What I Watched Last Week: 21/07/14 – Six films. And Sharknado.

What have I done since the last WIWLW post? Apart from watching films and reading the books A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick and Cash: The Autobiography of Johnny Cash by Johnny Cash, not much. Check these film analyses.

 

Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2011) – 2/5

Directors: Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass

Cast: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon, Judy Greer

JeffWhoLivesAtHome

Only happy when ensconced in his warm, Pop-Tart strewn hovel, basement dweller Jeff (Jason Segel) is the king of the stoner bums. ‘I like weed’, ‘I’m hungry’, ‘Have you seen the movie Signs?’ – these primitive utterances are about all Jeff needs to float through his socially barren lifestyle, but a spiritual awakening in the shape of a wrong-number call is enough to send him from the sofa towards the door and out into the big wide world. From the Hood to Hooters Jeff seeks his destiny, with some predictably feel-good results. Jason Segel doesn’t have to work hard to play the doughy, naive, thirty year old bum of the title; a Seth Rogen he is not, however. Segel’s doped up cosmic mumblings are not worth the breath it takes to expel them, making his brother Pat’s (played by the typically ingratiating Ed Helms) bitter realisms actually rather appealing.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home is an Indie comedy remember, so the loveable loser with the dangerously limited world view is bound to win out in the end. Here he doesn’t even have to work for it; coincidence sorts everything right out for him, coincidences which are ostensibly acceptable when openly acknowledged by surrounding cast members Helms and Sue Sarandon as being absurd and unfair. But forget that! Hell yeah! Total personality change for the better in less than 12 hours! Now cue up The National or Beck! F*** it, let’s have them back to back!

 

Adaptation (2002) – 4/5

Director: Spike Jonze

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Nicolas Cage Again, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper

Adaptation

How to explain, how to explain? Tempting as it is to point readers in the direction of Adaptation’s Wikipedia page – plentifully mind-bending enough on its own – one must endeavour to outline the plot anyway. Here it is: While working as an on-set writer for Being John Malcovich (which was filming alongside Adaptation and from which back-scene footage is seen), Charlie Kaufman (played by Nicolas Cage, but who is in real life the writer of this very film) is hired to adapt a book by Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) called The Orchid Thief. Well past his deadline and unable to hammer out anything resembling a coherent narrative from the semi-factual novel, Kaufman egests a self hating furore upon his own fragile mind. Adding to the chronically depressed Charlie’s pressure is the presence of his out of work brother Donald (also played by Nicolas Cage – this time fully fictional, as Kaufman has no brother in reality), who takes a three step course in screenwriting and inexplicably excels before Charlie’s sleep-deprived eyes. On the verge of madness, Charlie begins to entwine his own troubled experiences in adapting The Orchid Thief into the film screenplay itself, at times recording and transcribing his voice describing exactly what he is doing as though he were himself a central character of the book. He also embarks on a reluctant stalking of the Orchid Thief’s author – and her hillbilly lover (a lurid Chris Cooper, minus front teeth) in order to learn more about them and finish his script. Got all that?

Adaptation is insane, exciting, deeply depressing and morbidly fascinating. Charlie Kaufman bares his soul in the character of Charlie Kaufman, making you wonder how much of what he writes of his writing actually happened. At its self-referential peak, working out what level of metafilm you’re even on is as painful a pursuit as watching Inception upside down in the reflection of a recursive mirror. Early on when Kaufman fixes not to use narration (‘the laziest of all storytelling devices’) in his script, a notion actually conveyed through Nicolas Cage’s constant internal monologue, the manic wit of Kaufman (the real Kaufman) becomes self-evident. Lord knows what meta-textual delirium Charlie Kaufman was lost in when he churned out this script. Perhaps we’ll never know. Maybe the Cage knows. Incidentally, he are astounding. Or they is.

 

Chasing Amy (1997) – 2/5

Director: Kevin Smith

Cast: Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Dwight Ewell, Jason Lee, Kevin Smith

ChasingAmy

Ben Affleck! Matt Damon! Jason Mewes! Mute Robert! It could only be a Kevin Smith movie. When New York cartoon artist Holden (Affleck) meets the girl of his dreams his comic franchise and his friends quickly fall by the wayside. Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams) has everything he could ever want but, being a – shock horror!- lesbian, she doesn’t want what Holden has. Can he win her over with his adorably chauvinistic ways? Probably! Jay and Silent Bob, of Clerks fame, step in for a little potty mouthed intervention in one scene yet fail to even momentarily lift the dirge. I wasn’t even supposed to write this today…

 

August: Osage County (2013) – 2/5

Director: John Wells

Cast: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis

August: Osage County

Depressing ensemble family drama starring Meryl Streep as the embittered, downer-dependent   matriarch of a feuding family in mid-western America. Yanked together from across the country by the suicide of their father Beverly –  the husband of Streep’s aging hag, Violet – the Weston family try their best to play down old conflicts and share in the memory of the deceased. Tempers flare, plates smash, accusations are pointed, incest is uncovered and lifelong addiction rears its ugly head. Ewan McGregor (badly miscast), Julia Roberts(overrated), Benedict Cumberbatch (good accent)  and Abigail Breslin – plus many more – all get to chuck their two cents into this deep and dire well of vapid hostility; none of them make much of a splash. Tracy Letts’ play is grey and cynical, with no relatable characters aside from a Native American maid that cannot fathom the materialistic villainy of her vindictive employers. August: Osage County is the ‘Rat on a Tepid Bin Lid’ to Tenessee Williams’ ‘Cat On a Hot Tin Roof’.

 

Scream (1996) – 4/5

Director: Wes Craven

Cast: Drew Barrymore, Neve Cambell, Courtney Cox, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan

Scream

Those meddling kids, always getting in the way of ghoulishly masked slashers and their urge to fiddle with the intestines of innocent high schoolers and, if opportunity knocks, their parents, pets and boyfriends as well.  Wes Craven is an establishment of the horror genre. With the Hills have Eyes series and A Nightmare On Elm Street (plus sequels…so many sequels) he has defined and redefined the format of the paranormal serial killer movie and moulded it to his own sleazy and extremely profitable end. By 1996, the year of Scream’s release, Wes had been in the biz so long that he thought he’d go ahead and do the unthinkable: he plotted, in no uncertain terms, to spoof himself. Horror classics and fellow directors got lampooned too of course, but being his own primary target made all the difference. Scream is the ultimate serial spoof, bettered only once since by Drew Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods, and it’s a bloody riot.

In the made up suburban utopia of Westboro, life is awfully dull. Short of hard drugs, films are the only distraction to be had. Unfortunately for Drew Barrymore, one Westboronian gets a little supercharged on scary movies and guts her, kicking off a county wide investigation for the vicious killer, whom the police suspect is bent on striking again. And again. Scream’s cast are uniformly as hammy as can be – this is intentional, naturally – and because Wes Craven’s in charge then that’s just fine and dandy. Things are as they should be: the guys are tools, the girls are voluptuos, the teachers are all latent perverts and the residents of Woodsboro appear happily oblivious to the presence of a modern day Jack the ripper stalking their busty children.

For such a continually humorous film, Scream has some truly scary moments. A delayed camera feedback as a tension building conceit (‘He’s left the house…Wait…Uh oh, thirty second delay!’ *has throat slit*) will catch you out even if you knew what was coming; this can also be said of the big reveal which – now that Wes has sliced through three sequels – turned out to be far from the final unmasking.

 

Into the Wild (2007) – 4/5

Director: Sean Penn

Cast: Emile Hirsch, Kristen Stewart, Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughan

IntoTheWild

Emile Hirsch plays college graduate Chris McCandless, a romantic who ditches his life of security for a back pack and the open road. ‘Ohhhh, I’m different and special so I’m off to Alaska to die before I’m 25 years old! Take that, ma and pa! Sorry sis, whenever I stooped so low as to talk to you, you were the only one who ever came close to grasping my startling intellect, passion for life and talent for all the things humans used to do before technology ruined everything.’ Pessimism aside, this true story adaptation from Sean Penn is bears a hefty chunk of home truths, chief among them a scathing reappraisal of modern life and the career as ‘a 20th century invention’ . We don’t need the material goods we spend our lives amassing: they detract from our own reality. Life isn’t tidy, but nature is pretty neat; embrace it by sitting indoors and watching this 2 hr 30 min cross-country odyssey on Netflix.

 

Sharknado (2013) – 2/5

Director: Anthony C. Ferrante

Cast: Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, Jaason Simmons, Cassandra Scerbo

Sharknado

What has the world come to when a film about a freak storm of sharks that wipes out L.A. can not only be made, but also garner an 82% ‘fresh’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes and profit enough to warrant a second one called ‘Sharknado: The Second One’. Sharks want the planet? They can have it.

That’s being a little harsh, though. Sharknado has fairly impressive production values for a film of its SyFy straight-to-TV stature, and though it lacks the dead-set sincerity of Birdemic: Shock and Terror – therefore making it less funny – there are ceaseless waves of ‘Ho, ho, I see what you did there!’ moments. The premise of the film lives up to its promise: sharks fall from the sky and sometimes eat people. Did I sort of like Sharknado, then? Gillty as charged.

 

 

 

 

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