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10 Things I Learned From Movies I Watched in 2011

Gus van Sant’s Death trilogy

Five Movies That Make Me Want To Become A Filmmaker

How To “Get” Minimalist Movies

Ten Memorable Long Takes in Movies

Why Do I Love Movies That Other People Hate?

I’ve noticed, while watching and reviewing films over the past few years, that I tend to take a liking and/or appreciation to films that the people around me hate. Usually these are small indie pictures, but they can be any kind of films. I’m not trying to say that I love movies like Plan 9 From Outer Space or anything; the films I enjoy aren’t universally disliked, there are people out there who liked them as much as me, but they are few and far between and rare in the general population.

To illustrate this point I am going to present to you a few films that I love that I’ve been hard pressed to find others who’ve shared my opinions:

The Brown Bunny (2003)

Let’s start off with the one that’s caused the most controversy, and the one that seems to be more hated than most of the others. With his breakthrough hilarious comedy Buffalo 66 in 1998, Gallo proved he had indie filmmaking talent, his film garnering mostly positive critical reception. However, his follow-up (if you could call it that) in 2003 caused outrage at Cannes. And odds are, you probably already know why.

The Brown Bunny has an incredibly simple plot: Gallo’s character drives across country, motorcycle in tow, to reunite with his girlfriend and close some dry, open emotional wounds. That’s it. The film was originally 118 minutes long. While I certainly agree that the now cut 90 minute version is long enough, you can imagine a film longer by half an hour where the only scenes that were cut out were of Gallo driving. Make no mistake, there is a lot of driving involved but it is in no way excessive or boring, to me anyway. Gallo’s expression while driving is a mixture of calm and exhaustion, and even when he’s sitting there, doing nothing, he’s acting. And in this film, at least, he’s a bloody good actor. I’m not going to launch into a review here, because I’ve already written one, but suffice it to say, it’s a long-seeming movie with a shocking final thirty minutes that will leave you reeling.

It is one of those movies that looked (to me) completely, wholly different the second time round. And I can’t tell you why without spoiling the twist (which in itself, is not all that original but just the way Gallo shot it and revealed it was stunning). But let’s see if I can try to examine why it’s so hated, and why I like it.

Well, the former is obvious. With long stretches of driving, little dialogue, annoyingly long shots, deathly quiet voices, some shaky Dogme-95 style camerawork, and an explicit, unsimulated sex scene, for most people looking for an accessible, enjoyable movie, you will be very disappointed.

But as a character study, the film works. And it’s the amazing way Gallo treats his characters that saves the film. He writes all the heart and emotion he can muster into his main character, and makes sure it can shine through.

The tone of the film completely changes in its last five minutes, which sadly, is after most people will have walked out or turned it off. The blowjob scene is subtly aggressive, and not erotic whatsoever, and a precursor for the revelation that’s to come. It is the only scene where Gallo appears to have any dominance whatsoever, but it is quickly sucked out of him (pardon the pun). In the next scene, he is lying down on a bed, sobbing and whimpering, as a silent flashback reveals the truth about his sadness. You might see it coming, you might not, but in the final shot of the film, soon afterwards, when we see him driving again, it all comes crashing down. In that final driving shot, my mouth was hanging open. He reminds me of Guy Pearce in Memento; in that film, Pearce used his memory loss as an excuse to keep hunting for his wife’s killer for the rest of his life; in The Brown Bunny, after Gallo realizes and confronts the truth about his girlfriend, he shallowly rejects it and continues driving, as if the further he drives the further he can escape from the truth. This is why the driving scenes are so essential.

So what was the point of what I just wrote? Am I trying to convince you that The Brown Bunny is a good film, if you hated it? No. I am listing the reason I love it, and that is what I am going to continue to do for the next couple of films.

Gerry (2002)

In a way, the first instalment in a trilogy by Gus van Sant is a very similar film to The Brown Bunny, which we just looked at, except instead of long driving sequences we have long walking sequences, and there is no unsimulated sex scene, thankfully.

Gerry has two characters, but the simplicity of them both suggests it works just as well to consider them as one. They are men who go for a long hike in Death Valley and become hopelessly, mindlessly lost. They continue walking, for the sake of walking, hoping to get somewhere, but as the film goes on we realize that it doesn’t matter if they get there at all. The fact that there is a rescue is not an ending because the film is more about the depth of the human psyche as hallucinations, tiredness and sickness take their toll. The real ending comes before the rescue, in an unexpected scene which I will not reveal.

Those of you who have seen it were likely to have gotten bored. I wasn’t bored for a second because there was so much to take in. The long, endless landscapes, the fact that the entire 100 minute movie was made in 100 shots, the sound of feet on gravel; a sickly crunching which suggests movement but establishes it as a futile act; they’re moving, but are they going anywhere?

If you’ll pardon me for getting “deep”, I’d like to suggest that the walk is into their souls more than it is into the horizon. Gerry works much better if considered on a psychological level. What would you do in the situation that you are mindlessly lost? At what point do you stop caring? When do you lose the will to live? Is the will to live really that important anyway?

Like The Brown Bunny, Gerry requires thought. Consideration. And rewatches. I’m a firm believer in the power of rewatching films. It has in the past, changed a rating of 3/10 into 9/10. And it changes things.

Sure, it’s easy to get bored watching this movie. And that’s what happens to most people. I’ll admit, physically and eventfully, fuck-all happens in this movie. But on another level, it is a complex labyrinth of emotions where even the tiniest event has an effect. Arvo Part’s piano piece Fur Alina is a key piece of soundtrack used in the movie, and even though it is quiet and soft, if you play it at night while trying to get to sleep you will become an insomniac. It’s soft, quiet, but powerful, sad and terrifying. Like the landscape the Gerrys are trying to escape from; like the emptiness inside themselves, like the final act of utter desperation and violence.

Somewhere (2010)

Continuing the theme of films about psychologically empty protagonists moving but never really getting anywhere, Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere makes it a point to explain the harsh nothingness inside its protagonist. He himself says that he’s nothing, and whatever meaning we’re supposed to take from that statement seems irrelevant when you consider that he has the upper hand on nothingness because he realizes and acknowledges that he is, indeed nothing.

That isn’t to say that he’s a smart, or good person. He hires strippers to come to his hotel room and dance; not to necessarily give him pleasure, but just to try and get a grip on his own sickness and defy it. When his daughter comes along, his life is made better, even if only slightly. He enjoys her company, and attempts to use it, like he did with the strippers, to try and change his own emptiness into something. Something… what? Something useful? Something worth living for? Now that would be a cliche. No, he needs his daughter to reaffirm that he has actually done something. As to whether that something is good or bad or whatever, it hardly matters to him; what matters is that he has done it, his daughter is a product of him and she is… something.

And he wants to know, if that something can take him somewhere. Some place different from the rut he is stuck in. He wants to escape from the endless cycle of hotel rooms and waking up with strange women after nights of emotionless, mechanical sex, and he’s hoping his daughter will be the key. But as it turns out, she is not. The point of his daughter showing up is to hint to him, subtly, that he needs to get up and do something about his shitty life. But that something that will lead him somewhere is a thing he needs to figure out for himself, alone. Driving around in circles won’t help, but standing up and walking into the distance might accomplish something.

So what’s so great about this movie, and why do people dislike it? It’s probably because they find it boring. The whole point of this post is to highlight movies I like that many others don’t, but what’s the real reason? Why do I have such a fascination and attraction toward inaccessible movies. This is me, the guy who listed Eyes Wide Shut and Inland Empire as a couple of his twenty favourite movies of all time, so why? I certainly don’t think I’m smarter than anyone else, or that I just have an eye for picking up details others miss. I like to think I’m as normal and adventurous when it comes to movies as anyone else. I can list the things I like about these movies, and I like to hear peoples’ responses to my thoughts, and if I hear someone say, “I hated that movie,” I say okay, that’s fine, everyone’s entitled to their opinion, yadda yadda, but without really thinking about what makes peoples’ film tastes unique. I think it’s great that we live in a world that thrives on opinion; that at least, proves to me that we aren’t (metaphorically) robots, but where do peoples’ tastes come from? Is it the movies they watched growing up? Let’s see what movies I watched growing up… not that many, but mostly what all the other kids were watching. Does it come from how I was raised? Well, with a smarter-than-average older sister who is a law student, wife and mother, and a younger brother who is an auto mechanic, I was really stuck in the centre. No one knew what to expect from me, and likewise, I didn’t know what to expect from them. A few years ago, I had some experiences with film that changed the way I look at the art form (in no small part thanks to my terrific girlfriend Ashley) and fuelled a love for it that would turn into a passionate search through all sorts of genres, experimenting and trying new things. I can never really pinpoint what changed and when, but at one point something clicked; I read a million bad reviews of a movie, so many that when I saw it and kind of enjoyed it, I rejected that enjoyment as a wrong feeling and dumped the film. Then when Ashley saw it without reading a single review, she said it was brilliant and it’s now one of her favourites. That was what prompted this delve into opinion; opinion is the core of humanity, the foundation of choice, and yet, it is what brings us to our knees in either anger or pleasure; it is what makes us unique and different in any form. Coming to this philosophical, psychological realization forced me to re-examine every film I’d ever seen where my opinions had been different to the unanimous one. Was I insane? What was my thinking pattern? How come I enjoyed it when hundreds of professional critics, hated it?

The argument I’m trying to make has a point, but I forget what it was. I’ve become so obsessed with rambling about it, trying to make sense of the chaos and senselessness that is humanity that I’ve turned this movie blog post into something it didn’t originally intend to be. But it’s a subject I’ve always been interested, how peoples’ lifetimes affect their thoughts on a certain thing. You can imagine a thousand people standing up and looking at a painting (or a film), and each of them having a different view on it or an understanding of it. What fuels this? Pray, tell me what makes it all so different?

I’m sorry if I’ve alienated anyone with my rambling… I really should drink less coffee, but let me sum up this point by restricting it to film: I have written some short paragraphs on three movies in this post, The Brown Bunny, Gerry and Somewhere; three films I loved a hell of a lot. I was going to write about some other films I love but I guess I don’t really need to tell you that I think I’ve written enough.

Sorry if I’ve wasted anyone’s time, but if you have an experience with movies then there has to be at least one you feel this way about! Vincent Gallo, Gus van Sant and Sofia Coppola copped a lot of hate for the movies mentioned here, none moreso than Gallo, but I think it is tremendously unfair. If you go around hating a movie, watching it and then denouncing it; if you watch it filled with hatred, without consideration for it, then that’s not the way you should watch a film. And I think, with these particular films, it would be better to watch them without reading any reviews whatsoever. But that’s too late now, huh?

Now it’s your turn, and this part is incredibly vital. So many people view these pages without commenting, but I implore you to comment. I ask you, what did YOU think of the movies I’ve mentioned? What are some widely disliked or ignored movies you treasure? Be completely and utterly honest, because if you have anything you’d like to add relative to this subject then I urge you to. Thanks so much for reading, and I promise next time I write something it won’t be as long, rambling, and time wasting as this.

Review: Gus van Sant’s “Gerry”

One of the most widely disputed of Gus van Sant’s films is the 2002 movie Gerry. It’s on a lot of lists of slow, boring, uneventful and time-wasting movies. After seeing (and reviewing) van Sant’s brilliant high school shooting spree thriller Elephant, I decided to check this out and see if it was as underrated as I suspected. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

Casey Affleck and Matt Damon are two men, both named Gerry, who go hiking with no supplies in Death Valley one day and get mindlessly, hopelessly lost. Starvation soon sets in, as does desperation, but don’t worry, this isn’t going to turn into Alive or something like that. Gus van Sant keeps it incredibly simple, and his movie just shows the men walking, and never really getting anywhere. Sounds boring, right? Well, take it from me, it’s not. Some people might find it boring, but those with an eye for art will recognize some really amazing techniques being used here, even if some of the characters’ actions don’t make sense.

I suppose my enjoyment of the film was heightened by the fact that I went in expecting a really boring movie, but in every single minute of this beautiful movie, I was riveted. Van Sant intends it to be a character study, but the stunning visuals and flooring cinematography are the real stars. The film also makes very good use of the music of Arvo Pärt, the Estonian composer. Two of his pieces appear here, Spiegel im Spiegel and Für Alina, and the absolutely haunting feel they possess makes the movie and its situation even more desolate and remote.

Sure, it’s slow-paced. The film in itself contains exactly 100 shots, and no more. Pretty incredible when you consider most films of its type contain thousands. Some of these shots are of the coldly beautiful landscape that surrounds the stranded men; some are of the men just walking; one is a shot which pans dead slowly around Casey Affleck’s contemplative face, and perhaps the longest shot in the film is near the end and features them trudging incredibly slowly, almost dead, across a vast white surface.

Yes, the movie is sombre, and emotionally evocative (especially the aforementioned use of Arvo Pärt music), but it’s fantastic. Though there is very little dialogue (especially in the second half), we learn so much about these characters, most notably a repressed homosexual bond which is never physically expressed, but hinted at ever so slightly by van Sant.

Everyone should be able to find something to look at within this small indie gem, and if you find yourself getting tired of the long shots and dully slow-pace, then re-examine it, look at it from a different angle. There is a lot of unacceptance for this film, but the simple fact is that getting lost-really, seriously lost-is not what it looks like in most movies. There are only a tiny handful of movies that really pinpoint the emotional struggle of these disastrous situations. When people think of that sort of thing, movies like 127 Hours come to mind, but when I really focus on it, the truest, most evocative film ever made about getting lost just has to be Gerry.

My Rating:

4.5/5 Gerrys

Is It Worth Adding To Your Netflix Queue?:

Have you seen Gerry? What did you think of it? Leave a comment below. Thanks.

Five “Bad” Movies That I Think Are Actually Quite Good

As perhaps a “sequel” to my earlier post 5 Really Bad Good Movies, here are five movies that the general public (but certainly not everyone) have declared to be really awful movies, that I think have artistic merit as a film and are well within the range of that ambiguous defining categorization of “good.”

1: Gerry (2002)

The first instalment in a trilogy by Gus van Sant is perhaps the best. It’s plot is simple, and some will say unoriginal, but the way Van Sant does it makes it different from all the other rubbish. It’s about two men, both named Gerry (played by Casey Affleck and Matt Damon), who go on a hiking trip in Death Valley and get mindlessly, hopelessly lost. Van Sant relishes in showing countless beautiful shots of the Valley, and likes to linger these shots for quite a long time. In fact, the film contains exactly 100 shots, no more no less, whereas a normal film of its length contains thousands. Many have criticised it for being boring, slow-paced and uneventful, but I see it as a beautiful work of art that sucks you in with its raw, subtle power. Gerry is, for better or worse, the most accurate and precise description of getting lost.

2: The Brown Bunny (2003)

Perhaps the movie with the worst reputation on this list, and one which I will continue to persevere with and try to understand is Vincent Gallo’s seminal, brutally subtle but hugely affecting drama which deals with the raw hurt and heartbreak of a man whose past is so bitterly latching onto him and eating away at him, that in every single frame we see the enormous toll it has taken on him. I wrote a review of the film not too long ago, and hopefully that’s enough to convince people who couldn’t see the sense in this movie to revisit it like I did. When I first saw it, I despised it. But in time, and by rewatching it, I soon began to see what Gallo was trying (albeit inconsiderately) to get across, and it blew my mind.

3: Funny Games (1997)

Okay, maybe this isn’t a hated film, but I’ve read more bad reviews than good and I seem to be the only person I know who really liked it. This is the first in a trilogy of 3 movies which I refer to as the Mid-Career Passageway, in which Haneke directed his three best movies, this, The Piano Teacher and Cachè. Funny Games is both a condemnation and tribute to cinematic violence. There is no real plot here; just mindless, senseless violence and a menial excercise in the pointlessness of it all.

4: Vanilla Sky (2001)

While certainly paling in comparison to its highly superior original, Abre Los Ojos, Cameron Crowe’s 2001 remake is nevertheless, not crap. It manages to retain at least some of the feel of the original, and is every bit as provocative and original as Abre Los Ojos seemed to its target audience at the time. How this got 40% on Rotten Tomatoes is beyond me.

5: Pink Flamingos (1972)

Okay, this is more of a so-fun-even-though-its-disgusting-Divine-makes-me-laugh-so-fucking-hard-with-her-accent-and-oh-my-god-just-look-at-the-shitty-cinematography-of-this-ugly-underground-film-is-that-no-no-no-she-isn’t-o-m-g-she’s-eating-a-dog-turd-oh-my-god-that-must-taste-awful-I-feel-kinda-dirty-for-watching-this-it’s-really-bad movie. It’s bad, sure, we know it’s bad, but we’re compelled to watch anyway.

What are some ‘confirmed’ bad movies that you enjoy? Do you like/dislike my choices? Leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading.