Tag Archives: independent

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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58. Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson (2012)

First Viewing

After much pre-movie smoking and pizza we arrived at the Picturehouse looking forward, as ever, to the new Wes Anderson flick; were we going to get another great like Rushmore or something more troublesome like Life Aquatic, we wondered. In my haste to get the best seats in the house I rushed to the counter and asked for two tickets to Moonrise Kingdom, thus forgetting the rule that we’ve been trying to implement recently where all Bill Murray films must be ordered by asking for “two tickets for the Bill Murray” – and, before you ask, it usually works. Naturally, you can’t just use this technique anywhere, so we generally look for those cinemas that know their shit (and their Bill Murrays from their Bill Pullmans.) Tickets in hand we headed in with appropriate snacks for such a movie; orange chocolate for the lady and fizzy strawberry laces for myself. This didn’t feel like a popcorn movie, and I was to be proved right…

Moonrise Kingdom‘s story revolves around two adolescent misfits Suzy and Sam, I’d say they were about 12 years old, give or take a year. After meeting briefly in a church one evening they kept in contact by writing each other frequently. And, after much corresponding, they hatched a plan to meet up and run away together. That, in short, is the story. Being a Wes Anderson movie we are also treated to lots of supporting characters whose stories flow in and out of the movie. The most significant of these stories is the love triangle between husband and wife Walt and Laura – Bill Murray & Frances McDormand- and Laura’s lover Captain Sharp, Bruce Willis. It beats me why a woman would ever cheat on Bill Murray, but this is the movies so we must suspend our disbelief no matter how strange it may seem! Edward Norton plays a scoutmaster and he probably steals the show with his performance, it’s full of pathos and laughs. We also get great cameos from Jason Schwartzman – whom I always love seeing- Harvey Kietel and Tilda Swinton….On a side note, I sometimes wonder, as I lead a strange little life, if Anderson ever gets jealous when he sees Murray acting in Jim Jarmusch movies. Anderson basically invented the semi-serious acting talents of Murray in Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, but Jarmusch went and stole the best performance, so far, from him in Broken Flowers.

I could easily sum up this review by saying if you’ve liked Wes Anderson movies in the past you will love this, if they’re not your thing then this will do nothing to change your mind. It’s every bit a typical Anderson movie; angsty characters, strange situations, plenty of style, slightly less substance, and, for me, plenty of laughs. If you’ve got a bit of a weird sense of humour, like myself, then I would recommend this without question. It reminds me, in the best way, of Richard Ayoade’s Submarine, but Anderson’s version of 1960s New England is slightly less depressing than Ayoade’s present day painting of Wales. So Moonrise Kingdom is a little less cutting in its humour.

Moonrise Kingdom is an utterly charming film and I enjoyed it immensely. It’s idiosyncratic and, for the majority of the film, it’s the children who take up most of the screentime, so it’s not the kind of movie that will instantly rise to the top of your favourite films list, but don’t let that put you off. It has more than enough charms to keep you happy for an hour-and-a-half.

Marks out of ten – Eight

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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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41. Tiny Furniture – Lena Dunham (2010)

First viewing.

“He’s really famous, in an internet sort of way.”

As I’ve mention previously on this semi-narcissistic blog of mine, I do love a mumblecore film. And, as is my love for said genre, I’ve been waiting to catch the much hyped Tiny Furniture for the best part of  two years. Finally Criterion have done the decent thing and given it a DVD release. I know, Criterion DVD, that’s fancy talk for arty/international/damn-fucking-good. (delete as applicable)  So, the question on all of your lips, the one that you’re all desperate to ask is this; “How good is it?” The answer, I’m saddened to report, is as follows, it’s rather underwhelming. And that’s despite it being shot in Tribeca. Was there too much expectation on my part? Perhaps. But I did start off loving the opening 30 minutes. It’s witty, hipster-ish in a good way, and rather entertaining. Then it falls into the trap of becoming, what we bloggers in the underground cinemas who smoke our American spirits, drink our black coffee and never leave our house unless it’s to go to the movies call “up it’s own arse.” It’s a technical phrase. It stops being witty and, instead, starts whining about how shit everything is. Now I love a bit of whining, it’s cool with me when others do it even, but this is the cinematic equivalent of that annoying girl we all knew who moans that daddy won’t buy her a new pony. What’s wrong with the pony you already have? I had to make do with a postcard of a horse. Not that I ever wanted a pony in the first place, I just like postcards. I’ve started to digress, but, my point is this, it becomes hipster cliché 101. It’s like every bad article you’ve read on Vice, but filmed, and with a bunch of annoying actors, minus the wonderful Jemima Kirke. Kirke really is the best thing on screen, she’s got a certain self aware charm that all the others lack. (Nothing to do with her being from London, honest….) I really couldn’t believe how much my initial enthusiasm for the film had waned by the time the closing credits arrive.

Now what I do really love about the movie is the cinematography, it’s rather elegant. It’s shot on a Canon 7D, which, as you may know, is a stills camera. And not the most expensive camera in the world either. It’s a great piece of equipment, and, with some nice lenses, you can make a fantastic looking movie that won’t break the bank. So Lena Dunham deserves praise for the film’s quality production, sadly her acting and scriptwriting skills really aren’t as good.

As I’ve said, the opening works wonderfully, but it just can’t sustain it. Dunham certainly showed some potential for future movies, but this ain’t so great…

Marks out of ten  – Six

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38. Chronicle – Josh Trank (2012)

First Viewing.

This first thing you’ll want to do after seeing this movie is google how much the budget was, well, I can save you the trouble, it was just $15m. Yep, that’s it. It looks a hell of a lot more expensive. It puts Hollywood movies, with their bloated $100m+ budgets, to shame.  So now, we’ve established it looks great, but is the actual movie any good? Yep, it’s definitely not a let down. It works on two levels, the primary one being an old fashioned ‘I’ve-got-me-some-superpowers-what-shall-I-do-now’ thriller/white-knuckle-ride genre flick, but also it works as an observation of human morality. It asks questions of what we, the average morality obedient viewer, would do if we had the power to change our life, how far would we go? Could we control ourselves? The three main characters who receive these “powers” are faced with that dilemma. Naturally the film needs to push the characters in question to extreme choices, but, you can’t help thinking, what would I do if I were in the same situation as them?

Another element I enjoyed immensely about the movie is the brevity of it all. We’re not bogged down with endless scenes involving the characters using their powers for good/bad, or them arguing about what they should do with said powers, or even the tiresome Hollywood-esque boy-pining-after-girl drama. I’m always one for seeing the growth/change of a character throughout a movie, but Chronicle isn’t really one that needs to concern itself with that too much. With the limited scope for character arc Dane DeHaan does a fine job of taking his character, Andrew, into an Anakin Skywalker-esque meltdown, even if it does happen at rather breakneck speed. The movie, as a whole, should be the benchmark for contemporary sci-fiction/superpower movies, it’s not all about big budgets, it’s how you use it, you know…

Marks out of ten – Eight

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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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29. Shame – Steve McQueen (2011)

First Viewing

After a fair amount of hype about the provocative nature of Shame I can’t help but feel this is all style over very little substance. McQueen directs his arse off, but the audiences complete lack of connection with any of the characters makes the film an utterly aesthetic pleasure. The supposed depravity of the main character, Brandon (Fassbender), has been taken to greater lengths with far more shameful acts performed in appreciably more accomplished films (Gaspar Noé’s work immediately springs to mind) often with deeper, more interesting characters and considerably better scripts. Brandon trends too close to unintentionally pastiching Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman (from American Psycho.) I almost expected Fassbender to announce he had “some videotapes to return” and start chopping the heads off of unsuspecting hookers. The saving grace of Shame is the cinematography, it’s often beautiful and the extended, uncut scenes are wonderfully acted and composed, they really are the high points of the film. However it’s not enough to save the film for me, and, if anything, Shame doesn’t go far enough, it’s too much of a tease.

Marks out of ten – Six

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3) Kaboom – Gregg Araki (2010)

First Viewing

The most watchable and enjoyable of Araki’s film since the cult classic The Doom Generation. Whilst Kaboom never reaches TDG “heights” it’s a spirited enough attempt by Araki to rediscover his more anarchistic and destructive filmmaking talent. Naturally, being an Araki movie, plot and acting aren’t given too much thought, but pure excitement, spiky dialogue and aesthetic mayhem are. If that’s your kind of thing then give it a go…Or if you just like a lot of fucking and sex jokes in your cinematic experience do it!

Marks out of ten – Seven

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