Sunday, 11 October 2009

FUNNY HA HA (dir: Andrew Bujalski)

FUNNY HA HA (dir: Andrew Bujalski)

Despite already having seen Old Joy and In Search Of A Midnight Kiss this was my first explicit exposure to the genre of Mumblecore. After being raised on the super exciting period of American independent cinema in the early nineties and how revitalising it felt to the art form, in Mumblecore I was hoping for much of the same.

Funny Ha Ha is a movie seemingly designed with the sole purpose to make the viewer cringe and squirm. Written and directed by Andrew Bujalski this was his debut effort from 2002 and it definitely manages to accurately capture a certain subculture of our time.

The film centres around Marnie, a girl fresh out of college and currently drifting through her equivalent of what I referred to as my post education “wilderness years” while trying to decide and settle down with one direction or another.

The movie begins with Marnie looking into getting a tattoo. In making her decision she is indecisive as early into proceedings her persona is established, not least when she admits she is a little drunk in the tattoo parlour. Yes, she is wet.

From here the movie cuts to a conversation where another girl describes how she has just lost her McJob and is now just “wandering the earth.” Haven’t we had all this before in the books of Douglas Coupland and movies such as Slacker? Indeed in slacker style Marnie begins to wander through the movie herself, fortunately bumping into various interesting friends/colleagues with invitations/situations that keep things remaining noteworthy and somehow perpetual. Seldom does the pace ever pull out of first gear but that is not to say it does not remain realistic.

In her moping semi depressed state Marnie decides to throw into the mixer that she fancies some guy called Alex which causes ripples in her small circle and thus something finally begins to transpire. Things however become garbled and confused early as Alex gets wind of said feelings and decides to contact Marnie in a half arrogant half curious manner. With things so blatant they soon get nipped in the bud. Call it fear of commitment. Dear air collides with pregnant pauses.

Not unattractive, even though she acts it, the way Marnie rolls through is as a magnet to minor drama. She eventually winds up dating some other guy who she expresses little interest in which only causes her to continue acting childish while the guy tries to force things in the most pathetic manner. Obviously it doesn’t last. From here more fumbles and more McJobs ensue as she makes a drunken job out of weighing up her options, acting distracted and eternally annoying. She gets away with it though; she is white, middle class and pretty.

The recurring theme of the movie is a kind of perverse celebration and necessary justification of the mundane for these people, making the weird elements of the modern setting/existence almost exciting as new tales of ordinary madness in what unfortunately turns out to be a duller method than the previous.

There is something very tangible about this movie, something that is very now and heavily/strongly reflects the probable existence of the viewer (the select few). As a result the film is almost able to serve as some kind of user manual (and warning) for the end user, to be taken as an indicator and guide of how not to act and what mistakes not to make.

Ultimately almost by mistake the theme/topic of the piece/day is acting flaky (and where it gets you). As Marnie begins to settle down and into acting like an adult things remain just as drab and staid as at the beginning only now without the headaches and drama. And everyone remains truly guarded right to the end.

I like watching movies that I feel I could have made. That is Mumblecore.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

BAD LIEUTENANT (dir: Abel Ferrara)

Bad Lieutenant is one of my (if not the) favourite film of mine. And as a result I tend to receive a lot of grief from people for my decision.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

GHOST WORLD (dir: Terry Zwigoff)

GHOST WORLD (dir: Terry Zwigoff)
In many ways this felt like the most important film of my generation, the end of adolescence and the scary conclusion of where we were and where we were headed.

I was strangely lucky enough to be savvy to Ghost World ahead of time, religiously reading the stories in Eightball comic at a time when I was patrolling around deciding my future much in the same manner of Enid and Rebecca.

As I say the two girls on the cover of the movie are Enid and Rebecca, best friends with matching personalities but differing drive that are slowly drifting apart as the reality of growing up begins to catch up with them.

Ghost World is a movie I have agonised over the years when trying to explain and convey its great appeal for me. I came to the movie from the comic book background having been an avid reader of Eightball from early on and in the story, even though these perspectives were female, it touched a definite nerve with me as the ordinary and boring lives and lack of ambition/direction was still able to hold some degree of glamour and coolness.

I remember first watching the movie at a time when I was just accepting my career and finally settling into living on my own, becoming an adult without necessarily feeling like an adult. Like the principles in the movie I was in a transitional stage, trying to acknowledge whether my decisions were right while at the same time people around me did not appear to be suffering from such anxiety and existential angst, instead they were happy to indulge in anything and everybody around them (easily amused). At the time I was still being invited to the parties but I never felt that I fitted in and I sensed neither did those around me. Indeed when I saw this movie in Ipswich with my best friend and his girlfriend at the time I came away from the film feeling insulted that I they didn’t appear to “get it”, that what they were going through was not what me or the people on screen were (and had been) experiencing.

The movie looks like a comic. The streets are wickedly defined and the town is just about recognisable as a real place but not an actual place recognizable from any map. As a result this place was able to leave all the boring places behind much in the manner that the mind’s eye and memory happily dismisses the bland and colourless in order to daydream.

One key difference from the book to the movie is the introduction of the character Seymour. I think this character more than any represents the viewer’s fear of and for the future, of what they are realistically likely to become. The olive branch that Enid extends after he has long given up on the game is a very pained and often excruciating dimension to proceedings. At the same time however Seymour is a great guy, he is just a victim of circumstances and to some degree a casualty of the modern world. With this in mind regresses into indulging in non-human entities and becomes a collector (which most single men are at one point or other in their lives).

While all this carries on Enid floats through her summer, avoiding decisions as much as cliché and slowly drifting apart from Rebecca as a result. As she hesitates one time too many slowly it begins to cost her and the realities of her circumstances begin to catch up on her also.

Towards the end of the movie it becomes apparent that Enid cannot continue being flaky. By now she burned bridges and severed ties with Rebecca but is now also finding herself along as out of the blue Seymour begins unexpectedly moving on with his life too. More so than ever loneliness becomes an issue for the person least likely in the piece.

The movie manages to avoid cliché and eventually arrives at a very dark and difficult conclusion that does not necessarily serve anybody well. In a way the movie almost serves as some kind of dark fairie tale for teenagers providing a snapshot of Enid as being “this is who you are” and of Seymour as being “this is who you might end up being.”

It is episodic and open ended. Perhaps I fawn too much sometimes as I thrust the movie onto people who react confused by it but there is a true beauty and elegance in the way in which it moves, how it painfully reflects and represents what it is like to be of such mind at such a time and place in a person’s development.

Around the same time a girl broke my heart. In the early days of Amazon I bought the Ghost World graphic novel for her as a gift and then at the end of our day out together and she headed back to her house I found the book left on the floor of my car physically and psychologically trampled. I should have known at that point she would never be good (deep) enough for me.

Every copy of this movie is a special edition.

Monday, 29 June 2009

BUFFALO 66 (dir: Vincent Gallo)

BUFFALO 66 (dir: Vincent Gallo)

Buffalo 66 is a wonderful and generous movie steeped in positive dysfunction and ultimately finding happiness in grave and exciting circumstances.

As a professional arsehole Vincent Gallo has created a truly great persona over the years. Where the person ends and the spiel begins is a truly grey area but it is also a great area where he lives without fear when it comes to investigating and challenging the more troublesome moments of the human experience. This is an amazing film and do not let anyone tell you otherwise.

I have had many bittersweet moments attached to watching this movie. Over the years I have watched it frequently, never tiring of the tale and often discovering new touches with each additional viewing. When I first came across it Sky Movies was regularly showing it in the early hours and more than once I would find myself cutting a night out early to head home and watch it in the hope that one my life may resemble the movie as opposed to the fruitless ritual I would have just undertaken. Later as I attempt to mould my greatest affection around to my way of thinking I bought the movie on video at Clacton Indoor Market with view to us both watching it at her flat. It never happened. Later as I moved to London (Harlesden) for the first time this was a movie I ordered online and got delivered to the studio where I was working. As my boss sorted through the post that day he asked me what it was and whether it was any good. Words failed me. This was later the boss to whom I suggested our mutual boss work with Gallo for some music credibility. I should have been fired on the spot.

This movie is wish fulfilment of the toughest kind. It is genuinely and strangely positive in its execution. From the off you side with Billy Brown as he struggles with his bladder upon release from prison. If you can’t associate with one thing then you can certainly associate with the other. The intensity of his pain and agony is assisted by a number of frequent and jagged cuts occurring in tandem with his discomfort and offering the audience a slight taste of the sensation.

As things progress seldom do they improve for Billy, just how difficult is it to find a place to piss in the modern the age/day? Truly the fact that you have to pay to urinate in certain train stations surely represents the breakdown of civilisation. This is not a metaphor.

Eventually Billy goes but not before a scaly moment and a backhanded compliment (with a homophobic air). By now he has grabbed Layla (Christina Ricci) and proceedings have truly become complicated. At this time I was knocking about with a girl with fashion aspirations who would eventually become a lesbian and truly this is how I should really have treated her. I doubt she could tap-dance either.

As the background story begins to slowly unravel via a hideous family and dubious friends/acquaintances it all serves to abstain of blame for his situation. Slowly as we grasp an understanding of the character we warm to him, perhaps more than we expect. Several times pathos here is of the must subtle muster.

He is a strong man crumbling.

Before things can get better, they have to get worse and the arrival of Wendy Balsam (the Rosanna Arquette character) serves as a truly poignant and uncomfortable moment. This could easily have been a girl from my school called Becky. In the tiny moment that Layla says “she is so creepy and you are so nice” finally there is a small glimpse of positivity for Billy Brown.

From here it is a movie made of great moments that all build up to an astounding finale and explanation as to where things have been headed all the long. This is supposedly semi autobiographical but in what kind of negative fantasy land part of Gallo’s mind does it exist? Likewise with his little confessions and admissions, do they really work and not find the guy being laughed out of the room? This is Royal Trux reality.

I hate to admit it but the bedroom scene at the hour and a half mark is one similar to an incident of my own from late 2007, one that was always doomed to failure and lacked certain ingredients required to lead to this kind of love. This is not a movie to be taking cues from.

How much are the heart cookies?

Half John Cassavetes (the grime and look) and half David Lynch (Brown Snr singing and the bowling alley tap-dancing) with this ensemble Gallo truly outdid himself combining rising stars (Christina Ricci, Kevin Corrigan) with established legends (Ben Gazzara, Anjelica Huston) and getting rejuvenated performances out of has-beens (Mickey Rourke, Jan-Michael Vincent) that are serve to sprout an understated masterpiece.

This only occurs once in a lifetime, once in a career.

Sunday, 28 June 2009



Small manageable dreams.

Our hero is Ryan. He is bored in his office job. The movie begins with his girlfriend moving him out of his apartment. The role reversal does not end there. Fortunately his family wins the lottery and suddenly all worries and concerns seem dealt with. Unluckily then they do not win, his dad got the numbers wrong.

Written by Douglas Coupland this is one of his typical circa: now tales of the modern nuclear family and its angst cum woe in dealing with the modern world. Ultimately these stories should be dull due to familiarity but as ever he brings a humour and quirkiness that is transferable to my/our own circumstances that serves to be enlightening and comforting all at the same time. I’m all right, you’re all right.

“What do you want to be when you grow up Wendy?”
“A Trophy wife.”

As ever the central figure is supposed to represent and be the viewer and as ever he, in this case Ryan, is expertly crafted and excellently executed as a tangible representation of our likely collective that is. In many ways it often feels as if Coupland is showing himself in his main characters.

“Its like one day you finally find a decent set of friends and then suddenly they all get exec jobs, get married, have kids and vanish and your life is like that old Science Fiction movie with Charlton Heston.”

Invariably it leads to various quirky adventures cum anecdotes as Ryan searches for a sense of freedom in the modern world only to experience various hiccups along the way such as falling for the wrong girl, wrestling with dishonour and having to deal with organised criminals.

Eventually it all comes to a stark conclusion and revelation through his work as he experiences achieving their supposed dreams, targets and goals but remaining unhappy. Our hero Ryan however remains on top of it all, which is handy because he is supposed to be the person we most associate and side with. As he goes forward seemingly becoming most informed we exit having learned a lesson (and a whole lot more besides).

A breezy movie for disillusioned people.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (dir: Charlie Kaufman)

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (dir: Charlie Kaufman)


This movie is madness. This movie is obsession. This movie could be my life, a story of scary thoughts, of social illness, of personal failure and hidden secrets being discovered and exposed.

This movie is life. In many ways its an update of the feature Death Of A Salesman, of confused existence and ultimate failure as goals are strived to be achieved but not really reached as life becomes bogged down in detail, baggage and painful memories that haunt an individual until they day. Life as rehearsal.

My friend described this movie in one word: depressing.

I am only 32 but I feel 33 verging on 34.

These are my Charlie Kaufman moments:
1) going to see Being John Malkovich at an Ipswich cinema with Matt from Gringo Records in the good times before we fell out. My days were dark at this time and without funds he paid for me to go see the movie with him. This was generosity that I didn’t appreciate and now I miss.
2) watching Adaptation on a flight home from California as my friendship with Matt from Gringo Records had come to an end of the back of an unpleasant two weeks with him and a female that came between us without anyone ever realising.
3) taking the Muslim sister to see Eternal Sunshine Of A Spotless Mind at a cinema in Colchester only for her to hate it, not seeing the depth a personal strength within the movie. The experience was summed up in her disclosure afterwards that her favourite movies were in actuality Terminator 2 and Predator.
4) seeing Eternal Sunshine Of A Spotless Mind in a double bill with Broken Flowers one Sunday afternoon at the Curzon Soho on my own, emerging onto the streets with Soho Pride in full flow just around the corner causing me fear and trauma at the risk of having a gay person call me “tubby girlfriend.”
5) catching Stranger Than Fiction one Monday morning at Golden Square at a press screening with the BBC girl whose job/life I loved more than her and her parts, becoming completing wrapped up in the movie revealing to her as I see it as some kind of metaphor for my life and then realising it is in fact not a Charlie Kaufman movie at all.
6) being given Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind on DVD for my birthday in the Cheers bar on Regents Street in complete ignorance of what it is/was, ignorantly forgetting a conversation I had about it the previous month, instead choosing to focus my attentions on the American lady that was accompanying us to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not just a few short months before she manages to devastate me.
7) snagging this torrent download of Synecdoche, New York and failing to watch it ahead of the game and instead viewing it one lonely Sunday evening (now)

His play is my writing. It consumes me and fills me with failure. It is never finished and never understood. It seldom justified and never acknowledged.

This is a story of filling a void that cannot be filled or satisfied. It is also about possessing a God complex.

This film is not finished and neither is this review.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

THE GOOD GIRL (dir: Miguel Arteta)

THE GOOD GIRL (dir: Miguel Arteta)

As a recorded display of small town boredom this is one of the best examples in recent memory. The movie came to me at a particularly troublesome time in my own life and as a result many of themes resonated with me in a very strong way.

On my first night in California during a hell fortnight of a holiday my hosts took me to Tower Records to rent out a movie to keep me occupied during the following daytime and it was The Good Girl that leapt out and ended being the movie we rented. So as a result the first time I ever saw this morning was upon awakening in a strange place in Sacramento in a very lost place mind wise.

Of the Friends crew it has always been Jennifer Aniston that has proved most talented and of most worth (followed by Lisa Kudrow) and in this role again grain she really blossoms as a character (Justine) far removed from Rachel Green.

In my own example the movie came to me at a time where I found myself bored at work and attracted to an older lady at work myself. She was also bored and in the midst of divorce displaying similar sorts of wandering thoughts as Aniston in this movie. On the day the film was released on DVD in England I bought it from Asda and wholeheartedly recommended it to the lady in the hope of displaying some kind of depth and understanding of our respective situations and boredom.

As much as I hate to admit it I can associate with the Jake Gyllenhaal character with his delusions of grandeur in regarding himself a writer and a victim of circumstances and the world around him. Even though the drive and energy of such a character is to be admired (to a degree) his ultimate fate represents the inevitable consequences of a person distracted and not playing the game. In a strange way this is pretty close to how I eventually found myself losing my job through my blog (on a much smaller degree/level obviously).

The character of Holden/Tom played by Jake Gyllenhaal represents not for the first time in history a person being lead astray by Holden Caulfield but at the same time one being counseled and indulged in their dysfunction. Again this is something I have come to experience in my real life. Personally I have never been able to pull off the Holden Caulfield personality but I have witnessed first hand a person nanny a Holden Caulfield type through being troubled but more sweet and needy. Without these talents and traits all I can do is continue to try and write my own version of The Catcher In The Rye.

In contrast to the dysfunction is her husband Phil played by John C. Reilly acting as a stoner stuck in his own working class/blue collar rut but who is fortunately (for him) numbed to this degree of reality. As a result he represents some kind of constant and rock despite on the surface of things being more of a fuck up and criticized for being so.

Additionally in support Zooey Deschanel provides a great comedic character encompassing the personification of small-town cynicism and boredom, an individual destined to repeat the errors of Justine and Holden if she remains working at the supermarket. Likewise the writer of the movie Mike White plays a horribly stunted supermarket security guard who is supposedly accidentally tragic and humorous by mistake/error.

As the movie draws to a culmination/conclusion it is striking how the Phil character played by John C. Reilly emerges as perhaps the balanced of individuals who on the surface lives in a world of denial but ultimately appears aware of his circumstances but chooses to utilize a positive outlook in order to just survive and ultimately as the movie closes he and Justine make their strongest step towards maturity, a strong future and happiness. In a way this conclusion appears something of a compromise to the couple’s needs but ultimately it is very reflective of how life is.

This movie came perfectly timed and perfectly pitched when presented to myself as a 25 year old.