Broken Flowers

Broken Flowers (2005) movie poster

(2005) dir. Jim Jarmusch
viewed: 08/10/05 at Embarcadero, SF, CA

Jim Jarmusch is one of my favorite directors, despite the erratic natures and qualities of many of his films. When he gets it right, as he did so amazingly in Dead Man (1995) and Down by Law (1986), his films are the best of a generation.

This film is interesting in his oeuvre, as it is in essence a bit of a road movie, which is a vague genre that he has ventured into in the past, most notably in 1984’s Stranger Than Paradise. In that film, he explored the country in a strange perspective, from an immigrant perspective, very visceral. In Broken Flowers, the exploration of the country is less about specific locations (no places are explicitly named), but rather a look at life choices and social strata, though I haven’t concluded the absolute point.

The story follows Bill Murray, who is typically excellent, as a solitary lothario, who is wearying of his place in life, but is sparked to attention by a note left for him from an old lover, suggesting that he has an 18 year old son who is seeking him. The letter is unsigned and spurs him to make a list (with the explicit direction from his neighbor) and seek out the women of his life from 20 years ago.

There are five women that he seeks out in locations and professions that connote with varying lifestyles, all different from one another. One woman is a single mother with a teenage daughter, who comes from a lower middle-class neighborhood, alone since the death of her husband. The second is an upper middle class woman who is married and apparantly childless, living in a modern pre-fab neighborhood, making money from selling real estate. The third is a new age animal communicator, who is somewhere between crazy and rational. The fourth is an angry working-class woman, about whom we learn little, other than her association with motorcycles and rough guys. The fifth one is in a cemetary.

The progression moves in his relationship with the women from pleasant to brutal. He ends up sleeping with the single mom, who is glad to see him, to getting beaten up by the friends of the biker chick, who seems to loathe him.

What this all means, I am not totally sure, though for Murray’s character, it is clear that he catches glimpses of alternative lives to his own, alternate paths he might have chosen. But in the end, as he stares intently at every young man on the street that is the age of his son, he realizes how lost he is and how alone. The crisis is of no longer knowing who he is in the world and what matters to him.

The film is slow, but is interesting. It’s a sad, lost feeling that emanates from it. When it ends without closure, the audience is meant to feel as unsatisfied as the protagonist. And I am sure it will disappoint those who seek such closure in films. In the end, it’s not great Jarmusch, but it is good Jarmusch. I’d recommend it, but not to everyone.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) movie poster

(2005) dir. Tim Burton
viewed: 08/10/05 at Loews Metreon Theatres, SF, CA

Tim Burton exhibits on his usual strengths here, great visual design and largely fun entertainment, but still displays a real lack of narrative power. I actually found this film pretty fun all the way through. Burton has been trying to pack a more emotional punch lately, and this film, though not powerful in that regard, delivers as much as any of his films ever had in that regard.

Johnny Depp is very good as the bizarre cartoonish recluse, playing camp for laughs. There is this sentimental part of the film where Willy Wonka makes up with his long-estranged father. Burton has used this motif before in his 2003 film, Big Fish, which some read as a personal commentary on his strained relationship with his own father who passed away prior to the making of the film. His handling of this content is pretty schmaltzy, not as deft or sickening as Spielberg, but more forced and unnatural.

I have said it before and I will say it again. I don’t think that Tim Burton will ever make a great movie. But he may well continue to make films that are really fun and visually striking, like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and maybe that is good enough.

The Driver

The Driver (1978) movie poster

(1978) dir. Walter Hill
viewed: 08/16/2005

A moderately obscure action/thriller, The Driver is really a pretty cool. One thing I read, said something like, “This film is so cool that none of the characters even have names!” Which is true. They don’t. There is in a sense, a sort of spaghetti western atmosphere about the movie, with Ryan O’Neal’s titular “Driver”, sort of like the Clint Eastwood “Man with no Name”. It’s stylishly filmed, with very effective car chases and flashes of violence. It seems the kind of film Quentin Tarantino would love (and I don’t mean that in a bad way).

And it’s got Bruce Dern as “The Cop” who will go to any length to catch “The Driver”, setting up bank heists and consorting with criminals.

The Los Angeles of the film is really quite cool, too. Director Walter Hill used very effective locations in shooting this movie, from Union Station to downtown LA to the city’s backsides and industrial neighborhoods. Hill is, of course, one of the better, though less-known B-movie directors of the 1980’s, The Warriors (1979), The Long Riders (1980) , Southern Comfort (1981), 48 Hrs. (1982), and Streets of Fire (1984) to his credit. And while I am not a big fan of Ryan O’Neal, he is used effectively in this film, with his dialogue down to a bare minimum.

This film is a very good find.

Gunga Din

A Face in the Crowd (1957) movie poster

(1939) dir. George Stevens
viewed: 08/06/2005

An action film from another era, to say the least.

There is a definitive hokey-ness to the comedy, acting, scripting and action in this film, and Cary Grant, with all his comedic charm, seems like a true boob trying to cop a cockney accent. The hokey qualities are probably primarily hokey in contemporary retrospect and perhaps not fair to state. The film does offer models that are still common in action films today, male-bonded camaraderie, flashy fight sequences, and a light tone off-setting the dramatic sequences. I guess in some ways, certain parts are reckoned by Raiders of the Lost Ark (1980) and its many sequels and imitators. It does feel, however, that the genre has evolved in the editing and compiling of the “action”.

The heart of the film’s narrative, the tiular Gunga Din himself, is a well-intentioned, but painfully stereotyped Indian of the lowest class, played so typically of the time by a caucasian actor, in this case, Sam Jaffe. As the film starts, he seems no more than cheap comedy-relief, but eventually becomes an idealized hero.

The film is moderately fun, though some parts feel a big like The Three Stooges or something. At least, that is what it brought me to mind.

Batman Begins

Batman Begins (2005) movie poster

(2005) dir. Christopher Nolan
viewed: 06/30/05 at Loews Metreon Theatres, SF, CA

Though I enjoyed this version of Batman, I haven’t really thought of much to say about it.

I think that Christopher Nolan did a respectable job here, creating a version of the story that has a very believable human angle to it, something about it is pretty convincing. It’s dark and heavy and spends a lot of time re-working the “origin” of Batman. That is almost a knock against it, though it does do a good job at the process of re-telling a story that you know 90% of already. The film really does well considering the potential set-back of all the backstory.

Christian Bale is very potentially the best Batman yet performed. He’s surely got the best build of anyone who’s played the part.

I am encouraged that there will be sequels. This film promises things to come, though hopefully by that time Katie Holmes will be otherwise engaged (no, actually the pun was not intended). She’s a smirky young person, not yet adult, not much of an actress, as far as I can tell.

Joel Schumacher be damned.

A Face in the Crowd

A Face in the Crowd (1957) movie poster

(1957) dir. Elia Kazan
viewed: 07/31/2005

Elia Kazan.

A Face in the Crowd is truly a figment of its period. When Hollywood was making films with pretty overt political tones. Well, anyways, when some films were getting made with strong political commentaries. Kazan is extremely pedantic, though he’s great filmmaker and can often really create powerful characters and sequences, scenes of great impact.

Andy Griffith is pretty amazaing in this film, such a twisted, dark version of the character that he is widely accepted as having portrayed both on television and real life. He’s brash and nasty and harshly cruel. It’s a compelling performance and loaded material, the rise of power in the cult of personality. Seems timely in many ways, outdated in others. An interesting comparison piece for this film might be Bulworth (1998), as it’s almost an antithesis though primed on many similar pumps.

It’s rich fodder and it is interesting to bring into contemporary modes. There are many montage sequences that have a poppy feel, featuring advertising bits that give it an almost pop-arty feel at times. One can see why it’s considered a classic, but I am not up for serious analysis at this point.

Mean Girls

Mean Girls (2004) movie poster

(2004) dir. Mark Waters
viewed: 07/12/2005

It’s a sign of age, you know, when you hear Hollywood gossip stuff and have no idea who certain teen icons are or for why they are supposed to be famous. I mean, Lindsay Lohan, who is she and why is she so popular? Okay, well, now I know who she is and I can say that I have seen one of her films. This film, though, piqued my interest due to some critical buzz over the script, written by Tina Fey of Saturday Night Live (another thing that I am well-out-of-touch with.)

Mean Girls isn’t really anything overly special, but it is occasionally funny. That is saying something, coming from me, because I know that I have seen a lot of comedies that I thought were completely unfunny start to finish.

Lohan is fine throughout, though not particularly special.

The teen film, I suppose, would be the genre. The story, focusing on an outsider’s approach to overly typecast social cliques is not utterly unlike Heathers (1989), in a sense. An infiltration of the popular group by individuals opposed to their ways. The teen film is a genre that would be fun to look at, especially over time. This film might well fall into such an analysis, but I can’t really elaborate presently, as detached as I have been with the genre in general.

Now, I just need to see a Hilary Duff flick.

The Big Red One

The Big Red One (1980) movie poster

(1980) dir. Samuel Fuller
viewed: 07/17/2005

Sam Fuller is an interesting, but mixed bag. Iconoclast, bizarro, myriad of interesting, challenging things. He’s kind of like some weird uncle, or utter outsider who lacks perfectionism (which I mostly admire). I have mixed feelings toward him, though I have long harbored and interst to see his last big film, The Big Red One.

In reading about it, it is interesting in regards to what conventions it broke for the war film. It’s hard to have that perspective now, in the wake of the genre’s expansion specifically regarding the Vietnam War. War isn’t glorified, necesarilly, nor are the soldiers, anymore. The genre is not a favorite of mine, so I am not as familiar with the conventions, nor the altered conventions.

In watching this movie fresh, in 2005, it seems low-budget, which it was to some extent, keeping the focus on tighter scenes, no glorious extravaganzas. It does focus on the soldiers and their adventure by adventure story. In a sense, it’s picaresque almost, following the five soldiers from exploit to exploit, surviving and living to tell the tale. The soldiers aren’t quite so easy to connect with, however. Their emotional distance, though contraposed with great camaraderie, is quite evident in the tone of the film.

Lee Marvin really holds the film together. And it’s an interesting film. Not a great film, but an interesting one.