July 2021: Viewing Diary


Film (recent releases)

Mandibles – Quentin Dupieux, France, 2021 (2020)

Two of Us – Filippo Meneghetti, France, 2021 (2019)

Summer of Soul – Questlove, US, 2021

Nine Days – Edson Oda, US, 2021

Da 5 Bloods – Spike Lee, US, 2020

Black Widow – Cate Shortland, US, 2021


Film (archival)

Princess Cyd – Stephen Cone, US, 2017

Maso and Miso Go Boating, Nadja Ringart, Ioana Wieder, Carole Roussopoulos, Delphine Seyrig, France, 1976

As Tears Go By – Wong Kar-Wai, Hong Kong, 1988

Los Pequeños Gigantes – Hugo Butler, Mexico, 1960

Raging Bull – Martin Scorcese, US, 1980




Serial TV



Katla – Iceland, 2021

Master of None (Moments in Love) – US, 2021

Ozark (Season 3) – US, 2020

Never Have I Ever (Season 2) – US, 2021

Dave (Season 2) – US, 2021

Hacks (Season 1) – US, 2021

Working Moms (Season 1) – Canada, 2017

A few with the kids:

Hunger Games #1-3 – US, 2012-14

The Willoughbys – US, 2020

June 2021: Viewing Diary

A month of meager viewing relative to others this year. I was heads-down building a cinema instead of seat-down viewing it this month. So, some family viewing, some weekend horror, and some summery Varda for Father’s Day weekend.

I did make it to an actual cinema twice though, making for three public screenings since ‘reopening’. Gaia healing and all that.


Film (recent releases)

Censor – Prano Bailey-Bond, UK, 2021

A Quiet Place (pt II) – John Krasinksi, US, 2021

The Mitchells vs the Machines – Michael Rianda, US, 2021

Circumstantial Pleasures – Lewis Klahr, US, 2020

Girl on the Third Floor – Travis Stevens, 2019


Film (archival)

Ten Skies – James Benning, US, 2004

Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell, US, 2008

Moonbird – John Hubley, US, 1959

The Host – Bong Joon-ho, 2006

Cleo from 5 to 7 / Le Bonheur (double feature) – Agnes Varda, France, 1962 / 1965


Serial TV

Katla – Iceland, 2021

Master of None (Moments in Love) – US, 2021

Dave (Season 2) – US, 2021

The Gloaming – Tasmania, 2020

Ozark (Season 3) – US, 2020

The Flight Attendant – US, 2020

A couple with the kids:

Loki – US, 2021

Sweet Tooth, US, 2021

May 2021: Viewing Diary

Film (recent releases)

Gunda – Viktor Kossakovsky

Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time – Lili Horvát

Nina Wu – Midi Z

Together Together – Nikole Beckwith

We Are Little Zombies – Makoto Nagahisa

The Twentieth Century – Matthew Rankin

Still Processing – Sophy Romvari

Four Roads – Alice Rohrwacher

Süden – Christian Petzold

When I Get Home – Solange Knowles

Days of Bagnold Summer – Simon Bird


Film (archival)

1990 double feature:

Close-Up – Abbas Kiarostami

Trust – Hal Hartley

1984 double feature:

Blood Simple – Joel & Ethan Cohen

Body Double – Brian DePalma

My Neighbor Totoro – Hayao Miyazaki, 1988


Serial TV

Fishing with John (USA, 1992)

Mare of Easttown (USA, 2021)

Exterminate All the Brutes (USA, 2021)

Life in Color (UK, 2021)

P-Valley (USA, 2020)

Shadow and Bone (USA, 2021)


April 2021: Viewing Diary

Film (recent releases)

Women Make Film (Episodes 1-7) – Mark Cousins

Small Axe: Mangrove – Steve McQueen

Small Axe: Red White and Blue – Steve McQueen

Small Axe: Alex Wheatle – Steve McQueen

Small Axe: Education – Steve McQueen

About Endlessness – Roy Andersson

Malmkrog – Cristi Puiu

Crashing Waves – Lucy Kerr

Dear Comrades! – Andrei Konchalovsky

The Father – Florian Zeller

White Tiger – Ramin Bahrani

Judas and the Black Messiah – Shaka King

Let Them All Talk – Steven Soderbergh

Mank – David Fincher

Shiva Baby – Emma Seligman

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon – Burton / Becher / Phelan

Biggest Little Farm – John Chester

Over the Moon – Audrey Wells / Glen Keane


Film (archival)

Cane River – Horace Jenkins, 1982

Citizen Kane – Orson Welles, 1941


Serial TV

P-Valley (2020, USA)

The Investigation (2021, Denmark)

The Last Dance (2020, USA)

The Falcon & the Winter Soldier (2021, USA)

March 2021: Viewing Diary

Film (recent releases)

Can’t Get You Out of My Head (pts 4-6) – Adam Curtis

Notturno – Gianfranco Rosi

Dear Comrades! – Andrei Konchalovsky

Dead Pigs / Birds of Prey – Cathy Yan double feature (2018 / 2020)

A Month of Single Frames – Lynne Sachs & Barbara Hammer

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets – Bill & Turner Ross

My Octopus Teacher – Pippa Ehrlich & James Reed

Boys State – Amanda McBaine & Jesse Moss

One Night in Miami – Regina King

The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Aaron Sorkin

The Mole Agent – Maite Alberdi

Crip Camp – James Lebrecht & Nicole Newnham

Nomad: In the Steps of Bruce Chatwin – Werner Herzog

Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry – RJ Cutler

I Care a Lot – J Blakeson


Film (archival)

Percival – Eric Rohmer, 1978

Double feature: Vertigo / The Green Fog – Hitchcock (1958) / Guy Maddin (2017)

Double feature: Wanda / Badlands – Barbara Loden (1970) / Terrence Malick (1973)

Outer Space – Peter Tscherkassky, 1999

Citizen Kane – Orson Welles, 1941

Bicycle Thieves – Vittorio De Sica, 1948

Sometimes Always Never – Carl Hunter, 2018

L’Atlante – Jean Vigo, 1934

Nationtime – William Greaves, 1972


Serial TV

The Investigation (Efterforskningen) (2021, Denmark)

Borgen (Season 1, 2010, Denmark)

Lupin (2021, France)

Ted Lasso (2020, USA)

Little America (2020, USA)

The Last Dance (2020, USA)

2020 Viewing

In February, I was sweetly-made in an Alamo Drafthouse recliner, watching Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow in the theater, loving it every bit as much as I expected to. Nothing in 2020 would surpass it.

Four weeks later all local theaters were shuttered, and ten months later, it’s still hard to guess when the window will open in 2021, and what will survive. But across the year, between streaming services, virtual cinemas, a great catalog year from Criterion and Mubi, and mail-order discs, there was plenty to see.

And there was so much more that I was unable to catch – given limited-runs, force-scarcity ticketing and deferred releases. Wanting and waiting to see Nomadland, Minari, About Endlessness, Saint Maud, Fire Will Come, among others. So still plenty to take in, impatience or no. What follows is the best of what came to me, film and series, via (mostly) the smaller screens in 2020.


Film

  1. First Cow – Kelly Reichardt
  2. Small Axe: Lovers Rock – Steve McQueen
  3. Bait – Mark Jenkin
  4. Vitalina Varela – Pedro Costa
  5. Beanpole – Kantemir Balagov
  6. Dick Johnson is Dead – Kirsten Johnson
  7. Wolfwalkers – Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart
  8. I Was at Home but… – Angela Schanelec
  9. The Forty Year Old Version – Radha Blank
  10. Sound of Metal – Darius Marder
  11. Sorry We Missed You – Ken Loach
  12. Collective – Alexander Nanau
  13. Time – Garrett Bradley
  14. I’m No Longer Here – Fernando Frías
  15. The Wolf House – Joaquin Cociña, Cristóbal León
  16. The Vast of Night – Andrew Patterson
  17. Deerskin – Quentin Dupieux
  18. Bacurau – Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles
  19. Possessor – Brandon Cronenberg
  20. Relic – Natalie Erika James

12 more films I enjoyed:

City Hall, Color Out of Space, David Byrne’s American Utopia, Driveways, Family Romance LLC, His House, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Palm Springs, The Nest, The Personal Life of David Copperfield, Young Ahmed


Television

1-10 (unranked)

Babylon Berlin (Season 3)
Better Things
Ethos (Bir Başkadır)
Giri / Haji
I May Destroy You
My Brilliant Friend (Season 2)
Ramy (Season 2)
The Good Lord Bird
The Queen’s Gambit
What We Do in the Shadows (Season 2)

(Honorable mention: Tuca & Bertie. 2019 series, but just caught up!)

11-20 (unranked)

Curb Your Enthisiasm (Season 10)
Last Week w/ John Oliver
Lovecraft Country
Mrs. America
Never Have I Ever
Normal People
Pen15 (Season 2)
Sex Education
The Mandalorian
The Valhalla Murders

(Gratuitous mention: Dark (Season 3). Ponderous and exhausting, but glad to have finished.)

Thirty

Simona Kostova’s 2019 film is showing on Mubi for the next four weeks. Watched it last night, to mixed attention and assessment.

Affecting at moments – at others, dull and dreadful. Millennial Berliners, ‘alone together’ but standing apart in their anomie and cultivated gormlessness, compulsively smoking, saying little but still finding opportunities for casual cruelties. Tests of empathy are met with refusals, and small-bore jealousies preempt possible communication. There’s a bit of play-grownup Clark-era Kids here – amazing that it’s a quarter-century on from that one! – but with less prurience or masculine gaze. Just the ambient urban drift of young adults in a rich city demanding little of them. They talk briefly of their suffering, but it’s an inert malaise and feels transparently unearned, disproportionate to their uncomplicated lives and what the city provides. One actress wears a “Refugees Welcome” shirt while prepping for all-night partygoing, but there’s little other evidence of the German populist right rattling their cages, and they keep finding safe, albeit indifferent, harbors in dull, unappointed apartments and nightclubs throughout the film.

Is this a Euro-mumblecore analogue to An Elephant Sitting Still? It’s too easy to be frustrated with this film, these characters. Maybe this is simply portraiture, and true. Nevertheless, Kostova gives her film greater accommodation for incident as it goes on, moving past the day-waiting in white cubes in its first half. The final 30 minutes are strongest, when modest club-bound epiphanies and moments of (sexual, emotional) panic season the earnest long takes with small, necessary surprises. After a long night of otherwise little moment, the principals gather for a rote, mechanical breakfast with faces to match – long, strangely both underbaked and lived-through – and the movie literally ends with a laugh. But one suggesting neither release nor re-set, just an inside joke in an internal conversation that hasn’t yet found its time or audience.

1917

Given such a long resumé and so many working credits (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford perhaps my favorite), I had forgotten that Roger Deakins had taken on the cinematography for Blade Runner 2049 a couple years back. It’s a film that had many problems – casting, script, and ultimately pacing – but the posthuman look of its doomed ecologies was dazzling, and at least once during the viewing of 1917 (and immediately afterward), 2049 came to mind. This makes sense – Deakins is a magician at architecting and expressing our least-habitable spaces, and the weird pallid sub-reds of the night-burning village of Écoust-Saint-Mein in 1917, with its almost Martian airborne particulate, feel both alien and exalted at once. Light and dust, light and dust. And so much loam! This is the loamiest film I can recall, with a fetishistic indulgence of brown-grey sediment, embedded with indifferent bodies, protagonists stumbling and oozing through it all, while affording no sense of fertility or future fecundity – a ‘no-man’s-land’ down to the final sign.

In my most charitable reading, 1917 is a Roger Deakins film, and the succession of technical and production awards will bear that out, up to and including a near-certain Best Picture Oscar, along with awards for cinematography, production design and direction. Unfortunately, it’s something of an impoverishment to consign the general scope of direction to choreography and engineering, but much of this film is a slate of traveling salesman problems involving getting a shellshocked everyman to scramble from point A to point B, with a handful of large set-pieces as waystations. Much has been written about the technical achievement of the ‘continuous tracking shot’ – an increasing fixation among the Academy’s technical corps, despite early indifference to grander experiments like Rope, Touch of Evil or The Passenger – but this is more of an emulative conceit, and a war movie is an increasingly untimely and odd platform for this experiment, unless the dual-analog game perspectives of first- and third-person shooters were desired metaphors, to cater to a target audience.

In an even less charitable reading, I think this is a particularly low-concept film, with a thin and largely boilerplate script to fill gaps where the score does not muscle in, with low strings and vibrato, to motivate pathos or signify gravity. (It’s typically frustrating that this would merit an Original Screenplay nod over a text as inventive and original as Tarell Alvin McCraney’s High Flying Bird for example – this is nothing more than plug-and-play prose.) The focus on ‘immediate experience’ indulges the worst tendency to make depictions of war ambient, a kind of library music to accompany athletic trials cooked up by technocratic filmmakers obsessed by the trick shot or Birdman-style demo reels (“how did they pull it off?!”). The simplistic narrative that undergirds the stunt photography sets up the predictable ‘anonymous men do exceptional feats’ sham of history that justifies so much repugnant sacrifice, and the narrowness of this movie’s historical ambition relentlessly decontextualizes and depoliticizes, all the more problematic in an age of pestilent nationalisms and concentrated wealth, and given how infrequently WWI is treated in film a century on.

While handsome and vigorously paced, this is an otherwise conventional, conservative film – and its late-hour embrace by some critics and industry professionals feels almost like a reaction to the great many substantial but complex and difficult films of the past year or two. Even Dunkirk, perhaps the most recent analog to 1917, had a greater sense of character, scale and detail – even as it belabored its experiment in non-linear time, its vertigo was convincing, and it was unsentimental. 1917 still reaches for sentimentality with the pastoral, elevating the camera against one-tree vistas with a Malick-like lyricism, at moments when the director seeks to humanize and heroize at once. And in terms of finding terror and thrill in immersive, innovation filmmaking, in a context of combat and duress, I think last year’s Monos did this much more inventively – down to its own frantic river escape and underwater cinematography that was challenging and breathtaking.

No doubt, 1917 is a visually beautiful movie but one with a troubling and timid moral imagination. I respect Sam Mendes’ desire to memorialize his grandfather’s familial recollections – and he makes a convincing maze of the earth and lets the minotaurs loose – but at a time when we seem again at the cusp of military adventurism by fragile and jealous autocrats, 1917‘s dehistoricized action-without-reflection feels like the wrong thing to celebrate, and I was left unsettled and distant through much of the viewing.

Les Misérables

Ladj Ly’s film is constructed like, and seemingly for, episodic television.

Its film precedents are obvious – La Haine, Training Day – moreso than the Hugo it evokes in title and script – but the clear nod is to David Simon and The Wire, and the film feels every bit built to stream. It’s a supercut with an deliberately premature iris fade, quickly layering in its cohorts (eg, SCU flics, urban squad bosses, Muslim Brotherhood, drugrunners and Roma/Gypsies proxying perhaps for Cirque Romanès in the mix) to prototype conflicts along religious, racial, generational, and tribal lines. It’s well-cast, and thematically rich, but it stops a bit short of cinema to world-build a pilot project for what would seem to be an obvious Amazon Studios seasonal.

The sense of place is rich – Ladj Ly has been iterating in Montfermeil for over many years, and introduced JR to the banlieue after the riots of 2005, where they’d collaborate on paste-ups and large scale installations, which JR documented in the 2015 short Les Bosquets. Ly himself did a quick 16 minute run at his feature in 2017, which one can still see for a couple weeks on MUBI.

Given the strength of the competition, especially Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, it’s a little surprising Les Misérables got both the Jury nod at Cannes and was the French designee for International Film category. Hopefully that means some production momentum to further evolve the project. I’d probably sign on to the series, even if most of the plotting and scenario is familiar – the US could use a crossover banlieue procedural to update still quaint notions of what 21c Paris is and may yet be.

Synonyms

At a 10 pm showing at the Music Hall with three other viewers, we spend a good deal of time with an antic, driven, eccentric protagonist pacing Parisian streets on a mission of self-estrangement, and attempts to denude himself of his Israeli identity while cloaking himself in manteaux of the Republique, Larousse and laïcité.

“Denuding” is the point – our man Yoav arrives naked and trembling in scene one, and his clothes are on lease throughout, creating a willful tension between what’s ‘skin deep’ and a national identity that appears prêt-à-porter and deceptively accessible. Much of what plays out explores how the body and words are worn, how language and identity are rehearsed and performed in public.

You see Yoav’s penis a lot – there is explicit and implicit attention to its circumcision, teasing out tropes of anti-semitism that are hardly below the surface in contemporary France at this point.

Men wrestle often – there is eros, aggression, frustration, temporary camaraderie, frequent humiliation. There is also a decidedly typical ménage-à-trois with a rich and listless couple with lovely mouths and vacant stares – they are clearly stand-ins, synonymous with Macronist millennialism, detached from any French revolutionary ardor.

Yoav, refusenik in mode and mission, is both susceptible and ambivalent to revolutionary affirmations, a product of Israeli security services, but also a physical ‘asset’ open to recruitment, reuse, repatriation. He’s densely loaded, likely to go off, a ready instrument but also an overdetermined conceit. At one point he tells a story that confuses a violin with a machine gun, and his onscreen audience questions its authenticity. It’s a signature antimony that is a prototype for many in the movie – exile and emigration, identity and integration, accent and fluency.

This film is challenging, by turns insufferable and sublime. Yoav is annoying like Johnny in Mike Leigh’s Naked – lyrical, provoking, muttering, self-abasing. He’s also weird and exalted, like Denis Lavant mid-dance at his peaks of mania and frolic. He’s beautiful and bland, sculpted, a specimen, himself a prototype. Who knows what France will make of him?

The final scene, which is extraordinary, has him literally crashing the gates, an ineffectual but exigent battering ram, alone at highest volume. At a time of forced exits and closed doors, he’s trying to come home, but that’s an increasingly unpronounceable word, its noise unbearable.