Mark your calender for September 18, 2009 as CineRobot history was made. On my recent trip to London I set a record--most expensive movie ticket ever paid by me for a new release. In fact, I broke the record a couple of times (London is expensive!).
The official new record: $20.64 (which is what the 13 pounds translates to on that day's exchange rate).
I saw Sin Nombre at the Apollo Picadilly Circus Theatre. Over $20? Madness!
Andy Kaufman is one of my favorite entertainers of the past thirty plus years. He took comedy to some odd places that it had never gone before but I had never seen his famously bad 1981 film Heartbeeps until recently. Wow. Heartbeeps lived up to the hype--it is bad, really, really bad. It's one of those rare creatures though, it's so awful, and you know it's horrible as you watch it, but you can not turn it off or look away. Train wreck city that leaves you thinking--how did this movie get made? So, in some weird way, it's actually good despite it being so crappy! Make sense?
Heartbeeps is something that could only have been made in the early 1980s. Straight to video is a term invented for a film like this. Kaufman and Bernadette Peters star as robots who escape a robotics factory and go on a walkabout. Okay, I'm intrigued with that so far. They build a baby robot for some reason (it does cute robot baby stuff!) and are joined on their journey by an old school borscht belt robot named Catskill. While they are gone they are pursued by a defective police robot known as Crimebuster Deluxe and a couple of bumbling factory workers (one of which is Randy Quaid). The pair engage in lots of robot based discussion about the world they encounter (one of them: what is a rainbow?) that expresses the similarities between human relationships and ones between artificial intelligence.
Heartbeeps is supposed to be set far enough from 1981 that it's very futuristic and modern yet it's 1981 technology on display. Rather than trying to come up with new things--we get large computer consoles with blinking green text on the all black screen, Atari 2600 joysticks, bad '80s rock band haircuts and outfits (Christopher Guest has a small role wearing some crazy overalls out in a junk yard and looking like he should have been on the set of Revenge of the Nerds set in alternate world). They do come up with things like beer in a bag so I don't want to completely rag on their imaginations. Beer in a bag, that's about it.
I'm glad I saw Heartbeeps as it's one of the few, if only, things with Kaufman in it I hadn't seen. It's terrible yet oddly captivating due to its cheesy, silly, over earnest ways. It is worth seeing if you like Kaufman or the genre of "it's so bad it's good." I can see why Kaufman was interested in making Heartbeeps as it taps into his love of innocence and childlike awe. He had those things in his comedy from day one. Too bad this wasn't up to the high standards he had set in his work in television and stand-up comedy.
It's been awhile since I've written about a French actress so let's put a stop to that right now. Meet Charlotte Gainsbourg if you don't already know her.. It's been hard to avoid her if you like French or indie films as this has been a great decade for Gainsbourg. She's piled up a collection of interesting roles and has more on the way. She's balanced taking on everything from French romantic comedy to historical drama. There is a lot of buzz about her performance in the upcoming flamethrower of a film, Lars von Trier's Antichrist, so it doesn't look as if Gainsbourg is going to slow down anytime soon.
Gainsbourg, who is the daughter of influential singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg and English actress Jane Birkin, started the decade off right with My Wife Is An Actress (2001), a fun farce about relationships written and directed by her husband, Yvan Attal. She appeared in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's bleak fest 21 Grams and another French comedy Happily Ever After in 2003/2004. In 2006 Gainsbourg took on probably my favorite role of hers in Michel Gondry's surreal romance The Science of Sleep. I love that quirky film. I also liked the no-nonsense historical drama Golden Door (2006), a tale of immigrants trying to just get to New York and through the Ellis Island experience that wasn't always so welcoming.
Gainsbourg decided to go the route of her father in 2007 with the release of a record called "5.55." Unlike some other vanity projects by actors/actresses (the list is too long to go into but you know who these people are), Gainsbourg, who teamed up with the French electronic duo Air on the album, produced a quality album of moody French and English language songs. While not as good as Zooey Deschanel's foray into the music world (She & Him), this might be the second best recent release by an actor/actress trying to create music. The song "Beauty Mark" sealed Gainsbourg into my mind for a long time to come.
I'm in Edinburgh, Scotland for a few days. It's a real change of pace from when I was in London. Less people, slower, easier to walk the city without looking at a map every five minutes, less to do, better accents.
I've fallen in love with two art house theatres in Edinburgh--Cameo and Filmhouse. These two theatres are close to one another and specialize in indie, documentary, foreign and rep cinema--in other words, my kind of place. The Cameo originally opened as a Vaudeville house in 1914 and I love the ex-Vaudeville theatres. There's something so ghostly about those rooms to me. Filmhouse is a converted church! How cool is that? It sits on a bustling street with a pair of strip joints with lurid neon of women on poles in the window of one of them. There's nothing better than coming out of a theatre in an urban setting and having strip bar neon lighting up the sidewalks.
I saw four films at the Cameo and Filmhouse on my visit and one thing I realized is they show a lot of commercials before the features over here. You think we have it bad in America with the pre-show commercials? Move to Scotland, it's much worse. One film started at 6.15 with the first commercial but between that and the trailers that followed the film began at 6.35. Twenty minutes of commercials! They seem endless and cover everything from Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream to Scottish travel to bank ads. If you see a bunch of movies this would drive you absolutely batty. I was fed up in just the couple of days I've been here.
What have I seen here? I caught the new Pedro Almodovar Broken Embraces and liked it a lot. He's been on a creative roll lately. Penelope Cruz is a pretty good actress in her Spanish films. When she's in one with English she seems terrible but I love to see her in something from Spain and her and Almodovar are kindred spirits (this is film #4 for her and Pedro). I was pretty disappointed in the documentary The September Issue that is about Vogue magazine, fashion and its editor Anna Wintour. I thought it was kind of dull and uninteresting. I saw a Jean Renoir film I'd never seen with his 1951 set in India drama The River. It was a beautiful Technicolor film print that had the Filmhouse so packed I had to sit in the front row (right next to a guy who yelled at some people in the back for being noisy during the Citizen Kane trailer--my kind of guy!). I also fed my Danish fix by watching the over the top romantic thriller melodrama Just Another Love Story. Not great but it's set in Denmark, which is enough for me.
I'm heading back to London for a few more days and have two or three things I'm wanting to see--a Polish film called Tricks and the French crime two parter Mesrine. A lot of other stuff I need to do there so not sure I'll get to them. I'll give it my best shot of course.
I'm stealing the motto of London's Odeon's chain where they claim they are "fanatical about film." The new motto of CineRobot: psychotic about cinema! That just sounds a little more serious and frightening. Here's a blurry photo of me in front of the Covent Garden Odeon.
I've only seen three films the past week while in London because Sarah and I were just really busy. There's so much to do in London that we were ambushed by other things--walking the maze of city streets, museuming, eating, figuring out what to eat, shopping, resting, stopping and looking at the fold out map that rested perpetually in my right back pocket. We'd finally make it to a theatre and plop down exhausted and foot-sore after a day's activity.
Another reason we haven't seen a bunch is that I've crushed my personal record for most amount paid to watch a film--factoring in the conversion of dollars into pounds, it costs about $18 to watch a single movie. You got it, eighteen bucks! The previous high for me was $12 so there's a new benchmark that's going to be hard to top.
The three films Sarah and I saw were: Big River Man, Coco Before Chanel and Fish Tank. The best of the three is the gritty, British, teenage rebellion film Fish Tank. While there's been a lot of films similar to this--Fish Tank pulls no punches and is somber and intense. Coco Before Chanel, starring Audrey Tautou, on the other hand is dull, dull and more dull. I almost went to sleep during the first thirty minutes--maybe this was due the fact I'd traipsed all over London before I saw it? No, I don't think that's it as it's just not a great film and has lots of problems.
I'm up early tomorrow morning to catch the 6.19am train into London King's Cross Station; then I'm on the 8.00am train to Edinburgh for the next 3+ days. I've located a couple of theatres there so I plan on seeing at least one film there.
The moment this post hits CineRobot I will be in a jet heading to the UK for a couple of weeks. I'll mostly be in the London area except for four day jaunt by train up to Edinburgh. I'll try to post things while on my trip--might be short posts, might be more frequent than once every three days, might just be photos of movie theatres or who knows what.
The film of August, and maybe 2009, was without a doubt The Hurt Locker. Recommended! District 9 was also very good. I enjoyed Inglorious Basterds more than Tarantino's last couple of films but still felt it was flawed in some aspects. I saw three films with the word "heart" in the title toward the end of the month which I didn't realize until I was writing the films down for this post.