Film blog for 2013

My name is Simon Ørberg, and this is my film blog.
I have made something called a Shamelist which is a list of 50 films that I'm embarrassed of never having seen. My goal on this blog is to review all 50 films on that list (as well as any other film I might watch) before the end of the year.
You can read more on the FAQ page.
Recent Tweets @simonday

Film: Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex
Director: Woody Allen (1969)
Must-See Classic? No
Rating: 3/5
Review: I’m trying to catch up on some of the classic Woody Allen films that I’ve missed starting with the longest title of them all: Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid To Ask). It’s a surreal collection of seven vignettes each dealing with specific questions about sex – everything from “Do Aphrodisiacs Work?” to “Are the Findings of Doctors and Clinics Who Do Sexual Research and Experiments Accurate?”. The short sketches cover some obscure genres like a spy story where the antagonist is a giant tit (hence the photo), or a black and white talk show about a rabbi’s sexual fantasy involving his wife eating pork. It’s generally pretty silly and Monthy Python-esque but unfortunately fails due to Allen’s lack of experience as a filmmaker (this was only his fourth film). The film is packed with great and even innovative ideas – some of which are well executed like the homage to Fellini’s avant-garde style or the sci-fi story about a sperm cell in an existential crises – but I was mostly distracted by the poor directing. I’m not kidding, it’s really bad. Luckily, the few things that work does it really well so I’m not going to say that I didn’t like the film. All in all, this is a minor footnote in a behemoth of an ever-expanding oeuvre that you never really know what to expect from.

 

Film: Your Sister’s Sister
Director: Lynn Shelton (2011)
Must-See Classic? No
Rating: 5/5
Review: This is my second step into the miniature world of the pretentiously named genre Mumblecore. It’s an indie subgenre that emerged on the American low-budget film festival circuit around 2005 with Bujalski’s Funny Ha Ha and it has since had its short-lived prime from 2007 to 2009 but there are still few new films coming out of the movement today (Your Sister’s Sister is just one of them). It has the most vague characteristics for a genre ever but you’d still be able to spot a Mumblecore film from 10 miles away: Low production values, nonprofessional actors, small stories, improvised dialogue and lots of it. There’s also a tendency for Mumblecore films to be shot digitally but I don’t assume anyone cares about that.

Your Sister’s Sister follows in this very same trail and feels a lot like Jeff, Who Lives at Home, which was the first mumblecore film I reviewed (before I even knew the genre), and it is therefore to no surprise that I also thoroughly enjoyed this one. It’s the story of an odd love triangle between the fast-talking Jack, his best friend Iris and her lesbian sister Hannah, and the few days they spend together in the sisters’ remote summerhouse. There’s also a dead brother in there somewhere. There is a solid story driving the film forward but the most entrancing thing about Your Sister’s Sister is the intense and unbelievably believable dialogue scenes that doesn’t do much for the narrative but tells us so much about the characters while still being endlessly entertaining. It feels so informal and naturalistic that I’ve started to think that the conversations I have in real life seem fake in comparison. Despite the conflicts and dramatic fights they have in the film I still want to be a part of it because it feels so real, which is somewhat of a paradox given the constructed nature of the narrative but it can also be read as an interesting parallel to my review of Reconstruction, which is a Danish film that deals with this question in a very delicate way. 

I’ve thought a lot about how Hollywood doesn’t really do good romcoms anymore. It’s all Superhero summer Blockbusters nowadays, which is fine, but if you’re looking for a less adrenalin-infused antidote I think the Mumblecore genre is something for you and Your Sister’s Sister is a great place to start. It puts the heart-warming and life-confirming elements back into the genre without ever becoming cliché or superficial. I have nothing but praise for this film.

 

Film: Con Air
Director: Simon West (1997)
Must-See Classic? No
Rating: 3/5
Review: Watching Con Air as a guy gives you that self-consciously uneasy feeling you have when you’re with other guy friends and you can smell the testosterone in the room. You’re eating pizza, watching football and chauvinistic dick-jokes are thrown around like candy on last day of school, and you can’t help but think that you’re confirming all existing stereotypes of the clichéd Neanderthal-like man. Then you scratch your balls and forget what you were thinking because someone brought free beer (believe me, I’m not often in this situation but it happens).
That’s essentially what Con Air is like. It’s so overly manly and stupid that you kind of start to hate your own gender, but then you look at the beautiful faces and unmistakable talent of Nicolas Cage, John Cusack and John Malkovich and kind of go along with it anyway. And for the majority of the film that’s enough because it truly is a really well made and highly entertaining action flick that deserves all its cult praise. However, towards the end the glass is simply too full. There’s no more room in my head for explosions, gunfights and iconic catchphrases. That’s why I’m only giving it 3/5. Sorry.

Film: Reconstruction
Director: Christoffer Boe (2003)
Must-See Classic? No
Rating: 5/5
Review: I needed a film like this. Reconstruction is the debut of Danish filmmaker Christoffer Boe and it bears all the marks of a director fresh out of film school: It’s pretentious, convoluted, self-indulgent, experimental, overly-ambitious and absolutely, unconditionally an uncompromising work of underrated art. It stars my one true love in this world, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, who plays Alex, a Danish photographer living in the most romantically portrayed version of Copenhagen I’ve ever seen on film. Alex is in a seemingly functional relationship with Simone (played by Swedish actress Maria Bonnevie) until he meets the seductive Aimee (also played by Swedish actress Maria Bonnevie) who he decides to pursue and fall in love with. Emphasis on the decision-part. What Reconstruction reminds us of is that every choice comes with a consequence. Every yes is a no to something else. When Alex goes after Aimee he also leaves behind his life with Simone, which is symbolised by his disappearing doorway and so on. His old life is literally gone. It sounds more like a bad David Lynch rip-off than the innovative work of art that I made it out to be, but the thing is that the entire story is told with this meta-fictional distance that makes it not only about the heart-breaking love story but also about why it’s a heart-breaking love story.

"It is all film. It is all construction. But even so, it hurts.”

Those are the last words that the omniscient (but also, not?) narrator utters in the introduction (see the video!) and it’s a phrase that sticks with you not only throughout the rest of the film but also after the credits. The film doesn’t offer any answers to its semi-philosophical as well as meta-physical questions but I still feel like it was the most refreshing cinematic experience I’ve had since I saw Jeff, Who Lives At Home (although in a completely different way).

It might very well just be a construction but it’s a beautiful one of that.
And that’s all I can ask for. 

Film: Breakfast on Pluto
Director: Neil Jordan (2005)
Must-See Classic? No
Rating: 3/5
Review: Breakfast on Pluto was so overwhelmingly average that I’ve kind of already forgotten about it. There are two or three scenes that stick out mostly because of Cillian Murphy’s once-again terrific acting but, other than that, I wasn’t impressed. I did like how dedicated it was to its chapter-gimmick. Most films with a similar structure kind of forget about the gimmick halfway through and don’t pick it up until the ending when the audience has forgotten about it, but not my man Neil Jordon! Neil Jordon reminds us of the chapters every couple of minutes with a new intricate title card indicating what’s to come. I thought that was fun. However, you know you’re in deep shit when the most entertaining things about your film are your title cards. 

Film: Pieces
Director: Juan Piquer Simon (1982)
Must-See Classic? No
Rating: 3/5
Review: This is one of those films, isn’t it? One of those God-awful 80s cult classics that every 20-something horror fan will defend with the bulletproof argument that “it’s so bad that it’s good”. How are you supposed to trump that card as an amateur film critic who doesn’t understand poker metaphors? You can’t admit that the film is good (because it’s really, really not) but, at the same time, if you state the obvious and say that it’s bad you’ve essentially just agreed with the previously mentioned cheeky hipsters in trench coats who you’ll find in an underground Grindhouse cinema smiling at your sad attempt at film criticism while smoking a cigarette you’ve never heard of and generally being better than you’ll ever be.

So I figured that if you can’t beat them… You might as well join them.

Pieces is one of those rare films that are so bad that they’re good. It’s a slasher horror film (and I use the term “horror” loosely) taking place on a college campus in Boston where a psychopathic axe murderer is chopping girls to pieces to build the perfect woman out of their body parts. Wildly original, I know. What makes Pieces so special is the metaphorical jigsaw puzzle that is the movie itself because nothing in this thing makes any fucking sense: The scenes don’t follow each other logically; seemingly important characters are introduced at random never to appear again, and everything everyone does is so stupid that it makes me question their sanity (including the people involved in the making of the film). The film never becomes scary but the gore is (all jokes aside) really well made and incredibly effective so if you don’t like a plethora of blood and guts I’d give this film a pass. Otherwise, it’s a fairly laughable effort from Spanish filmmaker Juan Piquer Simon but you’ve still got to hand it to the guy: It’s a pretty entertaining film regardless of what it was trying to do.

 

p.s. no, it’s not Gillian Jacobs in the photo despite what you think 

Film: Blue Jasmine
Director: Woody Allen (2013)
Must-See Classic? No
Rating: 2/5
Review: It’s time to tell you about some of the films that I’ve been watching recently (which honestly isn’t a lot). Starting things off is a depressingly colorful tale made by some random American director who really likes rich people.

Blue Jasmine is as disappointing as it is impressive. Cate Blanchett delivers a powerhouse performance out of this world and there are several memorable Allenesque (it’s a word, Google it) moments but what truly stands out in this film is the monotonous sound of undeveloped characters bitching about the same fucking thing for 98 minutes. If I close my eyes and put my ear to a metaphorical conch I can still vaguely hear Sally Hawkins’ shrill voice making a novelty statement on the differences between the rich and middleclass. The premise for Blue Jasmine is so over used that it is literally a cliché from the get-go, and there is no way I would ever have seen this film if Woody Allen’s name wasn’t plastered on the poster. Luckily, he does execute some fairly successful damage control giving it a powerful and unpredictable ending but at this point the ship had already sunk. Sorry Woody, you know I still love you and that you’ll try again next year but maybe, just maybe, you shouldn’t.

 

Your friend and lover
Simon Ørberg

Film: Vertigo
Director: Alfred Hitchcock (1958)
Must-See Classic? Yes
Rating: 4/5
Review: Vertigo is supposedly the greatest film of all time according to the world’s directors and critics. I’m not going to go into a big analysis of that because it is a great film. It hits all the right notes and has perfectly crafted suspense on a level that only Hitchcock could achieve, but I do wonder what finally made it replace Citizen Kane’s number 1 spot on the Sight & Sound list of greatest films of all time. Citizen Kane seems more epic and universal, despite the fact that it’s about the American Dream (uuuuh, capital letters). I’d personally prefer Vertigo any day because it’s the best (of the two) but Citizen Kane is, without a doubt, the greatest (of the two). Does that make sense? Is there even a distinction between best and greatest? I don’t know. This discussion is stupid. Much like the ending of Vertigo, which was just silly. The film instantly dropped from a solid 5 to a 4 in my opinion but maybe it’s just because I don’t get it. Too bad.

Film: The ApartmentDirector: Billy Wilder (1960)Must-See Classic? YesRating: 4/5Review: The Apartment is one of the last big classics from the Hollywood Golden Age, it won an Academy Award for Best Picture back when it came out, and it’s indisputably one of Billy Wilder’s most celebrated films.
It’s the story of a confusing love triangle that centres around Jack Lemmon’s charming character C.C. Baxter and – more importantly – his apartment. Baxter has a dead-end 9-5 office job where his only success stems from the fact that his supervisors frequently use his apartment as a quiet place to bang the occasional secretary with no fear of getting caught. There’s not much else excitement going on in his life and besides, he doesn’t really have much of a choice if he is planning on keeping his position. Things get complicated when Baxter’s love interest, played seductively by Shirley MacLaine, turns out to be one of the many girls who frequent his apartment with a superior. I used words like ‘confusing’ and ‘complicated’ and it might sound like that, but The Apartment is told with noticeable confidence and humor so we never lose track of who’s involved with whom.

Not only is it a sweet and at times dramatic love story but it’s also a witty fuck-you to the nepotism and sexism that undoubtedly dominated firms like this in the 60s. It feels like a Hollywood classic because of the straightforward progression of the story and character development but it’s never so traditional that it becomes predictable. I’m glad I finally took time to cross this off my Shamelist.

Film: The Apartment
Director: Billy Wilder (1960)
Must-See Classic? Yes
Rating: 4/5
Review: The Apartment is one of the last big classics from the Hollywood Golden Age, it won an Academy Award for Best Picture back when it came out, and it’s indisputably one of Billy Wilder’s most celebrated films.

It’s the story of a confusing love triangle that centres around Jack Lemmon’s charming character C.C. Baxter and – more importantly – his apartment. Baxter has a dead-end 9-5 office job where his only success stems from the fact that his supervisors frequently use his apartment as a quiet place to bang the occasional secretary with no fear of getting caught. There’s not much else excitement going on in his life and besides, he doesn’t really have much of a choice if he is planning on keeping his position. Things get complicated when Baxter’s love interest, played seductively by Shirley MacLaine, turns out to be one of the many girls who frequent his apartment with a superior.
I used words like ‘confusing’ and ‘complicated’ and it might sound like that, but The Apartment is told with noticeable confidence and humor so we never lose track of who’s involved with whom.

Not only is it a sweet and at times dramatic love story but it’s also a witty fuck-you to the nepotism and sexism that undoubtedly dominated firms like this in the 60s. It feels like a Hollywood classic because of the straightforward progression of the story and character development but it’s never so traditional that it becomes predictable. I’m glad I finally took time to cross this off my Shamelist.

Film: Down By Law
Director: Jim Jarmusch (1986)
Must-See Classic? No
Rating: 4/5
Review: Down By Law is the story of three men who end up in the same jail cell in New Orleans and their subsequent escape. Sounds like an action packed film, huh?
Not really. Jim Jarmusch directs this film with patience and a complete disregard for traditional narrative structure and instead focusing on the relationship between the three convicts as well as the neo-noir inspired mood that I find the most entrancing about the film.
When I think about
Down By Law there’s two images that pop up in my head: The first is Tom Wait’s unsurprisingly believable character in one of the opening scenes where he sits down on an empty and dark street to put on his leather shoes while the rest of his belongings are scattered around him like trash (see photo). It looks like a scene from a play. There’s something hauntingly beautiful and unreal about it. The other image is the now-iconic ending shot that I won’t spoil for you but if you’ve seen the film you’ll know why it’s an image that stays with you.

What Jim Jarmusch and renowned Ditch cinematographer Robby Müller has achieved is an odd and experimental jailbreak movie that doesn’t feel inaccessible due to Roberto Benigni’s perfect performance as the comic relief. He takes this film to a whole other level with his blend of dark humour, naïve poetic insight and Italian charm, and I’m certain you’ll fall as much in love with as I did.