Why I Love: Barton Fink (1991)

As soon as promising Broadway writer Barton Fink (John Tutturo) steps inside the Hotel Earle, it immediately becomes apparent that something isn’t right. The unsettlingly long hallways, the oddly perky receptionist named ‘Chet’ and the lack of any other human residents all contributes to an incredibly eerie and creepy environment that is at the very heart of the Coen Brothers’ 1991 masterpiece. Like the Overlook Hotel from The Shining, which the Coens have cited as an inspiration, the Hotel Earle becomes a character of its own, embodying a terrifying, almost completely alien presence over Barton’s time in Hollywood. It seems to be leading him directly to his own downfall, almost as a punishment for selling out to the corporate fat cats of the film industry. Barton has made a very highly praised and successful stage production, and often professes of his desire to tell the story of ‘the common man’, to create a means to give them a voice. Not only does Barton not realise this means has already been created, Hollywood, he sells out his lofty principles for a pay check and tells himself he’s doing a good thing. Fink himself is a very odd central character for the Coens; unlike most of their ‘heroes’, Barton Fink is inherently dislikeable, a bumbling hypocrite who claims to fight for the common man but when the physical embodiment of the common man is in front of him, in the form of John Goodman’s friendly Charlie Meadows, he disregards his opinions and his stories. This basic ignorance on Fink’s part ultimately leads to his dramatic downfall in true Coen style, as the world around him collapses spectacularly.

Barton’s inability to understand and create for Hollywood is a major theme of the movie.

At its most basic form, Barton Fink is a story about a writer with writer’s block, written by writers with writer’s block. Confusing? The Coens churned out Barton Fink after becoming completely stuck in the process of writing Miller’s Crossing, and the influence this frustration had on them is clear to see in Barton’s character. He becomes totally alienated and confused as to what Hollywood expects of him, he foolishly believes that they expect to make their assignment of a ‘wrestling picture’ into a masterpiece. What Barton cannot grasp is that he needs to lower his own standards in order to meet those of Hollywood, who expect him to easily scribble down a generic B-movie. However, due to its cryptic clues and heavy symbolism, Barton Fink has been debated to be about anything from slavery to the holocaust. The writer Barton tries to take advice from, W.P Mahew has gone from a great talent to a phony, loudmouthed drunk, who sings slave songs and has invisible shackles on chaining him forever to the curse of Hollywood. Not only do many see this as an overbearing metaphor about Hollywood and slavery, the later references to Hitler and the Holocaust also lead some to think that Barton’s fight for the common man (plus his later cowardice and ignorant nature towards them) are statements by the Coens about the general cowardice that many took in World War II when presented with the reality of the Nazi’s terror. Barton Fink is a lovely little puzzle of a movie, sparking off debates and theories that will likely never fully be resolved.

The reason I love Barton Fink is because every time I watch it I always have something new to ponder, something new to question and analyse through the Coens complicated labyrinth of a story. Not only is it a fantastic example of storytelling in cinema, it also has wonderful cinematography, exceptional acting and is one of the best effort’s of one of the best filmmakers of all time. The Coen Brothers may often be unpredictable in the quality of their work, but when they hit gold they make some of the most bizarre, fascinating and beautiful movies you’re ever likely to see. I love Barton Fink because I don’t truly understand it, and that means it will always be endlessly fascinating to experience again and again.

Why I Love: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

‘Why I Love’ is a new set of posts I will be writing to introduce some older, personal favourite films onto the site. Before now I only reviewed new releases straight from the cinema, so I hope people enjoy a more personal selection of my very favourite films. 

The concept of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, released in 2004, is universal. Joel Barish, a timid man played to perfection by the dazzling Jim Carrey, has found out his current partner Clementine (Kate Winslet) has wiped her memory of him forever. He, in a fit of rage and regret, decides to wipe his mind of her as well, in a misjudged attempt to get back at her for breaking his heart. As the memory wipe takes place, he relives every memory of them together, and he literally changes his mind about changing his mind.  At one moment in the film, Joel loses one of his most beautiful memories of the beautiful Clementine, and he drops to his knees and screams to the sky. He wants to call it all off. He has finally realised that the memories he holds are painful but yet precious to him, and everyone experiences this feeling at some point through their life. It isn’t just a film about love; it is a film about memories, and the painful yet necessary desire to hold onto them forever. Charlie Kaufman’s wonderfully haunting script, plus Michel Gondry’s inventive direction ensure that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind isn’t just universal, but also effortlessly timeless.

With a complex narrative structure and a plot that primarily takes place inside a person’s subconscious, Eternal Sunshine is anything but an easy film to understand. Through his intriguing and unique directorial style, Gondry puts together a wonderfully surreal take on the inner workings of the mind, and the eternal value of memories. The film’s title is taken from a poem by Alexander Pope, and refers to the supposed happiness we achieve from ignorance, which the screenplay writer, and modern film-writing genius Charlie Kaufman explores and critiques, arguing that the happiness achieved from ignorance is cold and shallow. And this writing extraordinaire Kaufman also references Pope’s poem in his other mini-masterpiece, 1999’s Being John Malkovich, and he again professes this obvious love of the poem through a strikingly personal and haunting screenplay. Kaufman’s writing is always complicated, and Eternal Sunshine is actually quite simple by his standards; he has written films about himself attempting to write a film (Adaptation), about a playwright who creates a twenty-four-hour production the size of a city to re-enact his life (Synecdoche, New York) and about an office block which contains a portal which allows someone to become esteemed actor John Malkovich for an hour. He is an endlessly fascinating and remarkable source of ideas, and in Eternal Sunshine he shows his simpler, more emotional side. It is a script full of beauty, emotions and pure wonder; in it Kaufman understands the love we feel as humans in a way few other movies have done. Of course, he makes a romantic movie into a science fiction movie, which is just the way he is. He complicates, he probes: he never does it the easy way. Underneath this layer of mystery and invented technology Kaufman explores memories as the very source of our humanity and our souls, as a source of pain but also as a source of beauty. Joel Barish has the chance to erase his memories, and only as he relives them does he realise how great a source of happiness they are.

It is easy to overlook the fantastic visual presentation of the movie, due to the phenomenal nature of the performances and themes.

Through his performance in the Truman Show, Jim Carrey showed the world just what a supremely talented actor he is. Through Eternal Sunshine, he eclipses all of his past work; it is a wonderfully accomplished and heart-breaking performance. Although many have a stereotypical view of Jim Carrey as a clown, a circus act on the big screen, those who stopped and took notice of his performance in The Truman Show really did understand the scope and depth of his talent. He is the perfect shy figure to balance out the rowdy and unforgiving persona of the brilliant Clementine, played with verve and panache by Kate Winslet, who deservedly received Academy Award nomination for this exceptional performance. She has the seemingly impossible job of creating an unbearably impulsive and loud-mouthed character while also showing us why Joel Barish falls in love with her at all. Alongside Carrey and Winslet there are some excellent supporting roles for Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst and Elijah Wood. The characters mirror and interweave the main story with a sub-plot which is as intriguing and emotionally poignant as Joel and Clementine’s tale. The sub-plot is also a device used by Kaufman to bring the viewers back to the real world; much of the film takes place in Joel’s bedroom as he is having his memory wiped. He hears them talking about his girlfriend, and to his shock, one of the people wiping his memory has asked his girlfriend out and, in a despicable but hilarious twist, is using his words and memories to woo her. The sub-plot runs smoothly through the film in an effort to counter-balance the surreal images being shown in Joel’s head as his memories of Clementine are being stolen one by one, and it is another wonderful element of a wonderful film.

A modern classic, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a glorious puzzle of a film that has the power to stay with you well after the final credits. The reason it hasn’t diminished in quality in the decade since it was released is because it is truly timeless; it presents themes and ideas that will always be relevant to society and each individual can relate to it on a personal level. It is an underrated piece of movie magic; Kaufman’s script understands the human soul, and Michel Gondry’s mazy direction helps us to understand the personal struggle of the troubled main character, which shows us that the worst memories are always balanced by the glorious ones. It never slows down; it never loses its touching and heart-breaking spirit. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of the best films of the last twenty years. It is a deliriously enthralling movie.

Guardians Of The Galaxy- The Review

I’ve become so alienated, and disinterested with the Superhero genre in cinema. Every year, Marvel and DC churn out waves of boring sequels, with uninspired performances, ugly settings and nonsensical plots. Although The Amazing Spider Man 2 and Man Of Steel gave me a slightly fresher outlook, the seemingly endless parade of drab efforts like the Thor and Captain America franchises depressed me to the extent where I almost gave up on the Superhero genre entirely, which is a section of cinema that seems to constantly be striving to live up to the legacy that Christopher Nolan left behind with his revolutionary Dark Knight trilogy. However, in a period where I was almost completely cut away from the world of Superheroes, Guardians of the Galaxy comes along to blow the world’s collective socks off. Marvel has found its groove again from an unlikely source, moving away briefly from the household names of Spider Man and The Avengers to concentrate on a science-fiction epic about a bunch of criminal misfits trying to make their way in the Galaxy. It has more fun, colour and pure brilliance in its opening title scene then the last handful of Superhero movies do mashed together. Simply put, Marvel has rediscovered their all-important sense of fun. 

From that opening scene, which I dare not spoil, the tone is set, and it is also immediately apparent this is no ordinary Superhero flick. Soon, we are introduced to the Guardians themselves; Peter Quill, a scavenger, Gamora, an assassin, Drax, a lunatic, Groot, a talking tree, and Rocket Raccoon, a criminal talking Raccoon. All the members are dramatically different in personality and colour, shape and size, and all of them are played extremely well by their actors. The film is in part an origin story, but not for any character in particular, but instead for the team they form. It is strange watching the first in a Superhero franchise not knowing a huge deal about each character, and the film is actually much better for this. Without legions of dull back story and exposition, each character is allowed to grow and breathe with the story, and seeing them in action is a much more effective device as to get the audience to connect to them all. 

Bradley Cooper’s Rocket Raccoon undoubtedly steals the show.

The reason Guardians of the Galaxy stands out so distinctly in its genre is because it isn’t afraid to take risks. The palette of the film is unusually bright, with every colour under the rainbow being used to create an incredibly lush and beautiful cinematic style. Not only does this wonderful style ease the viewer in, but the fantastic humour also helps keep the very tongue-in-cheek tone that the concept and the characters need to successfully work. The movie also has perhaps the best soundtrack of the year, with some classic tunes from Peter Quill’s ‘Awesome Mix’, which is played throughout the film for a whole variety of purposes, whether they are romantic, humorous, or dramatic. It is so rare to see a movie put all its eggs in one basket when it comes to creative choices; the director and writers have decided exactly how crazy and fun Guardians Of The Galaxy is going to be, and they do not hold back one bit. It is a crazy, brilliant, inspired ride, and one which could break the genre open again once more. It isn’t perfect; some of the action is too frantic, and some of the plot doesn’t fit together as well as one would hope, and it isn’t quite in a ‘film of the year’ standard of quality. However, it is easily one of the best Superhero movies of the last five years, if not the best, and I can’t see where Marvel will take it next. You won’t have more fun at a cinema this year. 

Best Bit

The prison escape plotted by Rocket Raccoon is a fantastic piece of cinema, mainly due to the various twists and turns it takes, constantly surprising the audience in the best way possible. Full of colour, action, and laughs, it expresses the movie perfectly. 

Worst Bit

Sometimes, too many secondary plots are flicked through in quick succession, making some brief sections slightly confusing and rushed. The pure ambition of Guardians of the Galaxy is incredible, and yet this very same ambition does occasionally slow it down. 

Overall

Although it doesn’t always hit all of its targets, Guardians of the Galaxy is an exhilarating science-fiction adventure which highlights an extremely welcome change of pace and direction for Marvel, even if it only lasts until Avengers 2. Through its charismatic performances and stellar CGI, the film becomes an enjoyable romp, but the addition of a wonderfully bright colour-scheme, side-splitting humour and a fantastic soundtrack all contribute to make one of the outrageously enjoyable blockbusters of recent memory. Hopefully, in terms of Marvel’s cinematic future, the Guardians are here for the long haul. 

4/5