John Woo’s follow-up to Blackjack, a Dolph Lundgren movie I’d never heard of before this moment. But he was obviously chosen based on his Face/Off experience in mask-based deception, and his ability to make dudes look extremely cool riding motorcycles, wearing leather jackets and sunglasses, kicking ass surrounded by explosions, jumping through the air whilst firing two guns.

Thandiwe Newton bounces between hero and villain (Dougray Scott of Ever After). Anthony Hopkins too embarrassed to be credited as the mission leader even though his other credit that year was the Jim Carrey Grinch movie. Aussies: Ving is joined by John Polson in the chopper and the baddie is assisted by finger-trauma Richard Roxburgh. Evil henchman William Mapother had been in Magnolia, but I think not in the Cruise scenes, and the scientist who sets off the whole plot by creating a supervirus runs the costume shop in Eyes Wide Shut. Bad guys just want to spread the virus across Sydney after securing stock options in Brendan Gleeson’s chem company that will manufacture the cure, and stock options are a boring reason to get the whole IMF on your ass, killing you and your friends, but at least they do it in style.

Observational slow-cinema doc, but that’s fine since half the subjects are Lithuanian water birds. Tourists chatter about the birds over the ever-present low chuckle of cormorant conversation. Mostly the people are being negative, whining how the birds compete with the locals for fish, then shit acid that kills the ancient pine trees – big deal. While there was handheld swaying in Fausto, this one feels like it was shot with hidden/security cameras, the crew returning a year later to collect and edit the footage. I could’ve done without the last 5 minutes of some dude interrupting nesting season with fireworks.

Cuties… if they want to kill all the trees and fishes, that’s their business:

Reviews be damned, I’m gonna watch your one-man movie if that man is Willem Dafoe. He’s an art thief trapped in a high-tech apartment accidentally (I thought they were gonna hint that someone maliciously set him up but nope) with limited food and water supplies. The kind of movie that seemingly wants you to think hard about escape (what about the floor / or the ceiling ducts / where do that tree’s roots go), while our guy fixates on a very hard to reach/remove skylight. At least some small relief that when he finds a secret passageway inside the coat closet, it leads to another art installation and not a deviant sex dungeon. Alas, the pigeon doesn’t survive.

Perhaps filmed in Greece, lotta Greek names in the crew. The DP did Color Out of Space, and the writer worked on an upcoming movie where Ben Whishaw plays a soviet poet.

Making more movie lists over here, re-categorizing things, so my first screening from the new project is The Falls by fellow categorizer Greenaway. 92 sections of varying length (some are major characters who will be referenced later, some are just represented with a title card – half the subjects of discussion don’t even appear). All people affected by the Violent Unknown Event (which took place at least three decades before the present interviews) are affected in different ways, but all have interest in birds and flight. They suffer different ailments and dreams, speak in one or more of “the mutant languages,” and are classified as one of “the four newly formulated genders.”

Absurd concepts mixed in with bland facts and read/performed very straight. At one point the narrator is shown onscreen then muted as a later narrator updates his report. Murders and accidents and conspiracies… callbacks and self-references (to PG’s earlier shorts). Not sure if someone being struck by lightning is a reference to the same year’s Act of God. A sinister force called FOX, a society for ornithological extermination, comes up a few times. Tulse Luper is in this, as an influential author whose stories sometimes seep into the film.

Influenced by TV sketch comedy? “Fortune favors the prepared mind.” I searched for “Greenaway” with “Monty Python” and found this interview/manifesto.

Bead Game (1977, Ishu Patel)

Stop-motion beads create a series of creatures devouring each other until inevitably, as most animated films do, it becomes a cautionary tale about senseless human violence. Really impressive work, fast and complex, synched to a percussion soundtrack, and I don’t know how they got that 3D light effect in the final minute. Up for the oscar that The Sand Castle won.

Paradise (1984, Ishu Patel)

A completely different kind of thing, bright 2D animation, frames fading into each other to create a slow dreamy blur-motion on everything. All very bird focused. A black bird flies into a magic castle made of a million points of light and sees a human king and a parade of colorful exotic birds. Back in the real world he brutalizes all the local birds and flowers, stealing colors and patterns and props to make himself look prettier, does a crazy dance for the king who locks him outdoors in the cage of shame. After escaping, I guess he lives in harmony with his fellow wild birds. Lost the oscar to a shorter British thing I haven’t seen.

Labirynt (1963, Jan Lenica)

This is exciting since I’ve watched the Lenica & Borowczyk shorts but not any of his solo work. Man in a wingsuit descends into the city and hides from various beasties and sees different animal-based horrors. Surreal low-motion clip-art animation, full of birds and moths and traps. He’s finally captured, scanned and identified, rescued by his hat-bird, then shredded when he attempts to escape in the wingsuit. Verdict: cool. This won a prize at Annecy, where Borow also won for his Concert de M. et Mme. Kabal.

The Cameraman’s Revenge (1912, Wladyslaw Starewicz)

One-ups the Lenica by using actual dead bugs (with wire legs) as stop-motion puppets. A cheatin’ movie, a couple of beetles make out with other bugs and get caught. A jealous grasshopper films the husband with a hot dragonfly – including through their hotel keyhole – and projects it when the beetle couple go to the movies, causing a riot that ends with the beetles in jail. Robert Israel soundtrack on the now-rare DVD.

The Frogs Who Wanted a King (1922, Wladyslaw Starewicz)

Clay frogs, a hundred times more expressive than the insect cadavers. Fed up with democracy, the frogs pray to the gods to be sent a king. He sends them a stone idol and they get pissy, so he sends a stork which eats all the frogs it can find. An original Aesop fable (he sent a water snake instead of the stork).

Little Bird Gazouilly (1953, Wladyslaw Starewicz)

I can’t resist watching another bird short and catching Starewicz forty years later. It’s a beautiful one, adding camera movement to the complex stop-motion. Baby birds are born in the trees over the city, and the bulk of the story follows their first day in the human world, getting into hijinks. A bird gets mad at a mirror, just like my birds did earlier today. Wladyslaw had moved to France after 1917, and this film and many more were co-credited to his daughter Irene.

There Will Come Soft Rains (1984, Nazim Tulakhodzhayev)

Opens with an egg, but it’s not another bird movie, it’s a breakfast-making machine. The humans have disintegrated but the household automation carries on. The concept (by Ray Bradbury) and illustration is cool, but the animation is nothing much. Aha, it’s a bird movie after all, as a bird flies in the open window while the automation is celebrating the new year 2027, and the anti-intruder robot arm tears the house apart. It doesn’t end great for the bird either.

Symphonie Diagonale (1924, Viking Eggeling)

Patterns of curved and diagonal lines rhythmically shift and unmake themselves. Good modern soundtrack by Sue Harshe.

My Childhood Mystery Tree (2008, Natalia Mirzoyan)

A Russian kid whose main fear is that hawks will steal his teddy bear has an intricate dream of human-held cities of junk collectors atop a giant tree. After a dogged chase, he refuses to give up his bear when asked, leading to the collapse of their entire owl-bug society.

Kitty Kornered (1946, Robert Clampett)

Porky has too many cats, tries to put them out for the night but they revolt and take over the house. I like that the red-nosed cat’s whole personality was “the drunk one.” Their leader is a proto-Sylvester. A shadow-puppet dog and a martian invasion get involved.

We’ve been watching bird movies. Here’s a final roundup.

Alone Among Birds (1971, Janusz Kidawa)

Ornithologist Jerzy Noskiewicz lives on a nature preserve on a West Polish lake, watching and tagging the local and migrating birds. Beautiful and very birdy short, divided into chapters, with big doom music.

Ptaki (1963, Kazimierz Karabasz)

Much more bird-appropriate music here, with light guitars and woodwinds. Doc of a homing pigeon competition – the pigeons are trucked away from their starting point then fly back and get ranked on speed. After the birds’ release the movie flies back home itself, showing a birds-eye view via aircraft. All their legbands are removed by the judges, so how does any breeder get their own bird back?

Ptak (1968, Ryszard Czekala)

Opens with a beautiful animated bird made of free-floating triangles before following a lumpy crosshatch man with weird fingers who runs the public toilets. The man is in trouble with the government, and either the toilet job is his punishment or he’s paying the fine with toilet money. He frees the bird in the end. I didn’t get it. I saw Czekala’s The Roll-Call a few years ago, and he’s kind of a depressing dude.

Birds (1968, Frans Zwartjes)

Trix is bobbing a toy bird on a string, but every five seconds the camera flash-edits to her bare legs instead, and back, and again, until despite the film’s short five-minute runtime, even Trix gets tired and goes to sleep.

Los Pajaritos (1974, Antonio Mercero)

Air pollution montage then a bunch of dead birds, oh no. Royally costumed dude trades his getup for one of the last living birds, a woman with finely sculpted hair gets the only other bird in town, and they both lose their birds and give chase to recover, until they meet up at the park with two birds, making plans to flee the city. A silly dystopia, everything over-punctuated – I guessed it was by the Telephone Box guy pretty easily. Her bird chase is fun, using ever-larger chase vehicles, recruiting everyone she sees to help, and apparently having a grand time. Both leads also appeared in Luis García Berlanga’s Placido.

Birds (2012, Gabriel Abrantes)

Meeting scene in a Haitian forest with halting dialogue. Second movie of my Birds series where someone’s spouse is transformed into an animal – this time a goat. Good closeup of a buzzard, then into town where everyone is jumping and shouting in full bird costumes. Meta-conversation accusing Abrantes of using “shitty theory.” Maybe it’s an arthouse/festfilm parody, I dunno.

Bird Karma (2018, William Salazar)

Short, snappy and cartoony, produced by Dreamworks. Water bird has all the fish he can eat, but goes after the magic golden rainbow fish. Salazar worked on this year’s oscar short winner The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse.

The Emperor’s Nightingale (1949, Jiri Trnka)

Live-action, a pent-up litle kid prevented from going outside or ever having fun gets a mechanical bird, then has a fever dream that all his toys come to stop-mo life. He proceeds to imagine that the emperor of China feels the same way, lives in a house of riches but never gets to have any real experiences. When the emp hears of the existence of nightingales, he demands one. The most accurate part of the story is when the emp gets into birds, so at his next birthday everyone gives him bird-related things – including a mechanical nightingale which glitters and sings so perfectly that he has no need for the real bird, but eventually the machine’s perfect unchanging song has the emp decrying “music without life, without meaning,” getting physically ill over the idea, until the real bird returns and heals all with its song.

Some motion and interlacing problems on my video copy – the English version adapted by Pulitzer-winning children’s author Phyllis McGinley and read by Boris Karloff. The music, by Trnka’s regular guy Václav Trojan, had a theme that sounds like “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”

best bit is the court scientist, interrupted while counting stars, has to start over:

Water Birds (1952, Ben Sharpsteen)

You had me at “naked baby pelicans.” Disney setting nature scenes to wild music, synched to the picture like a cartoon. I disagree with the narrator calling flamingos “awkward and grotesque,” otherwise this is good, and at the end it stitches various bird movements into a ballet montage.

Narrator Winston Hibler had been a writer on Disney animated films since the late 1940’s and both Sharpsteen and composer Paul Smith had worked on Pinocchio and shorts since the early days. Editor Norman Palmer (later The Shaggy D.A.) was the new guy on the team. A ton of credited photographers, at least two of them from Wisconsin, which is where I’m writing this now. Won a two-reeler oscar against a whale hunt, a traffic safety film, and a British short that absolutely nobody remembers.

Ballet for Birds (1975, Beryl Sokoloff)

There are plenty of gulls, a piper or two, but Beryl is equally interested in the crashing waves and in passing jets. Without a zoom lens or any sustained interest in a single creature or group, we don’t get too close to any bird (or jet). Editing isn’t especially to the music/rhythm. At the end the camera gets distracted by the distorted reflections of passing humans in a curved mirror.

Set to Stravinski’s 1945 “Ebony Concerto” (which has been used in ballet). Sokoloff had been making 16mm shorts since at least the early ’60s – a Time writeup says he was “sympathetic to the aesthetics of excess.”

AKA the Egyptian chicken movie. A guy setting himself on fire is quite a prologue. During a birthday party magic trick, the husband goes into a box, chicken comes out, embarrassed magician can’t undo it. The wife then mutely chases after the magician, getting screwed over by her landlord and friends and associates. When the chicken gets sick, she helps it recover. When she reports her husband missing so her son can take his factory job, the cops give her a comatose homeless man. We get more than enough shots of her standing perfectly still looking dead inside, and not enough exploration of the chicken-ness of the husband – it’s less a bird movie than a missing husband movie.

Birds of a Feather (1931, Burt Gillett)

Significantly better and more chicken-focused than the feature, one of those early Disneys where all the woodland creatures move and sway in time with the soundtrack, doing little species-specific actions. Belated drama of banding together to rescue a stray chicken from a hawk, including a great POV-attack shot. Minor message that polluted lakes harm the geese, thanx. IMDB says Eisenstein was a fan.

Daniel Fienberg in Hollywood Reporter:

Depending on your level of investment, All That Breathes could be a documentary about climate change and the crucial need to understand how animals are adapting and how humans need to adapt. It could be a spiritual piece about the webs of synergistic connectivity between, well, everything that breathes. It could be a humanist meditation on how we treat each other, how we tear people down by comparing them to animals, but how really we should treat everything and everyone just a bit better. Or it might just be 91 minutes with a couple of brothers who really like birds.

Bird Suite (1994)

Semi-anonymous Australian VHS, following our bird theme. A solid hour of birds doing bird things, with no titles or narration, just symphonic music. Great work showing birds hanging in the air, a good segment showing different species in apparently natural environments in close-up then zooming out to show they’re in a human city. It also made pelicans look graceful, which is an achievement.