absurdist, cinema, documentaries, films, foreign films, independent films, Journey to Planet X, L'Age D'or, Lena Dunham, Luis Bunuel, Movies, nerds, Norwegian Ninja, parodies, parody, quirky, sci-fi, silent films, Tiny Furniture, twenty-something angst
Our catching up session continues with the spate of films from this past Sunday. There were a few less films than normal on this day but I think we made up for it with some interesting variety. First up:
I began this particular Sunday the way I usually like to: with an old film. In this case, I picked Luis Bunuel’s follow-up to Un Chien Andalou, L’Age D’or. Despite seeing many of his films (and being a big fan, particularly of The Exterminating Angel), there are still several that I’ve managed to miss over the years: no better time to correct that than the present.
Out of the myriad filmmakers that never made it to the modern age, Bunuel is the one that I often find myself wondering about the most. I wish that he would have had access to modern filmmaking techniques and equipment: I can only imagine that the results would have seemed like some unholy alliance of Jodorowsky and Spike Jonze, pushing film into a realm that we’ve never seen.
As compared to much of Bunuel’s other work, particularly his debut, the absurdist elements in L’Age D’or aren’t quite as pronounced. Don’t get me wrong: this is definitely an absurd film. A woman tries to get a large cow out of her bed; a wagon rides through the middle of a mansion; a giraffe is thrown out of a window. On the whole, however, L’Age D’or is really more about absurd situations than visuals. The plot seems to revolve around a man and woman who only want to make love in public. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you feel about public sex), outside forces constantly strive to keep them separated. The film ends with a surprising left turn, evoking one of the Marquis de Sade’s most famous stories, the basis for Pier Palo Pasolini’s horrifying Salo. It was an odd, downbeat way to end the film but completely unexpected: just what you could always expect from Bunuel.
Back to the land of twenty-something angst. Tiny Furniture is yet another film in a seemingly non-ending stream of films about the terrors of being twenty, out of college and adrift in life. Directed and written by Girls ingenue Lena Dunham, there’s a lot to like in this quirk-athon, particularly the sharp dialogue, but I’m still not sure that I’m its intended audience.
Aura (Lena Dunham) has just graduated from college, broken up with her boyfriend and moved back home. Her mother is a quirky art photographer (complete with a huge studio taking up the bottom-floor of their home) and her sister is, essentially, an over-achieving, bratty Dawn Weiner-clone (played by Dunham’s real-life sister). Into Aura’s restless existence pours her quirky (read: annoying) friend Charlotte and two possible love interests: a whiny, obnoxious youTube “video-artist” and the surly, pill-popping sou chef at the restaurant where Aura serves as “day hostess.” Antics ensue, lessons are learned (or are they?) and sex is had in a large piece of construction pipe.
My big issue with Tiny Furniture is that I found the characters to be so completely, thoroughly unlikable. Aura is a whiny, self-absorbed, spoiled little shit and I really couldn’t take anything about her journey of self-discovery seriously. At any given opportunity, Aura would do the absolute most selfish thing possible, regardless of anyone else (especially her long-suffering mother). Aura’s friends are, likewise, equally privileged and irritating, meaning that we end up spending almost 90 minutes with the kind of people you would actively kick out of your party.
That being said, the script for Tiny Furniture is really quite good, managing to pull off the kind of quirky dialogue that I always felt Juno struggled so hard to make seem natural (sorry, Diablo Cody:I ain’t buyin’ what yer sellin’…). The relationships do seem like they fit, even if all of the people are obnoxious, and I quite liked the visual look of the piece. Unfortunately, this seems like something that will (and could) only be relevant to those in the same place as Aura: young, adrift and positive that the world owes you something. Once Aura is in her thirties, I wonder how she would look back on her 22-year-old self? I’m guessing she wouldn’t like her, either.
This is a highly respectful documentary about two friends (and sci-fi enthusiasts) who make extremely low budget films in their spare time. Sort of like a hopeful, non-pathetic version of American Movie, it’s pretty impossible not to fall in love with these guys. They’re unrepentant nerds who are not only completely comfortable in their own skins but who possess the drive and passion necessary to make uber-independent films.
I’m not going to lie and say that their films will revolutionize the industry. Rather, I’m impressed by their wide-ranging interests (they attempt everything from sci-fi and fantasy flicks to war and action films, triply impressive considering their budgets must hover around $100 a pop) and ability to get the job done. The pair have a fully functional blue-screen studio (which they later convert to the more standard green-screen and appear to have completed several dozen shorts. They even pay their lead actors (but not much, of course).
It’s always a pleasure to witness nice people having fun and doing their thing. Unlike other docs about outsider artists, I left this feeling strangely optimistic and happy: as long as these two guys are out there making crappy, home-made sci-fi epics, the world can’t possibly be so terrible. Now, I’m going to have to try and get my hands on some of their films.
The true, untold story of the freedom-loving Ninjas that helped to keep the country of Norway safe…or not. Norwegian Ninja is an extremely clever bit of revisionist history, positing the idea that one of Norway’s most notorious spies, Arne Treholt, was actually the leader of a secretive ninja group and was framed in order to remove him from the picture. Whether any of this is actually true or not (I’m leaning towards the “not” part but my heart is secretly hoping this all happened), it makes for one massively entertaining film.
Similar in intent to films like Black Dynamite and Hobo with a Shotgun, Norwegian Ninja consciously sets out to ape the late ’70s-early ’80s video dynamic and actually looks like it could have come straight from the land of VHS. The film has a soft, gauzy look that calls to mind foreign films of the era, particularly Scandinavian ones, and the casting fits this look perfectly. This also reminded me, in certain ways, of Will Farrell’s Casa de mi Padre, since there were frequent bursts of head-scratching strangeness that would pop up from time to time. My favorite extended gag involves the herd of gentle forest animals that follow one of the ninjas where-ever he goes: take that, Snow White!
My take-away from this film may seem a bit snide but I mean it with all sincerity: this is Die Hard genetically crossbred with Ikea. Norwegian stoicism and practicality (even in the face of tremendous odds, these Norwegian ninjas don’t break a sweat…because it would be unseemly) collide with cold-war espionage and James Bond-lite action. If the thought of a group of polite, tow-headed Ninjas strikes your fancy, see this immediately. I’m eagerly looking forward to the filmmakers’ next bit of insanity.