Living in Oblivion

living in oblivion

This movie is an oddball. A movie within dreams within a movie about making a movie with dream sequences. It’s hard to keep on top of the reality and the dream while watching a movie being made as if in a dream world itself. The blending of film and reality is blurry with actors being called by both their names and their character’s names as well as the crew bringing in their problems from home into the filmmaking experience.

I have no experience of filmmaking but I can imagine that directing a film, if Steve Buscemi’s character is anything to go by, is a bit like herding cats. Cats with overbearing egos and a massive belief in themselves and their abilities… oh, just like cats really.

Have you heard of this one? I obviously had because it was on The List but apart from that I didn’t know what to expect. Living in Oblivion is an unusual beast. It is a surreal look into the world of directing an alternative film while wrangling actors, sound guys, camera operators, mothers, dealing with blowout from relationship breakups and sexual encounters – the lot – even Tyrion Lannister (sort of).

We get to watch Steve as the director maybe going nuts or maybe not. Actors come and go while trying to put their stamp on his film and because they are the ‘names’ Steve has to work around them. Clearly the movie making experience takes over all their lives to the point that reality blurs and work becomes dreams (I hate that!).

What I liked about this film was the clever use of black and white for dreams but also for the eye of the camera. There are also a few excellent moments with actors re-shooting the same scenes over and over. One in particular stands out where Catherine Keener begins by giving an amazing impassioned performance but by the umpteenth take is no longer feeling it. That must be pretty much  what it’s like. Acting would be quite draining after a while, doing the same things over and over again.

There is no action and no real outcomes, just movie making. I really liked this film but I’m not sure why. It felt like watching a play and also like reading a short story. Maybe because you’re dropped in after the beginning and leave before the end – there’s more to be said and done but you don’t get to see it.

Interestingly this is written and directed by the same person, Tom DiCillo. Can you imagine how meta it must have gotten while directing a film you wrote about being a director directing a film? Meta!

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Sunshine Cleaning

Sunshine cleaning

Sunshine Cleaning is really normal. Normal in the sense that for once we are seeing the average person dealing with some pretty average stuff. A fair share of disappointment, trauma, sadness, love and laughter. Amy Adams does not have to portray quirky or cute just normal and it’s refreshing.

Of course, she takes up quite an unusual occupation but considering her previous career it’s a not too surprising step to a bit more money. Cleaning is cleaning after all. Why not just escalate and clean up dead people mess? Maybe not very normal it’s true.

I love Amy Adams and it’s so nice to see her being the woman next door rather than the cute sweet love interest with flowing hair extensions and covered in make-up. I also love Emily Blunt who plays the a little less normal, but struggling with normal issues for some, sister.

Sunshine Cleaning is a meaningful family drama about the impact of death on the family especially the impact of suicide on those left behind. Suicide of a family member changes everyone and it certainly changed the characters in the film. It is a defining moment in all their lives.

Sunshine Cleaning is not all doom and gloom. The characters are realistic and humour certainly raises its dark head. The film is not all about dealing with death but it is very much about dealing with how lives are shaped. Why we find ourselves where we are and how much we change along the way.

These are good people having a hard time and each deals with it differently but at the core is love and that never fails.

Again refreshingly, there is no real romance in the movie. There are new friendships that could end up romantic but not during the movie anyway. This is a film about family.

I actually think this could have made the basis of a really good tv show. It was so character driven and reasonably undramatic. I could just see how much more the story and the characters could develop over a season. (I’m thinking along the lines of Six Feet Under here.)

Alan Arkin again hits the nail on the head with his loving but abrasive father/grandfather. He’d do anything for his kids/grandkids and it’s kind of lovely. Only a few actors could really pull off that fine line between grump and love. He did it before in Little Miss Sunshine. He does it again here. (Apparently he has a thing for Sunshine films… he was super annoyed he didn’t get a role in the ultimate Sunshine movie ‘Sunshine’… yeah, you can quote me on that).

Sunshine Cleaning won’t blow you away but it does leave you feeling pretty good. Yet it’s not feel good either, it is after all about cleaning up after dead people and dealing with a family tragedy. It’s hard to say why you’d want to watch it but at the same time it’s a really good little film.

I suppose it made me feel that adversity can be overcome, you can change who you are for the better, and if you can’t do anything else, you can be there for the ones you love. Not a bad thing to take away from a film really.

 

Ruby Sparks

ruby sparks

Here’s another movie I watched on a small screen in the back of the chair in front of me on a long haul flight from the UK. I’m pretty convinced that it’s not the best way for me to watch serious movies (I also watched How to Train your Dragon 2 which I really liked so the small screen and cramped position seems to work for kids films…).

It’s not that I didn’t like Ruby Sparks I just didn’t get into it. Perhaps I needed to concentrate more, perhaps I needed a bigger screen but probably I needed to not be on an aeroplane!

Anyway, quit the whinging woman write about the movie!

I liked the idea behind this movie, it brings up some really interesting issues. What would you change about the person you love if you could? and would you? and should you? I think we all have things about the people we hold dearest that we think we would like to change but would they still be the same person if you did change them? Probably yes if you just stopped them chewing their nails, but maybe not if you tried to change their feelings toward you or basic parts of their personality.

The main character, let’s call him “the writer” played by Paul Dano, brings to life his perfect girl through the magic of typewriter… those things are so friggin’ magical! The problem, of course, with writing your perfect partner is that once they begin experiencing life other than how you wrote it, they begin to change and do you rewrite them if you don’t like the changes?

It really is very clever. What would we do with the power to change those around us if we could? This guy writes his dream manic pixie girl who is adventurous, smart and totally in love with him but as she begins to experience life she begins to change from the person he initially wrote. This is another interesting point about how those around us change and, hopefully, we change with them. Sometimes those changes don’t suit us but I think it’s probably not a good idea to try to rewrite someone, it’s probably better to change yourself.

The writer here starts out a nice enough washed up loser type (those things all go together right?) but by the end it’s hard to feel much sympathy for him as he goes about the business of rewriting his perfect girl over and over again. It’s horrible to watch and my sympathy was all with Ruby.

These rewrites make the movie hard going at times and the writer just got creepier and creepier. I guess that’s the point in the end that this kind of control of someone can end up like a horror film. It’s not normal. It’s cruel.

I also just find Paul Dano a little creepy anyway. I’ve mainly seen him in creepier roles I suppose which doesn’t help.

I really wish I hadn’t watched this on the plane. In future I will stick to kid’s films … and maybe action.

Buffalo 66

Buffalo_sixty_six_ver1

I went in to this film not having a clue about it. I knew that Buffalo 66 was the first movie from Vincent Gallo but apart from that – nothing. I didn’t even know one of my favourite actors, Christina Ricci, was in it. Great surprise and she was terrific.

Buffalo 66 is unusual. It follows Vincent Gallo’s character out of prison back to life. He has lied to his parents about where he’s been and has even made up a wife. He kidnaps Christina Ricci’s character and goes to visit the folks with his ‘wife’. This could have played out as expected but the characters are so odd that somehow this all seemed normal.

There’s certainly something very wrong with these two but I found myself hoping for a good outcome for them both. There were times when she could have run but she didn’t and he is so intense and unhappy about his life that he is hardly likeable. Weird then that I liked them both so much.

Another awesome surprise was Angelica Houston rocking it as the Mum obsessed by football (the Superbowl kind) and not much else, least of all her son.

These are two very lonely and sad people and, in fact, the kidnapping becomes quite stockholm syndrome quite quickly. The lies upon lies that develop are quite astounding and as ‘the wife’ she begins to relish her power in the situation. I should stop saying it but I remain surprised by how much I liked them because they make strange decisions and he is really quite mean to her and she just falls in love more. Sad. The fact that this movie is set over less than 24 hours makes it even sadder (yet I loved it! I just wanted them to be happy – so much for my romance immune action brain… although it ain’t a romantic film.)

There is great use of flashbacks as explanation of how he came to be in prison and the life he had with his oddball parents. The whole movie feels quirky like an early Wes Anderson film. It’s less quirky though and more sad sack. (I have no idea how to describe this, can you tell? Sweet and creepy maybe?) The flashbacks are quirky too. They appear as tiny squares in the middle of the screen and slowly take over – it kind of scared me the first time.

The ending is very unusual too. That is all I can say about that.

You should watch this film just to see Vincent Gallo’s run. So odd. So uptight.

The Yes Men

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The Yes Men features feats of audacity that are almost too much to believe. I literally gasped at times and found my hand over my mouth at one point for the utter disbelief of what they were saying.

Back in the early noughties these two blokes became really good at making fake websites. Their George W fakesite ended up receiving requests for the then Presidential candidate even though the site was filled with honest to God statements by Mr GW himself that were absolutely dreadful. GW’s team would have sued for defamation I’m sure if only it hadn’t all been true!

Anyway, this led to them beginning a World Trade Organisation fakesite at http://www.gatt.org/which contains outrageous statements about the policies of the WTO. Seriously, go check it out.

The WTO was singled out for its ongoing policies of ‘money, money, money – how can we make rich people even richer and legally exploit every asset the earth contains (or that walks upon it) while spending as little as possible?’. Great policy guys. These are the guys who negotiate with governments to ensure free trade unhindered by pesky things like human rights (extreme version learned from The Yes Men – everything I know I learned from movies).

This in turn has led to them being invited as WTO representatives to trade events around the world. And they went. Herein lies the shock and awe. These two are brave souls and the best life hackers I have ever seen.

At one event in Europe they speak to an audience filled with the CE’s of manufacturing businesses and politely tell them that the North wasted it’s time in the civil war as slavery would have ended anyway when Southern slave owners realised that it’s cheaper to pay an employee base wage in their own country than to house and feed an unpaid worker in the US. They completely outlined the current modern day slave labour conditions of third world workers and called it a good thing. Then the audience clapped… (Hand over mouth at this point).

But it went further! The stuff this audience listened to – I really hope they were just super polite and inside were thinking WTF???. Here’s hoping. It seems unlikely though as one of the Yes Men then went on to strip out of his suit and reveal an ‘executive leisure suit’. He states that the WTO made the suit so overworked executives had time to take part in leisure activities while still being able to oversee their third world factories – through a computer screen – that is on the end of a giant phallus that pumped up from the guy’s groin! I kid you not, the audience still didn’t get up and scream WTF??? Here’s a picture:

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WTF???

See this movie; make up your own mind. Are we super polite or super screwed up enough to always put profit before people? How I hope it’s not the latter while knowing quite well that it generally is.

Also, I never want to eat a poo burger…

The Guard

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So the other night I’m watching TV and The Guard comes on and as it’s on my movie list I thought ‘just watch it’. Who cares about doing things in order anyway? Not me apparently. Plus it was on a channel that drops out and doesn’t record properly so, yeh, decision made. I have no idea what number it is on the list because its quite a few pages in (yes, pages) and I’ve counted that list once and I don’t intend to count it again without good reason. Maybe if someone threatened me with a piece of processed chicken (I’m allergic) at processed meat point, maybe then I’d count it again. Maybe.

So The Guard is an actually excellent film that contains most of my “that’s an excellent film” requirements. There’s funny, touching, mysterious, bad guys, good guys, in-between guys, sad, and … action!! The only thing missing is female characters. Two prostitutes and a wife do not make a Bechdel Test passing film. Damn. Admittedly the film did play on the ‘it’s still a man’s world out here in the Irish sticks’ a lot, so I won’t dwell on the Bechdel Test.

At times I found the Irish accent a little hard to understand but it didn’t ruin the film. (Having a whole pile of Irish DNA does not, unsurprisingly, make the accent easy to understand.)

The star of the piece is the grumpy garda (Irish Gaelic for cop – sort of) (Brendan Gleeson – glorious) and the straight man to grumpy garda’s wit is the American CIA agent, so straight it hurts Don Cheadle (glorious). The two are teamed up to find an international drug smuggling operation working through an out of the way port in Faraway, Ireland (not the town’s name at all).

Grumpy garda is grumpy and has his own offbeat ways of doing things. CIA agent is not and does not, he plays by the rules. This sounds like a classic set up, and it is, but grumpy garda is so understandable and strangely likeable (all down to the gloriousness of Brendan Gleeson I am sure) that I ended up wanting them to like each other and learn from each other and get the bad guys. Their interactions are very honest and at times hilarious while making me feel like I may have inadvertently learnt something by the end of their conversation. Nothing pans out quite as I expected and I like that.

Grumpy garda is a fully developed character and that kind of development is unusual for a film. There’s just not enough time in general. I felt like I knew him at the end and I wanted him to make it through all the baddies and the failed stings and the grumpiness of his everyday life. He is naughty and old and fat and lonely and jaded and he knows it and he doesn’t care. Yet he cares about others in his grumpy way (especially his Mum, bless his cotton socks).

The baddies were a bit of a let down as they were just super mean but they were drug dealers so why be so ‘kill everyone’ bad? I think they could have been a bit more subtle and their characters a little more developed. Being a gun for hire does not necessarily make you Mr Kill Everyone And It Makes Sense Because I’m Being Paid By The Boss. Basically they are classic baddies that you don’t care about because they are bad and they deserve badness.

Also, there is a gunfight and a big explosion. Action in an independent film that also has feeling and learnings, woah! Glorious!