These are the films I watched over the last month: “Aguirre, the Wrath of God”, “Alexander the Last”, “Attack the Block”, “Barbarella”, “Big Fan”, “Bridesmaids”, “Cold Weather”, “Demonlover”, “The Fisher King”, “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” (pictured above), “In the City of Sylvia”, “Melvin and Howard”, “Middle of Nowhere”, “My Winnapeg”, “The Myth of the American Sleepover”, “The Proposal”, “Quiet City”, “The Scenesters”, “Source Code”, “Starter for 10”, “Super 8”, “There Will Be Blood”, “Three Kings” and “You Again”.
Are these reviews becoming too long? Do you remember when they were each mostly two sentences? Is this a forum for discussion, or just leading up to an admission that I nearly watched Prom so that I could make a joke about Prom: Legacy? This month, the average rating is 6.17/10, with film of the month being Cold Weather. Follow @halfacanyon for more.
Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) – 7/10
Director/Writer: Werner Herzog
Starring: Klaus Kinski, Helena Rojo, Ruy Guerra
For ninety minutes, Werner Herzog soaks in the jungle, like a baby tiger with its whole future ahead; the sounds of waves punching rocks, birds playing vocal percussion, and strange dubbing from post-production. Spanish soldiers look for El Dorado to find fortune and spread the word of God, and possibly see a few tourist attractions if there’s some spare time.
When they get lost and hungry, it becomes apparent they’re being led by a madman, and the soothing voice of David Attenborough isn’t there to help. It’s fairly breathtaking, but I admit that there were a few times I felt bored – a doomed expedition is a bit like a gun in the first act – although that quickly subsided when someone bared their soul with a look of starvation, or an arrow spewing their guts.
I think the jungle would be an excellent place for a mumblecore film. Think about it…
Mark Duplass: Dude, I’m so talented and hilarious, and I only work with gifted improvisers, so why are my films always so bad?
Katie Aselton: Dude, it’s because you’re too firmly locked into three-act bullshit, which goes against the weirdo aesthetics you’re otherwise going for.
Mark Duplass: And to think it took being stuck in the jungle for me to realise that.
Alexander the Last (2009) – 3.5/10
Director/Writer: Joe Swanberg
Starring: Jess Weixler, Justin Rice, Barlow Jacobs, Amy Seimetz
I found the director Joe Swanberg on Facebook. I was going to ask him a condescending question so that I could publish his response in this review. I decided against it. Out of the big names in the mumblecore movement, Swanberg is surely the least competent director as some of the camera angles make no sense; it’s as if the cameraman couldn’t be bothered to move a sofa, so stands in the wrong spot for an entire scene.
For a film seemingly built around a surprisingly thought provoking sex scene, Alexander the Last is watchable for the performance from Amy Seimetz who will probably become our generation’s Parker Posey/Catherine Keener, or maybe I’m just trying to get the attention of Nancy, the stranger who sent me a complaint about something I said about not liking Rachel Weisz. Still, every mumblecore film has one person who can’t act – it’s usually Greta Gerwig, but this time it’s Barlow Jacobs, who I’m guessing was hired because he looks enough like the director to provide wish-fulfilment. Ah, Barlow – we won’t be hearing from you anytime soon.
Attack the Block (2011) – 4/10
Director/Writer: Joe Cornish
Starr:ng Jodie Whittaker, John Boyega, Alex Esmail
“My fucking hero.”
I don’t really know what people mean when they call something a ‘popcorn movie’, but this is an example. I guess they mean that it’s fun enough to earn a snack for an accompaniment, but keep eating so you don’t get bored. Attack the Block follows the formula of Snakes on a Plane, except with aliens in London, and thinks that’s enough – it’s underwhelming and uninspired, with no sense of danger, excitement or playfulness. Be careful when eating popcorn as you might miss something you’ve seen before or already predicted.
Barbarella (1968) – 4.5/10
Director: Roger Badim
Writers: Vittorio Bonicelli, Clement Biddle Wood, Brian Degas, Tudor Gates
Starring: Jane Fonda
“I will be your eyes.”
“I do not believe it is possible. We’ll be shot down by the black guard patrols.”
“Not with my mini missile projector, we won’t.
While it doesn’t particularly overstay its welcome, Barbarella plays its best cards in the first 30 minutes, when the camp sci-fi designs and dialogue are at their peak, after which it drags and drags. The infamous opening credits, in which physics play tricks with female clothing, might be the most well-known aspect of Barbarella, but it should be the prospect of being eaten by birds in a cage – she looks at the bite marks emerging on her skin, comically pauses, then complains, “This is really much too poetic a way to die.”
Big Fan (2009) – 6.5/10
Director/Writer: Robert D. Siegel
Starring: Patton Oswalt, Kevin Corrigan, Michael Rapaport
“I can’t tell you how sick I am.”
Comedian Patton Oswalt takes the lead role and will surprise many by his confidently restrained performance as a sports fan who lives with his mother, has a dead-end job, and can’t afford tickets to see his favourite team. When he’s assaulted by his sporting hero, he refuses to sue, knowing that the Super Bowl is just around the corner.
Instead of big laughs, Big Fan goes for pathos; sports fan are portrayed as angry losers, living their lives through sports radio. Oswalt’s character is both frustrating and invigorating because of his refusal to change, yet Siegel doesn’t build on this (lack of) progression. Once a foot is stuck in the sand, you wonder what the next hour will bring; the perplexing ending dribbles, rather than finishes.
Bridesmaids (2011) – 7.5/10
Director: Paul Feig
Writers: Annie Mumolo, Kristen Wiig
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy
“At first I did not know that it was your diary. I thought it was a very sad, handwritten book.”
Kristen Wiig’s Bridesmaids shares too much with her SNL background: often a series of skits, throw in some celebrity cameos, finish with a musical guest. It’s a shame because you could cut a hilarious 80-minute version (the theatrical release is 125 minutes) focusing on sharp interplay between Wiig, Rose Byrne, Maya Rudolph, Jon Hamm and Chris O’Dowd. Still good, though…
Cold Weather (2011) – 9.5/10
Director/Writer: Aaron Katz
Starring: Cris Lankenau, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Raul Castillo
“How do you go from being a forensic scientist to cutting up vegetables in a restaurant?”
Loyal readers of this site will remember when I gave the Duplass Brothers’ Baghead 2.5/10; it was a mumblecore film that turned into horror, both in genre and execution. Unlike other films like From Dusk till Dawn and Life is Beautiful that shift genres, Cold Weather moves seamlessly – it changes from mumblecore to crime-thriller without losing its charm.
Doug (Cris Lankenau) moves to Portland to work the night shift in an ice factory, and moves in with his brilliantly deadpan sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn) – “They need factories for that?” The first half of Cold Weather is a slow introduction as Doug settles down, makes friends with a DJ who spins 1960s Latino music (“Shit you’ve never heard before!”), bonds with his sister, and gets reacquainted with his ex-girlfriend Rachel. For a while, the most excitement they have is with Carcassonne. That is, until Rachel disappears, and they have a mystery to solve, or, at the very least, an excuse to call in sick.
There are similarities with Jonathan Ames’ Bored to Death, but Cold Weather is less desperate for laughs and doesn’t face sitcom limitations. Maybe because it’s not a pure mumblecore film – too much thought has gone into the camera angles, there seems to be a script, and it builds on less likely relationships that move from the background into the foreground. Watching believable characters pretend to be detectives becomes rather like watching a game show when you can play as well, except with Cold Weather you actually care about the contestants; you see yourself in them, and that was me, there, and that’s what was missing all along, now I know.
“I’ve got a question for you. And don’t get offended. I’m not trying to make fun of you.”
“Do you have any friends?”
Demonlover (2002) – 7/10
Director/Writer: Olivier Assayas
Starrinng: Connie Nielsen, Gina Gershon, Chloe Sevigny
In Videodrome, a nightmarish world is deemed to involve torture pornography in its landscape; Demonlover takes this further. The plot of Demonlover is undeniably ridiculous, with too many confusing twists. Yet, the convoluted structure becomes linked by the disturbing images on the characters’ screen, the challenge of desensitisation, and memorable shots of ‘it girl’ Sevigny playing computer games. The uneven edges somehow slot together, capped by a great chase sequence – Connie Nielsen sighs at the head of a serene car chase, driving into a cacophony of blue and flashing lights.
The Fisher King (1991) – 8/10
Director: Terry Gilliam
Writer: Richard LaGravenese
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams, Adam Bryant
“Some billionaire’s got the Holy Grail in his library on 5th Avenue.”
Similarly, Jeff Bridges’ life takes a turn for the worse within a few seconds and a ‘THREE YEARS LATER’ subtitle. He’s introduced as a radio star in the vein of Howard Stern, but loses his career when an irate caller carries out a shooting on innocent victims. When Bridges meets someone who lost his wife from this event, he tries to make amends – by finding him love, and also fulfilling his quest to find the Holy Grail.
The Fisher King never fully commits to being a fantasy; there’s a clear sideline on what is real and what is the imagination stemming from a catatonic coma. I saw an interview where indie newcomer Brit Marling spoke of what Gilliam achieved in 12 Monkeys, whereby Bruce Willis saw the adult version of himself die. Gilliam does something similar with The Fisher King, except it’s about gluing the fractures; the moon may look so far away, but so did what you lost.
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco (2002) – 7/10
Director: Sam Jones
Sam Jones’ black-and-white documentary about the making of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is far more fascinating that, say, how much cocaine Justin Bieber didn’t take in the studio for Baby.It begins with the band describing their unity and unconditional support from the record company, then leads to Jay Bennett (lead guitarist and co-writer of most of the songs) being kicked out, and being dropped by the label.
Terse highlights include Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennet fiercely arguing over the five second interlude between “Ashes of American Flags” and “Heavy Metal Drummer” followed by Tweedy vomiting, and embarrassing footage of the editor of Rolling Stone magazine explaining how CDs work.
You don’t have to be a fan of Wilco’s music, but it obviously helps – if you don’t, you could pretend it’s a satire of what a Joe Swanberg film would look like with a director who understands cameras.
In the City of Sylvia (2007) – 8/10
Director/Writer: José Luis Guerín
Starring: Pilar López de Ayala, Xavier Lafitte
“Not at first. But, later, I was convinced.”
There’s no soundtrack and hardly any dialogue in the 84 minutes of In the City of Sylvia. Instead, meditative shots take in the city, with every footstep and potential “Sylvia” colliding with hypnotic effect. When he finds someone who might be Sylvia, he follows her, but not in a creepy way – more sad and pathetic. He wakes up with regret, beautified by sunlight peeping through the curtains, and then he’s out on the bench, comparing passers-by with his pencil sketch.
Remember when I gave Somewhere a score of 0/10? I feel that In the City of Sylvia is the introspective landscape roam Sofia Coppola was aiming for. The protagonist wanders around a city that he’s totally lost in, geographically and ideologically, but knows his way around, sometimes just by the faces that appear in window reflections.
He doesn’t know if she’s ignoring him, or perhaps toying with him, but difficulties come when they’re separated by trams, with skaters intertwining like loose darts. It’s a patient chase that’s the antithesis of the absurd ending of Elizabethtown when Kirsten Dunst finds “love”, then creates the worst game show, with the “Sofia Coppola method” of covering up cracks with a soundtrack. There is more honesty with In the City of Sylvia, bathing in the chatter of strangers, the clinking of glasses, or the repetition of graffiti: “LAURE/ JE T’AIME”.
When he doesn’t know where Sylvia is, everyone becomes a candidate; in the city, everyone and everything is Sylvia.
Melvin and Howard (1980) – 3/10
Director: Jonathan Demme
Writer: Bo Goldman
Starring: Paul Le Mat, MAry Steenburgen, Pamela Reed, Jason Robards
“What’d you want to marry me for? You just divorced me…”
Melvin, a milkman helps out a homeless man who had a motorcycle accident. That man turns out to be Howard Hughes, who repays Melvin in his will. Well, that’s the selling point. In truth, Melvin and Howard is too goofy, with horrendously inconsistent characterisation; even Mary Steenburgen is annoying, with Jonathan Demme’s direction to blame.
Middle of Nowhere (2008) – 5.5/10
Director: John Stockwell
Writer: Michelle Morgan
Starring: Eva Amurri, Anton Yelchin
“Okay, shall we talk about this? I’ve been breaking the law selling drugs so I can have the money to go to college and get away from you, but I still don’t have enough.”
Amusement parks are run by bored teenagers trying to save money for their American colleges, based on Adventureland and Middle of Nowhere. For those who have seen it, I would describe Middle of Nowhere as Adventureland told from Kristen Stewart’s character’s point of view.
As a coming-of-age drama, Middle of Nowhere succeeds, sort-of – its actors are so inherently annoying, they convincingly play the people you want to avoid. Some of the plot is so convoluted, but to a level that corroborates with adolescent confusion – Dorian resorts to selling drugs for money, but gives it away to Susan Sarandon’s moody daughter (Sarandon’s daughter in the film is her real-life daughter). These are all faults, but its ambitions are detrimental, like a snail in the road.
When Grace reveals her father killed himself, Dorian tries to ‘match her pain’ by reacting with how he found out her was adopted from his angry sister who was jealous he didn’t need glasses. This is one of the few ‘true’ moments of Middle of Nowhere, where Dorian is angry with himself for being rude, but also because he competitively lost. From the director of Crazy/Beautiful, you can only expect the emotional impact to come by accident or musical montages.
My Winnipeg (2008) – 7.5/10
Director: Guy Maddin
Writers: Guy Maddin, George Toles
Starring: Darcy Fehr, Ann Savage, Louis Negin
“Always winter. Always sleeping. Winnipeg. Winnipeg.”
Thank you to Annabella J. Massey for requesting My Winnipeg to be reviewed. To remind you, I still accept requests and general correspondence through email: notcherhorowitz[AT]gmail.com.
Before I watched My Winnipeg, I came up with the line with which I was going to end the review: ‘You can’t buy memories, but you can make them up.’ I wasn’t sure what it meant, but a search on Google suggested I was the first person to think of that phrase. Really, it’s one of those meaningless aphorisms deluded people use as life mottos, and My Winnipeg deserves more insight.
Guy Madding’s puzzling film is a hypnotic reliving of his home town. It mixes stock-footage, hired actors, worded cues and a poetic narrator – like someone talking over a pastiche silent film or a very stylish Power Point presentation. It would be more hypnotic if it wasn’t for the over-anxious score which is more a warning than an accompaniment, for Winnipeg is cold, surreal and miserable. Many of the film’s revelations are absurd and false, unless if Madding’s mother really starred in a daily television show called Ledgeman – every day, she talks her son out of jumping off a window ledge.
In one memorable, animated sequence, Madding describes how racehorses escaped and froze to death in a lake like ‘eleven knights on a vast chess board’, with the protruding heads becoming a site for picnics and ‘romantic rambles’ – clearly absurd because eleven black knights in a chess game is impossible, even if all your pawns reach the opposite row, as there’d only be ten, but that’s just a side note.
Most of My Winnipeg is in black-and-white, aside from a few brief scenes. Unlike Europa, Sin City and Pleasantville which use colour to exaggerate images and symbolism, Madding demonstrates how mundane modern Winnipeg has become in colour; a playful way of proving resources were available, but not part of his uncompromising vision. Of course, the black-and-white is about memories, where even stock footage was your life.
It reminds me of the second scene of Annie Hall when Woody Allen remembers his house as being directly under a rollercoaster, or present-day Trip Fontaine lamenting Kirsten Dunst in The Virgin Suicides (“She was the still point of the turning world, man.”). (I know that’s incorrect punctuation, but that’s how I feel it should be done.) Without the black-and-white, I might not have noticed the influence of childhood when Madding calls Winnipeg women ‘old biddies’, and how it relates to his complaints that schoolgirls teased him:
After a while, the film begins to repeat itself a bit too much. Madding keeps it interesting, but even Zelig had a narrative. The thread about wanting to escape feels manufactured, when the better ending is when he asks if backgrounds in photos are more important than the people in them. It’s something I’ve also been wondering. It’s as if Madding’s struck an anomaly by having people contextualise the town, rather than the other way round, whereas I tend to look at things like haircuts and band t-shirts. Wedding photos are never about the day, but analysing facial expressions, identifying who wasn’t invited, and wondering how off-the-shoulder dresses work.
When people talk of the past, it irks me when anecdotes are slightly altered to become more exciting on a plastic level (such as the disappointingly unfaithful adaptation of Submarine), but a city is malleable – it’s ‘my city’, never ‘my people’. You can’t buy memories, but you sure can make them up.
The Myth of the American Sleepover (2011) – 4/10
Director/Writer: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Claire Sloma, Marlon Morton, Amanda Bauer, Brett Jacobsen
“If I yell for my Mum, you’re gonna be in a lot of trouble. If you want to come in and sit down, you can.”
The premise of The Myth of the American Sleepover is almost identical to Dazed and Confused, Can’t Hardly Wait and American Graffiti¸ but without the reckless abandon that made those films so iconic. There are four fairly tame stories, all filled with so many indiscriminate characters that it’s hard to tell them apart; sometimes you watch someone you don’t know reading diary entries about someone you can’t remember – one character jarringly says, “Thank you, sister,” just to help out the film reviews who didn’t make a diagram.
Nowadays, the only real reason to see American Graffiti is for young actors playing roles before they became famous, but I’m struggling to see who’s going to make it big from The Myth of the American Sleepover. I suppose Amy Seimetz steals the film in the two minutes she appears, but she plays a less significant role than the moon in the background; it shines, watching below, but seems bored.
The Proposal (2009) – 3.5/10
Director: Anna Fletcher
Writer: Pete Chiarell
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Sandra Bullock, Betty White
When Sandra Bullock is threatened with deportation, she makes her office assistant, Ryan Reynolds, pretend to be her fiancé. Bullock and Reynolds hate each other, but have to pretend they’re in love. It’s not really a valid criticism to point out how predictable the storyline is, but a film with a goofy plotline shouldn’t take itself so seriously. The comic set pieces are so bizarre and jarring, that the laughter comes from the wrong place – an incident involving a dog and a hairdryer leads to Bullock dropping her towel and falling on his naked body; she asks why he’s naked, but he doesn’t respond. No one responds; no one cares.
The humour is as fake as their engagement.
Quiet City (2007) – 6.5/10
Director: Aaron Katz
Writers: Aaron Katz, Erin Fisher, Cris Lankenau
Starring: Erin Fisher, Cris Lankenau, Sarah Hellman, Joe Swanberg
“My bouncy ball doesn’t work in the grass.”
After Cold Weather (film of the month, as reviewed earlier), I checked out Aaron Katz’s previous work. The plot lamentably lacks ambition, as two people walk around New York, occasionally visiting art shows and parties. Still, Katz makes a small story seem cinematic, already displaying a talent for showing off visual flair with limited resources. It’s pretty much Before Sunset without the smugness.
The Scenesters (2009) – 3/10
Director/Writer: Todd Berger
Starring: Blaise Miller, Suzanne May, Jeff Grace
“This is boring. This is pedestrian. Kids need smash cuts to get them out of bed in the morning.”
The Scenesters is a mumblecore parody of a mumblecore film – something nobody wants. Sadly, there’s no sense of knowingness by The Scenesters, which means it unintentionally parodies and criticises itself. The actors look distinctly amateurish in performance, and the sound editing is shoddy – even I noticed.
There’s also a murder mystery involved, although you barely notice; the last throw of the dice, thrown by a scenester into a pile of clothes stolen from American Apparel, soaked by Tao Lin’s tears. “In actuality, I just do a lot of crying. Yeah, a lot of crying.”
Source Code (2011) – 7.5/10
Director: Duncan Jones
Writer: Ben Ripley
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan
“What would you do if you only had a minute left to live?”
“I don’t know.”
“I would call my Dad and tell him I’m sorry.”
The idea of replaying the same moment in time has been toyed with in Groundhog Day and Run, Lola, Run, but Source Code focuses on the science-fiction element – Bill Murray switches off his alarm clock with a shrug, but Jake Gyllenhaal screams, “Why is this happening?”
Gyllenhaal has to relive the same eight minutes on a train, trying to find who planted a bomb. Of course, it’s only by the third time that he forces his tongue upon an attractive stranger – yes, he lasts 20 minutes before using his situation for inappropriate reasons. Otherwise, Source Code is a smart sci-fi thriller that throws you straight into the action. The repetition of events doesn’t drain the film, but Gyllenhaal receives persistent orders to hurry up – lives are at stake, and he’s spending too much time trying to justify chatting up Michelle Monaghan.
Starter for 10 (2006) – 6.5/10
Director: Tom Vaughan
Writer: David Nicholls
Starring: James McAvoy, Alice Eve, Rebecca Hall, Dominic Cooper
“Sometimes the people you care about the most, just don’t give a toss.”
Before David Nicholls’ One Day found the hearts of people who read two books a year, he wrote Starter for 10. Yes, David Nicholls – the man who found fame because his latest novel coincided with the end of the Harry Potter books. James McAvoy stars as a Bristol University student who makes it onto University Challenge, whilst being distracted by derision from his old friends, and deciding which girl he loves more – an unreliable blonde on the team, or a passionate protestor who conveniently bumps into him whenever something eventful happens.
The film is set in 1986 and the nostalgia seems forced; there are unnaturally frequent references to the year, such as Rebecca Hall insisting, “We can’t start 1986 with this,” before playing The Buzzcocks. Based on this and One Day, Nicholls thinks it’s revolutionary to change the time setting. Really, it’s just a charming comedy about a university experience that nobody had.
The Station Agent (2003) – 8/10
Director/Writer: Thomas McCarthy
Starring: Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, Bobby Cannavale
“I hate phones. I have two.”
Thomas McCarthy’s bittersweet comedy is a drama of fractured relationships, but no one raises their voice. The Station Agent details the friendship of three people in a rural area of New Jersey. Finn (Peter Dinklage) is a reclusive dwarf who avoids social interactions because of unwanted attention from strangers. Olivia (Patricia Clarkson) is less stable, two years after the death of her son and a divorce. They are brought together by Joe (Bobby Cannavale) who runs an ice cream van that sells coffee; he’s annoyingly talkative and central to opening up Finn from hiding in books and videos of trains.
McCarthy said in interviews that the diverse parts were written specifically for the actors, with casting being the glue that keeps it all together – that, and Joe’s enthusiasm for everything, whether it’s making videos of “train chasing” or repeatedly asking, “How can you not have a garlic presser?”
Super 8 (2011) – 6/10
Director/Writer: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler
“They will kill you. Do not speak of this, or else you and your parents will die.”
Those are some frightening words from a biology teacher to five children half-an-hour into Super 8; it’s also where the film loses it. At its heart, J.J. Abrams has made a coming-of-age story about some 14-year-olds shooting their own movie after school using a Super 8 camera, but he throws in an engulfing, laboured alien plotline.
The action sequences are fun, but only because underneath there’s a better film taking place about growing up; there’s plenty of humour when the children work on their film in the middle of disaster scenes, and their encounters with a teenaged weed smoker (“No! He’s too stoned!”) who tries to ‘get back into disco music’ to impress a girl. Not only is the alien unnecessary, the protagonists’ emotional connection towards it is less believable than the Stockholm syndrome developed by King Kong’s victims.
The big reveal of the alien is delayed for so long, yet you’re expected to find empathy – like marrying the first person you see standing outside a church, just because you have fifteen minutes before everything will end.
There Will Be Blood (2007) – 9.5/10
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writers: Paul Thomas Anderson, Upton Sinclair (novel)
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano
“You’re lazy and you’re stupid. Do you think God is going to save you for being stupid?”
I don’t want to say too much that’ll give away any of the plot, even though the title is a spoiler. It had a profound effect on me. I’m not sure what, exactly, but in my mind I’m typing in the voice of Daniel Day-Lewis. It’s slow, but mesmerising; long, but never repetitive or derivative. If anything, it could have been longer, and it was like watching a fire while it burns, burns like oil on a cross.
Day-Lewis is an oil man, looking for wealth, but at one point his oil’s on fire and his son is sick, and he doesn’t know which to run. There will be blood, as there’s the promise of something more. There will be blood, as something’s going to happen and nothing’s ever quite right, below appearance and false prophets and demanding someone admits that God is a superstition, Paul Thomas Anderson atones for Magnolia.
Three Kings (1999) – 7.5/10
Director/Writer: David O. Russell
Starring: George Clooney, Mark Whlberg, Ice Cube, Spike Jonze
David O. Russell’s first two films, Spanking the Monkey and Flirting with Disaster, should have killed off his career. Somehow, like latter-day M. Night Shyamalan, he survived, and even had a healthy cast and budget for Three Kings.
From first impressions, I guessed David O. Russell was aware of his make-or-break situation. The adolescent whining of Spanking the Monkey and Flirting with Disaster is gone, as the first minute features Mark Wahlberg shooting a soldier in the head; the Gulf War is over, so everyone wants their photo taken with the dead body.
Russell’s ambitious move into foreign territory (satire, black comedy, entertainment) is equally stylish, with many scenes feeling like a pop music video; by no coincidence, Spike Jonze is given his first acting job in Three Kings. It’s a brave move for Russell to let the more talented Jonze act in his film – it’s a bit like when Charlotte Gainsbourg chose Beck to produce her album IRM.
Now, when I say there are scenes that remind me of pop videos, I mean it. There are segments when characters dance and sing along to the Beach Boys and Public Enemy – I think N.W.A. would have been a better choice, given that Ice Cube is in the cast. In fact, the self-awareness of the casting means Ice Cube’s chooses easy-listening CDs for his car.
The plot, if simplified, is a few Americans try to steal gold from Iraq just after the Gulf War. By casting George Clooney, Mark Walhberg and Ice Cube in the main roles, the Americans really stand out among the civilians and prisoners. At one point, George Clooney picks up a bag of gold, but the gold is so heavy that it tears a whole and falls on the floor – a powerful metaphor for Hollywood.
You Again (2010) – 3/10
Director: Andy Fickman
Writer: Moe Jelline
Starring: Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver
Kristen Bell is horrified to discover her brother is marrying the girl who bullied her at school. What follows isn’t smart, funny or believable, as it descends into humourless scenes of slapstick, a reliably irritating cameo from Betty White, overlong dance sequences, and a food fight.
Nevertheless, You Again is responsible for one of the biggest laughs out of these month’s films – Kristen Bell plays a high school video made by her bully for a time capsule, and her brother deems this enough to call off the wedding. Sadly, this more surreal and bleak style of humour is only touched upon at the end, with the final punch line being a two people falling out of a tree house and breaking their bones, while keeping in line with being a family film.
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