Debuts Blogathon: David Gordon Green – George Washington (2000)

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The thing that’s been so great about this Debuts Blogathon so far, as I’m sure Mark will attest, is that it’s been a great mix of well-known films and more obscure ones, and, to me, this films firmly in the latter category. This look at David Gordon Green’s George Washington comes from Alex at And So It Begins…, a really fantastic blog that covers a huge variety of film topics. Alex is one of the most knowledgeable bloggers I’ve seen, which really comes across in his piece below…

DAVID GORDON GREEN

George Washington (2000)

If you’ve ever read a brief synopsis for David Gordon Green’s masterful debut film, George Washington, then you’re likely to expect a cheap thriller. The plot description on the film’s Wikipedia page, for example, makes George Washington sound like a mix between I Know What You Did Last Summer and Kick-Ass.

Problem is,

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Debuts Blogathon: Christopher Nolan – Following (1998)

Debuts Blogathon

It’s Day 7 of the Debuts Blogathon hosted by myself and Chris at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop and next up we have Elroy from The Silver Screener‘s insightful take on Christopher Nolan’s low-budget neo-noir debut Following (1998). Elroy’s great looking site covers new releases in an intriguing way, while his Kubrick Awards dig deep into why cinematic ‘classics’ are so revered. As if that wasn’t enough, Elroy also does audio reviews on YouTube and SoundCloud. This guy’s got it covered!

Christopher Nolan

Following (1998)

Following is a beautiful film to watch. It unfortunately suffers from ‘amateur-itis’ in several ways, but had it been made by a Christopher Nolan 10 years into his professional career, I believe it would almost certainly be considered one of the great crime dramas of the modern era.

Following Poster As I said, it does suffer from ‘amateur-itis’ – a term I’ve made up to describe elements of a film that really tell us ‘this was made by someone early into his career’. There is a fight scene that isn’t the most amazingly shot sequence in film history. Some of the acting seriously lacks.

FollowingThe main character is referred to by Nolan as The Young Man, and played by Jeremy Theobald pretty well actually, although really there isn’t much to do emotionally – all the emotions are written into the dialogue. But the other two leads, Cobb and The Blonde, are not very well portrayed by their actors – Alex Haw (Cobb) seems to have difficulty making any of the swears he so often says seem needed, and Lucy Russell (The Blonde) just isn’t believable in the first place.

The sound mixing isn’t very good as well, which is somewhat surprising seeing as the editing of the shots is one of the better exponents of the film. A lot of the time it’s hard to hear what the actors are saying, yet I guess we can probably assume that Cobb’s swearing his head off.

FollowingBut put all of that aside and you have yourself with a pretty damn good film.

FollowingNolan’s direction early on, while the actual premise itself of ‘following’ was being explained, gives us a great connection to the action. We are viewing things from a faraway point, in the midst of cars blocking our view as they pass by, as people scatter the streets, like we’re the ones spying, like someone’s being watched, and that really taps into the tone of the film – black and white colours, two-faced people, two-faced situations. That’s one of the real feats of the film; how it establishes the mystery, the disguises these people represent.

The non-linear structure of the screenplay isn’t too dissimilar to that of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs in that it tosses back and forth between time periods, so the story isn’t told completely in a row. That technique, when harnessed properly, can be extremely effective. It is harnessed very properly in Following. It works so well because we feel confused in the beginning when the non-linear style kicks in, but by the end of the film we can understand why this is done – because the effect of mystery and deceit in confusing times is transferred perfectly from characters to viewer by Christopher Nolan.

FollowingFollowingBut I find that the film isn’t as similar to Reservoir Dogs as it is to one of my all-time favourite movies, The Usual Suspects. That story is also somewhat non-linear and told through flashbacks and a constant narrative from the protagonist, Verbal. That’s how the early goings work in Following – we hear The Young Man telling his story and giving background. But more than that is how the story unravels to such a point where it finally gets to the ending and the plot twist hits you over the head in a blaze of smoke and sudden surprise. That’s the best thing about The Usual Suspects and it’s also the best thing about Following. We know it’s perfectly choreographed because once you see the film and think back, you can visualise all the clues left, and say to yourself “wow, that’s damn smart”.

I have no doubt that this is Christopher Nolan’s love letter to noir films of the 50s; the Dial M for Murder’s, the Double Indemnity’s, the Sunset Boulevard’s. It was shot in lovely black and white; I was completely infatuated with its raw beauty, and even though I didn’t get the chance to watch it on a cinema screen, I could still feel the raw graininess of Nolan’s Following. That’s how lovely it was to watch. I could feel mystery in the air.

It was almost like it had put the thought in my mind that at any moment, I could turn around and find a completely unknown man following me.

Meanwhile, over at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop, Kim from Tranquil Dreams provides a great piece on Hayao Miyazaki’s directorial debut The Castle of Cagliostro. Head over to Chris’s site now by clicking here.

Next on the slate I have the pleasure of introducing Mark from Marked Movies‘s take on Joel ‘Coen Brothers’ Coen’s Blood Simple. Hope you’re looking forward to this one as much as I am. See you then.

Debuts Blogathon: Duncan Jones – Moon (2009)

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Today’s post in the Debuts Blogathon, hosted by myself and Three Rows Back, sees Nick from The Cinematic Katzenjammer take on Duncan Jones’s superb debut, Moon. Nick has a brilliant site which is, without a doubt, the most prolific I know. Definitely worth a read if you don’t already. Here we go…

DUNCAN JONES

Moon (2009)

While many others that are participating are doing much more “accomplished” directors, I decided to discuss Duncan Jone’s first film, Moon, from 2009. And to keep up with my latest “style” of reviews, I break down the Five Reasons Why Moon is One of the Best Sci-Fi Films of the Past 10 Years.

The Simplicity

Believe it or not, when it comes to the sci-fi genre, less is usually more. The best films aren’t the ones with lens flares and explosions, but those that are driven by the details and the…

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Debuts Blogathon: Frank Henenlotter – Basket Case (1982)

Debuts Blogathon

Today it’s the turn of Elwood over at From the Depths of DVD Hell to contribute to the ‘Debuts’ Blogathon with a dissection of Frank Henenlotter’s 1980s horror classic Basket Case. I’ll be honest; Elwood’s site was new to me before he got in touch requesting to join the Blogathon club, but since then I’ve become a fan. As well as an impressive review archive, he’s also gradually working through the 1001 Movies to See Before you Die list; something I think a lot of us out there have thought about doing at some point.

Frank Henenlotter

Basket Case (1982)

It’s safe to say that there are few directors who embrace the sleazy side of cinema as much as Frank Henenlotter who, while not the most prolific of directors with only six films to his credit since unleashing this debut film in 1982, has retained his exploitation inspired style throughout.

Basket Case PosterWhile other directors such as those who came through the Roger Corman film school, including Joe Dante, John Landis and James Cameron, moved onto making more mainstream movies and moved away from their exploitation cinema beginnings, Henenlotter has remained true to his grimey 42nd Street-inspired roots. He’s even continued his passion for exploitation cinema through the website Something Weird Video,  where he has been instrumental in rescuing numerous titles from being destroyed, including Bloodthirsty Butchers and  the truly random The Curious Dr. Humpp, as well as this debut film from Henenlotter himself.

Opening with what could almost be described as a video postcard of New York’s 42nd Street (true, not one that anyone would want to receive) as cinema marquee’s advertise kung fu movies and sleaze, the softly spoken and awkward Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) wanders down the neon lit sidewalk carrying a larger wicker basket. Unsurprisingly, everyone wants to know what’s in the basket, from the cackling street walkers to the residents of the seedy hotel were Duane decides to stay. Unknown to them all, though is that this wicker basket is home to Duane’s monstrous twin brother Belial, who is deeply resentful at being surgically separated from his brother, so much so that the two brothers are now on a mission of revenge to kill the doctors who separated them.

Basket CaseHenenlotter’s vision of New York has always been one caked in grime and sleaze which he established with this debut, where the residents are either sleazy or just plain oddballs. Even Duane’s love intrest Sharon (Terri Susan Smith) seems to not be quite all there, especially when she frequently talks so breathlessly and wide eyed. This film establishes a lot of Henenlotter’s favourite themes, including bodily mutation and over-the-top violence, as well as his now trademark scuzzy sense of humour. They craft a unique film to say the least, but one which wears its exploitation colours proudly, with Henenlotter himself classifying his films as exploitation films rather than Horror films.

Here he crafts a tale full of sleaze, gore and sheer randomness, yet one which also surprisingly has quite a few touching moments as well, such as the boy’s aunt reading them The Tempest. Despite Belial only being able to communicate telepathically with his brother the two share a clear bond for each other. Even if it might seem that Duane is being led by his monstrous brother’s lust for revenge, the rage at being detached from each other is clear to see in them both.

Basket CaseStill, despite these tender moments the tone throughout is decidedly schizophrenic, especially when Belial starts to demonstrate a serious jealously streak, which soon sees him soon setting off to pursue his own perverse pleasures, including one scene which managed to offend even the crew to the point where they walked off the production, something that would also happen again on Henenlotter’s next film Brain Damage.

Warped tastes aside, this film remains a master class in low budget filmmaking with a measly budget of $35,000. This fact is only further highlighted by the roll of cash Duane carries with him actually being the film’s budget, while Henenlotter’s crew was so small he made up most of the names listed on the credits to make it seem like a bigger crew than he actually had.

Basket CaseStill, despite the lack of budget the film has still dated well, with the stop motion effects used to animate Belial having a real charm to them which CGI just doesn’t have. Equally not hampered is the healthy gore quota on hand here, as we get a head pushed into a drawer of surgical equipment and bloody maulings amongst the bloody delights, as well as some gooey looking surgical scenes as we see in one flashback the two brothers being separated.

Despite Belial’s murderous tendancies, he is still a restrained killer and only kills for revenge. The only time he breaks from this is in a fit of jealousy towards the end of the film, almost as if Henenlotter was keen to show that while he might look like a monster he possesses none of the usual monster psychology, though at the same time he is unquestionably a pervert as seen in several of the more questionable scenes, where Belial decides to explore the world outside of his basket.

Basket CaseMore focused than some of his later films, the film has a quick pace and outside of some truly questionable acting there is a lot to enjoy here. At this point Henenlotter is still not as caught up in his themes as he becomes in his later films, which frequently seem to be more about shocking the audience than crafting an intelligible story, as his last film Bad Biology only serves to highlight.

Still for anyone looking for a starting point for Henenlotter’s film this is certainly a gentle entry point and for many this remains the favourite of his six films, so much so that it would spawn two sequels despite the ending of this film being pretty final. But then, like any good exploitation movie, if there is a chance to make money there is always a way.

Over at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop, Nick from The Cinematic Katzenjammer casts his critical gaze over Duncan Jones’ acclaimed 2009 debut Moon. Head over to Chris’s site now by clicking here.

For your next slice of Blogathon gold, Elroy from The Silver Screener will be examining Christopher Nolan’s devious debut Following (1998). Don’t miss it.

Debuts Blogathon: Darren Aronofsky – Pi (1998)

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Today’s entries in the Debuts blogathon comes courtesy of KaramelKinema with a look at Darren Aronofsky’s Pi.KaramelKinema is a great looking blog with plenty of great content to back it up. Head over and have a look if you haven’t already checked it out. After reading this, obviously…

DARREN ARONOFSKY

Pi (1998)

(1) Mathematics is the language of nature,
(2)  Everything around us can be represented and understood through numbers, and
(3) There are patterns everywhere in nature.

These are the three believes that our protagonist, of Darren Aronofsky’s first debut feature, believed in. Maximillian Cohen (Sean Gullette) is a number theorist and mathematical genius, he is looking for a formula that can be the answer of anything in the world, from key to predict the stock market to unravel the secrets of the universe through the means of numbers. Max isolated himself from normalcy in order to decode these…

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