Tag Archives: independent movie

65. Rushmore – Wes Anderson (1998)

Repeat viewing.

Having watched the delightful Moonrise Kingdom recently I had the urge to dig out some old Wes Anderson movies and treat myself to seeing some old friends. First on the list to view again was Rushmore, possibly, my favourite from Anderson’s back catalogue.

A very young looking Jason Schwartzman plays our not entirely loveable protagonist, Max Fischer, a student at the elite Rushmore academy. Max has terrible grades, and spends too much time participating in extra-curricular activities (not a euphemism!) Max, a prolific attention seeker, starts to concentrate his own attention on a first grade teacher, Rosemary Cross, (Olivia Williams) although the pair become friends it is a purely platonic affair on the part of Rosemary. Max, while crushing on Rosemary, is also cultivating a (platonic) relationship with millionaire Herman Blume, played in the most deadpan style by Bill Murray. This, if you couldn’t guess, is where things become complicated. Herman and Rosemary start a relationship and thus everyone’s lives start to follow a downward trajectory. Max, of course, is filled with jealousy and intent on revenge. And so it begins…

Like with most Anderson movies you either buy into the world he’s creating or you end up hating it. There’s plenty of vitriol, spread throughout the internet world, about Anderson’s style of movies. The word “quirky” gets thrown around a lot to describe them, I dislike that term. It seems so dismissive of what’s actually being created. Personally I love his films. I can appreciate why people do hate them, it’s not like when people tell you they hate Citizen Kane and you’re left a gasp. The characters in Anderson films can seem cold and difficult to connect with, whilst his directing style is exaggerated and aggrandizing. I’ve come to expect it from Anderson now, in fact, I rather enjoy it. I like all the little touches he adds to his movies.

Back to Rushmore…The film is a wonderfully observed comedy. It’s full of great lines, played in the most understated way. At one point Bill Murray is going through a minor mental breakdown, and, whilst smoking a cigarette, lights another cigarette and starts smoking them both inside an elevator/lift. It may not seem widely fun, but it’s performed so perfectly that it always makes me laugh. The film is full of little touches that make me smile. Even the tragic moments have a sense of comedy, for example, Murray mumbles irreverently “Mmmm…I’m a little bit lonely these days” and you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I’ve often wondered what the results would be if Anderson attempted to make a serious, deep movie. His own There Will Be Blood or No Country for Old Men. I can imagine he’d make quite an interesting director of crime movies. There’s really not a lot of difference between any Anderson film. They’re all of the same ilk. They’re all tragicomedies, with characters that aren’t quite the same as anyone else. I love Anderson movies, but watching Rushmore again shows a lack of evolution from Anderson. I don’t really mind really though, I kinda like them the way they are.

Marks out of ten – Nine.

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53. Stranger Than Paradise – Jim Jarmusch (1984)

Repeat Viewing.

“You know, it’s funny, you come to someplace new, and everything looks just the same”

It would be remiss of me not to mention straight away that Stranger than Paradise is my favourite movie of all time, so you’re not going to get a balanced and impartial review from me today. No way, Jose. It’s a movie that I love like a family member, and not a rarely seen great uncle or distant cousin, we’re talking a little brother or sister, in fact, just ask my nearest and dearest for further proof on my love for it! And, of course, I’m going to give it the full marks out of ten. (Sorry for giving away the entry’s ending) That being said I know it’s not the greatest movie ever committed to celluloid, that’s something like a Citizen Kane, Grand Illusion, Andrei Rublev, Tokyo Story, or Seven Samurai. Each one a great and influential film. Stranger than Paradise certainly influenced American independent cinema – I’ve got my own 16k word dissertation that attests to that- but I would struggle to call Stranger a great movie, at least in comparison to some of the previously mentioned films. I think my one true gripe with the film is the somewhat weak and out of place ending. It doesn’t really compliment the style of the film. My own take would be that the film doesn’t need an ending. It has no beginning or middle in the tradition of the Aristole three-act structure, so an ending doesn’t work in that context. Yet Stranger does bow to an ending with drama – and I use the term “drama” loosely – and it just doesn’t work for me.

That’s enough of the criticism. I can’t do it any more! What I love about Stranger is it’s uniqueness, I can’t think of another movie like it. I can’t think of a movie that deals with immigration, the failure, or even non-existence, of the American dream, alienation, friendship and so on whilst balancing it with a movie that has so little obvious drama and content. It’s almost like watching a home movie so little is happening in a literal sense, but it’s still so damn quotable. Anyone who doesn’t come away saying “bug off” isn’t paying hard enough attention. The characters are also very real. We don’t see them being people to admire, and we don’t see them redeeming themselves. They exist in their own bubble, and they don’t change. They are what they are. They’re the same in the beginning as they are at the end. People don’t change, really.

The film is also all kinds of cool. Anyone who has ever seen an interview with Jim Jarmusch knows he’s the coolest person on the planet. We’re talking Mick Jagger Gimme Shelter era coolness. And, naturally, the film’s coolness is transmitted everywhere. From the actors to the music to the cinematography. Stranger is beautifully photographed by Tom DiCillio – a hugely talented person – and edited into tiny fade-to-black vignettes, lasting from a few seconds and up to three or four minutes in some cases. The style was so inspiring to me that I shot my own grad film on 16mm black and white film stock and used about seven cuts in the whole flick. It just works so wonderfully when you’re working on a small budget. Finally I need to say a few words about John Lurie. For someone who isn’t even an actor primarily he gives a stunningly adept and understated performance. You should hate Lurie’s character, but you can’t help but like him.

I could go on and on about my love for this film, I didn’t even mention the locations’ importance, but I’m gonna quit while I’m behind ahead and start fantasizing about Jarmusch’s new film in production, Only Lovers Left Behind instead.

Marks out of ten – Ten

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50. The InnKeepers – Ti West (2011)

First Viewing.

50th film review extravaganza! (I did consider using a different colour or font to write this, but that would be madness. I’m allergic to anything that’s got more than a little colour in it. So I’ll just try mention my favourite director at some point instead to celebrate this milestone)

I’m not a big fan of the horror genre, but I do love ghost stories; Edgar Allan Poe, Washington Irving and so on. So, The Innkeepers intrigued me, it, so it has been claimed, isn’t your traditional try-scare-the-shit-out-of-me-24/7 type horror movie, but a slow burning old ghost movie instead. That’s enough to sell me on a horror flick. Nothing to do with me being an epic coward….

Now The Innkeepers is very low budget, we’re talking a few thousand dollars, but don’t let that put you off, the horror genre is rife with classics made for next to no money. The film does have that hipster vibe about it, you know, Baghead and Mutual Appreciation et al, you can imagine the director’s target audience was a bunch of kids with Win Butler haircuts who read Pitchfork (note: I’d totally get the one-side-shaved Win Butler look if I had more guts.) Again, I don’t think that’s a bad thing, I like a film that sets a tone and sticks to it. I hate to give spoilers away, but the film doesn’t exactly aim to scare you, but more make you invest in the characters and thus it plays with your emotions when certain things happen to these characters, it’s a rather interesting way of going about creating a horror. Of course this isn’t the kind of film that’s going to blow you away, but it’s a very enjoyable watch and, for my money, it pisses all over the torture-porn type horror genre as it actually shows some brains and humility. So take that Paranormal Activity 17!  If Jim Jarmusch ever made a horror this is how I would expect it to play out, except Jim’s film would be dripping with coolness and Iggy Pop would probably be playing the cross-dressing ghost of Jim Morrison. So, you know, The Innkeepers got that laid-back, we’re in no hurry vibe that Jarmusch works so well, which I do enjoy….

Marks out of ten – Seven.

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48. Cube – Vincenzo Natali (1997)

First Viewing.

Super low budget, it’s Canadian and it’s about, well, a Rubik’s cube with serious issues; it likes to kill people. On the face of it it’s not exactly the type of film I’d be rushing out to watch usually, but I thought I’d give it a go due to a combination of good reviews and peer pressure. And, I’m not going to say I wish I hadn’t seen it, but it didn’t rock my world (I’ve never used that phrase before, and, reading it back, I don’t think I ever will again!) I can live with the dubious special effects, I can live with the weird set-up, I can almost live with the awful dialogue, but when certain characters started acting like they’ve been lobotomised half way through the film I lost interested. I understand that the characters, who are trapped inside this killer box, are under intense pressure to escape, but really, you don’t go from being a good guy to a total dick in the space of 30 seconds. If you’re a huge sci-fan it’s probably worth checking out, or if you find a regular Rubik’s cube just far too easy you might want to take a look too, otherwise I’d watch something else.

Marks out of ten – Five

*Bonus Oscar related content!*

Being a huge Woody Allen fan I’d like to see Midnight in Paris sweep the Oscars up, but that’s never going to happen. Midnight in Paris isn’t actually even close to some of Woody’s best work, so I shan’t be overly gutted if he goes home empty handed. It’s not like he’ll give a fuck either way. I quite liked Moneyball too, but that’s because I’m a closet baseball and stats geeks. I guess I might not feel the same if I had zero interest in the sport. I’d also like to see Gary Oldman win for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but I’m finding it hard to find any other films I truly love out of the nominated bunch, so that’s a big “meh” from me on what goes on to win tonight…

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47. Young Adult – Jason Reitman (2012)

First Viewing.

2008 seems so long ago; that Obama guy was elected president, the stock exchange went into meltdown, the Giants shocked the Patriots to win the Superbowl and Juno, a film directed by Jason Reitman & written by Diablo Cody, was released in the cinemas here. I’d been waiting months to finally see it, and, if I recall, I went to view it on a grey Friday lunchtime instead of going to class (going to the cinema isn’t technically skipping class if you’re a film student. Probably.) I loved it. The dialogue was fantastic, Diablo Cody’s script was razor-sharp. (actually Diablo and I were once friends on Myspace because, yes, I really am that lame cool.)  I thought Cody was going to be the next Charlie Kaufman, so I wanted to get on that bandwagon early, and, as we know, she went on to win an Oscar for best original screenplay.

It’s now 2012, the world is still in a financial meltdown, Obama really isn’t as cool as we all hoped, the Giants have beat the Patriots in the Superbowl again and Cody & Reitman are back with another film, Young Adult. (Twitter has also now made it so uncool to talk to a celebrity online that should you actually do that then I’m going to have to ask you to quit reading my blog review right here. We can’t be friends. You’re just not the kind of reader I’m looking for. It’s you not me.) Where was I? Oh yeah, Young Adult. Firstly, it’s nowhere near as good as Juno, it’s lacking that emotional connection you had with the two main characters, Juno & Paulie, sadly with Charlize Theron’s Mavis you just kinda hate her. There’s no warm glow emanating from your body as the end credits roll with Young Adult, I’d probably suggest a large amount of apathy was kicking around instead. Now I know Young Adult has received mainly positive reviews in the press, and I guess I can kinda see why, but it’s got a touch of the Emperor’s new clothes about it for me. I will, however, say that I didn’t hate it, it entertained me enough for the duration of the film, but it’s not special like Juno is. And I do like that Mavis starts off as a bitch in the film and ends pretty much in the same place. Too many films like to have their protagonist “go on a journey of change” through the narrative and, frankly, everyone I’ve ever known whose been a dick once continues on being dick. People rarely change. That’s the best thing I can say about the flick. (I do also apologize for the epic use of brackets, weird social commentary and lack of any real review in this review.)

Marks out of ten – Six

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42. The Puffy Chair – Jay Duplass (2007)

First Viewing.

2010 saw the Duplass brothers cross over from indie darlings into mainstream sell-outs successes with the not too shabby Cyrus, starring Jonah Hill and John C. Reilly, but back when they were still cool in 2007 they made The Puffy Chair and co-created “Mumblecore”. Now, somewhat ashamedly, it’s taken me an extremely long amount of time to finally catch this movie. I won’t go into too much detail explaining why it’s taken so long, except to say that the dvd was ruthless stolen from me before I had the chance to experience it’s delights. Having finally seen it, I now feel slightly more hipster and can also seriously start to contemplate that move to Portland.

Before I decided to write my little review for The Puffy Chair I skipped over the IMDB message board for the film, and, apparently, everyone in the known universe hates it. I suppose I can see why. No one likes change, especially when it comes to filmmaking, but, you know, not every shot has to be in focus and who cares if the camera wobbles so much that you’re close to travel-sickness? I found it rather endearing once I became used to it. In fact I admire someone who makes their film in an untraditional way. And I’m not totally adverse to a little pretension even….

The film’s story is basically about love, and what love is. It avoids the pitfalls of the standard “indie” movie which’ll dismiss love all together as a Hollywood myth, but it does, at times, have a cynical side. I guess it needs to, in truth. You can’t make a movie like this, a movie about connecting with people, without having the characters question their motives for being in a relationship and thus what it means to truly love someone. The movie is far from perfect, but it has heart, you can really see the love the director has for filmmaking, and that’s what counts, particularly when you’re making a movie for $15,000.

Marks out of ten- Seven

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36. Cold Weather – Aaron Katz (2010)

First Viewing.

This movie has all kinds of ingredients I love; hipsters, baseball statistics, Sherlock Holmes, some mystery and a trip to a tobacconist to buy a pipe. It can’t fail with content like that! In all seriousness though it’s a very good movie that’s been made with very little money. Katz’s last flick, Quiet City, was one of my top five movies from 2007 and, if I had to pick, the best of the mumblecore bunch (although Mutual Appreciation, Nights & Weekends, Baghead, and My Effortless Brilliance are all contenders, despite averaging less than six out of ten on the useless IMDB rating system.) There’s some debate, sparked by Katz’s comments during a Q&A session, regarding whether this is a hipster-mystery-movie or a story about sibling relationships. Both elements are valid and engaging, making for a good genre movie. The scenery is fantastic, one really gets a feel for the landscape of Portland, and also the downtown urban scene, it’s an interesting juxtaposition of settings – I’m itchin’ to visit Portland now. Surprisingly, for a mumblecore film, this has a pretty strong story running throughout, the “mystery” surrounding the movie isn’t exactly of Hitchcock standard, naturally, but it works well against the usual reserved dialogue of Katz’s films.

If you’ve not seen any of Katz’s films then this is his most accessible work so far and also a good place to start if you’re a mumblecore virgin.

Marks out of ten – Seven

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32. Lbs. – Matthew Bonifacio (2004)

First Viewing.

Lbs. finally received it’s DVD release this month after being made on a micro-budget back in 2004 and it’s probably worth the wait. The most interesting and exciting element of the film is the parallel between the main character, Neil, and actor’s, Carmine Famiglietti, weight loss. The film charts Neil’s weight loss through seclusion in the middle chapter of the film and thus the dedication of Famiglietti to “get thin” for his art is an incredibly beautiful action. The film, by tackling such a difficult topic, asks interesting questions about self worth and human perception. It offers no answers in truth, but that’s by design, it avoids the obvious Hollywood clichés of self disgust being conquered and the protagonist snagging the prettiest girl in the town. The dialogue is also sharp, the acting spot on and the photography very competent. There are a few issues I have with script, it’s a little jumbled at times and occasionally lacking direction, but that doesn’t spoil the film. It perhaps leans a bit too heavily on the Italian-New Yorker stereotype too when it really doesn’t need to. It is, however, a good, thought provoking and, at times, uncomfortable movie to watch.

Marks out of ten – Seven

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