This month: “À Bout de Souffle”, “Baghead”, “Blood Simple”, “The Chumscrubber”, “CQ” (pictured above), “Flirting with Disaster”, “Good Dick”, “I Heart Huckabees”, “King of California”, “Once”, “Please Give”, “The Puffy Chair”, “Rocket Science”, “Runaway”, “Singles”, “The Social Network”, “Spanking the Monkey”, “Sullivan’s Travels”, “Une Femme est une Femme”, “Winter’s Bone”, “World’s Greatest Dad” and “Zodiac”.
This month, the average rating is 6.37/10, and the film of the month is “The Social Network”.
À Bout de Souffle (1960) – 7.5/10
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Writers: Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut
Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo Jean Seberg
Or Breathless, as other people call it. The Guardian just released some handouts in their newspaper listing ‘the greatest films of all time’, listing Breathless as a romance. A romance? Perhaps I misunderstood Godard’s film or the subtitles were wrong? Or maybe the romance comes from the Paris setting?
Godard allegedly said, “To make a film, all you need is a girl and a gun,” so I assume the translator just didn’t understand the French word for camera. The spontaneity was created by writing scenes moments before filming, and the viewer is left in suspense, marvelling at the black-and-white excitement of Paris. However, it’s probably frustrating to watch if you are a girl with a gun, wondering why your film career hasn’t taken off.
Baghead (2008) – 3/10
Directors/Writers: Mark Duplass, Jay Duplass
Starring: Ross Partridge, Steve Zissis, Greta Gerwig, Elise Muller
In the first few minutes, a speaker at a conference says, “Hollywood tried to have us convinced that you need one million dollars to make a quality piece of art, and that’s a piece-of-crap statement. I think you’ve, er, seen that. Well, er, right. Yeah. Any other comments?” Yes – Baghead is a ‘piece-of-crap statement’.
In Baghead, a group of actors decide to make a horror film about a killer who wears a bag over his head, leading to the most predictable twist since someone told me Bruce Willis was a ghost moments before I watched The Sixth Sense. Just like the penniless and unprepared characters making the film, Baghead is made in a traditional mumblecore style. However, none of the naturalism carries over, partially because of the quarter-baked idea, but it’s mainly down to the cast – it’s an error to produce a film without a script when you have four actors who have minimal skills at improvising.
I used to write scripts for myself whenever I had to make a phone call. When I did work experience at a local newspaper a few months ago, I heavily scripted my phone interviews to the extent that at the top of the paper, it’d say: “HELLO. MY NAME IS NICK CHEN. I’M CALLING ABOUT AN INTERVIEW.” There’s no shame to it.
Actually, now I just sound like an idiot.
Blood Simple (1984) – 7/10
Directors/Writers: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Starring: John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, Samm-Art Williams
The Coen brothers are brilliant – their parents legitimately love them, not just from biological duties. However, Blood Simple is their first film and they still had a lot to learn, like how to make your parents love you for reasons beyond biology.
The Chumscrubber (2005) – 2.5/10
Director: Arie Posin
Writer: Zac Stanford
Starring: Jamie Bell, Camilla Belle, Justin Chatwin, Glenn Close, Rory Culkin
The Chumscrubber is supposed to be a satire of suburbia, but comes across as a bad, insincere interpretation of suburbia. There’s an unexplained suicide after about fifteen minutes which, for tedious reasons too long to explain, leads to a fake kidnapping that does and doesn’t really happen, but no one cares. Yes, no one cares, and neither do I. Then there’s a subplot about the suicide memorial happening on the same day as a lavish wedding, which means competing for parking places. It’s terrible.
One message The Chumscrubber tries to send across is that parents don’t listen to children, but this idea ends up overstretched – even the most elastic of rubber bands can snap. Perhaps they should be concentrating more on how unconvincing Crystal is as a character. Crystal is the unbelievably nice girl at school who also hangs out with murderous drug addicts who she hates, and continues to do so for no reason until she conveniently realises an hour into the film that she doesn’t like them. She’s also played by Camilla Belle who in real life was the girlfriend of one of the Jonas brothers, so I guess she’s a Jonas sister-in-law.
Further research shows that The Chumscrubber was written and directed by an industry insider who was unable to find a production company willing to fund the film. She was then left to finance it herself. I’m not surprised.
At one point, the mayor sees a swimming pool and walks into in slow motion for no apparent reason. There is forced symbolism of dolphins that serves no purpose. It’s quirk-by-number and nothing gels, not even Jamie Bell’s hair.
CQ (2001) – 8/10
Director/Writer: Roman Coppola
Starring: Jeremy Davies, Angela Lindvall, Élodie Bouchez, Gérard Depardieu
The title of CQ is a pun on the phrase ‘seek you’, and there isn’t really any importance to that. No, CQ is more about stylish trickery and eccentric humour to keep you amused. The enthusiastic plot is about the making of a camp sci-fi film called Dragonfly about Agent Dragonfly, a sultry woman who doesn’t like to be woken up – the character study doesn’t go beyond that. This film within a film takes up about twenty minutes of CQ and is more entertaining than any other sci-film I’ve seen recently, including looking at the moon when I’m walking home late at night.
Une femme est une femme (1961) – 7/10
Director/Writer: Jean-Luc Godard
Starring: Jean-Claude Brialy, Anna Karina, Jean-Paul Belmondo
Godard messes with audience with Une femme est une femme, an anti-musical – the music stops when they’re about to dance. The orchestra stops and starts in a playful manner, and Anna Karina knows – she even winks to the camera every few scenes. In this idiosyncratic world, arguments take place in silence by using book covers from the bedroom library to illustrate points. There’s even a mind reader who says: “I don’t know if this is a comedy or a tragedy, but it is a masterpiece.” Except I wasn’t thinking that.
Flirting With Disaster (1996) – 5/10
Director/Writer: David O Russell
Starring: Ben Stiller, Patricia Arquette, Téa Leoni, Mary Tyler Moore
A few years after Flirting With Disaster, David O. Russell wrote I Heart Huckabees, a comedy about existentialism. I sense this interest with existentialism partially stemmed from Flirting with Disaster, an aimless film where characters exist to allow plot progression. From my own writing experience, the plot is a concoction of the easiest twists to write about: a road trip, quirky one-off characters on the way and a search for a biological parent.
The characters are clumsy and everything breaks.
Good Dick (2008) – 2/10
Director/Writer: Marianna Palka
Starring Marianna Palka, Jason Ritter, Tom Arnold
I Heart Huckabees (2004) – 7/10
Director/Writer: David O Russell
Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Mark Wahlberg, Jude Law, Naomi Watts, Lily Tomlin
I Heart Huckabees starts off excellently as a comedy involving ‘existential detectives’ but like many conversations about existentialism, ends up muddled and loses all momentum. The dialogue is sharp and intelligent, but it becomes too confused and whimsical – the score by Jon Brion doesn’t help. David O. Russell clearly has the potential to be a very talented filmmaker, but his films don’t really make people want to say his middle initial as many times as he’d hope.
King of California (2007) – 7.5/10
Director/Writer: Mike Cahill
Starring: Michael Douglas, Evan Rachel Wood, Willis Burks Il
Have people ever told you how much you look and sound like Evan Rachel Wood? And does your father, who looks like a doppelganger for Michael Douglas, constantly bug you about finding a Spanish explorer’s buried treasure? If yes, well, this may not be the film for you, but it’s certainly about you. I enjoy eavesdropping on your conversations and would happily spend more time in your company. You look after your father very well, and I’m proud of you.
Once (2007) – 4/10
Director/Writer: John Carney
Starring: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová
I think I might be missing the point, but I think Once would’ve been tremendous without any of the music. That fucking music. Those fucking songs. His fucking voice. I know it’s not the film’s fault, and they couldn’t have cast Paul Westerberg and Jessica Dobson just to please me, but still, those fucking songs.
It’s not her voice, but his – Glen Hansard, a hoover repairer by day, busker by night. His songs aren’t intrinsically bad, but I don’t want to be subjected to his songs every few minutes. If I wanted to drown in mediocrity, I would go to an outdoor swimming pool filled with mediocrity in my spare time. It’s my fault for watching a musical about a musician whose singing voice I can’t stand. It’s a shame because Once is quite a sweet, naturalistic romance when it’s not about the music. But the music…
Please Give (2010) – 8/10
Director/Writer: Nicole Holofcener
Starring: Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall
The Puffy Chair (2007) – 7/10
Directors/Writer: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass
Starring: Mark Duplass, Katie Aselton
In The Puffy Chair, Mark Duplass and Katie Aselton hit the road to buy a chair as a gift. Of course, there is more to the plot than that, but not much – it is a mumblecore film, after all. It’s really about how their relationship falls apart from New York to Atlanta – they’re so unlikeable that you end up rooting for the chair. Go chair!
All human interactions in The Puffy Chair are full of icy tension, with the mumblecore awkwardness being particularly effective. But they all get outperformed by a chair. Well done, chair!
Rocket Science (2007) – 8/10
Director/Writer: Jeffrey Blitz
Starring: Reece Thompson, Anna Kendrick, Nicholas D’Agosto
In Rocket Science, we follow Hal, a young boy with a stutter, who joins the school debate team because a girl forces him to join without any explanation. Shortly after falling in love with her, he finds out it was all a cruel joke. Thus, Rocket Science never becomes the romantic comedy you expect, but a quest for revenge – a dish best served cold, but best represented cinematically.
The pointlessness of school debating still echoes in my mind. And yes, I realise if it echoes in my mind that means my mind is a hollow space. But, anyway, at school, a teacher noticed that my reports were filled with teachers complaining about my shyness and inability to speak up. This led to me being forced – forced! – to audition for the debate team. Of course, given my inability to speak coherently, lack of enthusiasm, my mild speech impediment and general fear of public speaking, I failed the audition and it was all a massive waste of time.
In Rocket Science, we witness Hal, a shy boy with a stutter fail at debating. Nobody learns anything from school other than how much they hated it.
Runaway (2010) – 7.5/10
Director: Kanye West
Writer: Hype Williams
Starring: Kanye West, Selita Ebanks
Man: “Do you know she’s a bird?”
Kanye: “No, I never noticed that.”
Given all the positive press Kanye West has received this year, it seems less amusing that he directed a film he starred in. Runaway is hilarious in a David Lynch manner, but you really have to be a Kanye fan to find any enjoyment. Most of the excitement comes from the soundtrack that features several tracks from an album that hasn’t come out yet. There are also many weird touches such as Nicki Minaj as a narrator, Kanye bumping into a parade of marchers carrying an effigy of Michael Jackson, the way his shirt hangs off his body when he runs, the farmyard in his back garden, and pretty much everything, actually. It all makes no sense. There’s a faint story line about a phoenix that Kanye falls in love with, but it’s an excuse to watch strange visual art with RZA beats in the background. The songs are great, although I’d contest the title track and its dodgy lyrics – why is a ‘jerk off’ someone who takes ‘work off’?
Singles (1992) – 7/10
Director/Writer: Cameron Crowe
Starring: Bridget Fonda, Campbell Scott, Kyra Sedgwick, Matt Dillon
The Social Network (2010) – 9/10
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake
- It’s a film about Facebook.
- It’s actually about the creation of Facebook, so it’s not even an up-to-date version.
- It stars Jesse Eisenberg, an actor who’s seemingly built his career on taking the roles Michael Cera wasn’t available for.
- It has Justin Timberlake in a supporting role.
- It’s written by Aaron Sorkin. I haven’t seen The West Wing, but Sports Night and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip prove he has a history of failing to find significance in dull subjects – don’t get me started on the inaccuracies of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
Well, if I go through these fears one-by-one:
- At least it’s not a film about Myspace
- The creation of Facebook is actually a fairly gripping topic. And, anyway, it could have been about Twitter because it has fewer than 140 characters (with speaking roles).
- Jesse Eisenberg is fantastic as Mark Zuckerberg, a creative genius who lacks social skills and talks too quickly.
- I have to give Justin Timberlake some credit. He plays the creator of Napster – the guy who destroyed the music industry. So, we can now assume Justin Timberlake’s terrible music career was merely method acting.
- Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay is fast and intelligent. I’ve no doubt that David Fincher’s direction and editing helped, but every scene finds a way to cause conflict and tension in less obvious ways.
Spanking the Monkey (1994) – 3.5/10
Director/Writer: David O Russell
Starring: Jeremy Davies, Alberta Watson, Elizabeth Newett, Carla Gallo
Sullivan’s Travels (1941) – 6.5/10
Director: Preston Sturges
Writers: Preston Sturges, Ernst Laemmle
Starring: Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake
Preston Struges wants you to know that comedy is important to cinema, and made a whole film to prove his point. Unfortunately, he disproves his point by making the dramatic side of Sullivan’s Travels more poignant that the mediocre humour.
Winter’s Bone (2010) – 8/10
Director: Debra Granik
Writers: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini, Daniel Woodrell (novel)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Lauren Sweetser, Garret Dillahunt, John Hawkes
You have to be patient. It’s a bit like watching a tortoise, at times, albeit a heavily hyped tortoise. Unlike I Heart Huckabees, which I reviewed further up on this page, Winter’s Bone begins slowly and draws in the viewer into its dark, cinematic world. In short, this tortoise wins the race against a fast-tempo film which I will call I Hare-t Huckabees.
World’s Greatest Dad (2009) – 6.5/10
Director/Writer: Bobcat Goldthwait
Starring: Robin Williams, Daryl Sabara, Alexie Gilmore, Evan Martin
World’s Greatest Dad is a family comedy starring Robin Williams as a father who forgets his son’s birthday, so must make amends by winning the ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ trophy by winning an all-you-can-eat competition at the local biscuit factory, but ends up triggering his hobnob allergy and his skin turns purple, and his son realises how loved he is, and they all live happily ever after, once the skin condition clears up.
Or, World’s Greatest Dad is a disturbing comedy about a failed poet who discovers his son has accidentally died of asphyxiation whilst masturbating to a photo of his father’s girlfriend. The father, played by Robin Williams, decides to take advantage of the situation by publishing his own poetry by pretending it was written by his dead son. It’s an interesting idea that doesn’t know what to do with itself. And it finishes with a full nude scene of Robin Williams.
Zodiac (2007) – 8/10
Director: David Fincher
Writers: James Vanderbilt, Robert Graysmith (book)
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr
Why not watch it before the killer gets you?
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