Pump Up the Volume - Assuming you haven’t seen it because for most of the folks on Tumblr there is a good chance this came out before you were even born. Holds up insanely well as a portent of youtube culture.
The Sunset Limited - HBO movie written by Cormac McCarthy, one act play in the spirit of My Dinner with Andre, a sometimes funny, sometimes scathing look at the ethics of suicide. Samuel Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones in a room talking and it is mesmerizing.
Incendies - I am not sure how well-known this film is outside of Canada, and it is based on a play I believe had some traction in the theatrical world. The less you know the better, guarantee this film will scar you. No finer expression of forgiveness put to screen.
Nights and Weekends - Joe Swanberg + Greta Gerwig + a lot of sex + poignant mumblecore drama.
Stroszek - Werner Herzog’s absurdist masterpiece. The best ending to a film, period. Just watch it. (edit: as cerebralnausea mentions in the notes, the film Ian Curtis offed himself after watching)
Noah Baumbach has a penchant for pissing people off with his movies. The one time critical darling has, in recent years, drawn resistance from a sizable group of vocal detractors. His characters are loathsome they say, he writes with an elitist New York intellectual smugness, another. A friend described watching Greenberg as like having the middle finger perpetually shoved in his face. So goes the backlash. Then last week, surprisingly, early word out of the Telluride film festival for his latest feature, Frances Ha, was unanimously positive. More than positive, ecstatic! It even made Greta Gerwig cry. Perhaps the desire to see a return to the greatness widely acknowledged in The Squid and the Whale had pent up, and in the ensuing years that unrequited desire has been stoking the flames of backlash until now. The news heralded from Telluride and now, Toronto, is that Baumbach is Back!
To which I say he never left.
Still, Frances Ha does feel like an olive branch of sorts, perhaps the residual effect of Greta Gerwig co-writing and playing the lead, a woman whose charms can’t help but make one smile. In tone and theme it is very much a return to the goofier hanging out pleasures of his earliest success, Kicking and Screaming. At the grossly old age of 27, Frances (Greta Gerwig) is still struggling to be a ‘real person’ and, in her post-grad malaise, drifts apartment to apartment, part-time job to part-time job, at odds with her ambitions. Most worrisome of all, is her distancing from long-time BFF, Sophie, an adjustment she is clearly not ready for. The resulting film is probably the most pleasurable to watch of Baumbach’s work, very funny and unusually sweet. Without a Roger Greenberg to agitate, the hesitant audiences relax, and while there are still the odd jab or two to decorum, you feel safe having Frances as your protagonist, she is harmless, “undateable” and a stand in for a lot of late twentysomethings unsure of their place in the world.
Frances Ha is a stylistic departure for the filmmaker, playing like French New Wave meets Woody Allen’s Manhatten. In stunning black and white with just a hint of guerrila-filmmaking mumblecore, Frances Ha feels fresh, spontaneous, a master filmmaker surrendering to impulse, the experiment, a thrilling success. Greta Gerwig is like Baumbach’s Jean-Pierre Léaud, an actor whether trying or not seems entirely effortless, lived-in, believable. She is Frances in the same way she was Florence in Greenberg: she has the market for lovable misfit characters cornered.
For me, watching a Baumbach film is like experiencing a wave of deja-vu, of having lived the scenarios or misspoke in just the same way. There is a dinner scene in particular where Frances has to fend for herself among a table full of mostly strangers and the small talk diaharea that ensues is a marvel of observation. The dialogue is punchy and often times hilarious but drawn from life, the life we wish to edit out but that is there nonetheless. Ricky Gervais may have rejuvenated a love of squirming observational comedy but Baumbach was the master of it long before, and in Frances Ha he and Gerwig make it look easy.
Greenberg remains Baumbach’s masterpiece (yeah, I know, spare me), but Frances Ha is a close second. Both feel like documents of my life, raw and personal and honest. They transcend any purely cinematic interest for me, tapping the sweet spot of why I bother watching films at all: to see my small part of the world reflected. They make me involved, culpable, a participant. Frances trepidation and desires becomes my own, the symbiosis is a rush unlike any other. The smile never left my face, what more is there than this kind of bliss?
So TIFF schedule finalized, might try to squeeze a review or two out.
What I am seeing:
Anna Karenina - It has become a tradition now to support Joe Wright every time he makes it to Toronto.
Frances Ha - Baumbach/Gerwig, the first since Greenberg, my favorite film of that year. Early word from Venice is it is amazing. Insanely excited.
The End of Time - doc from newly anointed master, Peter Mettler, as he waxes philosphic on the concept of time.
Amour - Only film I will be rushing. Haneke+ devastation sounds like a solid saturday night.
Springbreakers - A journey into the ickiness of humanity, no festival experience should be attempted without it. Gummo scarred me for life, hoping Harmony Korine has lightened up a bit since then.
The Impossible - Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts vs the Indonesian tsunami. 3D sound, whatever that means.
To the Wonder - Terrence Malick making Tree of Life look like Transformers, so sayeth the older Affleck.
Lords of Salem - A return to midnight madness after like ten years. Rob Zombie goodness.
Smashed - A Half-Nelsony indie film starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Jesse from Breaking Bad. Sold.
The We and the I - Michel Gondry on a bus.
Still one of my favorite films of the last couple years, haters be damned.
LOVE this movie, co-written by Greta Gerwig, which makes me extra excited for her collaboration with Noah Baumbach in a film coming to Toronto International Film Festival, Frances Ha.
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[a review I feel like reposting as my love for this film singles me out better perhaps than anything else I care to write about film, considering how few share my opinion]
More than just a known commodity, the films of Noah Baumbach (Kicking and Screaming, The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding, and now,Greenberg) are an acquired taste. They capture with startling candor life unrehearsed without the benefit of selective memory. There is no safety net for these characters by a merciful writer, their struggles for dignity are lonely (though inevitably comical) affairs. Firmly planted in the theater of the absurd, the Baumbach universe is made to agitate.
Roger Greenberg’s life is a one act play: the not-quite Jew, the bundle of neuroses who refuses to be identified with his stint in a mental hospital, who breaks even the Larry David/Woody Allen mold of comedic curmudgeon, as someone not quite of either coastal city, but of both and back, and of course, my favorite, the lone pedestrian in a city of cars. The stage is set for complexity, but it is ultimately in the minutiae of Roger’s strained attempts to belong, the performance of Ben Stiller and the gracelessness of the dialogue that supersede the premise.
After a nervous breakdown in New York, Roger comes to housesit his brother’s home in Los Angeles. This is the real Los Angeles, not the beach or the modernist cliff mansion, but the sprawling, smog-ridden kitsch wasteland that strips away the mystique and becomes a suitable adversary to Roger’s want of sincerity. Shortly upon his arrival he encounters his brother’s assistant, Florence Marr, and the two kick-off one of the strangest romantic courtships ever captured on celluloid. Unlike Garden State, where love interests of relative quirkiness are paired together in ways that solely accentuate said quirks, the relationship that develops between Roger and Florence is something like a mating dance of the life-incapable, it is actually in its own way kind of beautiful in its start-stop aimlessness. Florence (played magnificently by Greta Gerwig) is more than a romantic foil, her self-proclaimed geekiness bodes an unflappable counter-balance to the Roger’s flawed ego; neither a feminist icon nor an object of desire, Florence walks her own walk as a similarly vulnerable co-conspirator of this unspecified relationship. Lesser films habitually build characters from plot and thematic needs downwards, here characters seem to act first, without fine definitions of what their actions mean even to each other. An apt comparison is the romance of Punch-Drunk Love; however, as with all of Baumbach’s stories, the character studies of Greenberg are given ample time to stew in their own juices, unburdened by conceits of plot.
At the core of the love story and of Roger’s struggle for meaning to life is a generational divide, the world has moved on. In his early forties now, the best years of life seemingly behind him, he exists like a tourist to this sham culture, writing longhand letters of grievance to corporate and political bodies, resistant to the change happening around him. Roger, and indeed the ethos of the film, is steeped in Generation X disillusionment. This point of contention is played upon further within the context of the story itself, by having Roger’s love interest far younger than him, part of the Generation Y more resilient, more adaptable generation to the culture of acceleration surrounding them. Yet both fumble towards common ground in a way that speaks of their mutual sincerity, wading through the baggage and the bullshit that each has built up to cope with this impersonal environment. The sincere ones are thin-skinned, they don’t behave like the social predators that populate reality tv programs or, as Roger puts it in one scene, the mean and overconfident sophomores that are made for this world, the characters of Greenberg are poor pretenders and want of something more.
Those who would feign a professional distance in the writing of their reviews and consciously or unconsciously desire an arbitrary clarity to structural elements of the narrative or character development will, of course, be left disappointed with Greenberg. They also would be full of shit; the people that Greenberg writes letters to. The existential challenge of Baumbach films provide, to my mind, a useful litmus test as to the temperament of the person reviewing, like Hamlet’s Mousetrap, how you respond says more about how you live your life. I apologize for bringing you into this, but I have read through one too many misreads of Greenberg that, like the protagonist, I would like to embrace my inner-jerk and be frank: if you don’t get Greenberg, you are part of the problem.
I do not care if Greenberg is enjoyable in the conventional sense, I do not care whether it meanders about without going much of anywhere plot-wise, I do not care if it is repetitious or redundant in the Baumbach canon, and I especially do not care that characters in the film are sometimes unlikeable. What attracts me to this film is that, filmic interests aside, Greenberg speaks to me on a human level – in its unedited blemishes I see the world I inhabit, and I welcome all the unpleasant emotions it dredges up. Like Florence, I am drawn to the messy honesty that Roger Greenberg embodies, it just so happens the film itself embodies this same ethos.
Greenberg, like Noah Baumbach’s other films, is for people that find comfort from being sad. The more refined the depiction of the absurdities of life, the more this part of my psychosis gives in to the experience. I do not need character development and thematic profundity, just being there in a sincere way as a cipher for these sentiments, is good enough; there is value in just being.
I am ready for my next dose of Greta Gerwig. Give it.
Official trailer of The Dish and The Spoon. Looks Amazing.
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