Tuesday, 27 November 2012


Title: Micmacs
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Released: 2009
Staring: Dany Boon, André Dussollier, Omar Sy, Dominique Pinon, Julie Ferrier, Nicolas Marié, Marie-Julie Baup, Michel Crémadès, Yolande Moreau, Jean-Pierre Marielle

Plot: Bazil (Boon) a movie obsessed video store clerk has had nearly everything he hold dear to him taken away by weapons of war, his father having been killed by a landmine in Morocco when he was a boy and now as an adult he now finds himself with a stray bullet lodged in his skull and on the verge of instantaneous death. Things only get worse when he finds himself suddenly replaced at his job aswell as made homeless forcing him to walk the streets of Paris, where he is taken in by scavenger Slammer (Marielle) and his bands of fellow scavengers / misfits. Happy with his new life as a scavenger Bazil soon stumbles across a chance for revenge on the arms companies which not only made the mine which killed his father but also who made the bullet lodged in his skull and soon forms his plan for revenge with the help of his new friends.

Review:  For some reason it has taken me until now to watch this film which is something of a conundrum for myself considering how much of a fan of director Jeunet’s previous films, which like this film play out like surreal fairy tales with an adult twist, a style he has continued to establish with each film he has made, only twice breaking away from this style of direction for “Alien Resurrection” and “A Very Long Engagement” which didn’t exactly resonate for myself and was essentially key in my cautiousness in approaching this film, cautiousness which I can now say was unneeded as Jeunet here returns with a vengeance to his more recognised film making style. Perhaps because of his break from his more associated style, it might explain the frenzied energy of this film as he comes out swinging here, throwing all manner of strange characters and hijinks onto the screen, making the original French title “MicMacs à tire-larigot” which translates to “Non-stop shenanigans” only all the more fitting.  

Essentially a revenge movie via the way of “Mission Impossible”, somthing which in the hands of Jeunet takes on a very different style than what most directors would produce given this same brief, as the traditional gruff badass unleashing vengeance those who wronged him is nowhere in sight, which is almost a shame considering that Jamel Debbouze has originally been considered for the role of Bazil, only to leave after three week due to artistic and financial disagreements with Junet. Like  Ethen Hunt in “Mission Impossible” Bazil has his own team whose members all process a special skill, it would be hard to say that any of his groups skills are anything you would expect from this kind of team, as Bazil is joined in his quest for revenge by contortionist Elastic Girl (Ferrier), human cannonball Buster (Pinon), Sculptor Tiny Pete (Crémadès), Calculator (Baup) who can measure and calculate things with a glance and former convict and guillotine survivor Slammer, while the group are generally kept together by former ethnographer and cook Mama Chow (Moreau). Reading through this skill list they might not seem like the most qualified group for taking down a couple of arms dealers, but that only adds to the fun and beauty of this film as Jeunet’s seemingly unlimited creativity is unleashed as he continually manages to find new and more inventive ways to utilize these skills and often with chaotic results.

Shot in Jeunet’s usual distorted reality, he has once again created a world which while seemingly set in reality, still allows for random daydream sequences as shown by an orchestra randomly appearing behind Bazil, only to suddenly disappear as he snaps himself back to reality, while this setting enables Jeunet to use an incredible pallet of colors while ensuring that every scene is crammed with as much detail as possible which will no doubt have some of you reaching for pause button just to take in some of the smaller details, including the bizarre appearances of posters from the film appearing throughout. Still even this supposed version of reality is none the less strange with Bazil and the misfits who make up his team, making a home for themselves in a cave carved into a trash heap, living a life none to dissimilar to that of “The Wombles” as they make use of scrap that other folks leave behind with Tiny Pete especially making use of this scrap in his inventive sculptures which range from humanoid figurines such as his weight lifter to the more simple yet none the less visually arresting dancing dress.

Once more the humor here is decidedly reminisant of the comedies of the silent era, with the majority coming from gleefully over exaggerated performances, especially on the part of Boon who makes the most of his clownish physique and even more so with the continually inventive ways the group complete their goals, while there is something surprisingly satisfying about seeing the underdogs pulling the carpet from underneath the feet of the all-powerful big dogs. Meanwhile subject of the arms race and the devastation it causes is certainly a hot topic and once certainly broached in more serious films, the tone is kept light aswell as broad enough that you no doubt keep any serious contemplation of the larger issues till after the film.

For the established fans of Jeunet’s films they will no doubt appreciate this return to more familiar territory, while newcommers will find it more of a gentle introduction to his surreal worlds than the darker “Delicatessen” or “The City of Lost Children”, with it’s memorable characters and warm humor, it is hard not to be charmed once more his work

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Tiny Furniture

Title: Tiny Furniture
Director: Lena Dunham
Released: 2010
Staring: Lena Dunham, Laurie Simmons, Grace Dunham, Rachel Howe, Merritt Wever, Amy Seimetz, Alex Karpovsky

Plot: Aura returns home from college to her artist family’s TriBeCa loft, with nothing but a degree in film philosophy, a failed relationship and generally no idea on what to do next with her life, while her personal life issues only continue to throw her into a further tailspin.

Review: For those of you who follow either my Twitter or Facebook feeds, you will know already what a big fan I am of “Girls” which I've already proclaimed as being “one of my first must see's of the autumn TV schedule” while also a show also created by and staring Dunham and which now also seems like an expansion on the ideas explored in this film, for here once again Dunham gives us the counter to the NY fantasy of “Sex and The City” as she instead gives us the reality of life in the city or perhaps more accurately life in lower Manhattan than perhaps one of the more sleazier neighborhoods of the city.

While mumblecore (uber low-budget comedy-drama films) as a genre is supposedly dead, this is still one of the more fun additions to this frequently over looked (often with good reason) genre, especially after the mind numbing banality of “Hannah Takes The Stairs” which until now had been the last of the handful of films which I had seen from this genre and which honestly had not exactly had me rushing out to see more, especially when the main focus is often on college kids sitting in front of the camera and having supposedly riveting conversations, while in many ways trying to emulate the same dialogue driven film making which made “Clerks” so memorable. However that film is a fitting starting point when it comes to describing this film, as this is essentially a film were nothing really happens much like “Clerks” only this time we get to see more than three locations, as Aura attempts to get her own life in check, only without none of the “were did it all go wrong” lament that Dante became such a memorable character for. Aura on the other hand is instead more lost, having left college with no real career plans, a useless degree in film philosophy and boyfriend who ended their relationship in favour of returning home to Colorado to see about the spirits of his ancestors. Still like Dante, Aura has her own group of social misfits to deal with only this time disguising themselves as members of the Tribecca art crowd rather than New Jersey slackers, with Aura finding herself with a ever increasing list of problems often without trying as she has contend with her permentley distracted photographer mother and pretentious younger sister (played by Dunham’s real life mother and sister). Her social life is non the less chaotic, as she switches between two potential suitors, Jed (Karpovsky) a minor internet celebrity who like Aura has clearly bought into his own band of bullshit as he deludes himself constantly that he is on the verge of making his big break while freeloading of Aura, despite having zero intrest in having any kind of relationship with her. Her other potential suitor is Keith, a chef at the restaurant Aura takes a hostess job at, who is frustrated with the porn obsessed antics of his fellow chefs, disgusted by their attempts to show him a video entitled “Cum Omelette” while at the same time openly admitting to a love of tentacle rape porn. Still compared to Jed he is easily the lesser of two evils even though he has a girlfriend, which ultimately has zero effect on things here, especially as she is only ever mentioned but never actually seen.
The cast are all likeable enough with Dunham proving herself to be an equally engaging and charming lead, while her her average looks only further plays to her advantage, as she is not just another pretty leading lady, bumbling from situation to situation before finally finding her prince charming, even more so as by the end of this film very little is actually resolved if at all, somthing which will no doubt irritate those who prefer thier endings alittle more closed than the one you get here and as such it reminded me of the likes of "Ghost World" and "Welcome To The Dollhouse" both of which make for excellent further viewing, even more so when they seem to explore similar themes with thier own directionless girls.

Ultimately the film like so many other examples of the Mumblecore genre frequently can seem like a string of seemingly random encounters and conversations strung together with the loosest of plotlines, with Dunham relying more on the appeal of her characters and their frequently random conversations to drive the film, rather than any kind of drama or action, something which will no doubt be the tiping point for most, especially those of you who like your films with alittle more action than you certainly get here. Still despite this, I found myself immersed in this film, perhaps largely due to my love of well written dialogue, but needless to say I found it anything but a boring experience, perhaps outside of the occasional irritance at characters like Jed, who is continually such a pretentious douche, yet at the same time it was hard to figure out if he had been intentionally written this way or not.
While many of the critics who commented on this film upon its original release were quick to declare Dunham the voice of this generation, I can't help but feel that it is a label which was given slightly misguidedly, for while Dunham is certainly a new and exciting voice, somthing which has only been further grounded by her show "Girls", she is not perhaps the voice of this generation,but instead a voice of note instead if only as the validation that the mumblecore genre is infact capable of more than pretentious ramblings.

Monday, 19 November 2012


Title: Cosmopolis
Director: David Cronenberg
Released: 2012
Staring: Robert Pattinson, Paul Giamatti, Samantha Morton, Sarah Gadon, Mathieu Amalric, Juliette Binoche, Kevin Durand
Plot:28 year old Billionaire asset manager Eric Packer (Pattinson) travels across New York in order via his impenetrable stretch limo to get a haircut at his childhood barber.

Review: This film took me awhile to get around to watching originally due to prolonged delays, thanks in part to the limited distribution as well as were I live on this rain soaked rock meaning that certain films never make it this far south, but still despite such issues I did finally get to see the latest film by director David Cronenberg, which after “A Dangerous Method” sees him back on more familiar ground as he returns with his adaptation of Don DeLillo’s titular novel.

Clearly trying to break away from the shiny vampire nonsense of the “Twilight” saga, Pattinson stars here in a role which was originally going to be played by Colin Farrell, until scheduling conflicts with the recent “Total Recall” remake forced him to drop out, leaving the role open for Patterison who continues here with his ongoing mission to try and find roles as far away from the role of Edward Cullen as possible, especially with this film being one of his more experimental performances, something I don’t think most of the Robert Pattinson fans (or most of the audience at the screening I attended) realised judging by how many people I saw walking out of this film, a scene all to reminiscent of those I saw while watching “Drive”. As such it is certainly worth noting that this is far from the most action packed of films, especially considering how it is a film driven by its dialogue rather than the events which happen within it’s runtime.

For myself DeLillo has always been an author I have found to be largely impenetrable, despite many of his books such as the 823 page epic “Underworld” being highly regarded, they have never truly managed to capture my interest so I was especially curious going into this film to see if this was down to how DeLillo presents his stories or if it was just the writing itself which I was having the problem with. Still seeing how Cronenberg had managed to adapt William Burroughs equally impenetrable “Naked Lunch” with shall we say interesting results, I was hopeful if anyone could make it work it would be him. So did he? Well the results are mixed to say the least for while the film looks absolutely stunning, the verbal masturbation of the film does ultimately mean that it never really goes beyond we world we see out of the windows of Packer’s limo, bar the occasional diversion to one of the numerous diners which Packer visits along on his journey. Still from this view point we witness civil unrests as anarchists take to the street, with the rat being used as their new symbol of revolt aswell as an elaborate funeral procession of Packer’s favourite rapper. Yet despite the chaos which erupts outside of his limo, this protective cocoon means that Packer remains in a constant state of calm, even as he fritters away his fortune on the rapidly declining currency known as the Chinese Yuan, all over the course of one day.

Packer’s limo is frequently shown as less his preferred mode of transport, but more the throne from which he controls his empire, especially when it is seemingly equipped for any need he might have, as he controls trades and monitors changes in the market via touch screens located in the backseats, while also using the limo as a base for the numerous meetings he holds with a variety of characters which form the bulk of the story, when he is not engaging in casual sex with one of his mistresses or even at one part having a prostate exam carried out. It is packers discussions with his personal bodyguard (Durand) though which keep us most informed about what is happening in the real world, something Packer seems overly detached from thanks to his position and status which his fortune has earned him, yet at the same time would appear to be suffocating him slowly, as he seeks random acts of violence such as randomly requesting that one of his mistresses tazer him so that he can feel something.

The cast are all good in their various roles, even if what they might be doing might be less than stimulating for some viewers, especially when so many characters speak so monotone, it can at times make it much of a slog to get through, especially when the film is driven by its dialogue. This will no doubt prove especially frustrating to the Pattinson fans, as he remains an actor severely in need of the right kind of mentor to hone his performances, for while watchable enough here it often feels that he is far from stretching himself, especially when Packer is seemingly on autopilot for the majority of the film. Still more bizarrely it is those within the cast playing potential threats to Packer that prove to the most interesting with Mathiew Amalric appearing as a serial custard pie thrower, whose random monologue was easily one of my favourite moments of the film, while Paul Giamatti’s stalker Benno makes for a slightly bewildering and unpredictable climax, especially when the film seemingly just ends rather than reaching any form of solid conclusion, for those who have stuck around this far, which as I looked around the theatre was probably around 5% of the audience that had started the film.

Perhaps if I wasn’t such a fan of Cronenberg’s work I might not have stuck this one out, as at it’s strongest it remains a curiosity, though unwitting it would seem with “Cosmopolis” Cronenberg, has finally given us a companion piece to Richard Kelly’s underrated “Southland Tales”, whose randomness also baffled many who actually saw it, while strangely charming some like myself something I was hoping for here, yet like DeLillo’s books it frequently seems to get caught up with how clever its writing is, that it forgets such things such as emotional dialogue which is honestly were the main fault of the film lies. Perhaps this was intentional with some highbrow literacy reason which certainly went over my head, but it is at the same time only further credit that Cronenberg is still making films the way he wants to, as shown by his fierce determination to provide as true an adaptation as possible here, while no doubt creating a film which will be pondered over like his adaptation of “Naked Lunch” as a strange yet occasionally wonderful curiosity, but be warned that this is one film which is not for everyone and perhaps only the few.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Science of Sleep

Title: The Science of Sleep
Director: Michel Gondry
Released: 2006
Staring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alain Chabat, Miou-Miou

Plot: Stephane (Bernal) a frequent lucid dreamer, who seemingly spends as much time in his own personal dream world as he does in the real world. Having returned from Mexico to his childhood home in Paris, following the death of his father, he takes up a job at a Calendar Company believing that it will provide the outlet for his creativity he craves, while also forming a relationship with Stephanie (Gainsbourg) who shares Stephane’s overactive sense of creativity.

Review: This last week despite my best efforts I have been suffering from the darn flu that is currently going around and in between amassing a small pharmacy of flu remedies and looking for some suitable viewing while I was refusing to get out of bed, I rediscovered this film in my collection and knew that I had found my choice for this week. This weeks choice is a film which was pretty much ignored on it’s release despite receiving a lot of positive press from critics, which is only the more surprising at the time with Director Michel Gondry coming in hot after the phenomenal success of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and memorable in the conscious of the movie going public, an advantage which allowed Gondry seemingly unlimited creative freedom for this project, which would also be the first film written by him, with his previous films both being scripted by the equally visionary screenwriter Charlie Kaufman probably best known for writing “Being John Malkovich” and while “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” might have been trippy, this film would be turn out to be on a whole new surreal level.

Coming from a background in commercials and Music videos, much like equally visual directors such as David Fincher and Spike Jonze who bizarly also made the transition to feature films around the same time as Gondry did, though while they may have expanded on their earlier styles, Gondry has reminded determinedly set in his own surreal world of DIY props and dream like imagery, while frequently drawing inspiration from his own dreams and has frequently used this imagery as part of his work, which makes it only all the more sense that he would eventually make a film about dreams.
The casting is nothing short of bold, with the two leads being realativly unknowns to most movie goers, bar those with a taste for Foreign and independent cinema. Having made the pitch black “The King” a year earlier this film would be Bernal’s second film to be shot in English, having previously only being known to fans of foreign cinema for his roles in “Y tu mamá también” and the fantastic “Amores perros” this film would continue his trend for fearlessly choosing his roles, especially with a character as frenzied as Stephane. Equally inspired is the casting of the little known Gainsbourg who is equally believable as Stephanie while seemingly to genuinely believe and buy into the world which Stephane lives inside, while also being shown as the stereotypical hot art student with her personal styling and room layout, which also is hinted with the intoxicating essence of Parisian flair.
Split down the middle, the film frequently switches between two worlds, the real one and the world of Stephane’s dream and more precisely “Stephane TV” his own TV show in his mind were he frequently reflects on current events happening around him, while providing the gateway into the even more surreal parts of his mind, with Gondry frequently choosing to switch between these two worlds frequently without warning, which can be a disorientating experience upon your first viewing and it’s really only on the second viewing that it becomes easier to identify the boundary lines between these two worlds, even when those lines frequently become all the more blurred as the film goes on, especially as Stephane’s dreams only grow in intensity.

This constant disorientation is only furthered by the frequent switches in the characters speaking French and English, also like the switches in reality with little or no warning, only making it more the appropriate when this is picked up by Stephane, who complains that it is making him feel “Schizophrenic”. Still Gondry somehow manages to get the audience to buy into this style of storytelling, which is highly reminiscent of French New Wave directors such as Jean-Luc Godard and from the retro opening titles onwards I found myself frequently comparing the work of the two directors, especially with both being key in furthering the progression of visionary cinema and it was interesting to see Gondry seemingly referencing Godard’s work, while also drawing inspiration from the more established visionaries like Terry Gilliam and David Cronenberg whose Spider like Typewriter from “Naked Lunch” making a surprise appearance here.

The dream sequences are truly the main selling point of this film, as Gondry lets loose with some of his most ambitious imagery to date, as he constructs elaborate sets from cardboard and polystyrene combined with heavy use of stop motion animation, while for those familiar with Gondry’s work will recognise the now all familiar giant hands which have frequently appeared at various points in his previous music videos and films to the point were they are almost as established as his other trademarks, despite having originally been born out of a frequent childhood nightmares about his hands growing to gigantic size, to the point were his mother would have to continuously rubs his hands to assure him that it was nothing more than a dream, though for such an unpleasant childhood memory it bizarre that it would feature so frequently in his work. Still frequently these sequences often do feel like an excuse for Gondry to pull out his film making bag of tricks, especially when so many scenes seem reminiscent of his earlier work.

Ultimately this would be his most ambitious film to date and also prove to be the zenith of his creativity, as the films which followed would see him gradually toning down his vision with his follow up “Be Kind Rewind” being firmly set in reality despite the heavy use of DIY props to now an almost mainstream style of film making seen with “The Green Hornet” which lacked any of Gondry’s trademark touches, though it remains to be seen how mainstream he has become as fan’s now egerly await the forthcoming “The We and the I”.

Ultimately this is a tale of doomed love and it’s sudden and abrasive ending will no doubt only further exclude it from the tastes of your average movie goer, while for those of you who like to be visually inspired by your film, there is much to enjoy, even if it does require your full attention to keep up with it’s continual switches, while only making you hope that Gondry returns to this style of film making soon

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Elwood's Essentials #4: Dogma

Title: Dogma
Director: Kevin Smith
Released: 1999
Staring: Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Salma Heyek, Chris Rock, Alan Rickman, Jason Lee, George Carlin, Alanis Morissette

Plot: Exiled to Wisconsin, two fallen angels Barleby (Affleck) and Loki (Damon) having discovered a loophole in the newly revised Catholic Dogma which will allow them back into Heaven after being cast out by God, unaware that they could potentially undo all creation. Upon discovering this Metatron (Rickman) aka the voice of god, tasks abortion clinic worker Bethany (Fiorentino) with stopping them, while she soon finds herself aided by Rufus (Rock) the thirteenth apostle, Serendipity (Heyek) a muse with writers block and Prophets Jay (Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith)

Review:  To approach this film I think its best to apply Kevin Smith to the many worlds theory which posits the existence of an infinite number of Kevin Smiths in an infinite number of universes. Now with this in mind I would like to think that at least in one of them he would be still making films of this standard, rather than churning out his lazy dick and fart joke favoring movies of late while generally bashing critics in public rants. Still there was a time when Smiths career was one of a symbiotic relationship between his two styles as he would make a smart dialogue driven comedy (Clerks & Chasing Amy) and follow it up with one of his fart and dick jokes favoring comedies (Mallrats & Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) before then making one of his smarter comedies, a pattern which worked well and saved audiences from becoming bored with one style, while keeping Smith’s worse fresh and interesting. Alas there must be a trigger point for change and that was “Jersey Girl” a severely underrated smart comedy, which was so largely bashed it seemingly shook Smith’s confidence as since that movie he has concentrated on making solely fart and dick joke comedies, aiming for easy laughs over the smart comedy which helped his original indie film get noticed in the first place, something seemingly also forgotten by Smith judging by how “Clerks 2” was shot in his now favoured style over the original films memorable style.

From the start it is clear that Smith is not pulling any punches when it comes to poking fun at his source material which in this case is Catholic Dogma, with the opening joke of the Catholic church bringing in a number of changes including the now legendry “Buddy Christ” as part of their Catholicism-WOW campaign to revitalize interest in the church. No doubt this is also the get off point for anyone slightly sensitive about having their belief system questioned, something I have always held the firm belief that questioning your beliefs only makes them stronger and Smith himself raised a devout Catholic really lets his knowledge of the faith shine throughout, though needless to say it did upon its release piss off a whole bunch of Roman Catholic groups in particular the Catholic League, who were more than happy to brand Smith as being worse than Hitler and the KKK combined for daring to make such a film. Still for those of you not concerned with such things or more willing to see the funny side of religion there really is a lot to enjoy here, especially when Smith is not making fun of religion just for the sake of it, but also using the film as a platform to raise his own questions about aspects of his faith without at the same time feeling as if he needs to turn it into a sermon to do so. Still perhaps if these religious groups looked a little further than the surface of the film, they might have been less quick to arms, especially when Bethany is in many ways representing the atheist view point, as she questions the existence of god largely thanks to her own misfortunes, with each of her companions playing their part in restoring her faith, with the exception perhaps being Jay and Silent Bob, whose appearance is more to do with continuality of the Askview universe than plot necessity. At the same time implying that god’s true form is Alanis Morissette, let alone that she is a woman might only undo this much like the idea of a thirtieth apostle.

The plot is broken into two main threads with the first following Bartleby and Loki as they journey across country on their mission to get back into heaven, along the way scratching off a few remaining grudges such as the cleansing of the Mooby’s board of directors. The second thread follows Bethany and her ragtag group as they try to track down Barleby and Loki, with At the same time while Bartleby and Loki’s actions could be seen as putting them in the position of being the bad guys of the film, ultimately they are merely pawns of a larger game and even the supposed bad guy of the film Azrael (Lee) is far from the big evil you’d expect especially considering how little screen time he’s given almost as if Smith is trying to imply that the lines between good and evil are more grey than black and white and that it is often our own actions which determine the side in which we stand.

The cast are all memorable in their individual parts, despite Smith later commenting on the difficultly he had working with Fiorentino whose role as Bethany he wished he’d given the role to Janeane Garofalo instead, while even more disturbingly considering Joey Lauren Adam aswell, whose raspy tones would have no doubt driven me over the edge. Still it is Alan Rickman whose presence threatens to overshadow the rest of the cast with his fantastic performance as the sarcastic and generally pissed off Metatron (aka the voice of god), who once again manages to elevate even the most simplest of dialogue. Equally fun are Affleck and Damon who bounce off each other and transfer their off screen friendship onto the screen as they provide many of the films best moments and the decision to follow these two as much as Bethany’s group ultimately proves to be a great one, especially when they are just so much fun to hang out with. 

Unsurprisingly controversial for its stand point on religion, the film remains one of Smith's strongest movies to date and ultimately a sad reminder of what could have been, had Smith continued to make films of this intelligence, something which Smith has only recently hinted of being capable of producing again with the sadly overlooked "Red State". Still if your not too firm in your religious stand point there is a lot to enjoy here while proving that you can make a film about religion without needing to get on a soapbox to make your point and plus how seriously can you really take a movie with a rubber poop monster in it?

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