Tag Archives: Albert Brooks

Humping Neil Armstrong While Dreaming Of Michael Fassbender

Despite the impression this site may have given, we have not been idle here at Zimbo Films.  Currently we are in the midst of cutting together some video for Emma Arrick’s Plant Me Here as well as continuing to develop Thomas Lampion’s Julie Lovely.  In fact, over the next week or so a few essays by Lampion will be published here on our blog that will chart the genesis of Julie Lovely as well as Lampion’s own coming-of-age in the cinema.  Companion pieces to those Thomas Lampion has written will also be written by both myself and my brother Hank.

However, what follows has little to do with Julie Lovely.  In fact the focus of this piece is to chart five experiences I have recently undergone at the movies.  I doubt I have ever written so much about films that one can still currently catch in theaters.  

Kamikaze '89Kamikaze ‘89

Directed by Wolf Gremm

Written by Robert Katz from the novel by Per Wahloo

Starring Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Günther Kaufmann, Boy Gobert, Franco Nero

Wolf Gremm’s masterful ode to Rainer Werner Fassbinder showed just once on June 8th at International House as part of a new national re-release of a restored print.  Despite my obsessive interest in Fassbinder this was the first time that I had seen this film from start to finish.  Perhaps it was seeing the film clearly for the first time (I mean this literally since every other encounter that I had had with Kamikaze ‘89 had been on VHS) that I was able to truly observe and appreciate Gremm’s film.  Kamikaze ‘89 is perhaps the campiest New German film I have seen outside of some of Werner Schroeter’s earliest shorts.  And Gremm uses this camp much in the same manner as John Waters, constructing a satire that is all at once conscious and reflexive.  The post-modern appropriation of logos and other visual signifiers is so abundant and so specifically American that the cultural synthesis between the U.S. and West Germany that informs so much of New German cinema is finally exploited to the last and laid to rest.  Gremm applies the same “over-kill” tactics to his allegorical scrutinizing of WDR and it’s relationship with state funded cinema in Germany.  

What was perhaps the most enjoyable part of the film was Fassbinder himself, turning in a performance as sleazy and graceless as Robert Mitchum’s turns as Philip Marlowe.  This is Fassbinder at his best, chewing the scenery, reveling in the design of Gremm’s picture that recalls equally Godard’s Alphaville and Fassbinder’s own World On A Wire. Fassbinder’s natural chemistry with Günther Kaufmann (former lovers and long time collaborators) adds a more realistic and nuanced element to the comedic proceedings of Kamikaze ‘89.  Though this natural chemistry reads as bittersweet in the context of Fassbinder’s death shortly after the film was completed.

I do not mean to give the impression that Kamikaze ‘89 is only enjoyable if one is immersed in the history of New German cinema.  My friend Gretchen who accompanied me to see the film enjoyed it very much without being a Fassbinder fanatic or German cinema aficionado.  For as she keenly observed (and I am paraphrasing) Kamikaze ‘89 “had tremendous entertainment value”.  The film is colorful, fast paced, unpredictable, kinetic, and lighthearted.  And to top it all off the film climaxes with Fassbinder humping a giant image of Neil Armstrong mid-moonwalk, then turning and finishing his cigarette as the credits begin to roll.  To quote my friend Gretchen again, “It was beautiful”.

The Lobster

The Lobster

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

Written by Efthymis Filippou & Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Barden, Olivia Colman, & John C. Riley

The Lobster is one of the darkest films that I have seen this year.  In terms of it’s concept and narrative structure Lanthimos’ film is clearly indebted to Albert Brooks’ film Defending Your Life.  At the same time its formal staging and rigidity of performance recalls Hal Hartley’s No Such Thing and The Girl From Monday.  Yet The Lobster is without the sentiment of Brooks nor the wordplay of Hartley; two devices that help keep each respective filmmaker’s work from becoming too close to our own reality.  Like Kamikaze ‘89, The Lobster is concerned with a dystopian fantasy of our future where Lanthimos’ stylistic choices appear to be more a byproduct of the ill society that the film depicts.

As with Kamikaze ‘89 I saw this dystopian picture with my friend Gretchen.  And despite all of the craft and technical merits of the film, the journey of its characters proved a bit too much for our emotionally fragile conditions.  There is a bit of Fassbinder in the way The Lobster trudges forth in an onslaught of sadomasochistic relationships pushed to the brink.  On another night I know I would have found this film hysterical, but on the night I happened to see it The Lobster was only able to effect me in the most negative way.

 

X-Men: Apocalypse

X-Men: Apocalypse

Directed by Bryan Singer

Written by Simon Kinberg

Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac

Unlike The Lobster and Kamikaze ‘89, Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse is not about a dystopian future, but rather how the X-Men manage to avert such a future.  As the title makes clear, this installment in the X-Men movie franchise focuses on Apocalypse, an immortal mutant driven totally mad by his powers.  It would be very easy at this point to make explicit the discrepancies between Singer’s film and its comic book source but I do not believe that that would be very useful to anyone.  Instead I am going to discuss a subplot of the film that I believe was done a disservice by the filmmakers.

Michael Fassbender’s turn as Magneto is by far the best performance of any actor in a superhero film made this decade.  X-Men: Apocalypse is Fassbender’s third outing in his role as the master of magnetism, and interestingly, in this film he is given something new to do with the character that hadn’t been done in the films before.  Where the film begins Magneto is living in secret with a wife and daughter in rural Poland working at a blue collar job.  His powers and his daughter’s powers are kept secret from the other townsfolk.  But when Magneto uses his powers to save the life of a fellow factory worker Magneto is exposed.  This revelation of his true identity sets into motion a series of events that result in the murders of his wife and child.  Magneto slits the throats of the culprits and is soon about to exact his revenge upon the workers who betrayed him to the authorities when, out of thin air, appears Apocalypse and his cohorts.  In one instant Bryan Singer lets the most emotionally charged portion of his film come landing with a thud as Magneto’s slow descent back into villainy is exchanged for a moment of comic relief with Apocalypse.

Despite this most bizarre choice, X-Men: Apocalypse is a lot of fun.  It’s own self-deprecation in a scene where Cyclops and Jean Grey ponder why it is the third film in every franchise (they are referring to Return Of The Jedi) is always the worst made me snicker.  And James McAvoy’s bold performance choices, though sometimes a bit over the top, were always entertaining.

It is very difficult to make a film in this genre watchable at this point since every audience has seen all of this before, but Singer does a good job.  I did, however, have the benefit of having the real Apocalypse (a Toy  Biz action figure) sitting next to me since my brother thought to bring him.  I doubt many people have had quite the same movie-going experience.

Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War

Directed by Joe & Anthony Russo

Written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely

Starring Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan

Unlike the films I discussed earlier I did not see Captain America: Civil War with either my brother or my friend Gretchen.  Instead it was a spur of the moment decision I made with Stephen Mercy.  Stephen has done some truly remarkable music for my films in the past and I have always known him to be a most thoughtful and reflective person.  I had never been in an audience with him so it was exciting to embark on a cinematic experience with Stephen, even if the film we were going to be seeing was Captain America: Civil War.

Captain America: Civil War was the most boring spectacle I had ever witnessed on the big screen.  Stephen and I sat there un-amused for two and a half hours while the room pulsed with everyone else’s energy as they lapped up the latest installment of Marvel’s movie universe.  It became oddly surreal for a time before reverting to quiet frustration.  Captain America: Civil War offered nothing I had not already seen before in the genre of Super-Hero flicks.  It didn’t have the saving graces of X-Men: Apocalypse or the atmosphere of Tim Burton’s Batman.  All it had was the most base and superficial appeal of any summer spectacle.

There was one moment I did take a private delight in.  A few days before Stephen and I had our little superhero adventure my brother told me that in the film Hawkeye calls Ironman a “futurist”.  When I saw the film and heard the line for myself I smiled.  Though it is unknown to most, Robert Downey Jr. recorded an album in 2005 titled The Futurist.  This album has been the brunt of so many jokes between my brother and I over the years that there simply isn’t space to get into it now.

The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book

Directed by Jon Favreau

Written by Justin Marks from the stories by Rudyard Kipling

Starring Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson

I saw The Jungle Book with my mother and brother about a week and a half after Stephen and his mother saw it.   Evidently the Walt Disney Corporation still holds a patent on all of our childhoods for better or for worse.  But unlike other Disney remakes of Disney films such as Cinderella or even Freaky Friday, The Jungle Book was different.  

Favreau clearly holds Zoltan Korda’s 1942 adaptation of Kipling’s fables in high esteem.  Not only does he create visual echoes of Korda’s film, but drew upon it aesthetically in terms of the designs of the CGI animals.  The effect of combining the Romanticism of Korda’s The Jungle Book with the original Disney animation of 1967’s whimsy and lyricism makes for a freshness that I had assumed left the studio with Don Bluth.

That is not to say that The Jungle Book is flawless or some sort of masterpiece.  As with Captain America: Civil War and X-Men: Apocalypse, The Jungle Book’s greatest flaws are born out of an overindulgence of the action spectacle.  The forest fire that concludes the film is so preposterous in scope and execution that by its very artifice it reassures the audience that good will triumph over evil yet again.

Michael Fassbender

My Dream

Let me first say that the only film I own in which Michael Fassbender appears is Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank.  In my opinion it is still Fassbender’s best performance and Arnold’s best picture.  I like Michael Fassbender and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t.  Regardless, shortly after I saw X-Men: Apocalypse I had a dream.

In my dream I am walking home.  It is a brisk spring day in the afternoon.  My shoe rips, leaving my toes exposed on my left foot.  I take a few steps forward but my toes begin to hurt.  Walking towards me is Michael Fassbender.  He looks determined, aloof.  When he seems about to pass me he stops.  “Your shoe is broken”.  Fassbender removes a needle and thread from his pants pocket as he kneels on one knee in front of me.  So very gently he takes my left foot, places it on his knee and begins to sew closed the hole.

-Robert Curry

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under american films

A Short Reflection On A Screening At International House

Mon Oncle (1958)

Last Friday I attended, with my brother, a screening of Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle (1958) at International House.  What may appear to be an odd context to this screening, though not after a closer examination, was the fact that David Lynch had selected the film.  Lynch, with his reputation for dark and sexually violent films, is often overlooked for his use of slapstick, circumstantially motivated, as comic relief in his films.  One can easily see Tati’s influence, for example, in the blocking of the elderly bank attendants in the series finale of Twin Peaks; which also recalls a similar scenario at a hotel lobby in his film Wild At Heart (1990).  Lynch’s admiration for Tati is obvious, even if the influence of the latter is somewhat subtle.

The screening also afforded audiences a chance to further appreciate and contemplate the longevity of Tati’s film.  Presented to us, the audience, was a 16mm print of Mon Oncle, a cut of the film that had been prepared by Tati himself for distribution in Britain and the United States featuring some brief over-dubbing.  The contrast between this version and the now more familiar French language version highlighted the “silence” of the film.  In only one or two instances is the dialogue at all necessary.  And it is the “silence” of Mon Oncle, coupled with Tati’s satirical mastery, that enables the film to play today as fresh as it did more than fifty years ago.

However, upon departing the screening, one is left to wonder, as my brother and I did, why silent clowning has vanished from the cinema.  Considering the relevance and cinematic potency of such master silent comedians of the sound era as Tati, Pierre Etaix, and Jerry Lewis it seems a shame no one has stepped forward to fill those shoes.  Has that particular niche vanished?  Has society become too dependent on text and not upon the visual or representative?  In this age of high technology, which Tati predicted so long ago, I would assume the opposite were true.  Sadly, the analysis stopped there as my brother and I began discussing how delightful it would be if Albert Brooks were to return to directing and helm a film of silent clowning of his own.  Still, the question is an important one: where are today’s silent clowns of the cinema?

-Robert Curry

Leave a comment

Filed under international films

The Films Of Albert Brooks

When making a movie comedy it has been proven time and again to be relatively impossible for the film to be successfully self-aware.  In most cases, the filmmaker is forced to adopt tactics that take both the audience and the characters out of the fictional reality of the film narrative.  Consider the films of Woody Allen; he is a filmmaker who expresses, in his efforts toward self-awareness, the importance of his own intellectual credentials and his own filmic knowledge in thinly disguised references.  To achieve what can best be called intellectual filmmaking for the pretentious, Allen often stages himself as one of the characters in the film addressing the camera and in turn the audience.  There is a Romantic playfulness to the fact that Allen’s characters are aware of the fact that they inhabit the world of a film.  This of course is reinforced when those same characters in the same films enact variations of scenes by well-established film directors such as Bergman, Fellini, Bunuel, Lewis, and Dreyer.  Another approach to addressing the farcical nature of film within the confines of film comedy itself can be found at its best in Louis C. K.’s Pootie Tang (2001).  Pootie Tang has a lot to offer as satire, but its framing of an entire feature film within a feature film serves as the most blatant kind of self awareness.  At the beginning of the film, Pootie Tang (Lance Crouther) appears on a talk show where he introduces a “clip” from his latest movie.  This “clip” is essentially the film itself, accompanied with a bookend of Pootie Tang, still on the talk show, after the clip has finished.  The duration of the clip itself within the reality of the Pootie Tang world indicates an indictment on the filmmaker’s part of egotistical excess and the inflation of America’s infatuation with celebrity.  Another product of the clip’s duration is that it enables the audience to forget that they are watching a film within a film, and Louis C. K. is able to suspend the audience’s disbelief twice in the course of one film.  But both Louis C. K. and Woody Allen are addressing reflexivity in their comedies by implementing a decidedly modern mode of filmmaking that negates traditional narrative form and character.

Real Life

Perhaps it is a matter of taste when it comes to comedy, but I tend to think that less is more in the American films made post the Hollywood studio system.  The flamboyant and bombastic tone of Woody Allen films has little to offer beyond their initial superficial engagement for reasons self-evident.  To contrast Annie Hall (1977) or Pootie Tang in terms of successful reflexivity in comedy, it becomes only logical to turn to the early films of Albert Brooks.

Strangely, Brooks’ most biting and filmicly referential comedy is also his film that is the most like the aforementioned pictures, Real Life (1979).  In Real Life Brooks plays himself as a smarmy and pretentious film director who has undertaken a year long documentary on the life of a single suburban family with not only pomp and circumstance, but a myriad of scientific teams and technological innovations.  In one fail swoop Brooks manages to lampoon reality television, film directors, American suburbia, studio executives, and any other party having even the least bit to do with the film industry.  Brooks even makes reference to a number of other significant films, such as Gone With The Wind (1939), without having to take his characters out of their own reality with either visual recreations of other films or with monologues delivered to the audience.  In effect, though Real Life is about a man making a film, the characters in Real Life are never aware of the film we the audience are viewing, only that film which exists in their world.  Another courageous decision on the part of Albert Brooks is to play a character of him named Albert Brooks.  Brooks intends to accept reality as a hyper fiction rather than hyper fiction as reality the way Woody Allen does when he appears in his own films.

Albert Brooks’ second feature, Modern Romance (1982), again deals with a man, Robert Cole, (played by Albert Brooks) who works in the film industry, though this time he is a foley artist rather than a director.  Cole is obsessed with his on again off again girlfriend Mary (Monica Johnson), and it is this rollercoaster courtship that composes most of the narrative in Modern Romance.  But Brooks is equally interested in the work and the situations created by that work that a foley artist often finds themselves in.  James L. Brooks (who directed Albert Brooks in Broadcast News) has a cameo as the director for whom Robert Cole is working.  The film within Modern Romance is a low rent Star Wars knock off starring George Kennedy.  Cole consistently complains that this is the only kind of work he has been getting, essentially giving voice to Albert Brooks’ own condemnation of the popular blockbuster film.  Other comical asides that creep naturally into the narrative of the film include the regular ingestion of speed by the sound editors, a fact few outside of the industry are privy of.

As in Real Life, the reflexivity or self-awareness in Modern Romance is motivated by the circumstance of the film’s narrative rather than by the film’s director.  Brooks takes an even more subtle approach to his study of how Americans see movies and the people who make them in his third feature Lost In America (1985).  Unlike its two predecessors, Lost In America does not focus on a protagonist whose professional occupation involves the film industry.  This time out Brooks plays David, an advertising executive who, when passed up for promotion, quits his job, invests everything he owns in a motor home and drives across the country with his wife Linda (Julie Hagerty) just like in Easy Rider (1969).  For the unhappy yuppie couple of Lost In America it is that Romantic notion that Easy Rider imbued to their generation that prompts their journey.  David makes numerous references to being “just like Easy Rider” throughout Lost In America, though less and less often as the couple loses everything they own and ends up living in a trailer park, only to “sell out” to survive.  Lost In America is the most bitter of Albert Brooks’ first three films, concerning itself exclusively with the impossibility of the dreams and expectations propagated by the cinema and their effects upon a susceptible audience.

Modern Romance

Examining these three films it’s almost deliberate that the protagonist of each film takes the audience one step further away from film production and one step closer to the audience itself.  The primary strength Brooks’ films derive by making their self-awareness circumstantial is that that reflexivity can be incorporated and in some cases inform the sociological aspects of the films’ satire.  What’s strange is that although Albert Brooks provides the perfect blueprint for such a popular form of comedy filmmaking his films are among some of the most overlooked and under appreciated.

-Robert Curry

Leave a comment

Filed under filmmakers