Monthly Archives: July 2014

#295 Slacker

(1991, Richard Linklater)

“I may live badly, but at least I don’t have to work to do it”

Richard Linklater is a bit of an odd director. Famed for his Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy, and considered the only director to adapt a Phillip K. Dick novel (A Scanner Darkly) without completely changing everything (like Blade Runner and Total Recall did).

He’s also fond of making quirky little movies where vaguely connected people reel off monologues, as evidenced by the dream-based weird-fest that was Waking Life. But before that came Slacker, an account of Generation X through the lens of various bizarre characters.

Slacker has no real plot. The camera swoops from scene to scene, where we witness someone delivering a monologue about their world view or doing something society deems unusual. We never stay long with individual characters and there’s no overarching plot thread. Sound terrible? Well, we’ll see.

I was aware of Linklater’s work, and highly enjoyed A Scanner Darkly and…uh…School Of Rock, but, more relevantly, I also enjoyed Waking Life. Kind of. As such, I was curious to see this, which was one of his first movies, and shared a similar concept.

It’s difficult to talk about Slacker. It’s a movie about pseudo-intellectuals, who take what they’re saying seriously, but with an element that maybe deep down they know that what they’re talking about is absolute nonsense. It’s a movie that demands that you pay attention and listen to these rambling stoners and decide whether or not what they’re saying makes any kind of sense to you.

It doesn’t help that all the acting is fairly bland for the most part, as clearly untrained actors reel off long lines of text that they probably don’t care about. But it works. It fits the slacker them rather nicely and sets the tone of the movie, giving us a collection of disinterested people who like to talk a lot but ultimately say nothing. Well, apart from Louis Mackey, who gave a theatrical rant about anarchism and was highly entertaining.

Yes, this sounds terrible, I know, but Slacker is oddly fascinating. The movie clearly knows that much of the dialogue is pretentious and is expecting us to agree. But it doesn’t judge its cast, it merely observes them and moves on, leaving the viewer to their own conclusions. It’s mildly amusing without being laugh-out-loud funny, it’s intellectual and simultaneously pretentious, and it’s absolutely awkward throughout.

But it’s so fascinating. I can’t explain why, but it is. There’s something kind of hypnotic about being this casual observer wandering through the neighbourhoods and university campuses of Austin watching all these twentysomethings debate and complain and theorise for no discernible purpose. It’s interesting to watch crazy conspiracy theorists talk so casually about JFK assassination coverups or terrorism via t-shirts. This is a town of oddballs and you never know what strange person you’ll encounter next.

Of course, it’s not for everyone. The lack of plot and the stoned, expressionless acting can get very tedious at times and the production values are incredibly minimal. Many people who watch this will simply think “what’s the point?” and “where’s the plot?” and “how many drugs was Richard Linklater smoking and how can we make him stop?”

But I kind of enjoyed Slacker, in the same way I kind of enjoyed Waking Life. It’s an interesting little film that’s worth watching again and analysing, and it’s an interesting glimpse into Generation X and their ramblings, but it requires a lot of effort on the viewer’s part and therefore isn’t going to rank high on my favourite movies list.

Starring Richard Linklater, Kim Krizan, Mark James, Stella Weir, John Slate, Louis Mackey & Teresa Taylor
Written by Richard Linklater
Produced by Richard Linklater
Cinematography by Lee Daniel
Edited by Scott Rhodes

Favourite Scene: The aging anarchist is played a lot more theatrically and enthusiastically than anybody else in the movie, and he’s fantastic.
Scene That Bugged Me: That business with Madonna’s pap smear. What’s all that about?

Watch it if: You like watching stoners
Avoid it if: You’re confused by the lack of obvious plot

#285 LA Confidential

(1997, Curtis Hanson)
“It’ll look like justice. That’s what the man got. Justice.”

For some reason, this review appears to be missing from the spot it’s supposed to be in, and I don’t know what went wrong. So please forgive it from posted way out of order, I only just discovered this!

I love me some detective thrillers. I love detectives and mystery and crime and thrillers so much that I think I might marry the entire genre one day. So I’m happy today because I get to review a nice little classic crime thriller. Happy days.

LA Confidential is about three detectives that get involved in a web of corruption and deceit following a mass murder at a local café called The Nite Owl. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is a young sergeant determined to be the most honourable police officer, attempting to live up to his famous detective father. Bud White (Russell Crowe) is a violent cop who likes violently attacking men who beat women, and sees the Nite Owl killings as personal due to the death of his former partner. Finally, Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) is a charming narcotics officer who receives kickbacks for providing information about celebrity arrests to Hush-Hush Magazine, and gets involved when one of his schemes results in the death of a young actor.

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#294 The Marriage Of Maria Braun

(1979, Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
Die Ehe der Maria Braun

“Most happy people look indecent when one is unhappy”

Two films ago we looked at a German movie set vaguely around war but not actually about war. Well, it seems like there’s a theme developing because here’s another one! Today, we’re taking a look at influential German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder and his movie The Marriage of Maria Braun.

As you would imagine from the title, the movie is about Maria Braun (Hanna Schygulla), who gets married to Hermann, a soldier during World War II. After spending half a day and a whole night together, Hermann returns to the front, leaving the marriage unfulfilled. The film tracks the time of the marriage, during which Maria takes on a series of extramarital relationships, all for the benefit of her husband. It’s…that kind of movie.

The Marriage Of Maria Braun opens with a bang. No really, the first thing we see is an explosion as the war comes to Maria’s wedding and blows off the wall of the church. It’s certainly a way to grab attention, but sadly the rest of the movie is a bit more of a whimper than a bang.

Almost immediately after this dramatic opening, the movie slides into mundane tedium as Maria goes about her daily life, albeit without her husband present because the war has split them because war is hell, don’t you know? (More movies should cover this topic, I don’t think it’s been done enough)

That said, it’s not completely tedious. There’s a murder in there somewhere, and Maria loses her mind occasionally and has outbursts about the terribleness of her life, and lots of stuff happens, but it all just feels a bit…pointless.

Don’t get me wrong. Schygulla puts in a great performance as Maria, making her as likeable as she possibly can be, but the problem is that Maria just isn’t that great a character. She sleeps around in ways that are supposedly beneficial to her marriage while showing very little in the way of morals and generally she comes across as a bit of a bitch. Not really easy to like a protagonist like this, no matter how well she’s played.

The other performances I can’t be so positive about. American characters appear to be played by Germans affecting American accents in English and struggling to maintain them. Maria’s husband is a tad generic. And Maria’s final affair is with a corporate executive so apparently evil he may as well walk around twirling his moustache.

Plot-wise, there is plenty going on, but there’s a lot of time-skips and the movie feels a tad hyperactive as a result. What’s more, by the time the plot finishes up, we’re left with a sense that while a lot happened, it was all for nothing, and not in a way that makes us think, just in a way that makes us wonder why we weren’t doing something else for the last two hours.

I also think there’s some kind of message here, possible some kind of commentary on the struggles of being a woman, especially during a time of war. Sadly, it doesn’t come across too well and more often than not I was left wondering if I was just imagining that message.

The Marriage Of Maria Braun is ultimately one of the worst films for me to review. It’s the kind of film that leaves me feeling absolutely nothing at all by the time it ends. It’s not incredibly bad, but it’s also not particularly good either. It’s just kind of there, doing things and maybe trying to impart a message, but not communicating it very well.

Starring Hanna Schygulla, Klaus Löwitsch, Ivan Desny & Gisela Uhlen
Written by Peter Märthesheimer & Pea Fröhlich
Produced by Michael Fengler
Music by Peer Raben
Cinematography by Michael Ballhaus
Edited by Rainer Werner Fassbinder & Juliane Lorenz

Favourite Scene: Uhhh…
Scene That Bugged Me: Uhhhhh….

Watch it if: You like plodding German movies (again)
Avoid it if: You like to leave a movie with some kind of impression

#293 Throne of Blood

(1957, Akira Kurosawa)
蜘蛛巣城 Kumonosu-jō

“You, who would soon rule the world, allow a ghost to frighten you”

My experience with Shakespeare is not the best. Due to a British education system that seems determined to suck the life out of every form of literature by drily overanalysing every line of a play, my experience of Shakespeare has been spending an entire year reading Macbeth very slowly and subsequently wanting to never read Macbeth again.

So perhaps reframing Shakespeare could help. Perhaps if an influential Japanese director could have made a movie transposing Macbeth to feudal Japan and making it a dark movie about samurai, I could feel a little better about it. Oh hey, look, it’s Throne Of Blood! That’ll do nicely.

While returning from a battle against their lord’s enemies, samurai generals Washizu (Toshiro Mifune) and Miki (Minoru Chiaki) encounter a spirit in the forest who tells of a prophecy for the two men. Washizu is to become master of North Castle, and will soon become lord for the whole castle complex too. Upon returning to their lord, the first part of the prophecy comes true, leading Washizu’s wife, Asaji (Isuzu Yamada), to convince him to kill the lord and bring about the second part. As you can imagine, it doesn’t end well.

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