Not Adjust Your Set (a precursor to Flying Circus) was in production. Opens as a poorly-animated (in Gilliam’s magazine-cutout style) story of a cockroach named Don, who is then stomped on by a man called Jeremy Trousercrease… and so on, each minute-long concept leading into another. Even features a “we apologize for the previous cartoon – the animator responsible has been sacked” disclaimer, which would be reused in Monty Python. Not exactly a lost masterpiece, but a fun little series of cartoon gags.

Pandoora (2002, Takashi Miike)
Just a cheesy samurai music video – does not count as a Miike movie. It ends with our hero about to face off against a giant mantis. What, were they expecting a sequel?

Male (1962, Osamu Tezuka)
Lots of play with frame sizes and positions as a male cat narrates, talking to the man of the house, about how sex should be simple and private and should not end in stabbing your partner to death.

The London Story (1986, Sally Potter)
A woman conspires with a door opener and a retired photocopy machine operator, takes a government minister out to the theater and while he sleeps, replaces his speech about the future of Britain with a new one, causing panic in the media the next day as the conspirators enjoy a choreographed dance on a bridge. Delightful.

Reasons To Be Glad (1980, Jeff Scher)
More of Scher’s fanciful drawing and incredible editing based on rotoscoped (?) images and set to a Dinah Shore song.

The Bum Bandit (1931, Dave Fleischer)
Oh my. A Popeye-muttering train robber gets out-toughed by a passenger in the form of Proto-Betty Boop (still with the dog ears), the robber’s abandoned wife, who steals the locomotive and the bandit, closes the shades and makes with the sweet pre-code lovin’.

Betty and the Bum:

Negro passenger with stolen chickens:

Russian Rhapsody (1944, Robert Clampett)
Watched this recently on the big screen but it never gets old. Hitler’s plane is taken out by gremlins from the kremlin. Why don’t we have wartime cartoons anymore? I want to see the Penguins of Madagascar take on Osama Bin Laden.

Vinyl (1965, Andy Warhol)
In the 60’s it was revolutionary to make slow, cheap movies with bad gay actors, but not anymore. There are probably three filming as I type this. This isn’t technically a short film, but I gave up after thirty minutes, having dozed for the previous ten. A dude recites Burgess and dances to pop music – and it’s all one shot. Wikipedia says it was filmed unrehearsed, which I don’t doubt, and says it’s one of the “1000 films to see before you die,” which I do.

This shouldn’t have worked… a typically overstuffed Gilliam fantasy, riddled with CGI, with a lead actor who died in the middle of filming. But if there’s anything Gilliam seems to be great at, it’s dealing creatively with catastrophe, so this came out miles better than the relatively smooth Brothers Grimm (oops, nevermind, research indicates that Grimm was ruined by fights with studios).

No surprise that the cowriter of Baron Munchausen and Brazil is along for the ride, since this is crammed with dreams and costumes, little stories and bizarre images. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer, having a good year with this, Up and The Last Station) is immortal thanks to a deal with devil Tom Waits (his own sinister self plus a little mustache), who will claim Doctor P’s daughter Lily Cole (Rage) when she turns sixteen in a few days. Dr. P and his gang of circus misfits (including a shockingly good Verne Troyer and young Andrew Garfield, star of Boy A and the Red Riding trilogy) kidnap citizens within a magic dream-mirror, and try to make them pursue their ideal selves instead of succumbing to the devil’s lazy temptations. A bet is made, and they race to save enough souls to win back P’s daughter.

Enter Tony (Heath Ledger) as a charismatic con-artist who attracts Tom’s interest as he begins helping the carnies win the bet, modernizing their look and sucking people into the show. He’s a mysterious dude, which makes his shapeshifting into three other immensely likeable actors inside the dreamworld work, both narratively and visually. I didn’t even notice for a while when Johnny Depp replaced him. Way to save the movie there, Terry and gang. The movie tells us and tells us that Tony is a bad guy, a liar who steals from children, but it still came as a shock when he’s killed at the end. Charisma counts for a lot.

With all the negative-nellying I’ve heard about Parnassus, I’m glad to see it’s got a high IMDB rating and a couple oscar nominations. I was especially suspicious of the computer graphics, but they are bright and cartoonish, fake without trying to seem real, and work great in context, shaming Tim Burton’s Willy Wonka flick and Terry’s own Brothers Grimm. I’d already like to see it again… maybe rent the DVD and listen to Gilliam’s commentary when it comes out.