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Currently Untitled (2010)
How do you film nothingness? How do you film emptiness? How do you film the unfilmable? Close your eyes and rub them hard with your fingers. Push your eyelids as hard as you can. Then, release. See those images? Those fluttering, static-y "images"? How do you film that? No matter what advances we've made in modern technology, there are simply some things that can't be filmed in any meaningful way. We can allude to them, make references to them, talk about them -- but there is no way to accurately present them, no camera built yet to make this happen. It's this frustration that often seems to motivate Adam Cooley's work as a filmmaker. He wants to film scenes -- and emotions, thoughts, ideas -- that can never really "exist" in a "filmed" way. He doesn't use sped-up footage and reverse footage like most directors, who use them in dream sequences or cutaway centerpieces; he uses them as just another tool in editing. He uses it just like he uses elliptical editing and jump cuts and every other style of editing we've taken for granted for 50 years. Indeed, he -- stylistically and aesthetically -- is just trying to present an awkward, cold, disillusioned reflection of his own personal demons, drama, and psyche. He gets as close as possible to filming the unfilmable, the real drama of his life and "career" as a musician and filmmaker: filming director's block.
This film is about making a film. Or, rather, NOT making a film. Adam Cooley starts with himself, a good 10 minutes where he stares directly into the camera, and tries every trick he can think of to present something "meaningful" and "important". He plays with color schemes as if to ask, "How SHOULD I create this; how SHOULD you see it?" Indeed, there are an infinite number of ways to present a scene -- the colors, the music, the structure of a scene; instead of presenting one way, Adam presents different interpretations of the same scene. He may repeat a scene -- or a scene very similar (there are constant reoccuring images of Adam holding toy guns for seemingly no "reason") -- to show that he CAN, but has no idea how to, show a scene in many different ways.
Editing ranges from sloppy, amateurish, and jarring to stylistically unique, individual, and daring. Minutes 11-20 focus on Adam and a girl and their love. Should the film, then, become a romance? What is this film trying to say? Soon, the film begins to dump animation, HUGE crowds of people, and more, into the framework, everything but the kitchen sink is eventually explored.
All of it adds up to nothing. The first 30 minutes or so is basically saying: "I make films because I don't know what else to do. Oh, I CAN do other things, but I love making films so much that even if I have nothing to say, I want to say SOMETHING. At the same time, I want to entertain -- I want people to watch. But how do I get them to watch? How many tricks can I use?" Adam does, indeed, use many tricks: musical numbers, LOTS of animation that is at least as good as anything you'd see on Adult Swim, and some pretty insane editing and sound (keep in mind this was all filmed on a $24 camera, with no budget whatsoever, primarily with only two actors, and all did with Windows 95 freeware programs). Eventually, though, things chang. The final "part" of the film becomes REAL. Whereas the first 80% of the film is a somewhat absurd recreation of apparently true events, the final part is a straight-up documentary: the first part of the film is shown to an audience, in a theatre, and Adam documents the failure of the film. His director's block led him to create something worthless. This film -- to quote the title of another of Adam's work -- has no reason to exist.
The actual meaning of this project will vary greatly depending on whoever watches it. But no one can deny that a LOT of work was put into this thing. There are many haunting moments of piano, lots of rather insane stop motion/time lapse animation; before your eyes, you will see landscapes covered in snow and then all the snow melting. You will see arms get infected with bloody wounds and then the wounds scabbing and healing. You will see buildings being created. You will see people disappearing from landscapes. Day turning to night turning to day turning to night. Hair growing. People getting older. People completely changing their dispositions. People become characters and then become real.
Maybe "fiction" and "reality" aren't too far off. Maybe the truth and lies are one in the same, in some strange way. Whatever CURRENTLY UNTITLED means to you -- and, really, the meaning is probably right there in the title -- it is certainly one of a kind in the world of experimental, underground filmmaking.
Film socialisme (2010)
As a longtime Godard fan (especially his later works, like "Every Man For Himself" and "King Lear"), the wait for his latest film was excruciating; it had been 6 long years since the brilliant "Notre Musique" confounded and shocked me with its eye-popping imagery, jarring editing, and poetic dialogue. Something I've noticed about Godard is that he always strives for more and is always willing to take his ideas and methods and approach further and further. I was expecting a pure information overload with "Film Socialisme", and I was not let down. There is a lot going on in this picture, and it's going to take many, many watches for me to understand everything, to piece together all the information. No matter -- Godard's works have always been densely-layered and offer rewards for those willing to keep watching.
Such is the case here; Godard seems to be be in Histoire(s) du cinéma mode here, since this film -- for the most part -- resembles his work with that brilliant "film essay" series, as well as calling to mind films like Numero Deux and Comment Ca Va? Godard, for the first time, shot this entire film on digital, and the results are fascinating, sometimes even... funny. During one part, the crappy digital camera he had been shooting with appears to have been failing -- or at least, there was some failure when transferred to the computer for editing -- as parts skip ahead, and backwards; there are artifacts on the screen, audible and visual glitches, obscuring moments of a character's speech. This wasn't my DVD -- this was definitely part of the film. Other parts of the (early parts of) movie seem to have been filmed on really crappy webcams, then the footage was oversaturated... the results are quite jarring, especially when some of the "crap" footage is put next to some of the most beautiful digital filmography I've ever seen. There are audio messups, video glitches; recording synch sound on a boat in itself is absurd, as you mainly hear wind, people screaming in the distant, the engine of the ship; in sequences filming a party, you basically can't hear anything but fart sounds, a loud distorted booming and crashing. So, Godard seems to be using new technology against itself, in a way. He plays with jump cuts (which he popularized 50 years ago and has rarely used since), stop-motion (filming a camera being reassembled), dramatic pausing, silence, glitching, and slow motion. The first 40 minutes are all kinda like this; voices from who-knows-where delivering lines that were important to Godard, as image after image is shown in very quick bursts; some images were jaw-droppingly beautiful, some were distorted beyond comprehension -- all were striking. Godard is first and foremost an artist, and rest assured that the first 40 minutes are highly artistic. Not a dull moment in what can only be described as a postmodern documentary. Has Godard been watching the Current Channel? Has he been surfing Youtube? There definitely seems to be a lot of influence from outside sources in this part of the film, maybe even some of video art manipulating master Ryan Trecartin...
Then, the next part of the film -- a good 30-40 minutes -- is extremely "Godardian". It should be very familiar to people who have seen any of Godard's recent films. There's not a lot of image or sound manipulation here; just lots of long, quiet takes of characters discussing life... usually filmed in front of strikingly beautiful backdrops. This section calls to mind every film he's made in the last 30 years, Some people call this "alienating", but his style is so brilliantly personal, I can't help but be fascinated. The direction in this section is topnotch, of course...
...and it leads to the final 30 minutes, which is mostly a film essay, with dialogue over top of mostly stock footage (scenes from other films).
So, it's an overwhelming experience, but I never felt it was 'tiring'; I could've watched another hour or two of this stuff, definitely. Therein lies its brilliance. While, indeed, its difficult to sum up in a few words, its not difficult to understand why its so compelling; this is one giant ball of images, sounds, quotes, hitting us so fast that we can barely keep up. I'm not qualified to put forth everything this film meant to me, after just one watch, but I do know I will be watching this film 100 more times in the future, because it's just so captivating.
Forgot to mention... LOLcats are on this, as well as a lama who lives in a garage.
A truly brilliant experience that a lot of people will find "difficult" or "challenging", but to be completely honest, this is one of Godard's most easy-to-get-into films in a long time; by adopting the elliptical "youtube editing" and by going into "Sensory overload" mode (at least, for a lot of its length), Godard has actually managed to make a film that even an A.D.D.-addled teenage could probably enjoy... all the while, commenting on aspects such AS sensory overload, technology, language, and how impersonal and cold everyone in 2010 is. Characters speak but don't "converse". Talk, talk, talk... but no one listens. No one responds. In many ways, this is a style Godard has always utilized, but this is his best display of it; this might be the ultimate Godard film.
PS: I originally had a LOT more written on each section, but I had to keep removing chunks of it to get it to the 1000 word limit. I suspect anybody who tries to review this film will probably face the same challenge; there is just simply too much to say about this film. Truly the best film of the past 10 years.
The Limits of Control (2009)
The limits of the viewer's patience?
Mystery Train, Broken Flowers, and Dead Man are neat little films, but for the most part, this director's films are usually a bit too dry for me to get into.. they always feel overlong and don't seem to do much of anything that interests me. It's hard for me to criticize his work -- certainly, there's' nothing particularly BAD about ANY of his films -- but it's just not something I usually get into.
Along comes this film, which COMPLETELY blows me away -- I truly think this is up there with REFLECTIONS OF EVIL, NOTRE MUSIQUE, SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR, SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY, and a few precious others as the best film of the decade.
Without getting too into what the film means to me, I think this was sort of an update on the classic film BRANDED TO KILL (which the director has noted as a big influence on his work before, there are tributes to it placed in Ghost Dog for example).
This film is a huge influence on me, personally speaking... I've watched it 10 times now. An absolutely incredible film experience. I hope he makes more films like this; at the top of my head, I can't think of another film of recent memory where sound and image came together in such a compelling and beautiful way. Simply an incredible movie experience, one that is rare and should be treated with the utmost respect for its rarity, as well as its quality.
Inevitably, some people will be put off by this "boring" "mess" of a "pretentious" film, or whatever. I didn't see anything about this film that wasn't directed with the utmost care and quality, in shot composition, storytelling, dialog, character development.. what a beautiful film -- there are some truly beautiful camera movements, costumes, quotes, etc. embedded in this film. Most viewers will be hard-pressed to walk away from this film without taking some facet of inspiration.
A true work of art, one that will continue to inspire people for the rest of the humanity's existence. It's too bad no one gave a crap about it, or even tried to.
Shaye & Kiki (2004)
The best (and only) DVD in my collection
I recently went through a severe DVD and CD cleansing, pretty much selling or giving away everything I own.
I... just... can't get rid of this one.
Every time I show it to someone, they lose their mind..
This is, by far, the craziest thing ever made, and some of the most entertaining as well.
Also, Eric Fournier, the creator of Shaye St. John, died recently, so this will be the last we see of him. Extremely sad.
Do whatever you can to get this.
Full disclosure review.
Vomit of the brain.
To put it mildly, Adam Cooley's no-budget "ME, MYSELF, AND MY THIRD EYE: 4 ENLIGHTENED STORIES FOR 1 IMPERFECT GOD", is not for everyone. With an overabundance of information -- both aurally and visually -- this is probably going to be too much for most people to take. But the film was designed in such a way to make watching, and rewatching, not feel like a chore. There is a lot to behold, in every frame, but since the running time is relatively short, and the pacing superfast, you can watch the film a thousand times and probably pick up on new little details. There are actually 30-40 hours of compressed footage here, made from thousands of short little videos, but it's sped up, chopped up, layered, and fractured to a such an absurd degree that you never really get lost in a scene, or get comfortable with the action. That being said, you also likely won't be bored either.
The film is also designed like a musical... there is very rarely NOT some kind of background sound playing, except when there are some shocking, jarring moments of complete silence. Unlike most movies where music underscores our emotional involvement in the picture, and drifts from scene to scene in big, epic ways to prepare us for the next event and to tie everything together; the music in this seems to be detached and with its own agenda, a blur of weird avantgarde electronics, dark dronescapes, and beautiful piano tinkerings.
The most compelling aspect of this film to most people will probably be how urgent everything feels. This was shot in about 2 months, with a large cast compared to most of this director's previous stuff, and nothing was really stopped and thought about. A scene was filmed, a scene was edited, and then the movie continued. Not everything works, of course, as not every experiment can be a success, but there are a lot of little visual tricks and treats that are quite inspired, for those willing to invest some time into this.
Also note the completely desaturated look of the film; even in the more colorful parts of the movie, there is a weird haze. The whole thing is quite blurry, actually, as if scenes from a hazy memory.
This film feels like no other that's ever been made, or probably ever will be made. This film follows 4 separate stories, wherein characters search for themselves, search for God. Lives in transition. No-budget, and shot on a crappy kid's camera. Interesting.
On a packed DVD through Sun Cult video that is extremely limited and maybe not be available by the time you read this. Will one day be worth tons of money, so you might want to pick up a copy now. Just sayin'...
King Lear (1987)
This is by far one of the weirdest films ever made, as I've said before. Godard is probably my second favorite director (right behind Kitano), and this isn't his first really weird film or anything (I'd go so far as to say all of his films in his unfairly-neglected-but-superior "late period" are quite strange in some way, either in their fractured narrative, or in their hardcore deconstruction of typical movie-making -- "Where's the story?" indeed...). But this is kind of a mix of everything he'd done with his newer stuff, when it came out; all the themes and elements and ideas he had been exploring, and it even predicts a bit of his stuff after this. People usually get interested in this film for its genesis and some of the bizarre happenings in this film (Godard signs a contract on a napkin; Godard recorded telephone conversations with producer and put it in the film, which peeved the producer off; Godard never actually reads past page 3 of King Lear itself; this film was made from like 4 or 5 different aborted scripts cobbled together; a father and daughter sign on to do this movie, do 5 takes or so, and then walk off the set in disgust, all of which is captured in the movie, with a voice-over explaining this; Woody Allen was hired to be in this film and he had no idea what he was doing so he drinks some coffee, puts some safety pins in some film, recites a few verses from the play King Lear and that's about it).
Well, it goes far beyond that, as far as strangeness is concerned... seeing Molly Ringwald in a Godard film is just bizarre, first of all (keep in mind she was HUGE at the time; Pretty In Pink and all that stuff). Second of all, Godard's narration is absurd. I mean, you can barely even tell what he's saying, in English (this is also his only English film from beginning to end!). He might as well have been recorded through a voice box. Godard plays a guy with a headdress made of hi-fidelity wires, so he can jack himself into the unknown at any time. He is looking for "The image". Since Godard never actually read King Lear, the film instead asks if King Lear is even an important work of art, if it's even valid a radioactive, post-Chernobyl landscape. So, the main actor (who actually says the line, "Oh yeah, by the way, my name is William Shakespeare Junior the Fifth." in a comical tone) is "searching" for, uh, something, and he encounters a bunch of crazy characters, in an extremely, EXTREMELY fractured narrative, with scenes ending abruptly, double (sometimes triple) voices of characters constantly on the soundtrack, and pretty much everything crashing, colliding, and being completely out of sequence, out of time, out of tune. Oh, let's not forget the soundtrack, which is made of slowed-down and electronically-manipulated versions of Beethoven symphonies; also, there is a loud, annoying, seagull sound about every 3 minutes in the movie.
Sounds like a disaster, doesn't it? Well, I gotta say, it's one of the best films -- not just by Godard -- but EVER. Even beyond the "strangeness" that attracts me, there is a strange, otherworldly beauty to the proceedings. Godard designed the film to fail, but he did so in a way that's really, really interesting, and is actually extremely experimental, especially when you consider that this was designed to be a mainstream film! Godard himself said he never got page 3 of King Lear, it didn't interest him at all... he said the film was the first 3 pages of King Lear and the rest of it is him trying to "Get past" the rest of the play. Which is hilarious, absurd, and reason enough to check it out...
A powerful film, misunderstood to be certain, groundbreaking and unconventional in every way, I'd say anyone into Jodorowsky and stuff like that should probably want to seek this out and have their mind blown.
The Brown Bunny (2003)
Brilliant, haunting, what's not to like?
This film has received a lot of hatred, and I've racked my brain trying to figure out why. Then, it occurred to me: This film was not "meant" to be seen by most of the people who have seen it. See, there are art house flicks -- designed for art house audiences. Then, there are more, sort-of mainstream flicks -- designed for mainstream audiences. This all seems obvious, and it is, but it'll probably help to understand if you've heard something bad about this amazing film. Because of the controversy surrounding one short scene in this, some people who usually don't watch "art house" films have jumped on this film, and have walked away confused. Confusion leads to hatred, usually, since we fear what we don't understand, and often hate it too. On the other hand, while a lot of lovers of underground/experimental/artsy stuff are extremely open-minded, you'll find quite a bit of them who, pretentiously, will dismiss any new Hollywood vehicle for whatever reason -- just the fact that this film has Vincent Gallo and Chloe Sevigny in it is enough for some people to hate it.
So, you've got "underground" people giving it crap, you've got "mainstream" people giving it crap, you've got people misusing the word "pretentious" endlessly. So, in all this fire, the film itself is lost. Me, I don't really swing either way; I love Mean Girls as much as Dog Star Man, Home Alone as much as Water & Power, Freddy Got Fingered as much as Oh, Woe Is Me. So, I can appreciate this film on every level, because let's face it; if any film is worth appreciating, it's this one.
Yes, this film provokes -- as any great art should, and does. It is thought-provoking, but it also tests the audience. It tests the patience, and the thinking power, and forces us to see things in a new way, to try to figure out what the characters were dealing with. It's beautiful. Simply brilliant. Also, it's genuinely moving, which is rare amongst films of this ilk. It's almost effortlessly moving, in fact; so good that it feels like Mr. Gallo wasn't even trying. He's just that talented.
I don't even like the guy. He seems like a cocky snob. But he made a great film. Lonely, haunting... one of the most depressing films I've ever seen, actually. I loved it! If you enjoy stuff like Cassavettes, Fassbinder, Kaurismaki, Jon Jost... stuff that isn't simple and easy, and doesn't wrap up everything nicely, you'll probably dig this. Also, loved loved loved the endless driving shots. It felt like I was on a trip somewhere with the character. Driving shots never get old.
Will be looked back as a classic in many years from now.
Den-en ni shisu (1974)
The greatest film of all time?
Not sure if it's the absolute greatest, but if not, it's really, really, REALLY close to being.
Words can't describe this thing. This thing, which is pretty much "unavailable" unless you go through backdoor means, is so beautiful, so flawless, that after one viewing it immediately went up to my top 10 of all time. Never has a film blown me away so much, so quickly. Within 20 minutes, of the strange oversaturated colors, the rows of clocks, the insanely beautiful soundtrack, etc... I was just in total awe.
I literally cannot describe this film. Think "The Holy Mountain" (a lot of similar direction), a bit simplified yet more experimental (if that makes sense) -- extremely personal, kinda like the films Godard always tried to make after 1980 (a film that comments on film, a film which cannot actually be made). A director directs his childhood and then turns the film off, shockingly, and then VISITS his childhood and modifies events, tries to change things.
It's touching, personal, and the ending is actually definitely the best of all time. OVERWHELMING AND INSANE. A masterpiece!
Pisutoru opera (2001)
Dogs follow their masters, but I am a stray cat.
This is one of the best films ever made. An intense fever dream of surrealism, dream logic, and a beautiful painter's touch. I've never seen any other films that could straight-up be called "avantgarde action"; I wish there were more films like this...
What really strikes me are the colors, though the story (which is relatively straightforward; ignore the other reviews) is one extremely philosophical, awesomely existential dilemma after another.
Brilliant in every way a movie can be. Masterpiece. Hated by the same people who hate Izo and El Topo (aka people who can't wrap their head around true brilliance).
Don't understand how ANYONE could hate on this film, even if they didn't "get it" all. The visuals alone are reason enough to see this.
Elevator Movie (2004)
This film is amazing! I see everyone talking about Tetsuo and Eraserhead, but I see more Bunuel (specifically L'Age D'Or) and Fotopolous (Migrating Forms is very similar to this). Not that it matters... this film is truly original, not even in its concept, but more so in how it handles the subject matter. Two people in a room for 90 minutes, talking about their lives -- does that sound interesting to you? Well, it doesn't to me, to be honest, but to actually see this in execution will make you a believer.
It helps that the cast is excellent, all two of them. There is a real chemistry here, and both characters are actually charming, though flawed, and very real -- very human. Both posses a rather dry sense of humor, but I found them both quite hilarious. When one character passionately and sincerely talks about her uncle finding Jesus in his f-f-feces, the other character exclaims "Holy sh*t!" Priceless! It had me rolling.
The film is loaded with "mistakes", but these "errors" don't detract from the viewing experience; in fact, they add to the atmosphere quite a bit and make what could have been an entertaining-enough character-study, into a truly surreal, original, brilliant little film. Sometimes, the audio doesn't match the lips that are moving, sometimes scenes abruptly cut off, there is a constant flicker and "bad" lighting and "bad" framing. But I think this film is highly artistic, and it adds to the atmosphere quite a bit and makes this film highly recommendable. People who complain about its "badness" aren't schooled enough in film to realize that the editing is actually quite brilliant, the pacing is flawless, the writing is pitch-perfect - everything is clearly intentional, even the "mistakes", as randomness has a certain place too. Why would you want to watch something completely clean and complacent? This film wears its non-budget proudly... why else would the title sequence be done in paper and permanent marker (with awful handwriting)? I love this sloppy approach, it really puts this film over the top to me.
What this director does with 2 characters in one room for 90 minutes is more entertaining and thought-provoking than what your average "experimental" Tarkovsky wannabe can do with tons of characters, years of filming, and lots of "perfect" editing.
The best thing about this film really is the pacing. The director/writer doesn't forget that he is telling a story here, and so he adds little surreal touches to keep the film moving along at a good pace. He doesn't offer all his secrets up front; this film really builds, and when it gets there, it's wonderful. You'll cream the first time you hear music, after so long of there being only background hiss.
Fascinatingly gritty, strangely touching, absurdly brilliant, and somehow wonderfully realistic in its depiction of humanity, suffering, religion, and interactions between people. This is a BRILLIANT debut and one of the most exciting underground films I've ever seen... if you're a boring person, you'll be bored by this. But if you're an enlightened person, this will be your new favorite film.