Alternate Cinema: The Movies They Made Me Watch

Chaos in Print

“It’s nothing but a bunch of black and white films about gay cowboys eating pudding.” — Eric Cartman’s view of independent films, from an episode of South Park

As already mentioned, most of my time spent out on the west coast was spent in front of the TV, watching the wide variety of independent and art films that Chuck and L felt I just had to see. Well, I shouldn’t put the sarcastic slant on “had.” Some of them I had been dying to see for a while myself. Since such a significant part of my trip was spent watching these films, I thought that I should do mini-reviews of all of them! I’ll be using my patented Nib scale, 1 being the worst, 4 being the best. So then, without further ado, let’s get to the movies they made me watch when I could have been taking in the Vancouver Night Life!

Dancer In the Dark – The feature film debut for pop singer Björk. This musical (yes, a musical) chronicles the adventure of a blue-collar factory worker (that’d be Björk) with poor eyesight who works long, relentless hours in order to save enough money to give her son an eye operation, and thus save him from her fate. But, along the way, her savings are stolen from her, she’s framed for murder and sent to prison. This was a very powerful film. It was one of those ones that just rips you apart inside as we are presented with this woman who literally gives everything for her son. Björk actually does good as an actress, unlike many other singers who try to act. And, if I may try and get arty for a moment, I really liked the technique of the “real” segments being filmed with flat colours and in a documentary style, while the musical numbers were filmed in vibrant colours in a true Hollywood style. It really added to the dream-like nature of the musical numbers. All in all, a pretty good movie. 3.5 Nibs.

p(pi) – This was one of the ones I had been dying to see for ages! The debut film for Darren Aronofsky chronicles the tale of a mathematician who is obsessed with finding the pattern that underlays the stock market. He’s even turned his whole apartment into this supercomputer he’s pieced together from old computer parts. Along the way, he encounters a fanatical rabbi who believes that this computer can unravel the mysteries of the Old Testament, and some truly nasty businesspeople who can see the practical applications of predicting the stock market. This movie just plain rocked! Some truly trippy black and white visuals and a somewhat surreal techno-score all added to our hero’s obsession. I didn’t quite get the hallucinations with the pulsating brain, though, but that didn’t distract me. They just don’t make enough movies about mathematicians. I highly recommend this. 4 Nibs.

Reservoir Dogs – I remember being back in my freshman year, and Zane Clarke, the biggest movie geek on the floor (after me) said, “If you love cinema, YOU WILL SEE THIS MOVIE!” It’s six years later, and I finally took up Zane and watched Quentin Tarentino’s debut film. I watched with baited breath this heist caper, as our diverse group of criminals gather together after a heist gone horribly wrong and they try to piece together why. Of course, their own paranoia and greed soon get the better of them all. I actually found this film to be somewhat disappointing. I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe there have just been so many knock-offs over the past few years that the original lost its luster. This film has now become more of a historical artifact, starting many of the things that have now become cliched over the past few years. Sorry, Zane, but you just over-hyped it. That, or I just saw it 6 years too late. 2 Nibs.

Requiem For a Dream – The second film from Darren Aronofsky. This one followed the trials and tribulations of four people: our hero, his girlfriend, his best friend, and his mother. The mother’s addicted to television, and the other three are all hooked on drugs. (Was it coke? Heroin? I’m not really sure, I have trouble telling apart my white powders.) And, this film follows the slow degeneration of their lives through their addictions. I was somewhat emotionally detached from this film when we finally got around to seeing it, so I didn’t find it as gut-wrenching as most others did. But, it was a great story, with some identifiable characters, and just some really funky visual ideas. It’s not for the squeamish, but good stuff. 3 Nibs.

Snatch – The second film from Guy Ritchie, director of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and currently best known as Mr. Madonna. This heist film, set in London, focuses on a very large group of very diverse characters as they go through the world of underground boxing in search for a stolen diamond. You know, I don’t think I can review this one. I didn’t watch it under the most optimal conditions. I slept through the first half, and then watched the second half a day later. But, from what little I saw was pretty good. Brad Pitt stole the show as a bare knuckle boxer with a completely incomprehensible accent. I’m not going to give this one a Nib rating, as I really should rent it again and watch it through from beginning to end.

Run Lola Run – The little German film that surprisingly became a huge hit in North America. One morning, Lola gets a dire phone call from her boyfriend. He runs numbers for the local mobster, and just lost a sh-tload of money he was supposed to deliver. He’s phoned up Lola to see if she knows where they can get the money. If Lola doesn’t come up with the cash and meet her boyfriend in 20 minutes, he’s going to get the money by robbing a grocery store. The film then follows three different scenarios, each one showing Lola being dealt a different hand by the fates. This movie was very cool. The visuals, the pacing, the soundtrack, not to mention that the actress playing Lola was just hot. It even had something resembling a happy ending. It will not disappoint. 4 Nibs.

Louis 19: King of the Airwaves – Now, Chuck and L didn’t make me watch this one. I had been dying to watch this little French Canadian film for a long time, and, as luck would have it, it was on TV one morning! This followed the adventures of a young electronics salesman in Montreal named Louis, who dreams of being a TV star. One day, he gets his wish, as he wins a contest to have his life filmed and on TV for 24/7. This, of course, leads him to his 15 minutes of fame, and his eventual annoyance at his lack of privacy. Sound familiar? It should. This was remade by Hollywood as Ed TV! The French Canadian original, however, is a lot more streamlined. There aren’t as many extraneous characters and subplots as in the American remake, thus making for a faster moving film. It’s even more satirical than the American remake, especially given our current reality TV craze. It’s not laugh-out-loud funny, but it will make you smile. 3 Nibs.

And, the one movie I made them watch,

Star Trek: First Contact – As my Mom pointed out back in junior high, I’m just not on vacation unless I watch a Star Trek film. And, as luck would have it, Chuck had slowly been introducing L to the Star Trek films, and this was next on their list. I’m sure we’ve all seen it and I don’t have to delve into the plot much. We’ve got our intrepid crew of the Enterprise, as they go back in time to the mid-21st Century to stop a Borg invasion and preserve the timeline. Will Picard stop the Borg from overrunning the Enterprise? Will Riker see that Zephram Cochrane makes the first warp flight? We all know the answers, as we’ve all seen it. This is one of my favorite Star Trek films, and a real crowd pleaser. 3 Nibs.

Chuck and L said that the whole point of this exercise was to broaden my horizons. I guess you could consider them broadened. I can hardly wait until my turn, though. With Chuck and L now in Japan, it won’t be long until they fall behind in their following of independent and art films. I can see it now. When they return in…who knows when, and we finally meet up, they’ll all want to go out and see the sights of where I’m living, but I’ll just be there at the door saying, “No no no. You’ve got to watch this movie!” Chuck! L! Let’s make it a date for later in the decade!

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