Tag Archives: auteur

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #23 – WES ANDERSON

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #23 – WES ANDERSON

quirky
[ˈkwəːki]
ADJECTIVE


“having or characterized by peculiar or unexpected traits or aspects.
“her sense of humour was decidedly quirky”


synonyms:
eccentric · idiosyncratic · unconventional · unorthodox · unusual · off-centre · strange · bizarre · weird · peculiar · odd · freakish · outlandish · offbeat · out of the ordinary · Bohemian · alternative · zany · outré ·


I thought I’d save myself a lot of time using the above variant words in one go. Because they, and the word auteur, are utterly inevitable while writing a short article in praise of the Wes Anderson films I rate. It’s intriguing to write about Anderson though. While many of the pieces in the My Cinematic Romance series concentrate on people in cinema I absolutely adore, he is more a filmmaker who I respect rather than have an undying emotional connection with.

Wes Anderson is a phenomenal filmmaker with an imaginative set of style and narrative conceits. Everyone one of his releases is a rich tapestry containing memorable ensemble casts, adjacent framing, effervescent use of colour, geographical pertinence, intellectual humour and subjects situated in the far left field of genre cinema. Yet, I don’t enjoy ALL of his films. Often they veer too far into eccentric pretentiousness. Indeed, I was going to write a review of The French Dispatch (2021), but I found it frustratingly dull and, other than the tremendous story set in the asylum with the mad artist (Benicio Del Toro) disconnected with it on the whole. But, I must say, it was another admirable work of cinema, but one I did not enjoy as a paying punter.

So, rather than write a middling review about a genius filmmaker’s latest work, here is a piece about my favourite five films of Wes Anderson.

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



BOTTLE ROCKET (1996)

Anderson’s debut feature film is based on his short film of the same name. Co-written with Owen Wilson, it is a freewheeling take on the heist movie which eschews hard-boiled professionals for a group of hapless losers led by the positively loopy Dignan (Wilson again). Shot way before Anderson got his ruler and set square out, it’s a naturally filmed, hilarious character comedy that destabilises crime genre conventions with charming effect. Launching the acting careers of the Wilson brothers it is an oddly charming filmic treat.


RUSHMORE (1998)

This is still my favourite Wes Anderson film because it combines a perfect combination of uncommon humour and prevailing verisimilitude. What I mean is I did not feel I was watching a showcase of artistic flourishes, but a true human story full of empathetic characters, feeling and emotion. It is also incredibly funny as we follow the rites of passage story of school maverick, Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), a working class kid rebelling against the adults he believes are beneath him. Bill Murray’s career renaissance began here and his character’s vengeful battles with Max are one of the film’s many highlights.


THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (2001)

The first Wes Anderson film that saw the stylistic devices and themes so prevalent in his later work to truly come to the fore. The ensemble cast crammed with famous names, the omnipotent narrator, symmetrical framing, consistent and complimentary colour palettes, typography, fantastic use of nostalgic music, distinctive costumes and stories structured in chapters of the literary kind. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) contains many absurd comedic moments, but has several tragic scenes too. This demonstrates Anderson’s growing maturity and remains a confident vision of a dysfunctional American family of geniuses and misfits.


THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)

While Rushmore (1998) is my favourite film of Wes Anderson, his best is the tour-de-force comedy, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). It’s the pinnacle of bravura style and well-honed narrative competence, confidently presenting the rags-to-riches story of Zero Moustafa beginning in 1930s. Europe. Moustafa’s story takes in his first love, his job at the opulent hotel and his moving friendship with the prideful Gustave, an amazing Ralph Fiennes. It’s a film packed with invention, colour, humour, sadness and romance all wrapped in themes of the rise of fascism, loss, love and the wonder of friendship.


ISLE OF DOGS (2018)

Put aside ridiculous millennial online accusations of cultural appropriation and submerge yourself within Anderson’s rich canine narrative and stop-motion tapestry. As aforementioned, I’m not always a fan of his story subjects but he is a master of style and form. Isle of Dogs (2018) is no different and is a wonderful cinematic experience. Set in Japan we concentrate on, hence the title, a bunch of stray dogs dumped on a wasteland left to die and their subsequent adventures. This is much darker than prior Anderson films, but full of the imagination, wit, colour and brilliant technique, containing funny gags and twisting drama throughout. I preferred this to his version of the Roald Dahl classic, Fantastic Mr Fox (2009), as Bryan Cranston and the marvellous cast breathe life into the Anderson’s visionary animated box of tricks.

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #22 – MARTIN SCORSESE

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #22 – MARTIN SCORSESE

Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.
— Martin Scorsese

I recently had a three-week career break while I was looking for a new job. I have since gratefully located employment and that would explain why I have not been as active on this blog as before. Because looking for work is more time consuming than an actual job! Anyway, aside from spending the day on the computer searching for gainful employment I also caught up on some TV shows and films that had been on my planner for a while. One of the those I watched was the HBO produced TV drama called VINYL (2016). Created, directed (first episode only) and produced by, among others, Martin Scorsese.

Vinyl (2016) was an incendiary, nostalgic and snorting cavalcade of 1970’s rock and roll music centred around a drug addicted record executive, portrayed by Bobby Cannavale, whose business and personal life are collapsing due to his addictive and self-destructive behaviour. Overall, the ten episodes were scintillating entertainment: loud, over-the-top, ballsy, in-your-face and darkly hilarious. The characters were despicable scumbags at best, yet Scorsese’s sensational style ensures the audience enthusiastically rubber-necks these human car crashes.

Alas, due to low ratings, poor critical response and the huge budget, HBO did not renew Vinyl (2016) for a second season. Thus, Scorsese’s blistering TV rock and roll creation was no more. However, in my latest piece in the My Cinematic Romance series, I have selected five of Scorsese cinematic classics. I could’ve, of course, chosen many, many more but have challenged myself to pick only ONE film from each of the last five decades of the master filmmaker Martin Scorsese. Don’t worry Marty – I thought Vinyl (2016) absolutely rocked. F*ck the critics! You are a true genius.


Vinyl – Co-Creator/Executive Producer Mick Jagger with Bobby Cannavale and Co-Creator/Executive Producer/Director of Pilot of Martin Scorsese on the set ©2016 HBO, photo by Niko Tavernise

TAXI DRIVER (1976)

Paul Schrader’s incredible screenplay about a lost soul travelling the mean streets of New York while on the edge of insanity, is given dark life by Scorsese’s evocative direction and Robert DeNiro’s fearless performance. One of the most memorably nightmarish thrillers and character studies of the 1970s; a period which arguably represents the most exceptional decade of American cinema. Having both the writer and director admit to substance addiction in the 1970’s, lends further to the monstrously illusory vision of urban decay within the pores of this amazing work of cinema.



RAGING BULL (1980)

Boxing champion Jake La Motta represented another morally complex vision of masculinity in crisis for both Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese. Both in and out of the ring he is man in pain who hurts those he loves and, above all else, himself. Each battering jab and uppercut and hook is felt by the audience via incredible editing and sound design. Overall, Scorsese delivers a brutal profile in stark black-and-white and a knockout box of cinematic tricks. Unsurprisingly, DeNiro won a Best Acting Oscar at the 1981 Academy Awards. Rather surprisingly, Ordinary People (1980) was winner of Best Picture. Go figure!



GOODFELLAS (1990)

As far back as I can remember, this has been one of my favourite films of all time. Ray Liotta’s voiceover introduces and tells the story of the rise and fall of gangster, Henry Hill, while expertly supported by Scorsese’s selection of memorable shots, music and sequences. Further, Scorsese’s major skill here is too, is to make us both enamoured and disgusted by the actions of these charismatic criminals and killers. There are so many classic scenes in this incredible epic and the cast of Liotta, DeNiro and scene-stealing, Joe Pesci, make it one of those films that can be watched over and over. Did I forget to mention that it also has one of the greatest cinema soundtracks ever!



THE DEPARTED (2006)

A truly remarkable remake of Infernal Affairs (2002), the film is shot and edited, as expected, with immaculate precision; crammed with unrelenting and bone-crushing thrills and violence. Thematically, it’s powerful too. Throughout, honesty and truth are obliterated by lies and death. Costigan and Sullivan are no more than pawns at the hands of a corrupt system that lets people down from a great height. This is literally the case where Martin Sheen’s Captain Queenan is concerned. An immense cast including DiCaprio, Damon, Wahlberg and scenery-chewing, Jack Nicholson, take a twisting Kafkaesque plot where criminals and cops collide; ultimately chasing their shadows and souls to a treacherous, bloody and bitter end.



THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013)

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) feels like a greatest hits package combining all of the finer ingredients from Scorsese’s other films. You’ve got the classic swooning camera moves; the direct address to camera; cat-and-dog couples fighting as seen in Casino (1995) and Goodfellas (1990); the boat-in-peril sequence as seen in Cape Fear (1991); the multi-character voiceovers; the dumb criminals putting themselves in the shit; characters turning on each other and ratting each other out as seen in The Departed (2006); plus many more. But whereas Scorsese used to deal with outsiders, oddballs and working class criminals like Travis Bickle, Rupert Pupkin or Henry Hill, he presents via Jordan Belfort a white-collar criminal and venal member of the “Master-Race”, getting his just desserts in an incendiary morality tale of major power.


MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #20 – KATHRYN BIGELOW

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #20 – KATHRYN BIGELOW

If there’s specific resistance to women making movies, I just choose to ignore that as an obstacle for two reasons: I can’t change my gender, and I refuse to stop making movies. It’s irrelevant who or what directed a movie, the important thing is that you either respond to it or you don’t. There should be more women directing; I think there’s just not the awareness that it’s really possible. It is.“— Kathryn Bigelow in 1990


Having most recently directed the searing period drama, Detroit (2017), Bigelow has been making feature films, since her debut, The Loveless (1981), for over thirty-nine years. With a strong academic background, having studied at the San Francisco Art Institute and Columbia University, it’s fascinating to review a career which has eschewed arthouse cinema and essentially been spent working mainly on big-budget genre films. However, one can see in her directorial canon that Bigelow, while striving for commercial success, is constantly testing the boundaries of genre storytelling.

Along with a powerful visual style that attains symbiosis with the core material, she intelligently explores themes relating to violence, individual freedom versus the system, masculinity in crisis, gender representations and socio-political corruption. Lastly, her characters are often outsiders, morally complex and dealing with deep personal trauma. In short: Bigelow’s worldview is one of both healthy scepticism and cynicism, but also an element of hope within the longing for control. So, here are five of Kathryn Bigelow’s most impactful cinematic releases.

***ARTICLE CONTAINS FILM SPOILERS***



NEAR DARK (1987)

While The Lost Boys (1987) is rightly regarded as a very entertaining 80’s vampire film, Near Dark (1987) is way, way superior. Despite not catching fire at the box office, this neo-horror-western contains a fantastic cast of James Cameron alumni, including: Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein. These great character actors inhabit this snarling gang of vampires perfectly as the film contains shockingly brutal violence and hard-bitten dialogue amidst a tender love story.



BLUE STEEL (1990)

While Jamie Lee Curtis is generally better known for her horror and comedy film performances, Kathryn Bigelow made excellent use of her dramatic acting ability as a rookie police officer caught up with Ron Silver’s psychotic commodities trader. Blue Steel (1990) is a variegated genre film which takes a standard police procedural narrative and twists it into something far more psychologically compelling. Lee Curtis excels, as does vicious bad-guy Silver, aptly named Eugene Hunt!



POINT BREAK (1991)

This classic heist meets surfing movie meets gay subtext bromance is jam-packed with classic action scenes and faux-deep philosophical musings. Keanu Reeves is the daftly named cop, Johnny Utah, who goes undercover, amidst the beach brigade to find a bunch of bank robbers. His suspicions fall on Patrick Swayze’s elemental surfer-dude-god and a dangerous “bromantic” game of cat-and-mouse ensues. Bigelow scored her first major hit with Point Break (1991), infusing it with some incredibly visceral stunt, surfing, robbery and chase sequences in an exhilarating film experience.



THE HURT LOCKER (2008)

After the box office failures of her previous three films, the under-rated sci-fi thriller, Strange Days (1995), enigmatic mystery, The Weight of Water (2000), and stodgy cold war film, K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), Bigelow’s seemingly took a career break. She would, however, come back with her most critically acclaimed and Oscar-winning film, The Hurt Locker (2008). From a brilliant script by Mark Boal and led by Jeremy Renner’s standout lead performance, The Hurt Locker (2008), put the audience right at the heart of a bomb disposal unit in Iraq. Putting aside the politics for a moment, the film is full of incredibly tense and superbly edited scenes which have your heart in your mouth. Simultaneously too, the film also shows the devastating emotional, physical and mental effect war has on the people of Iraq and the soldiers sent to fight this horrifically unjust conflict.



ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012)

Whereas The Hurt Locker (2008) had highly emotional and empathetic protagonists, Bigelow and Boal’s next film Zero Dark Thirty (2012), is a much more clinical and technically efficient cinematic experience. In parts, both a war drama and espionage thriller, the story also has a feel of an old-fashioned Western as American military and CIA operatives, led by the excellent Jessica Chastain and Jason Clarke, hunt down Osama Bin Laden. Politically speaking this is a film which makes me feel very uncomfortable for a number of reasons. It plays out like a revenge story. It also seems to both criticize and vindicate torture in the early scenes. This makes me uneasy as I understand the 9/11 attacks were just horrific, yet they seemed to get used as a motive for many more atrocities by the United States government. I guess that was what Bigelow and Boal were going for. They attempted to create a morally and emotionally complex war thriller that lets you interpret the events yourself and conclude one’s own judgements.



MIDSOMMAR (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW – AMAZING FILMMAKING LET DOWN BY WEAK STORYTELLING!

MIDSOMMAR (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Written and directed by: Ari Aster

Produced by: Lars Knudsen, Patrik Andersson

Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter etc.

Music: The Haxen Cloak

Cinematography: Pawel Pogorzelski

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Midsommar (2019), is ultra-talented filmmaker Ari Aster’s second feature film. His first Hereditary (2018), was two-thirds domestic horror masterpiece and one-third insane, symbolic, nonsensical and demonic denouement. Both films have a lot in common. Both have communes or cults at the centre led by strong matriarchal figures. Both find seemingly innocent characters suffering from grief being lured to a fateful demise. Both have incredibly rich visual systems full of striking imagery, sudden violence and mythological folklore. Both, especially Midsommar (2019), are overlong, pretentious and indulgent B-movie stories masquerading as art.

I have to say, and I am not coming from simply a mainstream perspective, Ari Aster is a film artist. However, unlike many great film artists he has, in my opinion, not managed to marry his vision with coherent and emotionally powerful storytelling. Midsommar, for example, takes an age to kick its narrative into gear and when it finally gets started it drags and drags and drags. How many long, drifting tracking master shots can you abide? How many drawn-out-so-pleased-with-myself takes do you have the patience for? Well, get a strong coffee because when the story cries out for pace, Aster puts the brakes on, marvelling in his own indulgent genius. I might add that a plethora of characters screaming and crying does not make good drama either, unless there is sufficient context.

The narrative is very simple. In a nutshell, it’s Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005) meets British horror classic The Wicker Man (1973). Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper and Will Poulter are college students who take a summer break to experience a communal pageant in rural Sweden. While they are PHD students they are not particularly intelligent given the choices they make later in the film.

Moreover, aside from Pugh’s grief-stricken Dani, the script doesn’t particularly imbue them with much in the way of empathetic characterisation. Indeed, the film relies on Pugh’s dominant performance to create emotion for our protagonists. Aside from providing some comic relief there is no actual point to Will Poulter’s character at all. Lastly, there is some absolutely terrible dialogue throughout this film too.

As the film crawls along slowly, it’s reliant on the music to inform us we’re meant to be scared. Then when the gore does kick in during a particularly shocking ritual, I was almost falling asleep. Don’t get me wrong the production design is flawless with an amazing setting and incredible concepts from Aster. The death and torture scenes are particularly memorable. However, the overall pace and rhythm of the film is so bloody slow I just did not care about anyone by the end.

I don’t mind methodical films establishing dread and psychological fear, but I think Aster has been watching too many Kubrick films. Aster seems to believe slow equals art. What Kubrick did though was usually to have characters that were engaging. They may not have been likeable, but Kubrick’s characters hit you in the heart and mind. Not since The Blair Witch Project (1999) have I wanted such dumb characters (Pugh aside) to die so painfully in a horror film. Likewise, the characters in the Swedish commune are mere ciphers of Aster’s fantasy horror and two-dimensional at best.

Visually stunning Midsommar (2019), will no doubt impress critics and other reviewers. However, at nearly two-and-a-half hours it’s an indulgent-arty-collage-of-film-masquerading-as-therapy. The ending was so loopy that the audience I was with were laughing at how ridiculous it was. Perhaps that was the filmmakers’ aim, but I’m not so sure. Yes, I get that this is meant to be allegorical and symbolic about grief and guilt and religion and a relationship break-up and fate and cultural differences. Furthermore, I get the intellectual depth of the themes on show, but Aster tortures the audience as much as his characters. Mostly, it just doesn’t take so long to tell this kind of derivative narrative, however beautiful and artistic the film is presented.

Mark: 6 out of 11