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Garden State vs. Bridget Jones

It looks like my speaking out against twentysomething male fantasy movies about depressed jerks and the saintly women who save them may turn into an outreach/intervention. I received this via email:

Sounds exactly like the script my flat mate has been writing for the
last year and a bit. I e-mailed him some excerpts to see if he comes to
his senses 🙂

I’m happy to help. But as I told this person, I don’t want to frustrate anyone’s creative impulses. Perhaps every twentysomething male needs to churn out one of these types of scripts in order to exorcise those demons. Then they can move on to something more interesting.

I’m trying to think of the equivalent female-fantasy movies, but am drawing a blank. That could be because there aren’t so many scripts by women, or it could be my own personal blind spot concerning my own gender. Maybe it’s the woman-who-dares-to-find-herself-and-in-so-doing-finds-Mr.Right? Any help, guys? What are the female fantasy cliches that annoy you in films? Anything with Meg Ryan or Tom Hanks in it? I’d say something like Bridget Jones would be an obvious choice, but it’s actually so old-fashioned that its attitudes seem fresh again. A woman daring to admit she wants a husband! That just isn’t done.

Maybe Not Austin

Looks like my plan to move to Austin wasn’t so original–Andrew
Bujalski (director of the fabulous Mutual Appreciation) had the same
idea and it didn’t go so well:

Bujalski and the leads in his two movies, Kate Dollenmayer (Funny Ha Ha) and Justin Rice (Mutual Appreciation),
moved to Austin as roommates in 1999, after college. “We were young,
and it was that moment in life,” Bujalski told me. “I temped,
volunteering for the Austin Film Society, and wrote the first film
here. Kate was an animator on
Waking Life.” The three expected
to be able to live cheaply in Austin and contemplate their art.
Bujalski lasted a year; Justin Rice left quickly. “It was the high-tech
boom,’ Rice said. “Every Web site in the world was here. We paid more
rent than in Cambridge.”

Poor public transportation + no jobs + no friends there = No Austin for me. Unless I apply to their film PhD program.

via Cinetrix

IFFBoston Awards

Apparently my priorities were very different from the other IFFBoston audience members as well as the Grand Jury for the festival, as I managed to miss every single one of the winners for both Jury and Audience awards. I therefore cannot give you my own commentary on the winners, so I will instead tell you why I missed each and give my own alternate winner:

Grand Jury and Special Jury Award Prizes

Narrative Feature: BLACKBALLED: THE BOBBY DUKES STORY, directed by Brant Sersen. This is a mockumentary and therefore I question its placement in the narrative feature category. And I did plan to see it but I chose instead to see some real documentaries. I was flying high on idealism after seeing Chain and Mutual Appreciation and didn’t want to spoil the ride with silly cynical Comedy-Central comedy about Paintball players. And I want to know who the hell is on this Grand Jury if they picked this as the best film. I did manage to catch Filmic Achievement, another mockumentary, but was not impressed. It takes a very subtle hand to make an effective mockumentary–a little too much of one thing or another and you just look like a bad imitation of Spinal Tap or The Office. And Filmic Achievement, a mockumentary about film students, looked like that. MY SELECTION FOR THE AWARD: Andrew Bujalski’s Mutual Appreciation, natch.

Best documentary: Ellen Perry for THE FALL OF FUJIMORI. I did also plan to see this one but couldn’t due to time conflicts. It is not possible to see all films in a film festival, unfortunately. I could’ve made time, but there are very difficult decisions to be made when you are trying to see as much as you can at a festival. Sigh. Such sacrifices we make. MY SELECTION FOR THE AWARD: I didn’t see enough docs in the festival to really have an authoritative opinion, and of those I did see I wasn’t bowled over by any, so I would have to go with The Future of Food, which I suppose you could say did bowl me over–with horror at our government and corporate greed. But if you allow Chain into the documentary category, that would definitely be my choice. It doesn’t really fit into doc or fiction categories, though.

Audience Awards

Narrative feature: BROTHERS, directed by Susanne Bier. This was a late addition to the schedule and only had one screening, which I learned of too late, and I don’t really understand how a film can get that many votes from a single screening. It’s not something that I probably would’ve wanted to see anyway, though, and I suspect it got its votes because it is a dramatic and timely war film.

Documentary feature: AFTER INNOCENCE, directed by Jessica Sanders. Another that I was only mildly interested in. The docs in the festival seemed very straightforward and while generally I am more interested in documentary, I am not usually in it for the actual subject matter. If that’s all you want in a documentary, it becomes merely a matter of somebody finding the best/weirdest story. It’s then about journalism, not about filmmaking. The docs I did see (Future of Food, Rhythm Is It, Spew, and Inside Out) were all in this vein. Rhythm Is It, which is about a troupe of troubled teenagers who were wrangled together to put on a dance performance in Berlin, was perhaps the only one that tried to say more than its subject matter. But in a fairly didactic way, which to me undermines the artistry. And I didn’t see anything in the doc lineup at the festival that attempted much in the way of artistry. I could be wrong, of course, as there were a dozen or so that I didn’t see. But I don’t think I’m wrong.

In sum, I don’t think much of these award winners, neither the Grand Jury nor Audience Awards. Pfft.

Favorites From IFFBoston

Rain, rain, rain…what great weather for sitting in the theater all weekend. The festival is now over and I saw about a dozen programs (it is not physically possible to see all films in a festival, I have discovered). Not surprisingly for an independent film festival, anti-commercialism was a clear theme in many of the films, one of which was my favorite from the festival–Jem Cohen’s fantastic experimental feature, Chain (other notables being Hal Hartley’s The Girl From Monday and several documentaries such as Deborah Koons Garcia’s highly upsetting The Future of Food). Chain hovers somewhere between documentary and fiction in a Sans Soleil-like essay-film set in the sterile locales of corporate chain hotels, shopping malls, and the interstate. One assumes the film takes place in one specific area, as it follows two characters and their movements throughout this seemingly lifeless space, but in possibly the most powerful intro to a credit sequence ever, Cohen reveals the list of shooting locales – dozens of cities all across the world. You’d never know it by watching the film, where each hotel, shopping mall, and stretch of highway looks identical. The two characters in the film, a Japanese businesswoman on a business trip in America, and a homeless teenager who squats in abandoned housing and spends her days wandering the mall, engage with no one and speak only in monologues to the camera or in voiceover. It’s the loneliest film I’ve ever seen. But also a very exciting one. I advise everyone to see it if you can.

Another of my favorites from the festival is I suppose anti-commercial in form if not explicitly in content. It’s Andrew Bujalski’s Mutual Appreciation. (It turns out that the main actress, Rachel Clift, is someone I know from grad school at BU. That was a surprise. Go Rachel.) This is a wonderful film about pretty much nothing – a bunch of twentysomething creative types do a lot of talking in New York. That’s pretty much the story. I want to compare it to Jarmush, but I daresay the acting is better than pretty much every Jarmusch film out there. It has a similar tone though (and was shot in black and white). I’d also compare it to Cassavetes, though there’s much less drama here than in most Cassavetes films. But these two are clearly influences for Bujalski, though the film is all his own. If I had to classify the film I’d say it’s a beat film. It’s about connections between people, both random and lasting, it’s about creativity, and community, and love and respect. I haven’t seen Bujalski’s first film, Funny Ha-Ha, but I have heard raves about it from all the right people, so I do plan to see it soon. It opens next week at the Coolidge, as a matter of fact, so I’ll definitely be heading over there at some point.

Then there were the obvious anti-conventional selections like the program of freaky Finnish experimental shorts, most if which were actually pretty conventional, I thought. The curator of the program warned us that there were two films that were extremely disturbing and difficult to sit through and said she’d understand if we walked out–I was bracing myself for animal mutilation or diarrhea-inducing low-frequency sonic effects but none of that appeared, and I never figured out which films were supposed to be so disturbing. Methinks she underestimated the tolerance of the Boston crowd. No one walked out.

Much more disturbing was Garcia’s The Future of Food, a straightforward documentary about genetic engineering of food and its effects on farmers, on health, and on the world. Possibly the most upsetting film I’ve ever seen. Monsanto comes across as a truly evil giant corporation which must be stopped, and the government its knowing accomplice.

More to come…

History, Czech-Style

While I continue to digest the many films I’ve seen at IFFBoston (and continue to see today), please enjoy this excerpt from a new Czech book, Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century, as excerpted in the May issue of Harper’s:

Sex became very important in Europe in the twentieth century, more important than religion and almost as important as money, and everyone wanted to have sexual intercourse in different ways. And after the Second World War, films started to include scenes in which the leading characters had sexual intercourse, which was previously considered improper because lots of people still believed in God and sexual intercourse was generally only hinted at by a shot of a bed or a clock or the sky, or it suddenly went dark. In the fifties film heroes usually had sexual intercourse in cornfields because cornfields were associated with youth and the new life awaiting the young heroes, and wind ruffled the ears of corn as the sun sank on the horizon and women’s bosoms heaved, and in the sixties film heroes had sexual intercourse in the surf on the ocean shore because it was romantic and sand clung to their skin, and their bottoms could be seen, and mist hung over the water. In the sixties pornographic films were made in whch people had sexual intercourse almost nonstop in varous places. And in art films there was more and more sexual intercourse, but the critics said that it was something else, that it was not sexual intercourse as such but its representation, that the film expressed our entomological attitude toward love, which was fine because it enabled us to reflect more effectively on the role of sexual intercourse not only in an anthropological, cultural, or political context but also in human life. In the seventies film heroes mostly had sexual intercourse in motorcars because it was original and the speed of life was increasing all the time, and young people who did not have cars could imagine what was in store for them one day. And men increasingly lay on their backs and women sat on them because they were now emancipated.

And now, off to the theater again…

IFFBoston – Lonesome Jim

It was a packed house for opening night of IFFBoston last night, with hipsters lined up around the block at Somerville Theater to see Lonesome Jim and director (and indie-film poster boy) Steve Buscemi in person. Apparently 400 hopeful hipsters didn’t get in. As for me, I walked in and was suddenly surrounded by people I knew and hadn’t seen in awhile. It was definitely a Film Scene night. Blogcards were passed around, screenplays were discussed.

Buscemi was quite charming, and fielded an array of dumb and intelligent questions with a mixture of sarcasm and honesty. (Why is it a rule that the first question asked at these things is always the dumbest?) I admire a man who doesn’t let the dumbness of a question slide. Most interesting was his comment that shooting the film on DV gave him the freedom to not say “cut.” Once a shot is over and the director calls “cut”, the crew starts rushing onto the set and moving things around and screwing up the vibe. So he didn’t ever cut and instead would just keep talking to the actors and moving on to new takes. If he were shooting on film, he said, that kind of approach would be too expensive. It’s an approach that only an actor-director would be likely to take, I’d imagine. Buscemi himself doesn’t act in this film, and didn’t write it, and he sounded as if he now preferred directing to acting. He did also mention John Cassevetes, the pioneer for independent actor’s cinema, and it seems he’s following the Cassavetes career path.

And now, onto the film.

I’m getting tired of watching movies that are merely twentysomething male fantasies written onto the screen. See Garden State. And if you have seen it, you don’t really need to see Lonesome Jim. It’s pretty much the same basic story–some very funny dialogue, but overall your typical depressed-guy-meets-cheery-and-unbelievably-patient-girl-who-saves-him story. Lonesome Jim is a bit darker, and Jim (Casey Affleck) is much less likeable than Zach Braff in Garden State, which makes it even more infuriating that the female lead (Liv Tyler) is inexplicably so in love with this jerk. It’s a wonder men get so frustrated with women who are only attracted to jerks when that’s the same story that’s been fed to us over and over by movies–Hollywood and Indie alike. Let’s see, Jim is 27 and had to move back home with his parents because he couldn’t make enough money walking dogs in New York to live there, where he was trying to be a writer. He steals money from his mother, is cruel and indifferent toward her, tells his brother he’s such a loser he should kill himself (and he then tries), worships only authors who have killed themselves, doesn’t care about anyone or anything, including her, until for some reason near the end he tells her he really likes her (and it’s not believable at all). Yep, that’s my idea of a dream man, how about you, ladies? The sad thing is that most of us have had boyfriends like this in the past, and we continue to be encouraged to do so by films like these, which teach us that if we are just patient and loving enough, the guy will come around. Fuck you. Liv Tyler’s character is a saintly one, of course, works as a nurse in the hospital, talks about how much she likes helping people, pastes a smile over the frown on Jim’s poster of Ernest Hemingway, and has an adorable 5-year-old son to give her the saintly single mother aura. Oh, plus she’s slutty and screws Jim within hours of meeting him. A whore and madonna, all in one, how original!

That said, the sold-out hipster crowd at the screening last night loved the film, and I’m not surprised. It’s written for their demographic. And I do admit to laughing out loud in several places in the film. It is entertaining. First-time screenwriter James Strouse has some writing chops, and I look forward to seeing what he does once he gets past the twentysomething male cliches.


At the end of this week this blog will be wholly possessed by the spirit of a film blogger, as I’ll be covering the Independent Film Festival of Boston. Consider yourself warned.

Ruining the Movie Experience

Wow, there is one area where commercialism is actually worse in Europe than here: screening of ads before movies.

I’d just like to point out that, not only could it be worse, it is – in Europe.

At least in the US, features actually begin more or less at the
advertised time. Not here [Germany]. A 9 pm showing, say, all too often actually
begins at 9:20, even 9:30, once all the ads unreel (and I don’t mean
trailers – ads, some of them merely blown up from the broadcast video
versions we’ve already zapped away from on our TVs at home, but of
course, as a captive audience in a theater, you
can’t). In Germany, this swath is interrupted only by a break to sell ice cream. Seriously.

I think a half-hour of ads is justifiable cause for some kind of vandalism. Apparently there’s actually an organization dedicated to stopping movie ads. According to this article, “Among other things, the organization has produced signs
for audience members to leave on their seats. They say, “RESERVED. This
patron is avoiding cinema advertising and will return when the feature

Funny Women

While walking to the subway this sunny morn the memory of a joke I made
the other day flashed through my head and I had to stifle a laugh. But
then I couldn’t stifle it and I actually sort of snorted with laughter
while walking down the street by myself. So I’m walking down the
street, by myself, laughing at my own memories of my own jokes. I
wonder what it means that I can crack myself up this way. This may be a
better explanation of my declining interest in funny guys: too much
competition for airtime.

To Whom It May Concern

Just a reminder of the links in the sidebar–all of my film posts from this blog are on this page, and some separate reviews are here.

How Romantic

We were able to derive a set of nonlinear difference equations for marital
interaction as well as physiology and perception. These equations provided
parameters, that allowed us to predict, with over 90 percent accuracy, what was
going to happen to a relationship over a three-year period. The main advantage
of the math modeling was that using these parameters, we are not only be able to
predict, but now UNDERSTAND what people are doing when they affected one
another. And through the equations we were now really able to build theory. That
theory allows us to understand how to intervene and how to change things. And
how to know what it is we’re affecting, and why the interventions are effective.
This is the mathematics of love.
The article isn’t so scientific though. And not a whole lot that’s earth-shattering, but here are a couple of interesting bits:

It seemed that relationships last to the extent that you select someone
whose annoying personality traits don’t send you into emotional orbit.

Like Leunhook with his microscope, Jani discovered a hidden world
in the ordinary everyday moments. These moments were the key to how
people build friendship and even sexual intimacy.


I have seen Sans Soleil
probably about a dozen times and each time it is a new film to me. The
narrator’s voice is so soothing, so monotone, so packed with
philosophical observations that I tend to completely space out for 10,
15, 20 minutes at a time while watching this film, every time. So
despite my many viewings, I think I have yet to really see the whole
thing. Each time something new jumps out at me, something that I’d
never heard or noticed before. Sure, there are a few things that I
remember on each viewing–the museum of penis statues, for example, or
the temple of cats, or the troupe of Japanese teenagers who perform an
odd dance each week in some square. But for the most part the film is
still undiscovered territory for me. From last night’s viewing, where I
projected a new print (‘projected’ being used loosely here, as the HFA
projectionist splices all the reels onto one enormous reel for me and
threads it through the machine, so all I do is flip a series of
switches and go get him if there’s a problem), there were a few things
that jumped out at me. Perhaps when watching a film this dense, with so
many images and ideas flying past you, the things that stick in your
mind reveal more about your state of mind than about the film itself:

“I have been around the world several times and now only banality interests me.”

“All women have a built-in grain of indestructibility, and it is men’s job to make them realize it as late as possible.”

Kinky’s Mysteries

As Kinky Friedman is running for governor in my future home state, I decided to check out some of his mystery novels. They are hilarious. And full of twisted two-bit cowboy philosophy. I have been laughing like an idiot on the subway every morning while reading Spanking Watson. So far it is a tale of a man, his cat, and a troupe of dancing lesbians. I have yet to hit on the mystery. But here is an excerpt about the relationship between man and cat:

The cat looked back at me with a brief glance of disdain. Like all cats, she was essentially a humorless, constipated prig at heart, if indeed cats had hearts. Like all people, I was essentially perverse, pugnacious, paranoid, covered in the grime of humanity, and always and forever standing in the way of myself and my heart, if indeed people had hearts.

I would change “people” to “men”, of course.

Film Freaks

After my previous post about one of the men in the documentary Cinemania,
I got the film from Neflix, and I loved it. It’s really a well-made
documentary–I’ve watched it three times over the past couple of days.
I am fascinated by these obsessives who are pefectly happy with their
deviant lifestyle. “Film is a substitute for life. Film is a form of
living,” one of them says, happily. Another says film is better than
sex, better than love. He has been arrested for shoving a woman to the
ground when she came in late to a movie and was obstructing his view.
He also says you have the right to do anything, including murder, to
stop someone from disturbing your film experience. “Killing someone
isn’t a practical solution though,” he says, “because after the movie,
or even before the movie’s over, you’ll get arrested.” The only woman
profiled in the film has been banned from MoMA for lunging at the
throat of a ticket-taker. They all see 2-5 films every single day. It’s
all they do. They all live in hovels that are spilling over with books
and trash and movie posters. No wonder they spend so much time at the
theater, I wouldn’t want to stay in those apartments very long either.
They all also clearly have some sort of obsessive-compulsive disorder
and a strong aversion to reality. But there is something endearing
about all of them. For some reason I find it comforting to watch the
stories of people who own their antisocial personalities.

Aside from the interesting characters, the film itself is very
well-made. New York City, and particularly its subway system, becomes a
character in itself, and you begin to think that this is the only place
where people like this could exist. I know a couple of them in Boston,
though. And I much prefer being able to get inside their world from the
distance of a movie screen rather than in real life.

Also–great credit sequence and original theme song.

Funny Men (spit)

I used to have a thing for funny guys. As in, it was the ONLY trait I cared about. I even wrote an essay on the topic of funny men and girls who like them and the twisted dynamic that this ultimately is. Maybe I will try to dig it out. Anyway I saw this exchange on this blog and laughed with recognition and disgust:

LUKE: She has such a great sense of humour, too!
ME: I didn’t really notice her cracking a lot of jokes.
LUKE: Well, what I mean is she laughed at MY jokes.

Rare Scary British Films

A discussion of weird dreams brought a fuzzy memory of this film flash through my head and then I had a strong desire to see it, but I couldn’t remember what it was called. All I could remember was the image of this house and that they had British accents. So I did all kinds of Google searches for the plot, which I also couldn’t recall very well, and somehow I found it. (“scary british film sick young girl nightmare father”) Yay internet! But unfortunately it isn’t available on Netflix. Greencine doesn’t even have it! It’s an amazing and freaky film. It captures dreams and nightmares and weird childhood fears perfectly, and isn’t at all a lame gory cliche. Has anyone else seen it? I saw it long ago on some sort of cable channel. You should check it out if you ever have a chance.

More cool images from the film here.

Soft Drink Surveillance

April Fool’s joke? Google Gulp: chip-embedded, brain-altering soft drinks that you can only get Gmail-style, by invitation:

How to get Gulped?
You can pick up your own supply of this “limited release” product simply by turning in a used Gulp Cap at your local grocery store. How to get a Gulp Cap? Well, if you know someone who’s already been “gulped,” they can give you one. And if you don’t know anyone who can give you one, don’t worry – that just means you aren’t cool. But very, very (very!) soon, you will be.

Google Gulp and Your Privacy
From time to time, in order to improve Google Gulp’s usefulness for our users, Google Gulp will send packets of data related to your usage of this product from a wireless transmitter embedded in the base of your Google Gulp bottle to the GulpPlex™, a heavily guarded, massively parallel server farm whose location is known only to Eric Schmidt, who carries its GPS coordinates on a 64-bit-encrypted smart card locked in a stainless-steel briefcase handcuffed to his right wrist. No personally identifiable information of any kind related to your consumption of Google Gulp or any other current or future Google Foods product will ever be given, sold, bartered, auctioned off, tossed into a late-night poker pot, or otherwise transferred in any way to any untrustworthy third party, ever, we swear. See our Privacy Policy.