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mumblecore Archives - Jeff Finley

RSO [Registered Sex Offender]

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I couldn’t sleep last night for fear of having another night terror (long story, should I blog about it?), so I distracted myself by knocking out another movie from my Netflix instant queue with my iPod. I added the film RSO [Registered Sex Offender] to my queue a while back because Andrew Bujalski is in it. One of my fav directors (Funny Ha Ha, Mutual Appreciation, Beeswax, and the “godfather of mumblecore.”) Also credited in the cast is Richard Linklater (director of School of Rock, Before Sunset, and Waking Life). It wasn’t exactly what I remember going back and forth on whether this was a documentary or just another mumblecore movie. I think it was like a mumblecore mockumentary about a 25 year old sex addict who gets out of prison for “purposely” sending a NSFW photo of himself to a minor. He’s now labeled an RSO and has to integrate himself back into life.

He’s probably one of the most unlikable assholes you’ll ever see on screen, well I can sort of have empathy for him at times. But the film totally knows it and people keep telling him as pisses people off at various job interviews, community service tasks, therapy, etc. But the way it’s done is extremely blunt and sarcastic, but quite smart and honest. This isn’t really a movie I WANT to give 5 stars to, but I think I have to simply because it’s quite a leap from most “mumblecore” type films. It’s definitely a black comedy, but isn’t filled with gratuitous gross out sex jokes or innuendo like a lot of mainstream “sex comedies” might be. It’s mostly done through dialogue which is great btw. Most people won’t like this film I’m sure, but I was impressed. I am not going to lie, I liked it. The movie had that mumblecore heart that I love despite being a little crude.

Yeast

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I was home sick today with a head cold and feeling pretty terrible. This was the perfect opportunity to watch a movie that I know Kim would not want to watch with me and that is Yeast. The film is directed by Mary Bronstein, which happens to be the wife of Frownland director Ronald Bronstein.

From the director:

“Yeast” explores the grinding mechanics of friendships that have run their course . . . they are Ebola-infested, maggot-filled and bursting at the seams.”

At a recent movie night at our house, I decided to “try” to play Frownland for Kim and Adam. We didn’t even get through 10 minutes before I turned it off, it’s that off-putting. It’s not really offensive in any way, it’s just extremely hard to watch unless you are by yourself and are interested in lo-fi “mumblecore” style films with very dislikable characters. The characters in Yeast, and in Frownland I should add, are so unlikable that it’s quite a shock to most people. Things don’t really get better as the movie goes on. If you watch Yeast, you’ll probably be ready to kill the main character at the end.

I probably wouldn’t like this film as much as I did if I didn’t know where it came from. Part of the crew and even some extras are the Safdie brothers, who directed Daddy Longlegs and The Pleasure of Being Robbed, both fantastic films. Actually, the film stems from the same Red Bucket Films family tree which I love so much.

So if you’re into Lo-Fi, Indie, DIY, Mumblecore, Dogme 95, or Neorealist cinema, Yeast is a must watch. Other than that, don’t say I didn’t warn you!

beeswax

Andrew Bujalski’s “Beeswax”

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I went to see Beeswax, the new film from Andrew Bujalski. It finally made its way to Cleveland and premiered tonight, and I’d been itching to see it. People have been calling it Bujalski’s breakthrough movie. I could agree with that, but I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would.

I gave his previous two films Funny Ha Ha and Mutual Appreciate 5/5 stars and I loved them because they were so refreshing and honest. I hadn’t seen anything like that and it really moved me and turned me on the rest of the “mumblecore” folks like Joe Swanberg, Mark Duplass, Greta Gerwig, etc. 3 years later, I am sitting watching Beeswax in a theatre trying to love Beeswax, but something just wasn’t there. Sure, this film has more “story” than others and the quality is better even though it’s still got his trademark grainy “diy” look to it. Critics are saying its his best feature, and I think they’re right but I didn’t walk away with any sort of warm and fuzzy feelings.

In my opinion, Beeswax has TOO much story in it. It kind of spreads itself thin as it meanders around the various characters who come and go. There are some cute scenes but the story is thinly draped around the girls vintage clothing store business and how her business partner is threatening to leave the company and maybe sue her. In the mountains of great dialogue in this film, nobody really seems to ask or care “why” she might be suing her. They never get into any of those details. It’s more like “awe shucks, I’m kinda screwed.” The characters have conversations, but in typical mumblecore style, they dance around the details and can’t quite grasp their own thoughts let alone speak them. They often seem oddly confused or distracted. I am willing to say that’s the way Bujalski wanted his characters. From what I’ve read it’s about how our generation sort of fails at adulthood. That sums up this film if you ask me. I’m cool with that.

Andrew’s films have a soft spot and have heart. Which I love. Beeswax certainly did – as I’m still a fan of the unhip characters and their awkward relationships. The characters are real and honest – it doesn’t appear to be like Hollywood latching onto a Michael Cera type to be the nerdy underdog hero. For that, I will always appreciate Andrew Bujalski. My wife, who watched it with me couldn’t help being annoyed at the girls’ messed up hair. She said the same thing in Funny Ha Ha. Those are things I dig.

Anyway, I give Beeswax a happy 4/5. I liked it. But I just can’t say I loved it. Although in principle I love it. I love how there’s no soundtrack, no special effects, no tricks. It’s the opposite of NYC Hipster Art films. But I wish that his characters/films had a little more bite and emotion. Just a smidge more. Let it out Andrew! There’s a lot of depth to the characters, I just want to get more of it.

Frownland

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Wow, amazing in so many ways.

If you would happen to see it, you’d be convinced this film was shot in the late 70’s, early 80’s. The imagery, colors, and camerawork is astonishing and perfectly suited to my tastes. However, Frownland was released in 2007 and I just now was able to see it. It took forever to get to DVD.

The cinematography was done by Sean Williams. This article from Hammer to Nail puts it best:

You can’t tell this story and film it prettily. Sean Williams’s abrasive 16mm cinematography—crusty, grainy, shaky, jarring—recalls a lost era in independent film, where imperfect, underlit imagery established an atmosphere of unshakeable authenticity. These days, when low-budget filmmakers adopt this approach—on digital video, no less—it’s out of laziness or sloppiness. Here, it’s out of a deep-seated desire to retain a visceral connection to an earlier, more uncompromising moment in film history. Bronstein’s decision to embrace this aesthetic—a seemingly anachronistic decision for the digitally driven early 21st Century—results in a truly freakish tone. Combined with Paul Grimstad’s synthesized score and an absence of up-to-the-minute pop culture references, Frownland feels like a 1983 filmmaker’s vision of a rundown, futuristic New York City.

All of my feelings about this film are summed up in that above paragraph. It’s truly a visceral connection with this film and its characters and I’ve been looking for films like this for quite some time. The film sometimes gets lumped in with the mumblecore scene and the film’s lo-fi aesthetic feels like the ugly sister of Andrew Bujalksi’s Funny Ha Ha.

Having said all that, the film is haunting and enthralling. Story wise, it’s about this social outcast named Keith who has a speech problem where he’s either stuttering so badly he cannot speak at all or spewing a torrent of words that he’s incomprehensible. This is one of the best films I’ve ever seen about a crazy person. Director Ronald Bronstein does it so tastefully and horrifically. All the characters in this film are beautifully miserable.

There were many times in the film I said to myself, “yes! they did that perfectly” I loved the the enormous typography as the title screen appears and then its gone with almost no time to read it. Yes! For some reason that feels great to me. I think because it’s a direct violation of traditional titles.

I can’t really accurately describe why I like this film so much. Other writers do it so much better. I’m definitely buying this on DVD and checking out more from this director.