We’re in structural a-g territory here, a tennis player woking on his serve, over and over with precise editing. But then it’s twin true-crime re-enactments, actors playing murderers in interrogation.

A California teen girl is stabbed to death in 1984. The sound of typing throughout, cuts to black between her responses, ties to the novel Devil House, landscapes and artifacts. We have to listen to an entire song from Cats while watching a girl with perfect 80s hair talk on the phone. I don’t wanna have to think about the cost of music royalties when watching a movie, but putting a song from Thriller in your experimental documentary is okay?

Another girl is found dead at a Wisconsin farm in 1957. Static composition takes from around town, same as we just did in other town, listening to a radio preacher. Woman dancing alone to the worst version I’ve ever heard of “Tennessee Waltz.” This time no typing on the interview scenes, some ambient industrial sound.

It’s some pretty cool work by Benning, but I feel like I was tricked into watching a serial-killer movie, and I should’ve put on that four-hour George Harrison documentary instead. As far as my relative interest in musicians/murders go, I’ve skimmed the wiki on Ed Gein and though “oh no, that pretty much sucks” then moved on and never thought about him again. But I’ve considered George Harrison every day this year, and maybe that’s because I think I could pretty easily be a serial killer, but could never play guitar in a good group.

For Rotterdance this year I focused on movies that involve music, and this felt like a good opening night pick. Going for a surreal/absurd tone in the opening scene with Annie Clark in the back of a limo, then we’re treated to a big Kraftwerkian rock band performance of Fear the Future, very different from the solo version I saw.

But soon Carrie Brownstein’s “behind the scenes doc” takes over the plot, and it’s weird to watch because it’s two musicians I like whose actual personalities I don’t know, pretending to be in a fake documentary. Carrie makes Annie paranoid that she’s an uninteresting person offstage (“I can be St. Vincent all the time”), Annie summons her to the bedroom to shoot sex scenes with her “girlfriend Dakota” (Johnson of Suspiria), then starts being weird and unfriendly to Carrie, who decides to quit the tour until vaguely threatening family members convince her to stay on. “Let’s only document things I can control.” Dakota leaves Annie for being weird, Annie takes control of the movie and Carrie loses her mind. I think the movie is for bigger fans than me, daring us to care about who’s the REAL St. Vincent. Sharp photography anyway – Burr is a Portlandia director. Fake-doc enthusiast Bobcat Goldthwait worked on this, and it’s exciting to see Enon’s Toko Yasuda get a supporting part.

Perry Caravello is a local celeb comedian with Steven Wright hair and a high hoarse voice who gets involved in various challenges and pranks. Here he has called in all his comedy buds for a fake fake-documentary in which his frenemies Don and Mole get him cast as the star of a film that everyone but Perry knows isn’t real. But I don’t get this, because within the scope of this film, it seems real, and the rug is never pulled out even after the successful premiere. What’s the point in telling us it’s a ruse if we never see the ruse, like watching straight episodes of The Truman Show without ever seeing backstage or anything breaking down.

Everyone on set has stolen names, like a mistreated assistant named Burt Ward, and director Goldthwait is amusing as… the director of Windy City Heat. And there is a lot of yelling.

Guess I should’ve watched the show instead of the movie, because the antagonistic interviews with celebrities are very fun, but I didn’t need the framing story of Zach G and his crew road-tripping to conduct a certain number of interviews in a week for boss Will Ferrell. After binging On Cinema episodes, maybe it was bad timing to watch another show about a deluded low-rent awkward talk-show host.

TV roundup for the second half-ish of 2020


On Cinema at the Cinema seasons 1-? (201?)

On Labor Day, since I’d already seen Bisbee ’17 I watched season one of On Cinema on the Adult Swim roku app while repainting the furniture… then I drank some, and watched seasons two and three? Or maybe also season four… or just season two, I don’t know how to figure this out.


Search Party season 3 (2020)

Dory and the gang become absurd anti-celebrities during their murder trial. We know she is found guilty because of the flash-forward intro of the first episode, but this turns out to be a good fakeout – after being declared innocent, she’s kidnapped by a maniac. Not my favorite season – I’ve never loved court dramas, and the final episode is too Seinfeld, but I’m still here for whatever’s next.

Newbies: Dory’s rookie lawyer is Shalita Grant of the series You, and Drew’s lawyer is Louie Anderson. The all-business prosecutor is Groundling Michaela Watkins, lately of Brigsby Bear and Sword of Trust. Wallace Shawn is a shady businessman who gets Chantal arrested by the FBI.


Russian Doll season 1 (2019)

“This is like The Game. I’m Michael Douglas!” Writing this up is a lotta pressure because since finishing this I’ve watched time-loop movies Tenet and I’m Thinking of Ending Things and Bill & Ted Face the Music, and it seems like there are a lotta details in this four-hour existential comedy that I’ve forgotten. Natasha Lyonne keeps dying then waking up back at her birthday party hosted by Greta Lee (Inside Amy Schumer) with “Gotta Get Up” playing, and tries to discover why this is happening, then runs into fellow time-looper Alan (Charlie Barnett of TV’s You). I think it’s possible that everything gets fixed at the end, but maybe not since a second season is rumored.

The slimy-Cagney-lookin guy she goes home with is Yul Vazquez… her psychiatrist is Elizabeth Ashley of Treme… her drug dealer is Waris Ahluwalia (The Life Aquatic)… Tinfoil Kevin is a regular at the bodega run by Ritesh Rajan (Mowgli’s dad in the latest Jungle Book), and her mom in flashback is Chloe Sevigny. Co-created by Amy Poehler, directors include Leslye Headland (Terriers) and Jamie Babbit (But I’m a Cheerleader).


The Tick season “two” (2019)

“Destiny is on the phone. It’s a party line and we’re all invited!”

Such good writing – even if I saw some of the season-long story endings coming, each episode is full of pleasures. Dot discovers she has powers, can see the near future, and their father-in-law Walter has been an agent under deep cover. Tick’s new nemesis/partner is a bank-robbing lobster. Aegis Commander Ty Rathbone, who has a black-hole heart, recruits Arthur and Tick and Lint to the Flag Five, which is sabotaged by Dr. John Hodgman. Superion spends a few episodes depressed on the moon deciding whether to spin the earth backwards to reverse time. Lint’s sidekick is a computers/weapons whiz named Edgelord.

Writers include original Tick comics creator Ben Edlund, two Detective Pikachu writers, two writers of teen comedy On My Block, and Kit Boss (King of the Hill). Directors include a DP of Dexter and True Blood, a Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Black-ish director with over a hundred other credits, the script supervisor of Mallrats and Dogma, the editor of Roger & Me, and an AD on Buffalo Soldiers. Flexon is on the new Snowpiercer series, the Aegis paperwork twins are in The Assistant.


Documentary Now! season 2 (2016)

The Bunker is a War Room parody, Hader doing a southern accent.

Juan Likes Rice and Chicken is a celebrity-chef doc about a difficult little restaurant that makes a basic dish but with impossibly high standards.

Location Is Everything is a Spalding Gray parody! Lennon Parham (personal advisor to Veep) plays his girl Ramona, who is onstage refuting all his stories.

Globesman is of course Salesman, which I’ve still never seen, but I doubt the original involves a rival atlas salesman who stalks and torments our protagonists.

Final Transmission is a really specific Stop Making Sense parody with Armisen as Byrne, Hader as Tina, Maya Rudolph and Jon Wurster, I am in heaven. Why did they stick a Tom Waits parody into this?

“As a bald kid with a dead dad, movies became my refuge.” Double episode Mr. Runner Up is doing The Kid Stays in the Picture, which I didn’t realize, about an awards-obsessed movie producer who’s only constitutionally able to create schlock, mostly starring his unfunny Italian comic friend Enzo.


Primal season 1 (2019-2020)

Gruesome and lovely. Caveman and Dinosaur each saw their families eaten by predators, but found each other as friends and protectors. Perfect show, with one heck of a finale – introduction of a woman with metal implements and a spoken language, collapsing even more of history together. I think of Genndy as the Dexter’s Lab/Powerpuff guy, but everyone involved in this also worked on Samurai Jack, which I probably should not have skipped.


Barry season 2 (2019)

Maybe less fun than season one, but deeper, as Barry tries to control his rages and stop killing people, and leads the acting class in experimenting with telling personal truths. In the end, of course, he falls into a massive rage and kills many people, Fuches turns on him tragically and repeatedly, and the people who cop out on personal truth and tell lies are rewarded for it.

Noho Hank’s Chechen bestie Cristobal (Michael Irby of True Detective s2) forms an unstable alliance with Ester, head of a Burmese crime family (a deadpan Patricia Fa’asua). Sally’s abusive ex Sam (Joe Massingill of Die Hard 5) returns to stalk her. Gene tries to reconcile with his estranged son Leo (Andrew Leeds of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist), and is told that Barry killed his girlfriend Janice. Janice’s ex-partner Loach (John Pirruccello, a Twin Peaks s3 deputy) tracks down Barry and gets Fuches to wear a wire. And most wonderfully, the Loach plot ends in the one time Barry and Fuches work together all season, when Loach “hires” Barry to kill the guy sleeping with Loach’s wife, a stoned Tae Kwon Do master (stunt/action regular Daniel Bernhardt) with a feral daughter.


Also sampled quite a few shows:

Star Trek Lower Decks seems bad
Central Park seems good, going to see if Katy wants to watch it (we still haven’t returned to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend)
Black Jesus is good but I dunno if it’s got a whole season in the tank.
Infinity Train looks imaginative, but for kids, not for me.
Los Espookys seems up my alley, would watch more.


And of course I watched a pile of concerts and livestreams and other things, including Nick Cave’s Idiot Prayer, which probably would’ve gone to theaters, had there been theaters.

Waco Brothers:

Robyn & Emma:

Cave:

Pigface:

A really cleverly constructed movie, would be fun to watch again. Either I never read much about this, or I’d forgotten, but I assumed the first half of the movie was the entire movie, so the end credits appearing halfway through came as a surprise, and the second half was pure joy.

Starts out with a film crew making a zombie movie, which is already going badly when they’re invaded by actual zombies and have to fight to survive – all in a single take. The young leads are struggling as the director unloads on them for being inauthentic. They chill with the makeup artist (who happens to be studying self-defense) when the crew outside begins to get attacked. The director is so excited – finally, something real – and runs around in manic glee with a handheld camera. A rooftop showdown ends with the female lead killing her costar and the director with an axe. The single-take idea is cute, and it’s all timed well, but the movie has poor color and lighting…

But the second half has normal editing, and reveals that this isn’t even a horror movie… the director is really a director, taking on an assignment for a one-take zombie horror, the lead actress and makeup artist from the first half are actually his family. On shoot day for the movie, the table read goes badly, lead actress refuses to do anything gory, two actors are in a car accident and can’t come to set, and the cameraman gets uselessly drunk. So, family and crew fill in as actors, and everyone improvises new lines and situations while it’s all being filmed live. All the cameras and identity shifts (an actor plays an actor playing a zombie who becomes a zombie) must have been hard to keep straight.

This was barely even supposed to be a movie – a low-budget workshop film shot in 8 days that turned out amazing. Hardly anyone has seen Ueda’s other features, though Matt Lynch saw his follow-up Special Actors and called it disappointing. The Director followed up with a kids movie, and his daughter did a voice in that Xenoblade game I’m always playing.

Fake documentary following the exploits of an area serial killer after the discovery of a room full of videotapes documenting his crimes. Much of this movie is footage “from” those tapes – not just VHS quality, but with an effect like the tapes or camera suffered magnetic damage, the picture bending in waves.

It’s a bummer of a movie that makes you feel bad for watching it. The guy’s first known crime is the abduction/rape/murder of an 8-year-old, the central case is a girl he keeps for a decade and subjects to Martyrs-level torment, and the interviewees are a parade of FBI guys impressed by the killer’s craftiness, which includes railroading a cop to a state execution for the killer’s crimes. So the killer is portrayed as an evil genius still at large at the end, but Se7en or Memories of Murder this ain’t. Let’s stay away from the real sordid feel-bad movies this week and look for more horror-comedies.

A constructed doc of real-ish people in a fake bar on its closing night. This movie should have been a dream – arriving in town tipsy and dramamine-woozy, sitting up front at the Missouri Theater for a packed screening of a boozy bar movie, but I probably saw 60% and dozed through the rest. Nobody gets a bloody nose, no pockets are empty, nobody even pays. I’m wary of archness from the very start, the opening titles in a 1980’s TV-sitcom font. We talk about finding truth and empathy in these things, but is it a documentary, or a goof on documentaries, or a fascinating hybrid? Katy is suspicious of the constructed nature of the thing… taking addicts and unfortunates and laughing at them… putting real people in artificial situations, the definition of reality TV (The Real World: Las Vegas Bar). Clunky-sounding indie rockers Cowgirl Jordy opened.