Monday, November 24, 2008

Synecdoche, New York

Charlie Kaufman is really throwing down the gauntlet with this. What a trip. While walking out of the theater, I heard someone say "that would of been really crazy if you were stoned.” It was crazy no matter what, but I agree- for with his directorial debut, Kaufman is examining the awkward and disturbing side of realization in a very surreal way. Among its many ideas, the movie centers on the role one plays in society and the storm we must weather in order to function and be accepted into the world around us. Illness, loneliness, and paranoia are on full display in Phillip Hoffmans character and he makes these feelings seem all too accessible. The film got under my skin a day or so after watching it, it made sleeping difficult because I knew it was raising questions I had to ponder. It is very cerebral and psychedelic- in the dark, lost-in-your-own mind sort of way- a la- personalities folding in on themselves and multiplying.

The story concerns theater director Caden Cotard. He gets a Macarthur grant allowing him to, without financial worries, create a theater piece that will be the culmination of his life’s work. He works on this play for the rest of his life, building a small replica of New York City in the process. He continually casts and recasts actors to play the people closest to him in his life, including himself. Along the way he re-enacts every major event in his life as it happens. 30 years into the project he is convinced to start acting. He takes on the role of his ex-wife’s cleaning lady, and it gets stranger from there.

The continual pulling back and re-shaping of perception is a re-occurring theme Kaufman has mastered- especially with this film. The ideas of Being John Malovich and Adaption are here but exploring more thoroughly. This is a film that will be probably be understood and appreciated over time, it may be too potently odd at this point in evolution. It tugs at a primal weirdness in all of us very successfully.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Coming-of-Age Sex Films

My roommate organizes his Netflix list by subject matter. For example, he had an entire series of films coming to the house in a row about “brothers in trouble.” We watched Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Cassandra’s Dream, etc… His new trip is coming-of-age sex films. You know the type- a young girl exploring her sexuality. This is classic subject matter for first time female filmmakers looking to make a “personal film.” It is a great genre. I'm only going to discuss singular stories that are told from one perspective. I'm leaving out a lot of 80's classics or films I havent seen in a long time because its too hard to remember and I don't really want to watch stuff like Heavenly Creatures or Sixteen Candles again. So the following are reviews of some of the films that document those adventurous and tremendously awkward years. I’ll keep adding to the list as more films come.

Water Lilies

A recent French indie about 3 young synchronized swimmers exploring themselves and each other for the first time. It seems every shot is framed around the girls’ breasts, each girl is at different stage of development. I think the filmmaker did this on purpose to make us feel uncomfortable about possibly being turned on by underage breasts, as the girls are pretty young. The best thing about the movie is the cinematography- beautiful camera work and colors everywhere. Between that and the innocent sex, it's pretty fascinating film. Lots of people I know saw it and loved it.


Said roommate said it best- “an after school special.” It’s the only film a woman named Christina Wayne made. It’s about growing up in an upper-class New York. Obviously a personal story, she must have got this funded by her rich parents or friends. The sound was way fucked up, inexcusably bad. The films only saving grace is an amazing performance from the late Brad Renfro. He plays an addict and a thief that takes advantage of his rich friends. Bijou Phillips also does a great job playing a sassy rich girl on drugs. The big tragic ending comes when Renfro kills Phillips when she catches him sucking an old mans dick and threatens to narc. Unless you’re REALLY into this genre or a hardcore Renfro fan, stay away.


Everything Tart was not, this is. This is an amazingly realistic and engaging film. I can’t really see the genre getting better than this. Evan Rachael Wood gives an incredible performance as Tracy, a girl trying to fit in and grow up in modern day Los Angeles. She and her bad girl hottie friend, played by co-writer Nikki Reed, shop on Melrose, steal, huff, drop acid, make-out, fight, and generally be naughty girls. The director, Catherine Hardwicke, did an excellent job of depicting bratty confused teenage behavior; and we are there every step of the way on Tracy’s tortured journey. Holly Hunter (Raising Arizona) plays the mom and Brady Corbet (Funny Games) the brother. I watched some of the commentary and that was pretty insightful as to how a first time director got the film made.


This one is told from the less-documented male perspective. It takes place in a Mussolini run Italy. A kid becomes obsessed with Malena, the town hottie, played by the stunningly perfect Monica Bellucci. He follows and spies on her and through his fascination he learns to jerk off. Malena is also the town slut and gets beaten up and humiliated in the town square by all the other wives in town. It would have been nice to see more of Malena in sexual situations, instead of just alluding to them. But I guess we see Bellucci having sex in Irreversible (ha ha, just kidding). It’s a nice little period piece but I found it ultimately forgettable.


This one isn’t exactly coming-of-age but it’s about a woman in her 20’s exploring her sexuality. It is by French filmmaker Catherine Breillat, who has made a career of making films in this genre like A Real Young Girl and the incredible Fat Girl. Marie lives with her male model idiot boyfriend who won’t make love to her or even let her give him head. This makes her feel horrible because she is emotionally in love with him. In order to deal with it and get one up on him she starts having sex with all sorts of other people. She finds solace in being tied up and gagged by the principal of the school she works at. When she finishes with her bondage sessions she goes home to her boyfriend and feels empowered, not needing a thing from him. Not since Larry Clarks’ masterpiece Ken Park have I seen a film depicting sex this graphically. There are lots of dicks, pussies, fucking and cumming. It works in favor of the film. There are really long beautiful takes of bondage and sex acts from start to finish. They are done in a way that isn’t gratuitous and serves as a study of sexual relations. Ultimately this is a totally unromantic film about roles of power in relationships.

A Nos Amours

This was amazing. Maurice Pialat directed this in 1983. This was the debut of the beautiful and gifted Sandrine Bonnaire. She plays a troubled 15 year old that sleeps around with random guys because thats the only time she feels happy. Her home life is a nightmare, there are some disturbingly realistic scenes of the family fighting at home. Her mom is a nutcase and her brother is a weirdo that beats her. I like the costumes in this a lot, Bonnaire wears some really cool stuff. Also check her out in another underated French film called Vagabond.


This one generated some contraversy here in consevative America but I found it to be pretty mild. Its about a 13 year old Iraqi girl, Jasira, living in Texas with her annoying and close-minded father. The actor plays him being a dickhead so well he is almost unwatchable. Jasira gets taken advantage of by an older neighboor until some other neighboors step in to save her. The film is refreshing in that it doesnt ram any morality down your throat. It kind of lets the viewer decide whats right and wrong and what the characters real motivations are. Good stuff.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Another Day at the Office

I just fully realized the genius of the TV show The Office. Why? Because I now work in an office environment. In a staunch, cubicle infested, working class, boring as fuck, paper pushing office. Sure, there is some knowledge needed to do this work well and it can be very complicated, but once you get it down you just go through the motions. Day after day, week after week, and for some - year after year. That would be the equivalent of giving up on life for me. I have worked in many office situations and usually here in Hollywood there are artists and young people to hang with and have interesting discussions. I work in a post production house for films, so all the interesting creative parts of the filmmaking process are over. Its nuts and bolts from here on out.

The Office makes so much more sense to me now because I see that its all about capturing the little uncomfortable moments that happen in a place like this. They happen when people from totally different backgrounds with different ways of seeing the world try to find common ground. Its amazing, the stupid and inappropriate things people say. In the office I work in there are 10 people, if you say anything, everyone can hear you. I am the youngest. I go out at night. Everyone else goes home and watches TV. Not that going out makes me any better than the others, but if you don’t watch crap like Pushing Daisies and Dancing with the Stars - its tough to get in on the workplace conversations.

It is slightly fascinating to see what peoples lives are like outside my little world. The only other person who goes out drinking is the lady next to me. She was a punker in the 70s and brought in her scrapbook with ticket stubs and pictures to show me. She saw Iggy and Bowie A LOT. We confide in each other our hangovers. She is cool. The dude that sits behind her is a high-pitched-voice ex-military guy. Every morning he does "boot camp". At 5:30 am he meets with ex military instructors and does pushups and jumping jacks. He told me a crazy story about his air force training. They locked him and the other soldiers in tiny metal boxes all day long, so tiny they couldn’t stand up and only had a little window to breathe through. Then they pretended the warehouse they were in was on fire. There was fake smoke, fire alarms, etc.. and they left them there. Apparently a lot of the men flipped out and thought it was real. They “failed” the “exercise”. Sounds like what they do to torture prisoners in Iraq. What a life.

Next to him is the guy I have to deal with most. He is loud, crude, condescending, and yet occasionally funny. He claims he used to be a DJ and “spun breaks and jungle.” He eats smelly microwave dinners at his desk every day. It's disgusting. I guess he's inspiring because if I give up DJing and stick with this job I’ll end up like him. In his defense - he did teach me how to properly staple (a 45 degree angle!) and is, like most people, deep down, a nice guy.

There’s a guy that sits in the corner I often see staring at the bosses tits. He told me he used to buy hash by the kilo in Germany, so points for that. He makes lame jokes about Canada. Why do people in this environment do this? It keeps happening. Canada is amazing, these jokesters are morons. One other cool lady sits across the room from me. I think she used to be a hippie because her energy is positive and slightly eccentric. My boss is pretty cool. She never lets us leave early or anything but is generally pretty hands off. She is of some sort or Incan or Mayan decent and is pretty beautiful. There are a couple of other un-noteworthy people around as well. Anyway, that show is amazing; it perfectly captures the sad monotony and current state of awkwardness of this sick little bastion of human culture we call The Office.