Still haven’t finished I’m a Virgo, not too far into The Curse, and one episode of Mindhunter was plenty. But I did get into some shows.

How To With John Wilson season 3 (2023)

1. John tricks a self cleaning toilet stall into running while he’s inside it, briefly decides to prep for nuclear emergency, gets kicked out of more places than usual, rides a party bus, spontaneously goes to burning man for a week but isn’t allowed to air any footage. A very poopy episode.

2. He cleans his ears and notices new sounds, interviews people who live in unusually loud apartments or who make an awful lot of noise, learns about a pollution detox place, interviews electrosensitive people – and notices that the common element everywhere is people arguing with their neighbors.

3. He asks a compulsive masturbator how to stay motivated, gets a cat photographer to take “before” photos of his body, but the photog’s cameras get stolen so he asks a mystery author to help find the thief by reviewing John’s footage… interviews the personal trainer of one of the 9/11 hijackers, films his own rejection from an awards season HBO afterparty, wonders what he’s doing in television, sadly tries to connect with old college life, then stumbles into the world of competitive pumpkin growing.

4. He goes to a rained-out Mets game, goes home with a superfan… has to clean up to host a sports party but his vacuum is broken, so goes to a vacuum convention and finds some moving personal stories there.

5. He digs up scandal in the birdwatching community – this leads inevitably to UFO abduction stories, lie detector test, wondering whether things from previous episodes were real. Everyone thinks his show is fake, which it sometimes is, so he tries making a different kind of movie, a doc on the titanic sinking. “There was fake news right from the beginning” says a guest expert. “What does Anne Frank have to do with this?” I saw the car explosion coming, I’ve seen movies before.

6. He asks a psychic where his missing package went and gets the death card. Looks into pizza delivery and medical/organ shipping, gets piano-organ shipping instead, so he drives to Arizona with an organ shipping truck, meets a guy who freezes dead customers, and goes to a party full of people with sci-fi-ass beliefs (The Matrix comes up more than once). Meets an employee who watched The Bachelor ten hours a day and made a complex excel sheet. RIP this show, it was very good.

From Alissa Wilkinson’s Vox interview:

Wilson can’t physically be everywhere, of course. The show’s team includes a second unit, who get what Wilson describes as a “scavenger hunt” list of types of shots to find that might be included in episodes. It sort of wrecks their brains, Wilson said: “Even after we’ve wrapped the season, they’ll continue to send me images of things that were on the scavenger hunt list, like houses that look like faces or something like that. Until they get a new list of things to shoot, they can’t turn off the part of their brain that’s trying to locate this stuff in their environment.”

Wilson interviewed in Filmmaker:

I feel like knowing that this was going to be the last season, I was able to unlock a few different things that I was afraid to put in previously. It allowed us to be more ambitious narratively and what we reveal about the production in terms of the spectacle of the whole thing. Also, what we reveal about how the show has impacted my life, which was something that I wanted to do … I did want the show to potentially have some kind of real-world impact, even though it was done through goofy, satirical means sometimes.

Archer season 9: Danger Island (2018)

Archer’s a one-eyed pilot who keeps crashing or getting shot down, his mother a business owner – everybody reimagined on a post-WWII island full of snakes and quicksand and cannibals, all after some treasure/plutonium. Kreiger gets to play a parrot, leaving the nazi role free for Cyril, so everyone can try on some new accents, and David Cross is an anthropologist studying the cannibals.

The Twilight Zone, Vol. 2 (1959)

Continued from late 2023… the workout routine isn’t very routine yet…

104. The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine

Sunset Blvd was a decade earlier, and Rod has clearly watched it, but he takes the story of a washed-up movie star obsessively reliving her glory days in a different direction. For a story about classic Hollywood, you get a classic Hollywood director: Mitchell Leisen, also past his glory days, who’d recently wrapped up his film career (whether he knew it or not) with some Jane Powell fluff. The great Ida Lupino qualifies for the part – she’d most recently been tenth-billed in Lang’s While the City Sleeps. For once there’s no hint of anything supernatural or even unrealistic until the twist finale. Ida sits alone every day in her screening room watching her roles from 20 years ago with the handsome young Jerry. Her agent/friend Martin Balsam (jury foreman of the 12 Angry Men) tries to get her to live somewhat in the present-day. He finds her a minor film role but she gets into an insult match with studio head Ted de Corsia (villain of The Naked City), and the agent arranges a visit from her former leading man but she’s upset to find he’s now a middle-aged supermarket mogul (Jerome Cowan, who appeared in High Sierra with Lupino). Finally she leaves reality behind and disappears into her eternal-youth film screen.

105. Walking Distance

Gig Young (Katharine Hepburn’s boss/bf in Desk Set) is an NYC hotshot worn down by the grind, come to visit the small town where he grew up, but he finds it’s in the same state he left it 20+ years ago – exactly the same state, complete with his eleven-year-old self. As he starts to figure things out he confronts his parents and neighbors, freaking everyone out. Cool canted angles as he frightens his young self off a merry-go-round, giving both of them a leg injury. Finally he has a surprisingly level-headed convo with dad (Frank Overton, a general in Fail Safe), who says maybe look for some joy in your own time and place and stop haunting us. Appropriately, director Robert Stevens returns from the first episode, which was also about a guy flailing around an out-of-time small town. Little Ronny Howard plays a local kid, and they shot on the Meet Me In St. Louis street.

The Kingdom season 3: Exodus (2022)

Old woman Karen (star of The Idiots two decades prior) watches The Kingdom on DVD, says “that’s not an ending” then sleepwalks with Hellraiser eyes into a waiting taxi to the hospital, where reception tells her the show is fictional and calls Trier an idiot. The story is that the hospital is real, and a combination of its personnel and some actors starred in the series – so we swing between pretend-documentary (Kingdom-show tourists walking the hallways) and straight sequel. I’m not sure it all comes together in the end, but also can’t complain about getting five new episodes.

The hospital’s soul is in trouble again, leading up to Christmas, threatened by murderer Krogshoj (who they’ve allowed to stay and run an opium den for emeritus staff), and giant baby Udo Kier (now in a bleaching pond ghost-realm), and the evil antimatter doppelgangers of Karen and her spiritual son Balder (also a hospital porter in De Palma’s Domino), and of course the selfish and useless Helmer Jr (the actor just played Dag Hammarskjöld in a biopic), and the devil himself: Willem Dafoe. It’s fun how the show manages to pile further abuse on ol’ Helmer even though he’s long dead. Halfmer’s quirky department co-head is Ponto (Lars “brother of Mads” Mikkelsen), his fellow Swede who alternately helps and sues him is Anna (Tuva Nuvotny, died first in Annihilation) and we’ve got some new admin staff and a computer hacker. Still around from previous seasons is Udo’s mother Judith, Mogge Moesgaard in a propeller hat, and Helmer’s gal Rigmor, who maybe dies in a building-climbing wheelchair incident.

The owls are exactly what they seem:

Adam Nayman in New Yorker:

Karen’s condition is played simultaneously for laughs and for a kind of implicit empathy. As black as the show’s hell-is-other-people humor can be, it’s rooted in a tender sense of human frailty. It is not particularly scary in a horror-movie sense, instead accessing a more ephemeral, existential sort of terror that, in von Trier’s hands, is indivisible from comedy … At once confrontationally repulsive and mesmerizingly abstract, [The House That Jack Built] was easy to interpret as a self-portrait of sorts, the story of a loner trying to reconcile his aesthetic impulses with his depressive misanthropy. It featured clips from von Trier’s own filmography, giving the proceedings a valedictory air. The same could be said for The Kingdom Exodus, with its endearing, old-school echoes of its predecessor. But, like The House That Jack Built, the series is ultimately too thorny to function as a victory lap. In 2017, Björk accused von Trier of sexual harassment on the set of Dancer in the Dark; he claimed that he’d only hugged her. In the new series, he coyly includes a running subplot about Halfmer’s alleged (and utterly hapless) impropriety toward a female colleague — a spoof of P.C. culture from the experienced but untrustworthy vantage of somebody who’s spent decades working and living on the edge of cancellation.

Michael Sicinski in Cinema Scope:

[Overgrown Baby Udo Kier] becomes one of The Kingdom‘s primary plot strands, and it tends to signify von Trier’s loss of interest in real-world matters like the abuses of science and industry on the Danish people. Instead, Kier’s malformed sacrificial lamb permits The Kingdom to double down on its most obtuse, lunkheaded ideas … if The Kingdom gradually reveals itself to be a case of diminishing returns, that’s because the series initially asks to be taken somewhat seriously as an artistic enterprise, but winds up abandoning any pretense of commentary or real-world purchase in favor of a cosmic shaggy-dog story that insists on pointing out how self-aware it is of its overall lack of substance.

It’s not shocking that I, a habitual enjoyer of Yorgos movies, greatly enjoyed the one where Emma Stone plays a grown woman with a baby brain raised by a chopped-and-sutured Willem Dafoe then taken into the world by a ham-comic Mark Ruffalo. Doesn’t quite track as an On The Count of Three reunion – Jerrod Carmichael is an intellectual friend of Hanna Schygulla – in different scenes/country from Chris Abbott: Emma’s former husband, “The General,” who they lobotomize so everyone can live together happily.

The critics are mostly angry over the fisheye lens. Also: “the movie’s provocations are all at the level of its ghastly aesthetic, which feels like a prank on the viewer” per Brendanowicz, it’s “infantilizing and visually one-note” per Josephine, and I dunno what Ali and Jon‘s issues are. Movie funny, movie good. Some people get it.

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.

Somehow this is already Junior Stargazer Woodrow’s third Wes Anderson movie.

Good movie, need to see again.

Bilge Ebiri:

We’re told that what we’re watching is really a theater piece written by the legendary American playwright Conrad Earp (Edward Norton). The film actually begins on a black-and-white television stage with the story narrated by a Rod Serling–like Host, played by Bryan Cranston. (So, really, it’s a play within a play within a TV production within a movie.) The Host reminds us that “Asteroid City does not exist. It is an imaginary drama created expressly for the purposes of this broadcast. The characters are fictional, the text hypothetical, the events an apocryphal fabrication.” In other words, the story itself is a phantom, unknowable … Late in the movie, Jones steps away from playing Augie and runs into the actress (Margot Robbie) who was to play the part of his wife but was reportedly cut from the finished piece. As the two recall the scene they would have had together, the Andersonian whimsy slips away to reveal a perfect moment: two people communing with the messiness of life through their memory of a scene that doesn’t exist, from a play that never happened, presented within a theatrical-cinematic fiction pretending to be a TV show.

Sam Adams [after making some connections to method acting]

Anderson’s not aiming for pointed or even coherent critique of the method, so much as to contextualize it as one style among many—perhaps a road to the truth, but not the only one … Fiction often seeks to explain the human condition, to offer answers to questions that elude us in our own lives, but Asteroid City refuses that mandate. Toward the end of the movie, we see the actors in the play attending a lecture by the teacher Saltzburg Keitel (Willem Dafoe), who instructs them to approach their characters from “the outside in”—the practical opposite of the method approach. Dafoe has worked with Anderson before, but he’s particularly apt for this part as a longtime member of the Wooster Group, the experimental theater troupe that rejected method acting in favor of having the actors “simply do things on stage.”

Vadim Rizov:

Asteroid City‘s closest relationship to the immediate present comes from its intricate echoes of Anderson’s own work, especially Rushmore: Augie’s wife is dead when the film opens, just like Max Fischer’s mom, as Schwartzman has aged from playing a single father’s child to the solo parent himself … What’s definitely new, for Anderson and for all of us, is the look of the widescreen narrative that makes up the bulk of film. Shot in Spain, Asteroid City‘s fully constructed American Southwest looks like Looney Tunes meets Red Desert, an unlikely and fairly breathtaking synthesis; I couldn’t even initially tell if I was looking at live-action, cardboard cutouts or some kind of weird and imperceptible layering of the two.

David Ehrlich:

Royal Tenenbaum only needed a narrator, but Augie Steenbeck requires such an elaborate framing device that it ultimately becomes impossible to parse where he ends and the next person begins. And so it goes with many of the characters in a movie that never lets you forget that Scarlett Johansson is an actress playing an actress who’s playing an actress. But if the interstitial scenes in Asteroid City are destabilizing by design (in a why is Augie suddenly making out with a Kentucky fried Edward Norton? sort of way), you don’t need an airtight grasp on the mechanics of how everything fits together in order to be knocked flat by the effect of feeling it all click into place.

Vikram Murthi:

Anderson eventually collapses the film’s dual characters and settings via Schwartzman’s performance. Schwartzman-as-Augie leaves the Asteroid City set during its physical climax to return backstage where, as Jones Hall, he asks Schubert, the director, whether he’s playing the character right. Schubert assures him that he is, despite some “actorly business,” and to just read the story if he doesn’t understand the play. Immediately afterwards, he heads to a fire escape to smoke a cigarette where he speaks with the actress (Margot Robbie) who once played Augie’s late wife, standing on the opposite fire escape of a neighboring theater. Together, they perform their cut scene — a dream sequence between Augie and his wife that occurs on a moon of the alien’s planet — for themselves across a chasm of darkness. It’s difficult to put into words the complicated magic that arises from these two successive scenes. As a child, Schwartzman starred in Rushmore as the precocious teenage playwright/director Max Fischer, arguably the most autobiographical Anderson character; the conversation between him and Brody feels a lot like an older Schwartzman (or a grown-up Max) asking an older Anderson for guidance and being assured that he’s still doing okay, despite all the loss and confusion. (It’s also as if Anderson is using his once-younger surrogate to assure himself of the same thing.) Meanwhile, the scene between Schwartzman and Robbie speaks to Anderson’s late-era project, which testifies that authentic candor, about grief or real-world concerns, can arise from the stagiest settings: two “real” people perform a scene for no one but themselves, and in the process, transcend the confines of fiction and reach profound understanding.

Opens unpromisingly despite Ethan Hawke… actors laboriously declaiming portentous dialogue in fake accents. It does start to get trippy, with more CG than expected (incl. cartoon-ass animals), and at the “years later” jump the tedious-to-thrilling ratio is 50/50. Subwoofer cinema, a sonically unpleasant movie – I should’ve played the Harriet Tubman album again. Alexander SkarsgÃ¥rd (Florence Pugh’s fake bf in Little Drummer Girl) swears revenge, loses his way, meets Björk, swears revenge again, kills Fjölnir’s son and refuses to say where he’s hidden the heart. Lotta people get chopped up with swords. Three good performances in this: Björk > SkarsgÃ¥rd > Dafoe

Willow Maclay argues there are four good performances:

Nicole Kidman also gives one of her best performances in some time as an incestual madwoman, driven berserk by the times, and dripping with salacious fury in her scene of revelation. This contrasts with her elegant work as a Queen and mother, and suggests that a proper feminine presentation can be hiding a cannibalistic fury behind doors.

Michael Sicinski:

Virtually every landscape is CGI’ed to the point of absurdity. The Northman strives for the painterly but more closely resembles those 4K test images they show on the TVs at Costco.

On the run after killing his dad, Bradley Cooper wanders mutely into a carnival needing work and food and gets shown around by Willem Dafoe. Ron Perlman is there of course, typecast as a strongman. Cooper’s talents are gradually put to use until he runs off (openly, not in secret) with Rooney Mara to run their own upscale act stolen from mentalist Toni Collette and her late partner David Strathairn.

A couple years later in the plotty, less compelling back half of the movie, the spook act impresses Mary Steenburgen and he’s set up with haunted and dangerous Richard Jenkins. Psychologist Cate Blanchett gives him inside dirt on Jenkins then swindles him, Rooney dislikes his turn to crime-laced trickery, and after it all goes wrong he leaves town in a chicken car, wounded, with nothing and nobody, and comes crawling to new circus master Tim Blake Nelson.

It’s convenient when you’re a circus psychic that everyone in the 1940’s had the same backstory. The movie is as obvious as I’d guessed from the trailer, but the actors and the look of the thing make it completely worthwhile.

Back in theaters for this one. I love going into Wes movies with absurdly high expectations, because he always meets them. I’ll read the hater critics some other time – maybe they were looking for something more than an endless parade of favorite actors and impeccable production design, but I wasn’t. Much of the movie is in 4:3 black and white, and either my screening was over-matted or the titles appear at the extreme top and bottom of frame.

Bookending segments in the newspaper office, with editor Bill Murray alive in the first piece and dead in the second. Bicycle tour through the town of Ennui by Owen Wilson. Story 1 is relayed by Tilda Swinton, involving art dealer Adrien Brody patronizing imprisoned painter Benicio del Toro whose guard/model is Léa Seydoux (they get some actual French people in here sometime). I was least involved in the middle piece, about faux-May’68 student revolutionary Timothée Chalamet’s affair with reporter Frances McDormand. Then Jeffrey Wright is reporting on celebrated police chef Steve “Mike Yanagita” Park, who helps foil a plot by Edward Norton to kidnap chief Mathieu Amalric’s son.

Michael Sicinski (Patreon) also liked the Benicio story best:

By contrast, Anderson’s snotty riff on May ’68, “Revisions to a Manifesto,” succumbs to the director’s worst comedic instincts, essentially declaring that political desire is nothing more than sublimated horniness … The final segment, “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner,” sort of splits the difference, although it is elevated considerably by a fine performance from Jeffrey Wright, channeling James Baldwin as a melancholy ex-pat uncomfortable with his journalistic distance. The story itself is mostly just a riff on The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s portrait of courtly civility as a bulwark against anarchy. But it’s Wright’s representation of honest inquiry, and humanistic curiosity, that makes it far less silly than it should be.

Watched again a month later, with Katy this time.

No Sudden Move has lost its status as the year’s most grotesque use of a wide-angle lens, courtesy of some Abu Ghraib flashbacks that turn Oscar Isaac and Willem Dafoe into carnival-mirror dwarfs. Isaac served time for torturing the enemy while his superiors stayed free and rich, and a fellow torturer’s son Tye Sheridan tries to rope Isaac into a revenge plot, but Isaac wants to stay cool and quietly win card games using Tiffany Haddish’s money. Nice to see a movie where cooler heads prevail, the kid is set straight and Isaac gets the girl… oh no, that’s not what happens, two people die and Isaac goes back to jail. I can’t decide how I feel about it – the tone felt off, or maybe I just felt weird being at the Grand all by myself, anxiously trying not to expect First Reformed 2.