June 2011

David Lynch on the iPhone

One of film's greatest minds checks in on new tech

I don't want to imagine the world of cinema without David Lynch in it. Not only has he made some of the most iconic and simultaneously enigmatic feature films in the history of the medium, he's populated the scene with quite a personality. His playful strangeness is always a delight; he knows how to play to the media. Anyone who's wondered who exactly could make such a film as Eraserhead ought to be pleasantly surprised upon viewing interviews with the director. He's not the dark, brooding type. He's got an ineffable sense of humor, like the whole world's a game to him, like he's only putting out these thickly surreal and disturbing films to toy with us. Maybe that's even the case. Even if it is, I'm loving the game. 

Office Movies: Past, Present and Future

The average American workplace (or at least the perception of the average American workplace) has been a favorite location for TV and movies for decades. Currently, two of the most popular, critically acclaimed TV shows, The Office and Mad Men, take place primarily in a corporate setting and a number of memorable movies have dredged plenty of humor and pathos from a cubicle floor. But something about this strikes me as soon to be very dated. Offices, as we've known them for around a century, are starting to transform or disappear entirely. The idea of the generic corporation populated by middle class cubicle-dwellers is very quickly becoming an anachronism. This is going to have a significant impact on the kinds of stories we tell on the screen, if only because fewer people will be able to relate to that well-worn setting.

Charlie Kaufman is a dreamer with a lot of success

Charlie Kaufman makes dream movies, movies that are dreams, movies with dreams in them.  And movies with slurped up memories, characters with speech impediments, old people living in ear canals.  Kaufman makes the kind of movies little boys would make if they could be in adult love when they were running through the forest with popsicles trickling down their shirts and films that film students would make if they could get their ideas off the drawing board before life broke their knees with baseball bats. But Charlie Kaufman does it.  And he gets Meryl Streep, Nicholas Cage, Cameron Diaz, a bunch of money and a wide release to do it with.  How did the Long Island beat the odds and make the weirdest movies to hit the local multiplex since ever? He doesn’t seem the likeliest of candidates… 

Charlie Kaufman was born in 1958 in suburban Long Island.  He had a typical Jewish upbringing. Kaufman propensity for theatrics began early, with him staging plays for his parents in their house. His friends and family always described Kaufman as a quiet and reserved young person, but he apparently had a lot of friends. After graduating from NYU’s film school, Kaufman began working at the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s circulation department, working very, very early in the morning.  During this time, he wrote TV scripts, but had very little success.

Kaufman moved to Los Angeles in 1991.  He had no job when he moved there and no prospects.  His wife even stayed in Minneapolis. Eventually, he found one writing on the TV sitcom, Get a Life that aired on Fox from 1990 to 1992, about a thirty year-old paperboy. Kaufman continued to write for TV shows throughout the 1990’s, until he achieved film success with…

-Being John Malkovich

Kaufman started writing a film script about a cheating husband after one of the TV sitcoms he worked for was cancelled. He came up with the ideas of making his protagonist a puppeteer, having him work on the seven-and-a-half floor of a Manhattan office building and using the actor John Malkovich. The movie became the critically acclaimed,1999 movie written by Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze tells the story of puppeteer named Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) and his wife Lotte (Cameron Diaz) who eventually fall for the same woman, Maxine (Catherine Keener).  Craig finds the “portal” inside the actor John Malkovich and starts selling tickets to see the world through Malkovich’s eyes. 


Again directed by Spike Jonze, Adaptation was a hit with both critics and fans.  Using Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, Kaufman blends her book, Orlean’s personal biography and the orchid thief John Laroche. The film stars Nicholas Cage as Charlie Kaufman writing the script and Meryl Streep as Susan Orlean.

-Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

This movie, released in 2004 and inspired by a friend of the director Michel Gondry, won Kaufman an Oscar. It tells the story of Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and his girlfriend Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet).  The pair breaks up and Clementine erases Joel from her memory.  He retaliates and tries to get his memory erased, too, but halfway through, he wants to stop and to remember Clementine. So he and  his Clementin-memory race through his childhood memories to try and remember that they knew each other once. 

Kaufman is the unlikliest of strange movie making heros. He plans to write more, along with, possible, a novel someday.

"Finding Nemo"

The ocean is a dangerous place to get lost



Pixar's 2003 epic Finding Nemo is remembered for many things - its stunning CGI and gorgeous visuals, its universal critical, commercial and public acclaim, its Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, and Ellen DeGeneres as a loveable amnesiac. Eight years later, it's the same inspiring, moving and exciting tour de force as it was when it came in second to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in terms of box office sales. It hasn't aged a drop.



"Fast Five"

The cars are back in town

I remember watching The Fast and the Furious many years ago and losing interest a quarter of the way through. I'm not a car guy, and an action movie about fast cars is not a surefire way to hold my interest. So when a friend of mine and I went to see Fast Five, Justin Lin's entry into the Fast and the Furious franchise, I resignedly set my standards sufficiently low.



James Gunn may just be the last of the irreverent indie filmmakers. In fact, his work seems entirely resistant to studio-level success. He's much better loved for his weird projects like the cult horror flick Slither and the Spike-sponsored comedy shorts PG Porn than he is for his deconstructive, almost hateful live-action takes on Scooby Doo. Winding in and out of notoriety, Gunn appears more comfortable on the fringes where he can make an alternately amusing and off-putting film like Super, the most recent in the "real life super hero" genre. Like its contemporaries in Kick Ass and Defendor, Super juxtaposes the inherent comedy of an everyday schlub donning a costume to fight crime with a queasy take on the ultra-violence that comes with the role. It would be easy to accuse Gunn of being unoriginal, but with the unstoppable glut of straight-faced super hero movies and the fact that at least a portion of his script dates back to the early 90's, it wouldn't really be fair to do so. Super is a fun but flawed movie that thankfully avoids the excesses so common to its niche while actually serving viewers with a coherent moral that typically gets lost in the bombast of the super hero genre.

Review- X-Men: First Class

Despite still pulling in powerful revenue, the X-Men movie franchise has been in a critically dire place for a long time now. The Last Stand was enough to oust director Brett Ratner from the helm while Origins: Wolverine was more or less panned outright. So, the original 2000 adaptation's director Bryan Singer got to come back on board as a producer for First Class with director Matthew Vaughn and go the prequel route, which has resulted in a fun if formless summer blockbuster anchored by a couple standout performances. Plainly, in X-Men: First Class there's a lot of story to tell and not much time to tell it, so the film basically doesn't. But what it lacks in depth or characterization, it more than makes up in a handful of thrilling action sequences.