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.
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”.
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.
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
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
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.
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.