Guaranteed Happiness: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a film I’ve loved since the fist time I watched it, and always proves to be an enjoyable experience, yet I fear that from now on I won’t enjoy it any more, because I will have horrific, Vietnam-style flashbacks to my latest viewing, or rather the repercussions from it. You see, I volunteered to appear on The Lamb‘s weekly podcast, The Lambcast, for their Movie Of The Month segment, and I was overjoyed to discover that said movie was Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Granted, I may have voted 7 or 8 times for it and hoped that one of the primaries would drop out so I could discuss such a great film with some similarly-minded individuals, so I can’t say I was overly surprised when it won. However, this was my first ever podcast (recorded last Sunday), and I was so horrifically bad in it that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to enjoy said film again. The episode has now dropped, and is available on iTunes (search Lambcast in podcasts) or via this link. I urge you to listen to it more for the scintillating discussion between Dan Heaton, Justin Gott, Kristen Lopez and Nick Jobe  than for my dismal contribution, however if I’ve ever wronged you in the past (a list longer than I’d like), then you may also enjoy the podcast, for different reasons. If you could just ignore my horribly grating, nasally drone whenever it aggravates your eardrums and pretend instead it was just a four-way chat then I’d appreciate it.
Maybe it was because I’m a first timer and everyone else there seemed far more experienced at it than I, probably because they are and some of them regularly hold podcasts of their own, or maybe it’s that I’m genuinely not very good at talking about films with real live actual people without using a keyboard (it doesn’t happen very often), but I’d like to issue an apology to Dan, Justin, Kristen and Nick for lowering the quality of the podcast, and for relentlessly interrupting and talking over them when I had nothing very interesting to say. I was nervous, and it’s never been more abundantly clear that when talking about films, I truly do not know what I’m talking about. Also, I hate public speaking, so signing up for a podcast was probably a pretty dumb thing to do. Don’t worry, I won’t do it again.
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Guaranteed Happiness: Amelie

As I mentioned recently, I came 2nd in the Lamb’s So You Think You Can Review tournament. This was one of the films I reviewed for that competition, but as it was on the List as well I figureed I’d use it here too. All praise recycling!In 1997, after having made two successful, distinctly stylised French films with his co-director Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet popped over to Hollywood to make Alien: Resurrection, a film widely regarded as one of the worst sequels ever to appear on the big screen. You’d have to go a long way to find someone who liked it, and I’d suggest you don’t start with me. Upon returning to his home town of Paris, Jeunet found himself seeing the once-familiar city with fresh eyes, and set out to make a film that would reflect the magic and beauty he had rediscovered. That film is Amélie.

Telling the story of Amélie Poulain (Audrey Tautou), a girl with an overactive imagination but an undernourished heart who develops a taste for bringing happiness into the lives of the people around her, this isa delightful, light-hearted chocolate-box fantasy romance that only occasionally threatens to choke you on its saccharine sweetness. Amélie herself is a wonderful creation, despite her less-than-wonderful upbringing. She was raised by a military physician father (Rufus) and schoolmistress mother (Lorella Cravotta). Her only physical contact with another life form was the annual check-up provided by her father. Such unaccustomed moments of intimacy caused her heart to beat faster, which her Dad diagnosed as being a heart defect, so kept his daughter at home, away from the other children. This, along with a suicidal goldfish and a childhood tragedy, gave Amélie a unique perspective on life that she would carry on into adulthood, where she works as a waitress in a corner cafe in Montmartre alongside its rogues’ gallery of eccentric staff and clientele.
A chance reaction to the death of Princess Diana leads Amélie to discover a treasure trove left by her apartment’s previous inhabitants, so she sets about planning to return the childhood trinkets. She revels in the feeling of harmony she gets from helping others, be they strangers or regular players within her life – though she isn’t close enough to anyone to really call them a friend. Along the way she crosses paths with Nino Quincampoix (Mattieu Kassovitz, director of the seminal La Haine), and finds herself falling in love with this fellow outcast who skips in time to her own offbeat pace, yet her life so far – devoid of affection, interaction and intimacy – ensures that theirs will not be the smoothest of romantic relationships.
From the opening credits – featuring a young Amélie (Flora Guiet) engaging in a variety of nostalgia-inducing childhood antics including peeling dried glue from her fingers and making her hand into a puppet – it is clear this film is a genuine heart-warmer, yet imbued with a tinge of sadness. For all of Amélie’s boundless levels of enjoyment, you can’t help but notice that as a child she was always alone. The film delights in making the ordinary extraordinary, for example by looking at the events occurring simultaneously with Amélie’s birth – a fly being run over, two wine glasses dancing on a wind-buoying tablecloth, a man erasing his deceased friend’s name from his phonebook. Alone, these individual events are almost mundane, but together they contain every aspect of life, from the tender to the tragic.
Though it was released six years before the term was coined, this film displays a unique perspective on the manic pixie dream girl mythology, as we see the film almost entirely from the point of view of said fantastical creature. In more traditional films, the character of Amélie would be the love interest in Nino’s story, and not the other way around, and she’d be played by Zooey Deschanel. If anything, he is a typical leading man archetype, an eccentric loner, working a job he hates to fund an obscure passion project, just waiting for the girl of his dreams to stumble into his life and turn it upside down, yet thankfully this is not his story, he is the supporting player and it is with his influence that Amélie finds her life being disrupted, just as she disrupts those around her.
Tautou is absolutely perfect as the eponymous mirth-maker. Gifted with the role of a title character and appearing in almost every scene yet with barely any dialogue, Tautou manages to express every emotion going through her exceptionally beautiful brown eyes, body language and face framed with a Louise Brooks bob. Interestingly, the role was originally written with Emily Watson in mind, but I think even she would have struggled to match Tautou’s blend of purity, yearning and a rare, beguiling charm. Be it when she is skimming stones, cracking a crème brulee or suppressing laughter during an early attempt at intercourse, Tautou is exquisite in the role she will probably always be best known for. Her delivery of the line “I am nobody’s little weasel” almost brings me to tears.
As usual with any Jeunet picture, the cinematography is beautiful. The colour scheme is heavily influenced by Brazilian artist Juarez Machado, particularly the use of rich browns, oranges and reds for the interior shots. A glowing orange outline will reveal a hidden key, or a glowing heart, and Jeunet’s elaborate camerawork lovingly follows faces, feet and hands as they go about their day, picking up stones and placing them in pockets for future skimming sessions. Some have shunned Jeunet’s debris-free vision of Paris, devoid of litter, ethnic diversity and graffiti, but at heart this is a whimsical fairytale, seen through the filter of its titular pixie’s naive, twee imagination, within which the harshest crimes are committed verbally, and easily remedied with Amélie’s own brand of karmic vengeance. In this world, garden gnomes can travel the world, lamps have nocturnal discussions with photographs of dogs and beggars refuse to accept money on a Sunday, as they are taking the day off.
Though the overarching narrative is one of romance, it is the comedy of the film that really shines through, predominantly from the cast of quirky characters that litter the screen, most of whom are played by actors from other Jeunet works. Be it the bathroom encounter of the hypochondriac Georgette (Isabelle Nanty) and the embittered Joseph (Dominique Pinon), the comeuppance of the bullish greengrocer Collignon (Urbain Cancelier) or a mistaken phonecall to an adult store during which our heroine is informed that “Fur pie doesn’t sell,” the comedic moments are many and varied. Yann Tiersen’s accordion-rich score is ever-so-French (I’m listening to it as I write, my feet have yet to stop tapping) and the occasional use of offbeat instrumentation such as a typewriter and bicycle chains further increases the levels of whimsy, as if that were even possible.
In my opinion, the best kind of film is one that leaves the viewer wanting to be a better person, and that is certainly the case here. The morals of Amélie are clear: be kind to others, be yourself, and enjoy the little things.
Choose film 10/10

Guaranteed Happiness: Wall-E

Welcome to the first post in my new semi-regular feature, Guaranteed Happiness. I’ve discovered that a lot of the films I’ve watched recently haven’t necessarily dealt with very happy subjects, and this has been getting me down a bit. Now and then, I’d quite like to watch a happy film, or one that’s uplifting and ensures that I’ll have a big stupid grin on my face for at least 80% of it, and definitely at the end. After all, I’d much rather write about a film I’m passionate about, and I tend to have more to say about films that make me smile than those that make me suicidal. Praise should be aimed squarely between the shoulders of my girlfriend then, for sticking on Pixar’s gem Wall-E when I was in a decidedly cranky mood a little while ago. The aim was for me to sit down and write some posts, which to be honest I was in no mood to do after a fairly crappy day at work and having to shell out over a considerable amount of cash to fix my bike, yet as soon as the film began all thoughts of blogging and even glancing at my laptop screen were out the window.So, why do I love Wall-E? The simple answer is robots. It’ll come as no surprise to regular readers that a film featuring robots (or dinosaurs, time travel or Stephen Tobolowsky) will immediately be watched with heightened levels of glee. And the fact that it’s made by Pixar, a company that has made some of my favourite films to date, and is where I’d be willing to sell several members of my immediate family to work at, then so much the better.This is my favourite Pixar film, which is definitely saying something. I adore the Toy Story trilogy (especially, predictably, Rex), but there’s something about Wall-E‘s simplicity, its pared down scope and focus on telling a straightforward story in new, interesting, and above all, beautiful ways.

The plot is basic: in the not-too-distant future, the human race has polluted and destroyed the world so much that life has become unsustainable, and the only hope lies in the Axiom, a titanic spaceship resplendent with every luxurious convenience to fulfil any desire. Earth has been abandoned and left to the robots, who spend the next few hundred years tidying the place up. Wall-E, our intrepid hero, is the last surviving ‘bot, and he spends his days making and stacking little cubes of garbage into towering skyscrapers of trash, accompanied by his only friend, a cockroach. One day, a ship descends from the heavens, carrying EVE, a futuristic, high tech reconnaissance droid, and Wall-E is instantly smitten.

The tale of a schlubby, down-on-his-luck guy falling in love with an out-of-his-league wonder girl is hardly new, but as far as I know this is the first time it’s been told almost entirely wordlessly, and about mechanical beings. A certain amount of disbelief needs to be suspended to watch the film – the robots seem to have far more personality than they should have been implanted with in the factory – but this results in one of the most well-rounded characters in all of Pixar’s history. Wall-E (which stands for Waste Allocated Load Lifter – Earth Class, something I know from memory) has a love for all things quirky, unusual or fascinating, be it a Rubik’s cube, egg whisk or an old VHS of Hello Dolly!, and watching him investigate the functions of each item – wearing a bra like sunglasses, accidentally erupting a fire extinguisher – are a joy to behold. As are his attempts to woo the evidently disinterest EVE (whose acronym would be a spoiler). The couple’s dates are more moving and say far more than any scene of dialogue could.

It’s almost impossible to narrow the film down to my favourite scene, but I’d probably say EVE and Wall-E’s space flight. It’s nothing short of a work of art, as the two bots fly a merry courtship dance around one another, set to Thomas Newman’s beautiful score. In fact, every scene between just those two, all almost entirely devoid of dialogue, are so very easily lost in. Their relationship feels natural and real, and if anything the films is at a detriment as the plot moves away from Earth, and the story looks past our central couple.

There’s a few messages hidden not too deeply in the film – stop fucking up the Earth, grow your own food, get off your arse and exercise – but to be fair these are all fairly good messages, when compared to the standard Disney fare of wait for a handsome prince to come and rescue you. Wall-E’s messages are ones I personally agree with (“even if I don’t necessarily live by them,” he says, patting the spare tyre around his midriff) so I don’t really mind such unsubtle preaching in a film, especially one as entertaining as this.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’d have loved nothing more than to have been part of the character design team on this film. Wall-E himself has been so carefully thought out with regard to how he works and fits together. I may have appreciated this more than most, being a mechanical engineer by trade, but I think everyone should be impressed by the level of detail. Apparently the design team at Pixar meticulously analysed various machines, working out which ones were ‘male’ and which were ‘female’, and what characteristics defined these genders. Wall-E has clearly been inspired by more clunkier, mechanical machinery, as seen in factories and assembly lines, whilst the sleek, white plastic of EVE is straight out of an Apple store.

As you’ve probably realised, I love this film. The Wall-E poster, a giant pair of his eyes looking inquisitively out of the frame, justifiably hangs in in my lounge, yet I think it almost qualifies as one of the ‘other’ Pixar films that isn’t about toys, fish or superheroes. From the small details – sci-fi queen Sigourney Weaver voicing the Axiom’s tannoy – to the fully realised plot and the brilliance of casting Ben Burtt, the voice of R2D2, as Wall-E, I cannot fault this film in the least, and nor would I want to. And I’d still be trying to get Randy Newman’s closing credits song out of my head if it wasn’t so bloody good.

Choose film 10/10