This fortmonth: ‘Adaptation’ (pictured above), ‘The Darjeeling Limited’, ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’, ‘Humpday’, ‘I Love You Beth Cooper’, ‘In Search of a Midnight Kiss’, ‘Jennifer’s Body’, ‘Paper Heart’, ‘Shopgirl’, ‘Sour Grapes’, ‘What’s Up, Doc?’,‘Where the Wild Things Are’ and ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’.
This edition: the average rating is 6.15/10, and the choice film is “In Search of a Midnight Kiss”.
Adaptation (2002) – 9/10
Director: Spike Jonze
Writers: Charlie Kaufman, Susan Orlean (book)
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Tilda Swinton
If I was Dave Eggers, then I would call this a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. Charlie Kaufman’s follow up to Being John Malkovich is pretty much Being Charlie Kaufman, in that it is a portal into one of our generation’s most talented screenplay writers. Every line has a touch of esoteric weirdness, and grapples with reality to make us ask questions like how we perceive ourselves and why are there two Nicholas Cages? Whereas Being John Malkovich was a script by someone trying to prove his abilities in being weirder than the next bearded writer on a laptop in Starbucks, Adaptation is by a man who knows he is brilliant. A heartbreaking work of staggering genius.
The Darjeeling Limited (2007) – 6.5/10
Director: Wes Anderson
Writers: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman
Starring: Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman
It’s easy to spot an Anderson film by the silences, the pauses, the glimpses into where that Nick Drake soundtrack is escaping from, and a character plainly telling everyone what they’re going to do. In The Life Aquatic, it’s Bill Murray. In Fantastic Mr. Fox (reviewed next), it’s George Clooney. In Rushmore, it’s Jason Schwartzman. In The Royal Tenembaums, it’s… well, I can’t remember. In The Darjeeling Limited, it’s Owen Wilson.
Apart from the excitement of seeing Murray run after a train in the first few minutes, there’s little to make this film stand out. The relocation to India was probably an attempt from Anderson to crush the common criticism that his films are all the same, but not enough is changed. There’s little integration with Indian culture, and the characters still remain in their own Anderson-lite world. This isn’t necessarily a kingdom, but it’s as if Anderson collapsed into his own bed, pretending it was a hammock.
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) – 8/10
Director: Wes Anderson
Writers: Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach, Roald Dahl (novel)
Starring: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray
Foxes have always loved stealing things, whether a piece of litter in the bin or assisting Ronnie Biggs in The Great Train Robbery. The best thing about Fantastic Mr. Fox is its total disregard for its target audience of young children. Mr Fox uses the phrase ‘comme ci, comme ca’ and discusses existentialism, and the word ‘cuss’ is used to disguise casual swearing. For example, the word ‘cluster-cuss’ is used. And there’s Bill Murray as a badger, although it might’ve been a groundhog.
Humpday (2009) – 6.5/10
Director/Writer: Lynn Shelton
Starring: Mark Duplass, Joshua Leonard, Alycia Delmore
“How should we start?”
“I don’t know. Should we try hugging without shirts?”
Two straight best friends agree to make a home-made gay porn film to prove who can be more like Jack Kerouac in spirit. It sounds like a Judd Apatow plot which would use the term ‘bromance’ to hide its misogynistic and homophobic underlying, but luckily Humpday is different. The improvised script plays a strange plot with a Sundance Film Festival nothingness atmosphere, full of unexpected and expected humour in every scene, downplayed with indie sighing. The problem lies with the quirk of the plot that outquirks itself; when the protagonist tells his wife that he doesn’t know why he’s making a gay porn film, the writer probably agreed.
I Love You, Beth Cooper (2009) – 7/10
Director: Chris Columbus
Writer: Larry Doyle
Starring: Paul Rust, Hayden Panettiere, Jack T. Carpenter
This film was ripped to shred by every critic in town and out of town, but I see it as the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off for our generation, which is a film I’d give 7/10. Hence this rating.
In Search of a Midnight Kiss (2007) – 8.5/10
Director/Writer: Alex Holdridge
Starring: Scoot McNairy, Sara Simmonds, Brian McGuire, Kathleen Luong
In Search of a Midnight Kiss is a black-and-white romance set in L.A., and shares many similarities with Woody Allen’s masterpiece Manhattan. In Manhattan, Allen uses Gershwin’s bold music to paint his beloved city, but In Search of a Midnight Kiss uses soft music as a reminder of the quieter, more innocent strangers who walk the streets of a place generally thought of as containing unemployed actors.
There is a certain scene when the two protagonists run out of a house together, running away from her violent ex-boyfriend, and they are laughing. Instead of being terrified, they have fun, and then they stop, before he says that they should continue just in case. But really, he’s just having fun and wants to elongate the moment. And then this song starts playing, and it fits the moment perfectly, from its first few lines: “I tried to save a girl I truly loved and didn’t quite know how to help her…”
I am endlessly fascinated by films that portray romances between two people who end up together just because ‘it happens’ and they have nothing else to do, and this film somehow managed to be honest about that situation, yet romanticising it at the same time. And I think it’s mainly down to the combination of the black-and-white direction and a soundtrack of acoustic tragedy.
Jennifer’s Body (2009) – 6/10
Director: Karyn Kusama
Writer: Diablo Cody
Starring: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, Adam Brody
If ever a film wanted to be like Heathers (apart from the rumoured Heathers 2 that is possibly being made), it is Jennifer’s Body. The script is punctuated by painful catchphrases that are too self-aware to take off, and the director presumably felt Jennifer’s body would be enough to distract from the words… the words… the words were not here or there, just… not there… and it was a mistake to reveal the ending at the beginning… subtle and not so subtle tributes to Carrie remind the audience of better films of the same ilk (including Juno).
Paper Heart (2009) – 2/10
Director: Nicholas Jasenovec
Writers: Nicholas Jasenovec, Charlyne Yi
Starring: Charyne Yi, Michael Cera, Jake Johnson
The high-point is Cera performing an acoustic cover of a lost Weezer b-side from Pinkerton era. Let it be known that there is one massive plot hole – Cera using MSN Messenger. Am I really supposed to believe that Michael fucking Cera still uses MSN Messenger? Even I don’t use that anymore. He could use Facebook chat, at the very least.
Shopgirl (2005) – 3/10
Director: Anand Tucker
Writer: Steve Martin
Starring: Steve Martin, Claire Danes, Jason Schwartzman
Creepy old man writes a script where a creepy old man miraculously seduces young, pretty girl, and creepy old man plays creepy old man in film, and gets to fondle young, pretty girl in a creepy old man fashion.
Sour Grapes (1998) – 2/10
Director/Writer: Larry David
Starring: Steven Weber, Craig Bierko
Probably the only bad thing Larry David has ever done. We probably have the poor critical reception of the ridiculously tight-plotted Sour Grapes to thank for the looser and improvised (yet still ridiculously tight-plotted) Curb Your Enthusiasm.
What’s Up, Doc? (1972) – 5/10
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Writers: Peter Bogdanovich, Buck Henry, David Newman, Robert Benton
Starring: Ryan O’Neal, Barbara Streisand, Madeline Kahn, Austin Pendleton
A very dated screwball film that is full of affection for black-and-white films that star Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant, but cannot live up to its heroes. A bit like Simba.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) – 8/10
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writers: Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman, Gary K. Wolf (novel)
Starring: Bob Hoskins, Charles Fleischer, Christoopher Lloyd
Raymond Chandler pays Disney a visit, and that’s when everything begins to go wrong. Bob seeks to avenge his brother’s death (a piano was dropped on him by a ‘toon’) in a manner more exciting that Simba avenging Mustafa’s fall. In the end, it turns out it was Colonel Mustard with a frying pan in the bedroom. Kinky.