The Tick season 2? 1B? (2018)

The Tick has amnesia in this series, but sometimes has vague memories of past adventures, with offhand references to Lady Justice and “spoon” (also a random “science ain’t an exact science” quote from 12 Monkeys). Playing larger roles in this season: Superian (Brendan Hines of MacGyver Remake), The Terror (Jackie Earle Haley), and Dangerboat (voice of Alan Tudyk). I basically love the look of this show, and the actors are good, and I laugh every time they say “big bismuth” (so about 1000 times), and apparently ten more episodes came out back in April.


Veep season 5 (2016)

Whew, this didn’t lose any steam after Armando Iannucci left. Selena torments her VP-elect Hugh Laurie during her doomed campaign to remain president after an electoral college tie. Jonah runs for a house seat against his former 2nd grade teacher, and for a while Jonah becomes assistant to his ex-assistant Richard (Sam Richardson of Detroiters)… Catherine makes a War Room-style documentary… Selena’s secret service agent (Clea DuVall of Carnivàle) quits because she and Catherine are in love… Selena is sleeping with John Slattery… Dan is sleeping with Amy’s sister Mary Garrison (Begin Again)… Mike and his wife want kids, interview Portia from Search Party as a surrogate. Selena and Hugh Laurie and the lot of them are out in the final episode, and Laura Montez frees Tibet on her first day as president, which having just been to the Carter Center, seems like a reference to the Carter/Reagan Iran hostage crisis.


Portlandia season 2 (2012)

Still funny… now with Jeff Goldblum, Kristen Wiig, Tim Robbins, Kumail Nanjiani, Edward James Olmos, Jack McBrayer, Penny Marshall, Eddie Vedder, St. Vincent, Joanna Newsom.


Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories season 1 (2014)

I guess I’m 15-ish years late, but… these guys are good. Absurd comedy Twilight Zone-ish anthology series. Eric’s new neighbor is extremely intimidating. Bob Odenkirk plays a toe-removal doctor pursued by detective M. Emmet Walsh. T&E and Zach Galifianakis live and work in a bathroom. Eric is obsessed by an androgynous high-school musician. Jason Schwartzman does a product placement gig while unconscious. “I’m a legitimate cool guy indie actor – I don’t do commercials.” John C. Reilly gets all his stuff taken away by a 1-800 scam. Eric is cured of his diaper addiction but has to become a sauce boy for the mob – that one ends with a Bonnie Prince Billy song! Finally, Zach Gilford wants to date his coworker but That 70’s Dad is a priest from his hometown who has conspired to have Zach’s testicles removed.

One more Criterion musical watched after last month‘s spree, and this one has the most interesting story. Envisioned as an On The Town sequel with Gene Kelly, but Sinatra and Munshin got replaced by Michael Kidd (choreographer of Seven Brides) as a short burger chef and Dan Dailey (Ethel Merman’s partner in There’s No Business) as a tall corporate sadsack. The three play war buddies who promise to reunite after ten years, and they come through but don’t like each other/themselves much anymore. Through Dan’s advertising job their story catches the attention of Cyd Charisse (her boxing-ring song is the best scene), who tricks them into appearing on live TV with overbearing host Dolores Gray (Kismet the same year). The show coincides with boxing promoter Gene Kelly’s ambush by some gangsters angry that he has messed up their fixed fights, the cameras catch the ensuing brawl and confession, and the guys realize that they still like each other/themselves as long as violence is involved. A drunken dance with trashcan-lid shoes goes on for hours, and Kelly shows up Melvin with a roller skate dance where you can tell the skates aren’t locked.

See, when I stay consistently five weeks behind on the blog, I lose all the details, and can only say that we watched the doc where the Chinese company reopens a closed American factory, and their different cultures and approaches to work and management and safety cause many funny and poignant moments, which is the same thing I would’ve said from the trailer or plot description. But truly, we watched this, and it was good. We were surprised that the Fuyao CEO allowed the film crew access to his visits and conversations, and to visit the Chinese factory. Reichert has been making docs for fifty years, Bognar for thirty, and now they’re oscar-nominated for filming the reopening of the same factory they were oscar-nominated for filming shutting down in late 2008.

The award-candidate docs returned to the Landmark, and we caught up with this and Honeyland, and watched American Factory at home – and all three got oscar nominations a week later. I was in a terrible mood after watching the reporter/activist filmmaker and her doctor husband try to raise a baby and run a hospital in an Aleppo warzone while losing all their friends and neighbors to bombings, and so didn’t properly appreciate the playful carnage of John Wick 3 when watching it some hours later.

John Wick Chapter 2 (2017)

A cigar-chomping, weirdly Jon Benjamin-looking drug lord awaits the return of Wick, who steals back his car and immediately totals it. Then Wick calls John Leguizamo to fix the car, and buries his guns under concrete – gonna be a peaceful movie!

“No one gets out and comes back without repercussions.” Oops, Wick is retired and refuses to honor some old blood oath with a dude named Santino (Italian Riccardo Scamarcio of Loro and Go Go Tales), so baddies blow up his house – but the dog survives this time! Back to the hotel, Cedric Daniels shows him to Ian McShane.

Off to Rome, which also has a Hotel Continental – the movie is expanding its mythology to Avengers-level proportions. Also, Wick is “the ghost, the boogeyman,” but wherever he goes everyone knows him by name. Sent to kill mafia boss Gianna (Claudia Gerini of an upcoming Diabolik remake), he gets new guns from Peter Serafinowicz and bulletproof suits, meets Franco Nero, then goes to a rock show (like a more chill Sleigh Bells) and follows Gianna to the hot tub, where she helps him execute her. This doesn’t go over well with her bodyguard Common, and after an exhausting fight where Wick videogames dozens of dudes, they end up back at the hotel.

Open contract on Wick, underground homeless anti-assassin league, a couple of boss fights with handheld weapons. I dug the silencer shootout, but the Lady From Shanghai hall of mirrors ending is really something special. Big news, Keanu getting (expensive) assistance from his Matrix costar Larry Fishburne. Finally, the movie’s mythology is strong, since the only time I felt shocked was when Wick shot the baddie on sacred Continental ground.


John Wick Chapter 3 (2019)

“We’re the same, you know.”

Wow, I’d just finished watching Chaplin shorts, and this opens with a Buster Keaton scene projected on the side of a building, which I suppose connects the ensuing motorcycle chase/crash to the slapstick tradition. Picks up exactly where the last one left off, a wounded Wick given an hour headstart before every assassin in the world comes after him. Ian and Larry and Cedric are gonna be fired for collaboration, but if Wick can complete a task for the Nomad King, his excommunication will be reversed… along the way we meet Derek, Halle Berry, Anjelica Huston, boss of bosses Asia Dillon (Billions), and one of the stars of Double Dragon.

I dunno, I was in a bad mood. It seemed like part 2 opened the Wickiverse further, then part 3 closed it abruptly, becoming a parody of itself (I also wrote “movie promotes fascism”). It’s more videogamey than ever – of course Wick teams with Ian and Cedric for a climactic shootout against faceless bureaucrat invaders, but the writers seem like they’re either making this out of contractual obligation or they’ve developed a bad drug problem since the last one. The lighting is the main thing it’s got going for it – super cool lighting.

I felt bad for skipping Bava this Shocktober – it’s been a near-annual tradition to watch one of his overrated movies – so I watched this in December to cool down after A Hidden Life. Extremely cool opening titles, at least – bold colors in low light, each actor posing for their credit with mannequins and flowers and birdcages. Maybe I should quit while I’m ahead…

We open with Drug Fiend Franco (Dante DiPaolo, a townsman in Seven Brides) bothering model Nicole outside a fashion house. “Have you tried asking Isabella,” she suggests, and in the next scene Isabella is battered and murdered by a faceless rorschach dude.

Isabella’s final stroll:

Fun scene where Nicole finds her late friend’s diary, tells everyone, then each person in the room wordlessly conveys “I am gonna steal that fuckin diary.” You see, they are all druggies and criminals with guilty consciences, which makes them all potential killers or victims – very Knives Out. Nicole goes to Franco’s house, which is infested with fancy furniture and vases, where the killer flicks the lights off and on, and somehow sneaks up on her wearing a suit of armor. I lose track of which beautiful woman is which for a while, as they’re all murdered by Rorschach… spiked glove to the face, hot furnace to the face, pillow to the face, you name it.

L-R: someone (Cristiana?), designer Cesare (Luciano Pigozzi of Exterminators of the Year 3000), Franco, Nicole

The police arrest all the men, but the killings continue, so the investigator gives up, and multiple-murderers Cristiana (Hungarian Eva Bartok in her final European role before retirement) and boyfriend Cameron Mitchell (four years before Ride in the Whirlwind) celebrate getting away with it… after one more murder, which they pull off, but then turn on each other.

Recovering the diary that doomed Mary Arden tried to destroy:

Mad killer Cristiana:

One could call this the finale in Mario Bava’s Black Trilogy after Black Sunday in 1960 and Black Sabbath in 1963, except that these are fake titles invented by U.S. distributors, and also Bava made six other movies in between. This one was actually named something like Six Women for the Murderer.

“Don’t they know evil when they see it?”
“We are used to it now.

Main guy is August Diehl (title star of The Young Karl Marx) and wife Fani is Valerie Pachner, whose The Ground Beneath My Feet premiered a few months earlier. Very happy to see Franz Rogowski as a fellow prisoner in the second half – that guy is in both of my favorite movies of 2019.

Bilge Ebiri in Vulture:

You won’t find the delirious, extended montages of Knight of Cups or the galactic scope of Tree of Life here. Instead, Franz winds up in a series of almost philosophical dialogues, with priests, bureaucrats, prisoners, neighbors. Actually, it’s probably more accurate to call these loose monologues, since Franz remains mostly quiet throughout. But his very presence poses a question to these individuals about the problem of evil. “Which side are you on, and why?” he might as well be asking.

After Franz’s execution, the town seems to behave more tenderly towards the new widow. This is either my wishful thinking or Malick’s, since Bilge says of the real family: “the Jägerstätters were treated as outcasts and traitors by fellow Austrians well into the 1990s.”

The opening abduction scene will make more sense eventually, and even then, it wasn’t until I started playing the commentary that I could say with any confidence what’s happening in the open. The household scene that follows quickly reminded that we’re in the hands of the Hard to be a God director – full of movement and talking, bustling activity in every corner of long roving camera takes.

Yuri is a military doctor in 1953, bald with a mustache, an important man who will be brought low by forces that we twenty-first-century non-Soviets can hardly fathom without audio explanation. It’s sure entertaining though, and practically as foul and brutish as God. Sound effects are good – dubbing is bad, but I’m constantly checking subtitles since the movie never shuts up for a second, so we’ll call it even.

Birdie!

Learned from the commentary: the movie is in two parts since they could get double budget if it was submitted as two films. One character with a cane umbrella would be seen as a hilarious foreigner by Russian audiences since he wears galoshes. There are major literature and poetry references throughout (I caught Viy and Sadko). German didn’t look through the camera viewfinder or select lenses, considered cinematographer Vladimir Ilin a co-author of the film, “the lighting cameraman has to be an artist too.”

The doctor gets home, but his son in voiceover says he never saw his father again… there was a double in the film, being trained what to say in case he was captured, and other doubles and siblings, so maybe I got some characters confused, and I only played the first hour of the commentary. It involves antisemitism, the death of Stalin, and a scandal called The Doctor’s Plot, which refuses to make sense no matter how much I read about it. To be clear though, the movie’s power comes through fine even not knowing what’s happening – in fact, I wonder if it’s the whole point not to know. “Poetry floats up in my memory like sailboats in the fog, along with salami.” The doctor ends up on a train, tormenting the abducted man from the opening scene, and looking intense:

German:

Another part of the population was starving in the gulag, but we ignored that reality; we only knew ours, and I can assure you that from that point of view, living in a totalitarian regime isn’t all bad. People who don’t want to know lead an adorable life. That’s why even today a lot of people in our country yearn for totalitarianism.

I had low expectations because of Olivia Wilde’s tiresome Regal Cinema shorts, which I’ve started using as an opportunity to check twitter before the feature begins, to make sure we haven’t gone to war, or that someone in the movie I’m about to watch hasn’t been caught sexually harassing anyone. But this was good!

It’s not perfectly realistic (WAY too woke, per letterboxd), but is Better Off Dead realistic? Granted, Booksmart is no Better Off Dead – it’s just a version of the only high school movie plot that screenwriters can think of (loser has limited time to get a date with crush) but it’s girls this time, one of them is gay, and they end up with different people than they intended. It’s supposed to be extra-funny that the shitty villain from Colossal plays their principal, but I’m not sure why – Katy says he’s married to the director.

Writers include David Mamet’s PA, the creator of a TV show where Kyle MacLachlan plays “Dr. Frost,” the writer/director of The Spy Who Dumped Me, and the writer of the upcoming Tom & Jerry reboot, which I dearly hope will look like that Lion King remake.