Category Archives: What You Should Have Watched

The movie that you could have watched but didn’t. Don’t worry, there’s still time.

WYSHW: Mary and Max

You know how I feel about stop-motion.

You know how I feel about stop-motion.

This is a film I came across some time ago. It stuck to the back of my memory and never left. Sadly, it is no longer streaming on Netflix, but you should see it if you get a chance; Adam Elliot’s Max and Mary– an animated tale of isolation, second-chances, and condensed milk. Among other things.

Mary Daisy Dinkle (Bethany Whitmore/Toni Collette) is a lonely Aussie girl who lives with her alcoholic mother and removed father. Max Jerrry Horovitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is an obese 40-something with Aspergers living in New York.

After a mishap with her mother at the post office, Mary reaches out to Max on a whim, with the hopes of gaining a pen pal. Max obliges, and the two strike a friendship which spans years, complete with misunderstandings and ups and downs – without ever meeting face-to-face.

What struck me most about Mary and Maxis it’s odd combination of charm and crudeness – the same sort of traits found in Elliot’s Oscar-winning short Harvie Krumpet. Additionally, there’s something wonderful, magical even, about the heaviness and intangibility of depression and anxiety crossed with such tangible media as clay figurines. Personally, I’m also a fan of more adult-themed stop-motion films (the more that disbands the thought that all animated features are for children, the better).

Perchance this film is not for everybody, but I think that Mary and Maxis at least worth a glance for the dry wit and dark humor.

Next time on What You Should Have Watched, let’s get some Julie Taymor in here.

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WYSHW: Nightcrawler

Watchin' you weave then breathe your storylines.

Watchin’ you breathe your storylines.

Oh hey, it’s been a while since I’ve written one of these. But, at least this time has nothing to do with untimely tragic deaths. Anywhoo, recently in some sort of stupor, I stumbled on this little beaut on Amazon and thought, “Oh yeah, I really wanted to see this.” I was not disappointed.

Not unlike Locke and Tom Hardy, if you can’t stand the sight of Jake Gyllenhaal you’re gonna have a bad time.

Nightcrawler follows the wacky misadventures of Louis Bloom, an obsessive, quick-talking thief who stumbles upon the exciting career of nightcrawling (or stringing): prowling the streets to record crimes, profiting by selling the footage to local news stations.

Bloom takes an extraordinary liking to this newfound activity, and aims to get this footage by any means necessary.

"Aw shit, ketchup on the carpet."

“Aw shit, dropped my fries.”

Frankly, Gyllenhaal carries this movie – he is the movie. Nightcrawler serves as a character study of a single-minded individual and his unsettling determination. Yet, as boring as this sounds, this movie gets you hooked. Gyllenhaal’s sheer intensity is absolutely electrifying (I’m kind of surprised he didn’t at least get nominated, but yeh know…), and in combination with the score (as distracting as it was at times) and cinematography, this film creates an incredibly haunting atmosphere.

Speaking of haunting, I’m not going to spoil the ending, but there’s something absolutely chilling about Bloom’s resolution. In essence, Nightcrawler is in many ways like American Psycho sans memeability…and the psychosis, sort of – it’s fairly subjective.

At least, having worked in a standard corporate environment for over a year, it was terrifying to think of how someone like Lou Bloom is the ideal boss. At least when considering his passion and forward-thinking attitude (considering extortion, blackmail and obstruction are typically frowned upon).

Even if you’re not the biggest Gyllenhaal fan, I still say Nightcrawler is worth a go. For the next What You Should Have Watched, let’s get animated.

WYSHW: World’s Greatest Dad

Last Monday, August 11, the Internet exploded. Everyone all over social media began to scramble to answer one simple question – “is it true?” Sadly, yes. Robin Williams, beloved actor, comedian, and all around cool guy, took his life at the age of 63.

worlds-greatest-dadI don’t want to harp too much on this – after all, there’s not much left to say. In return, I’d rather celebrate this man’s legacy by talking about a lesser-known Williams film that’s all about, well, legacy: World’s Greatest Dad, directed by Bobcat Goldthwaite (which is also currently streaming).

I would like to start out saying that given the content of the film, I could see quite a few people getting upset about this one. So, take some time on this one.

Alright.

Why Juni, why!?

Why Juni, why!?

Lance Clayton (Williams) is a failed writer turned English teacher (aren’t they all), who is father to probably the worst teenage boy in existence, Kyle (Daryl Sabara). Okay, to be fair I say that sort of thing about a lot of teenagers, but we’re talking lord-god-king douchebag. One fateful day, Lance walks in to discover that Kyle accidentally killed himself in an act of autoerotic asphyxiation gone awry.

Crushed by his discovery and wishing to save his son (and more likely himself) from the embarrassment, Lance poses Kyle’s body as a suicide and writes a heartfelt note on his son’s behalf before calling the police. The note is later obtained and published in Lance’s/Kyle’s school newspaper, and Kyle soon becomes a posthumous icon for the students. Having finally been recognized for his writing, Lance decides to pen a journal under Kyle’s name, which soon becomes published as a national phenomenon.

Admittedly, this is a film about terrible people. Simultaneously, it’s a fantastic satire on the cult of celebrity. And again, I warn you (and as if you couldn’t tell by my little synopsis there), this movie is dark. Not to mention especially heartbreaking given the circumstances.

Though it’s been a couple years since I sat down and watched this movie, but one thing that stuck out in my head was how absurdly funny the whole thing was. That, and William’s incredible range on display. Despite being crass and about terrible people, World’s Greatest Dad is an unexpected gem worth checking out.

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Though he may be gone, his legacy of laughter will always remain in our hearts and minds. And with that, we will miss you.

WYSHW: Synecdoche, New York

Poster

Japanese poster is best poster.

As you may have noticed in my last What You Should Have Watched that I posted forever ago, I had alluded to a Tom Hardy movie (which I’ll do next time)However, due to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s sudden and tragic passing, I’ve decided to tell you about the enigmatic masterpiece that is Synecdoche, New York. Of course, assuming you have yet to see it.

Much like The Fountain or even Beyond the Black Rainbow, I could see why a film like Synecdoche would be a daunting experience. In fact, there are those who would argue that Synecdoche is just Charlie Kaufman’s pretentious self-absorbed opus. I, on the other hand, think that this is a treasure trove of metaphor and meaning, built by incredible talent and fantastic set design. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Synecdoche, New York is the story of Caden Cotard (PSH), a playwright who is caught between his work and personal life, while obsessing over his own mortality. His marriage to a micro-painter named Adele (Catherine Keener) soon crumbles under the stress, and she’s off to Germany with their only daughter, Olive. Despite these troubles, Caden soon receives a MacArthur Fellowship, and sets on creating a play which will be far more brutal and honest than his previous works – reality and fantasy spiral and entwine as we embark upon Caden’s über-meta oeuvre.

For instance, Hazel (Samantha Morton) lives in a house that is perpetually on fire.

For instance, Hazel (Samantha Morton) lives in a house that is perpetually on fire.

The unreliability of this world is not solely based on our protagonist – there are other characters who experience what we as viewers would see as lapses in reality. Thus Synecdoche presents for us a strange but entirely original environment, which compliments the storytelling in creating/portraying visual and contextual metaphor. More so, not only are we given a playfully surreal atmosphere, but we also deal with the heaviness of Caden’s isolation and obsession.

Okay, now I can see why people would start rolling their eyes – but really, this movie is worth checking out! Despite the heavy nature of Caden’s attempts to portray his meaning of life, the universe, and everything, his story is depicted with a fine balance of humor and sympathy. Not to mention the metaphors alone – personally, each time I watch this film I discover a new aspect or theme. Also there’s no shame in consulting wikipedia for some explanation.

Perhaps sometime I could give a better analysis of the many meanings weaved throughout this film, but for now I’m going to stick to a general WYSHW recommendation: Synecdoche, New York is a remarkable film. Charlie Kaufman has not only proved himself as a gifted writer, but as a substantial director as well (as if he needed to prove himself to anyone). Likewise, the cast is exceptional. Philip Seymour Hoffman breathed so much life into this performance – Caden is a broken man striving for excellence while discovering the purpose of his existence, and ultimately, well, I’m not going to spoil anything this time. His journey is sad, true, and beautiful – most importantly, it is something we all can relate to.

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I’ll miss you.

WYSHW: Red State

The Westboro Baptist Church has been the subject of much anger and controversy – duly so, considering these pious cretins have gone to the point of brainwashing children in order to protest funerals in the name of “God hates Fags.” This fascinating bunch is also the subject of many-a documentary and exclusive interview, not to mention inspiration for fictional backlash.

Enter chatterbox, filmmaker and all-around groovy cat Kevin Smith, a man not unfamiliar with religious satire. Inspired by leader Fred Phelps’ fanaticism, Smith drafted Red State, a tale in which a group of horny teens get caught up with some dastardly fundamentalists. Shenanigans most brutal ensue as the boys try to escape this backwoods fortress.

Pictured: shenanigans.

Pictured: shenanigans.

Red State is a pretty wicked experience. And an impressive one at that, considering that no one wanted to touch this picture. Of course, with controversial topics comes much well, controversy, so needless to say opinions on this flick were mixed. Filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino and Ben Affleck hailed the film, whereas many-a-critic were felt that they were either bored, grossed out, or didn’t care for being preached at. As for me? Well obviously I think it’s worth at least checking out.

Showtime.

Showtime.

Frankly, I really dug this story. Perhaps I got a little caught up in the topical nature of figuratively attacking groups such as the Westboros (or in this case, the Five Points Trinity Church), but there’s something primally satisfying about a bloodbath of a showdown. And considering we’re dealing with a story of escape and survival – complete with sudden, heat of the moment turns – that just makes the situation all the more captivating.

I think my favorite aspect of this film, other than the concept itself, is the performances. Veteran actor Michael Parks nails this role as Abin Cooper – a man of charisma and tyranny. Personally, my favorite kind of villain is one I can love to hate, and Parks does not disappoint. Likewise, John Goodman and Melissa Leo give solid performances as the good-guy agent and the lady you want to punch in the face, respectively.

Intense, gritty, with a bit of dark humor tossed in there – Red State is worth a go if you’re in the mood for a decent shoot-em-up horror. Personally, I would have liked to see how the original ending would have turned out, but I think what they went with does the job nicely. Next time on What You Should Have Watched ….mmm Tom Hardy.

WYSHW: I’m Not There

In case you are unfamiliar with the legendary artist formerly known as Robert Zimmerman, I would suggest you take a good day to discover all that you’ve been missing out on. It’s okay, I can wait – because if you have no knowledge of the man’s life and career, this film is practically inaccessible. Now, if you think Bob Dylan’s one of the worst song writers of all time, you can see your way out.

Unlike with Howl, it helps to know a bit about Bob Dylan before diving into this layered collage of a “bio-flick.” Not only does I’m Not There undertake multiple depictions of Dylan’s actual life, but also depicts his figurative personas and influences in a unique fashion. It also helps that none of these characters are referred to as “Bob Dylan.”

there

I’m Not There is a different kind of non-linear story, considering it shows the many faces of one person, which is not to say that Dylan himself had anything to do with this film, because he didn’t. In fact, I think the charm of this feature is that it follows an icon of many musical movements, and each character takes on a given persona:

Woody Gunthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin, the child) is Dylan’s displaced musical beginnings (an anachronic “imposter”); Arthur (Ben Whishaw) is the interrogated poet; Robbie (Ledger) is the superstar who struggles with his family life; Jack (Bale) is the documented folk singer turned born-again Christian; Billy the Kid (Gere) is the mythic wanderer and outlaw; finally, Jude (Blanchett) is our surreal musician – the closest to matching the perceived 60’s Dylan, played with both delicacy and ferocity.

Sorry Franco, David Cross is the best Ginsberg.

Sorry Franco, David Cross is the best Ginsberg.

Though I’m Not There can easily be dubbed as a pretentious mess, I beg to differ. Okay, so maybe I have my Dylan goggles on, big deal. This aside, I can’t get over this intertwining construct – it’s just full circles upon full circles with amazing musical intervals. Another bias: I really love intertwining nonlinear stories. This aside, I’m Not There beautifully depicts each era almost as a genre of its own design.

So yes, it does help to know a thing or two about Bob Dylan, but I guess you could easily enjoy this film as perhaps a schizophrenic portrait of the everyman, caught in the midsts of his desires and obligations. As well as the occasional trip with Allen Ginsberg.

If you dig on Dylan, I’m Not There is a prime choice. Or if you’d rather have some colorful background noise with some choice covers, that works too. It’s a win-win.

Next time on What You Should Have Watched, let’s talk about that fat Kev Smith.

WYSHW: Howl

Franco, Hamm, and poetry. It's a good time.

Franco, Hamm, and poetry. It’s a good time.

When I made an allusion to Ginsberg in last week’s What You Should Have Watched, sadly, I was not referring to the much-anticipated Kill Your Darlings – you see, while James Franco was busy running around doing everything, he did a spectacular little film that didn’t receive much hype, despite its crucial subject matter. This film is simply entitled Howl, and it dives into the epic poem‘s genesis as well as its controversy, which helped shape a revolution in the history of art and publication.

Essentially, there really isn’t much more to it then that. We’re given the 1957 obscenity trial, with Franco as Ginsberg weaving his poem throughout the trial – the crux of each phrase then punctuated by breathtaking animation. The best part is, the rest is history.

It’s one thing to be a fan of Ginsberg before going into this, but I personally think that the subject matter is so strong that anyone who appreciates the power of art, literature and creative liberty will truly admire the message of the film.  The beauty is in the film’s simplicity: this was an action that sparked a generation, delivered with a delicate balance of poignancy and reserve. Check. It. Out.

Next time on What You Should Have Watched, let’s talk a little more about one of Ginsberg’s best buddies – all six of them.

WYSHW: This Must Be The Place

Just look at Sean Penn –

this_must_be_the_place

I’ve been looking so long…

Seriously, would you have ever thought he’d be first in line to play Robert Smith in a biopic?

Sorry to disappoint, but this is not the case. Today I’ll inform you about a strange little movie (that you can find on Netflix if you like) called This Must Be the Place. Penn stars as a retired glam rocker named Cheyenne who lives out his days chilling out with his wife (Frances McDormand as Jane the firefighter) in his own little world. Until one day his estranged father dies, revealing himself to be a holocaust survivor on a manhunt for the Nazi that tormented him. Yeah, it gets heavy, man.

And brief intervals of shenanigans.

Oh right, shenanigans.

I’ll be the first to say this movie’s kind of weird…which in retrospect is an odd statement, considering some of the titles I’ve discussed. This strangeness is made from the combination of Penn’s performance with the fact that this is a movie that can’t really decide what it wants to be, considering how silly some of the circumstances are. Being the type who enjoys being thrown for a loop, I dug it.

I think it’s fair to say that This Must Be the Place is really just a coming-of-age story for late bloomers…with Nazis.  And there’s David Byrne, who is always welcome on my TV. Cheyenne is a whiny rich boy caught up in his own adolescence, who realizes that there’s a much bigger world out there if he just got out of his own head – good thing it’s not as corny as it sounds. Come for the Sean Penn, stay for the soundtrack.

Next time on What You Should Have Watched, let’s talk about Ginsberg.

WYSHW: Get Low

Bill Murray.  C’mon, what else do you need to see this movie?

This guy.

This guy.

Really though, Get Low (2009) is a little sleeper film that’s worth a peek.  Based in 1930’s Tennessee, story is about a hermit named Felix Bush (played by Robert Duvall), who through the years has been the subject of many a urban legend, tall tale, and ghost story.  Finally Felix decides to rid himself of his burdens, wishing to throw himself a grand funeral party while he’s still alive.

Hey Boo.

Hey Boo.

Funeral director Frank Quinn (Murray), tempted by Felix’s hermit-wad-o’-cash, takes the task upon himself to solicit guests, opening old wounds.  The result is this bittersweet drama about love, loss, guilt and redemption – but really it’s not as grandiose as it sounds.  Get Low kind of like Big Fish, minus the magical realism and father-son dynamic – just simple, sadish truths about misconception and people, that’s all.  And it’s not at all drab, either – it’s actually quite funny and undoubtedly charming.

Sweet, sad, and incredibly over-looked – three things that make Get Low perfect What You Should Have Watched material.

Mmm...hermit money.

“Mmm…hermit money.”

Next time on What You Should Have Watched, Sean Penn gets weird.

WYSHW Double-Feature: In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths

Like I said last time, I want to give Martin McDonagh some lovin’, so here it is, my (very) brief analysis/review of two very underrated dark action comedies, In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths.

"In fucking Bruges."

“In fucking Bruges.”

 

In Bruges

In Bruges is an assassin story unlike any other.  After a rookie (Colin Farrel) accidentally murders a child in his path, the big man sends him off to recuperate in kitschy Bruges, Belgium – only to have him killed off.  We are presented a classic game of cat and mouse but with some weird twists, involving film making, tourists, suicide, and dwarfs.

It’s easy to see how a film like this can be seen as a cult hit: it had a limited theatrical release in combination with a layered bait-and-switch plot which doesn’t fail to satisfy.  Admittedly, the ending is wide open, but never-the-less enjoyable.  Simply put, there isn’t another film out there like this one, at least, not that I can think of.

Featuring a bunny-loving Tom Waits.

Featuring a bunny-loving Tom Waits.

 

Seven Psychopaths

… That is, until Seven Psychopaths came along.  Granted, SP does have a bigger budget and greater star power, but it’s still inexplicably weird.  Most of you may recall the trailer focusing more on the dog-napping plot, but like In Bruges the actual story is much more layered.

The focus is actually on a struggling screen-writer (again, Colin Farrel) trying to put together a story that will blow people away, basing it on lives of those he considers to be “psychopaths.”  The result is an action-comedy-meta-explosion (metasplosion?).  The film itself was fairly successful, though it received mixed reviews.  Perhaps some people just thought it was too strange – I say it gives the movie flavor. Seven Psychopaths is a good time all around, but there is still heart – you just have to find it.

Both of these films are wonderful and gritty in their own right, and ultimately incredibly surprising.  If you were looking for a typical shoot em’ up, I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere.  Now if you were after entertaining crime thrillers sprinkled with existentialist themes, you’ve come to the right place – and you’re among friends.

Next time on What You Should Have Watched, Bill Murray.