Being John Malkovich (1999)

Being John Malkovich
Directed by Spike Jonze
Written by Charlie Kaufman
(number 441)

Well, this is a fucking weird movie. I don’t know how else to say it, really. It’s weird as weird as weird. And it isn’t just the subject matter which is weird, it’s also the disconcerting way it’s filmed, the horrible nature of the characters in it and the bizarre ending.

I have seen it just once before and felt disconcerted and disturbed by the whole thing. I can’t remember too much of it, but watching the film a lot of it came back to me as it happened. The love that Lotte has for being Malkovich, the eventual consumption of Malkovich’s life by Craig.

Here’s what’s amazing about this film: the actors, the way Cameron Diaz disappears under frizzy hair and a schlubby parka, John Cusack playing a horrifically self centred and basically evil person.

Lotte comes out to Craig as a transsexual after her first experience in Malkovich and he handles it horribly, telling her first that she’s just going through a phase and then that she is an idiot because she wants to go to her regular doctor about it. He is callous and hurtful to her when she is revealing something that makes her vulnerable. Although this theme isn’t really picked up on later through the movie. Lotte remains utterly devoted to Maxine, passionately in love with her but the idea that she would rather have a man’s body seems to just be a euphemism for wanting to be John Malkovich as so many others also do.

Does it make me love the people? I love Lotte, and to a lesser part Maxine. I love Malkovich and not Craig at all.

There’s this amazing moment:

Maxine: I’ve fallen in love
Craig: I don’t think so, because I’ve fallen in love. This is what people in love look like!

It illustrates perfectly the issues with Craig’s self centredness, and it’s an issue that I see echoed in a lot of modern men’s interactions online. He believes that his experiences are the only valid ones, that he knows exactly what is true and correct and he knows better than Maxine and Lotte. He is always right, even when as a viewer we can see that he’s entirely driven by his desire to be the ‘better’ or more right person, regardless of who he hurts. He is the one who truly understands the pain of being in love and no one else better even try to pretend that they know.

Maxine does some very cold and callous things but I think she ultimately finds redemption when she makes peace with Lotte again, I am really happy about the happy lesbian ending to the story, with Craig stranded helpless inside Emily’s head.

I feel so sorry for John Malkovich who is free of possession for about two minutes after the mid point of the film. Poor sap. At least the old people take better care of his life than Craig did.

Bechdel test:
Maxine and Lotte speak to each other and introduce themselves, technically Craig introduces them but they do speak to each other several more times, making dates where Lotte is in Malkovich and about their longing for each other. There’s some incredible weirdness with Maxine talking to Lotte while she’s inside Malkovich as well. They talk a lot at the climax of the movie too, especially about Maxine’s unborn daughter.

Best line:
Maxine: Craig, I don’t find you attractive, but Lotte, I’m smitten with you. I am… but only when you’re in Malkovich. When I was with him last night, I was looking into his eyes, I could see behind the too prominent brow and the stubble and could sense your feminine longing.

John Malkovich: The weird thing is, this Maxine likes to call me “Lotte”.
Charlie Sheen: Ouch. That is hot.

State of Mind: It is a fascinating movie, one with a lot of twists and turns, lots of deeply fucked up stuff and ultimately it’s not a lot of fun to watch. Just not my sort of thing I guess, but I do have to class it as a genius piece of film making – it really pushes the boundaries of what film can be used for, and that’s a good thing.

Watched movie count

Kill Bill: Volume two (2004)


Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Written by Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman
(number 426)

A little bummed about this one being lower in the list than the first, on account of I actually prefer it. I find the sequences more fun and less bloody, which are a bonus to me. The second Kill Bill came out a year after the first one and I remember there being some drama around that – like Tarantino actually wanted it released quite soon after the first one, but the studios fought him over it. I don’t know how much of that is true though.

I adore the Pai Mei sequence the most – it makes me want to watch old kung fu movies and newer ones starring Jet Li. The filter used makes it look older than the rest of the film and instead of being jarring it’s actually quite comforting. Anna loved this sequence too, she laughed every time he stroked his beard. I love the crash zooms used in this part and the landscape it’s filmed in is very beautiful as well.

So much of this film, and the last one had the ‘wiggle your toe’ sequence in the last film, is demonstrating the incredible force of will the Bride has. That she can expend so much time and energy honing her body to do what she wants, even when it feels impossible is the testament to why she can do what she does. It’s also a nice bit of characterisation which makes you care about her more.

Great use of Chekhov’s gun in this film, in the five point open palm exploding heart technique. Which is just gloriously over the top and dramatic when it is used in the final conversation between Bill and Beatrix.

Does it make me love the people? In this film, yes. The tender scenes at the start with her friends and fiance, talking to and trusting Bill set up her human side, which I found utterly lacking from the first volume.

The buried alive sequence with Bud is really upsetting, I warned Anna that it was coming up because I remember being fairly badly traumatised by it when I saw this film at the Reading cinema when it first came out. Remembering that we know she gets out of it helps, and it leads into the gloriousness that is Pai Mei so it’s a bit easier to watch now. Not something I would ever choose to have included in a film myself but then… I’m not Tarantino.

Bechdel test: Early on we see the Bride talking to a number of girlfriends and the pastor’s wife at the church, however I don’t think any of those women are named (oh it turns out they are named in the end credits, so this counts). She fights extensively with Elle Driver and there’s numerous grunts and groans during the traded blows but they don’t talk until they speak about the swords, which is mostly about Bill and Pai Mei.
Elle: That’s right, I killed your master, and now I’m going to kill you with your own sword no less. Which, in the very near future will become my sword.
Beatrix: Bitch
Elle: You don’t have a future.

That’s probably a pass, yeah? The Bride spends a lot less time talking to women in this film. Oh wait, she definitely talks to BB about not-a-man so it definitely passes the Bechdel a few times. Nice one QT.

Best line:
Pai Mei: It’s the wood that should fear your hand, not the other way around!

State of Mind: Yeah, it’s great fun and aside from the buried alive creepiness I definitely enjoy this one more than the first volume. Anna nodded and agreed that it was a good double feature. You just have to come into Tarantino films *knowing* that they’re Tarantino films, and forgive him a bunch of weird stylistic choices and over the top scenes.

Watched movie count

Kill Bill: volume one (2003)

Kill Bill: Volume one
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Written by Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman
(number 333)

Bloody, retro, exploitative, violence, ridiculous. All the things you expect from a QT blockbuster double feature which was surrounded by hype when it came out. There are a number of huge stars attached to these films and Tarantino uses all his video store know how, using the tropes from Kung Fu movies, Westerns, revenge actioners and mashed them all up together to bring us the story of one woman tracking down the assassins who ruined her wedding rehearsal.

There’s a lot of mash up of genres not just in the script but also in the filming style. We have the Grindhouse style opening credits, the anime sequence for O-Ren’s origin story (far too bloody and violent to actually film with a child) and I think changes of filter. That, changes of language used and the chopped up mix and match time line makes it quite compelling watching – you don’t settle in at any point, your attention is continually brought back to the movie to see what it’s doing now. It’s not a movie you can look away from for any length of time and expect to keep up with.

The fight sequences also manage to be different each time, which is refreshing when I’m used to seeing big blockbusters with endless cuts between stuff that looks the same. The fight between O-Ren and The Bride is particularly gorgeous, set in the Japanese garden with snow falling, Lucy Liu in her white silk kimono and Uma Thurman in her bloodied yellow tracksuit. It’s iconic for this movie and for QT’s work in general.

I do wish that there wasn’t so much rape and implied rape in this film though. It’s such lazy story telling. Oh there’s a woman character, what’s the worst thing that could happen to her? There are other things in this world than rape, and there’s other ways to motivate a character. Why bring it back to that? In the case of the hospital orderly it’s possible that it’s so that you feel justified when the newly awoken Bride kills two men… but I do have to wonder what the real motivation for including it is. It’s like, I adore the Decemberists’ music but I really don’t think it needs to keep being about rape, you know? There are other storylines, other ways to show men being awful to women.

Does it make me love the people? You’re definitely rooting for the Bride. You’re given a lot of reasons why it’s justified, her hunting down and killing these people – but there’s almost no actual characterisation. She’s not a person so much as she’s a focused, quipping revenge seeking machine in cool ass clothing. In terms of human connection there isn’t much here, because it’s just not the point of this movie.

Bechdel test:
In the first post credits sequence The Bride (who is named although it’s bleeped out, and we know her name from the second movie) talks to Vernita Green and her daughter Nicky. In fact it feels like it would be very hard for this movie to fail the Bechdel test told as it is through The Bride’s eyes.

Best line:

The Bride: You can relax for now. I’m not going to murder you in front of your child, okay?
Copperhead: That’s being more rational than Bill led me to believe you were capable of.
The Bride: It’s mercy, compassion, and forgiveness I lack. Not rationality.

The Bride: It was not my intention to do this in front of you. For that I’m sorry. But you can take my word for it, your mother had it comin’. When you grow up, if you still feel raw about it, I’ll be waiting.

The Bride: [spanking a young member of the Crazy 88s with her sword] This is what you get for fucking around with Yakuzas!
[with a last spank, lets him go]
The Bride: Go home to your mother!

State of Mind: This movie is totally ridiculous to be honest. But I do enjoy it. Say what you will about QT he knows how to film a cool movie. A movie so cool it oozes style. That’s what he was aiming to do with this series and that’s what he achieved. Anna enjoyed it enough to say yes to watching the second one right away, so wins all round.

Watched movie count

Hairspray (1988)

Hairspray
Written and directed by Jon Waters
(number 444)

I have seen this movie twice, the first time was with the Muppet Club in university! a.k.a. The place where I first really became friends with Svend, Morgue and Pierce (well, maybe not Morgue so much) but yes. It was like nerd club and they gave us milk and cookies and we watched Muppets and also some other vaguely related movies. I watched again a few years ago too…and I remembered most of it but I think I got it a lot more than when I was 19.

Watching it again with Anna was pretty fun because she’d only seen the much newer musical version with Zefron in it. She missed the songs but she laughed and enjoyed all the same. We did have to put the newer version on straight afterwards so that that she could sing along, but it was quite awesome because you could see the echoes. Michelle Pfeiffer wears the same dress as Debbie Harry in the original.

How amazing is it that Debby Harry plays Velma von Tussle though? It’s brilliant. Jon Waters is a creeper for sure, I mean he has to play the creepster psychiatrist that uses hypnosis and electric shock therapy on poor Penny for loving black boy Seaweed.

This movie is a black as black comedy, (no pun intended) using the political movement of integration in Baltimore to send up American class systems with music and dance. Tracy is sent to special education because her hair is ratted up too high, and then special ed is full of black kids being kept back and other hair hoppers.

Does it make me love the people? How can you not love Tracy? She’s self confident, an excellent dancer and an integration agitator. Then Link just loves her straight away so you gotta love him too and yeah, it’s great. Lots to love! The villains are very over the top on account of the level of satire, but it’s absolutely great.

What’s sad about this whole thing is that this movie was made in the late 80s as a sort of parody of how silly the segregation of the races is, something to laugh about. When Seaweed is beaten by cops and Tracy bundled into a paddy wagon it’s a little shocking but it’s mostly played for laughs. Here we are nearly 30 years after this movie was made and black people are being murdered in America by cops who don’t even get indicted…. so weirdly, the message of Hairspray is more important than ever. It’s sobering, and it sucks.

Bechdel test: Yes, many times over. And really early on too, because Penny and Tracy talk about dancing and how good at dancing is. Also Penny and her mother Velma talk about how important it is that Penny be the lead dancer, etc. Over and over again, it’s a great movie for the Bechdel test actually! Every now and then the girls talk about the boys but mostly it’s about music, integration or girl on girl fighting.

Best lines:
Tracy Turnblad: How do you get your hair so straight and so flat?
Beatnik Chick: With an iron, man. I play my bongos, listen to Odetta, and then I iron my hair, dig?

Edna Turnblad: It’s the times. They are a-changin’. Something’s blowing in the wind. Fetch me my diet pills, would you, Hon?

State of Mind: A really good fun movie, which is a nice change it feels like, from all the stuff I’ve been watching off this list lately. We watched the remake right after and I found the changes to be a bit weird but the songs are pretty catchy.

Watched movie count

28 Days Later (2002)

28 Days Later
Directed by Danny Boyle
Written by Alex Garland
(number 454)

I have seen this movie just once before and I remember two things about it primarily: It had a great sequence with Cillian Murphy wandering through deserted London and I really hated the treatment of the woman characters – being reduced to breeding wives which our hero man had to go all dark side to rescue them from.

I didn’t recognise the opening sequence a all, the explanation for the rage virus – very 12 Monkeys, where the animal rights activists accidentally release this experimental toxin into the world.

I remember reading an interview with Cillian Murphy about how hard it was to film the empty London sequence, that they had to do most of it at 4am before there were many people around and even then they were blocking off roads so that cars didn’t come down in the background. It’s very effective, brutal in its showing the ruined tourist souvenirs, the upturned red double decker bus. I noticed there are still seagulls everywhere and it’s comforting honestly because I thought of this article by a naturalist about how animals would stop the zombie plague.

There’s a not very subtle comment on how religion didn’t save anyone, when Jim goes into church and finds just dead people staring at the stained glass of Jesus and the priest has been turned into a rage zombie. The horror of the situation is undercut with Jim saying ‘shouldn’t have done that’ after knocking the priest down but it’s small respite as this action coincides with nightfall and more active rage zombies. The escalation is fast and brutal. Boyle loves brutality, emphasis on the punk aesthetic for the survivors – throwing molotov cocktails and wearing big boots.

The emotional heart of the movie is found when Jim finds his parents with their message about how they left him sleeping. After he cries his companion Mark describes the horror of how his own parents died. It’s easy to imagine, with the few words he uses, the horror of the situation. It’s easy to believe that people n a mob can turn so careless and self serving.

I was quite happy when Brendan Gleeson turned up, I love him and I didn’t know who he was last time I saw this. I’ve adored him since In Bruges. It’s hard to get too attached to him though, knowing that I can’t remember him from later in the film…sigh. The sequence in the supermarket’s really fun though, isn’t it everyone’s dream to go into a supermarket and help yourself to all the good stuff?

I hate straight horrors, I need more humour. Unless it’s a classic horror like Halloween, where I can be paying attention to the neat suspense and film making, or comedy horror where I can be laughing along with things – like Cabin in the Woods or Tucker and Dale vs the evil. I’m actually still a pretty big fan of ghost movies, but monsters like zombies are horrifying when the treatment is straight. I’m not good with that, I have so many nightmares that it’s like giving them fuel.

OH HEY NINTH DOCTOR oh no Christopher Eccleston running the military compound of horror. You should know better than this. It’s a clever bit of storytelling to introduce the soldiers as rescuers but then show slowly that there’s horrible things happening in their country manor. The extent of the inhumanity they display is supposed to be ironic I suppose, but I find it a bit hard to believe that there’d only be one dissenter in their ranks. Maybe it’s the mob mentality echoing back again. At any rate it’s deeply disturbing – an exploration of maybe men are just slaves to their hormones, and given a chance are happy to rape and use their power selfishly. It’s actually a really common message in a lot of media/internet arguments but I think it does a horrible disservice to men and humans in general. The coldness of West and his men while preparing Selena and Hannah is horrifying, and I wonder what the point of it is.

Does it make me love the people? Yeah, the point of view characters are all loveable. I mean… Brendan Gleeson for sure. But Alex and Selena and Hannah… you want them to survive and to thrive. You hate when bad things happen to them. I don’t think the movie actually says anything particularly interesting or new about the human condition though.

Bechdel test: Yes, Selena and Hannah talk to each other in the supermarket about getting chocolate bars and again in the back of the car. When Selena has convinced the men to leave the room so that they can prepare, she tells Hannah to take some pills, Hannah asks if she’s trying to kill her and Selena says ‘no, love, it’ll make you not care…’ and that’s incredibly heart breaking.

Best line:
[Hannah hits Jim over the head with a bottle]
Selena: Hannah, it’s OK. He’s not infected.
Hannah: But I thought he was biting you.
Jim: Kissing. I was kissing her. Are you stoned?
Selena: It’s a long story.

State of Mind: Is it so important to use the zombies, who are personifications of man’s savage nature to make the non infected more savagely behaved and therefore make the point that man has a savage nature? Eh, I didn’t really enjoy this film this time around. I do enjoy the ending with the implication that only Britain is infected and the rest of the world is able to rescue them. The alternate (‘true’) endings to the film would be way too depressing for me. I have never been tempted to watch the sequel…

Watched movie count
(With this one I have watched and blogged all the bottom 50 of the 500 list!)

Men in Black (1997)

Men in Black
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
Written by Ed Solomon based on the comic by Lowell Cunningham
(number 412)

I watched this movie when it first came out, at the Hoyts cinema in Wellington central which is now gone. I remember being instantly obsessed with it. Little baby Will Smith as the maverick streetwise smart talker to Tommy Lee Jones’ hardened, battle weathered veteran and it’s a lot of fun to watch. I adored it, I had a Will Smith as J poster, and listened to the song on the radio etc, etc.

This movie owes a lot to Beetlejuice, I feel. From the Danny Elfman music to the weirdness of the jokes to the deadpan actors. The just slightly hyper-stylised sets and sound effects. Its nice in its familiarity.

Oooh shot with the twin towers clearly in the background, that’ll date this film quicker than anything else that happens, to be honest.

Vincent D’Onofrio is an amazing actor, he really makes you believe that his skin is slowly dying and decomposing, that his gait is because he’s a bug in a suit. It’s a great piece of acting. The CG of the aliens is generally pretty great as well, lots of big eyes and sympathetic facial shapes. It’s a careful balancing act because you need to have them be otherworldly but in this movie they almost all have to be cute as well so that it’s not too scary. ‘Tis is a family film after all. I can’t remember if the CGI was super ground breaking at the time, I feel like it was in a line of a lot of CG.

Does it make me love the people? I think it’s pretty easy to take James/J’s side right at the start of the film, but then K as well. You see the melancholy of K’s life, what he’s given up, the people he’s had to say goodbye to: highlighted by him saying goodbye to his aging partner and come face to face with the reality that he in fact is aging as well and has made this world his life.

Bechdel test: We have Linda Fiorentino as a bad ass, deadpan mortician who ends up being chosen to replace K and Beatrice, wife of Edgar. They never speak to each other, or even cross paths. Laurel talks to the aliens, K and J, not any other woman.

Best line:
K: what did he say to you?
James: He said the world was coming to an end
K: did he say when?

Zed: May I ask why you felt little Tiffany deserved to die?
James: Well, she was the only one that actually seemed dangerous at the time, sir.
Zed: How’d you come to that conclusion?
James: Well, first I was gonna pop this guy hanging from the street light, and I realized, y’know, he’s just working out. I mean, how would I feel if somebody come runnin’ in the gym and bust me in my ass while I’m on the treadmill? Then I saw this snarling beast guy, and I noticed he had a tissue in his hand, and I’m realizing, y’know, he’s not snarling, he’s sneezing. Y’know, ain’t no real threat there. Then I saw little Tiffany. I’m thinking, y’know, eight-year-old white girl, middle of the ghetto, bunch of monsters, this time of night with quantum physics books? She about to start some shit, Zed. She’s about eight years old, those books are WAY too advanced for her. If you ask me, I’d say she’s up to something. And to be honest, I’d appreciate it if you eased up off my back about it.

State of Mind: Eh, I remember this being real fun. Watching it now I was sorta bored. It’s pretty fun, especially since Anna kept reciting lines along with it.

Watched movie count