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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.

25 Very Short Film Reviews

I love writing reviews. I love it a lot. And I like it when reviews turn people onto movies they wouldn’t normally watch, as they have for me on many occasions. But sometimes people don’t have the time to read a full review, and just want people to get to the point. To satisfy these impatient but forgivable men and women, here is a list of twenty-five films, reviewed within one paragraph. They range from the completely terrible to the utterly brilliant. This of course, is all based on opinion, which is what makes the process of leaving a comment so integral. So make sure you do that. Anywhere, here they are, in a completely random order:

1: Freeway (1996)

It’s hardcore dark humor that is difficult to appreciate combined with the complete impossibility to sympathise with either of its main characters might normally make this a bad movie. But in some strange way, it has a charm, which obviously appealed to Executive Producer Oliver Stone. 7/10.

2: Short Cuts (1993)

Robert Altman knows a lot about people, as this mammoth 3-hour film proves. Back in ’75, he did it with Nashville, and retaining some of the jazzy musical flair, he returns to weave a complex web of a range of emotions that was a nice follow-up to The Player and a major influence on Paul Thomas Anderson. 9/10.

3: Fear and Desire (1955)

Stanley Kubrick’s first feature film was a disappointing one; so much so that he went as far as to withdraw all copies from distribution. It can still be found on the internet, but Kubrick was right when he said it was his worst film. 4/10.

4: Wild at Heart (1991)

My least favourite David Lynch film (and I LOOOOOOOOOOOVE Lynch) is a twisted romantic thriller with all the familiar Lynchian character types and plenty of Lynch’s snazzy retro styles but seemingly devoid of emotion. The highlight is easily the ugly Willem Dafoe character, but he only barely manages to save this wreck. 5/10.

5: The Green Mile (1999)

Seeing this at age 14, I felt a poignant sense of love for a film in a manner which was new to me. If, at that age, I had compiled a list of my favourite films, it would probably be number one. Growing up, I realized my fickle naivety at loving this Darabont gem so much, but it still retains power. 8/10.

6: Somewhere (2010)

Though Coppola’s take on an age-old plot is rather inaccessible, it is undoubtedly original, and her solid directing and some very touching cinematography make this so wickedly awesome to look at. Plus, the boozy relativity of Stephen Dorff and the contrasting charm of Elle Fanning make this an underrated treasure. 8/10.

7: See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1987)

Of the Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor pairings, this is certainly not the most well-received, glamorous or best, but seeing it at age twelve I could NOT stop laughing. They play the respective roles of a deaf and blind man in such a hilarious manner that it’s impossible not to. But at the end of the day, this is them doing what they’ve already done, in many ways. 6/10.

8: Liar, Liar (1997)

I saw this in theatres with my Dad when it came out and we had such fun. Turning ever slightly into a more bearable personality with each film, Carrey seems to hold up the role of a flabbergastingly talkative lawyer with ease, slipping in dozens of clever, witty one liners and winning the audience one chuckle at a time, despite its flaws. 7/10.

9: A Serious Man (2009)

It took more than one viewing to fully appreciate what Joel and Ethan Coen were trying to convey with this deceivingly simple story of a Jewish man’s struggle in middle-class society as everything he touches breaks (metaphorically) and he is subject to blackmail, deceit and countless unlucky circumstance. Honest about life and a real eye opener, it proves that the Coens will perhaps forever retain that undeniable charm. 9/10.

10: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

With a bit of a mind flip, you’re into the time slip, and nothing will ever be the same. Though I certainly never went as far as to dress up and gather props, watching this cult classic gives you an appreciation for its intelligence about comedy and its beautiful tributes to science fiction and exploitation hits alike. 7/10.

11: Casino (1998)

I’ve never been to Las Vegas, but watching Scorsese’s Casino felt like a three hour trip around a rollercoaster of emotions that encircle the pretty-on-the-outside city. De Niro’s stony appearance and Pesci’s familiar disturbing intolerance as well as general greed and sin are an unattractive portrait of a moment in time where no one was safe from corruption. 8/10.

12: Gigli (2003)

I had suspected something stinky early on, but when Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez started their pathetic argument about penises and vaginas, I began to feel really sick. What makes it even worse is the presence of Martin Brest as director and screenwriter. How can a person so quickly move from things like Midnight Run and Scent of a Woman to this? 3/10.

13: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

For a fleeting second in this superb adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel, whilst watching the DVD, I grabbed for the remote to pause it but found myself unable to. I realized when it had finished that that flash of a second was me deciding this was the best film I’d ever seen, but within moments, that exaggeration was gone. It isn’t the best one. But it’s a f*cking good one. 10/10.

14: The Brown Bunny (2003)

From its famed disastrous Cannes screening to the nightmarish controversy which followed, Vincent Gallo’s second directorial film was always going to garner the wrong sort of attention, but I think it is vastly underrated. It took me more than one viewing to even begin to like this movie, but now that I’ve had time to think about it, I realize what Gallo was trying to achieve and I respect him even more. Read my full review here. 7/10.

15: The Killing (1956)

Probably the first “great” film Kubrick released, this tense, pacing heist flick is full of brilliant scenes and the early stages of what would soon famously become the “Kubrick” cinematography style, and a final end scene completely coated in excellence. Impossible to hate, it is a must-see for all heist movie fans. 8/10.

16: Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

When compared with the films that preceded it, Paul Thomas Anderson’s quiet little drama might seem a little disappointing, but it’s arguably an excellent work of art, full of Anderson and the emotion he’s so talented at conveying. It also features cinematography and a use of light that is, in a word, stunning, and quite unexpected, much like the notable performance from a frustrated Adam Sandler. 8/10.

17: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

A beautiful movie that makes you feel quite triumphant, this magnificent true story about a paralysed man who communicated and “typed” his entire autobiography to a typist by blinking (and doing only that) is not a frightening vision of a rare but dangerous affliction but rather, a tale of succeeding, when the rest of your body was telling you to fail. 8/10.

18: Rain Man (1988)

Dustin Hoffman’s remarkable performance as the Autistic Raymond would be enough to turn any self-indulgent prick like Tom Cruise’s character into a more emotionally respectable person, and as if that weren’t enough, his love for K-Mart, fresh underwear and Who’s On First make him instantly likeable. 7/10.

19: City of Ember (2008)

While babysitting my sister’s kids, we (meaning they) decided it would be awesome to watch this futuristic drama. Though the presence of Tim Robbins and Bill Murray is enough to stir the eyes of any adult in bland interest, neither of them are trying anything comedic here and while the premise is interesting, it is ultimately disappointing. 5/10.

20: October Sky (1997)

I feel sorry for a lot of people for this movie, Chris Cooper most of all, because when accepting this role he probably thought it would be the only time he would have to play a self-indulgent prick of a father. Then along came American Beauty, and self-indulgent prick was an instant typecast. Anyway, this movie is a bland but fair true story about some kids who build rockets, but it’s more for kids. 6/10.

21: Being John Malkovich (1999)

Hello, Kaufman. Hello, Jonze. Hello again, instantly despicable but strangely appealing John Malkovich. Hello, good movie. The interesting premise of this comic drama follows through nicely, retaining a lot of originality and pacing itself neatly enough. The only disappointing scene is one that also seems to be strangely witty, involving a chimpanzee flashback. 8/10.

22: Dogville (2003)

Lars von Trier is a director who I don’t think has ever (or will ever) make a really accessible movie. Dogville is no exception to this rule, but it is also Trier’s best. The use of setting the whole thing as a stage play makes it seem smaller, down to Earth, and a whole lot easier to follow, and the acting performances by a collective group of great actors playing members of a small town is equally impressive. 8/10. Heck, maybe 9 considering the fantastic ending.

23: A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

Revealing some unpleasant truths about relations between Brits and Americans, this absolutely f*cking HILARIOUS movie is flat out funny, all the way through, with Pythonesque jokes, and a thought-provoking analysis of the system of slapstick crime movies, this continues to delight and impress with each viewing. Sooo funny! 8/10.

24: Bruno (2008)

What may be so appealing about Sacha Baron Cohen is his disregard for social convention and love of all things outrageous. His follow-up to Borat, goes further than its predecessor, into the realms of homophobia and stereotypes, but still managing to come up clean on the other side, though some scenes might be excessive. 7/10.

25: Amores Perros (2000)

Spanish (or Mexican, whichever you consider to be most applicable) cinema is one of the most intriguingly relevant of foreign cinemas today. Celebrated director Alejandro Gonzales Iñàrritu creates tense sequences and stories of life in Mexico that are full of raw, uncensored emotion, particularly some heartbreaking sequences in the last half. Surprisingly brilliant. 9/10.

That’s my opinion, now what’s yours? You know the drill. Do you agree/disagree with what I’ve said about movies above? Leave a comment with some very short reviews of your own. It can be from any movie at all.

Thanks for reading.

5 Memorable Opening Shots in Movies

When I watch movies, I often look for great opening shots. These are the first things we see when the camera fades in from black and the film begins. A good director will often make a good opening shot to hook the viewer into the film, and here are five of my favourites, in no particular order:

Caché (2005)

The film opens with a deceptively simple stationary shot of the house of a wealthy French couple and their son. We soon release, in a perfectly Michael Haneke manner, that this is a videotape of their house recorded by an unknown person/s, who have then mailed the recording to the couple. A fantastic film which opens in an excellent manner.

Somewhere (2010)

Sofia Coppola’s newest film, and undoubtedly her best, is the excellent indie drama Somewhere. It opens with one of my favourite shots of all time, a shot quite similar to the opening of The Brown Bunny, except this shot is stationary and unmoving, a wise decision. If you find this boring and meaningless, then I suggest you watch the whole movie. If, after that, you still find it boring and meaningless… I’m sorry, but I can’t help you.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Oh, wow. Who could forget that awesome movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey? Obviously, a lot of people, as I was the only one in my family who didn’t doze off while the movie played on when I watched it when I was twelve after Stanley Kubrick died. From this magnificently epic opening shot and onwards, it catapulted my life into a realm of film and cinema. It’s so simplistic, yet so beautiful:

Boogie Nights (1997)

Steadicam, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways… Boogie Nights is easily number one. The opening shot actually really made me feel like I was cruising around the disco, checking out all the funky characters. Everything about it is perfect; the timing, the way it moves so rhythmically, and how awesome the seventies looked through the eyes of Paul Thomas Anderson.

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a video for this, which is sad, because the music is absolutely perfect in this scene, but let me cut it down to the bare basics. This is Stanley Kubrick being cheeky, which is something we very rarely get from the director, and is what makes the opening so unique. No one knew how to get an audience’s attention like Kubrick:

Now it’s time for…

Leave a comment with what you thought of my five choices, and name some of your own.

Thanks for reading.