Sunday, July 29, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: BELLFLOWER(2011) Directed by Evan Glodell

Written and Directed by Evan Glodell

Produced by Vincent Grashaw and Evan Glodell 

Cinematography by Joel Hodge

Original Music by Johnathan Keevil

Film Editing by Evan Glodell, Vincent Grashaw, Joel Hodge, and Johnathan Keevil

Evan Glodell as Woodrow
Tyler Dawson as Aiden
Jessie Wiseman as Milly
Rebekah Brandes as Courtney
Vincent Grashaw as Mike

Somewhere in California, two friends, Woodrow and Aiden, entertain fantasies of living like the masked warlord from a certain famous post-apocalyptic action movie. Their shared fantasy needs toys. To that end, they start to build a flamethrower, and make plans for a tricked-out hot rod to cruise the radioactive wastelands in style. Their fantasies are, perhaps, a kind of psychological armor against a world without any real jobs, culture (aside from cricket-eating contests held in shitty hipster bars) or hope, and where the only healthcare is DIY: alcohol, nicotine, cannabis, bacon, and sloppy sex. But Aiden actually seems to have some skill as a mechanic and that flamethrower and that supercar might actually get built. Woodrow's talent seems to have more to do with streetfighting, and with building beverage dispensation apparatus. Woodrow and Aiden, together, make a kind of ideal player character to inhabit their pulpy, second-hand fantasy world.

Aiden and Woodrow go to one of the cricket eating contests where Woodrow competes against a young woman named Milly. Milly out-gobbles Woodrow, and the two exchange digits. Soon, the two of them are taking a road trip to Texas in a car modified to clandestinely dispense whiskey from a concealed reservoir. Woodrow thinks they're falling in love. Milly's having a good time, but she's much more worldly than him. In an early scene her roommate Mike complains that she hasn't paid her share of the rent, and she brushes it off by insisting that the landlord has a crush on her. Milly seems to be okay with using her sexuality to get over on others, and her manipulations, when measured against what some of the other characters do in this movie, are rather mild. What's more morally dubious? Knocking someone's teeth out in a drunken rage, or fucking someone's brains out? I personally cannot condemn Milly for her actions. One of the other characters in this movie is a little more old-fashioned . . .

There are a number of scenes where characters drink and drive. Now that I think of it, I think every scene where a character is driving also shows them drinking alcohol at the same time. No, I'm not getting all Nancy Reagan here, but it seems to be thematically important: the characters have beer for breakfast, beer to make the commute to nowhere (nobody seems to have a job, and there seem to be no jobs to be had) smoother, and beer with whiskey in the evenings in lieu of dinner. Aiden, Woodrow, Milly, and their friends seem to be binge drinkers at best and alcoholics at worst. Drinking  serves to pass the time in a world where there really isn't any goddamn thing to do. Even the police seem reluctant to enforce the law. Maybe the city budget was cancelled and all the cops fired. The movie doesn't come out and say it, but it seems like people are left to deal with shit on their own, no more safety net, no more rule of law except maybe for extreme infractions, and only emergency room care for catastrophic injuries . . .

Bellflower creates a strange and disturbing mood. I went into it expecting, based on the trailer, a kind of romp, and was jolted by the raw pettiness of the characters. At first, Aiden and Woodrow's fantasy seems epic, seems like an adventure. But the movie suggests that it is a kind of macho death fantasy worthy of Mel Gibson and Yukio Mishima. I dug it. It circumvents the all-too-familiar bullshit narrative of regeneration through violence and comes up with something messier and more complex.

I also appreciated the alternately sinister and sentimental soundtrack. It seemed to key into the weird mixture of innocence and rage in which the characters' minds seem to swim. One moment they're having a cutesy drunk cuddle with a second hand porn paperback, and the next they're loosing vengeful obliteration. The music is effective in creating the soundscape of these damaged minds.

I didn't even feel like I was watching actors so much as I was watching behavior. All of the actors are completely unfamiliar to me, and I believe this is a first film from director Evan Glodell. My unfamiliarity with the cast allowed me to see them only as the characters and not as movie stars dirtying themselves up for some art project. There is one scene in particular involving the character of Woodrow where he's puking into a toilet and it looks about as authentic as possible. The outtakes on the DVD provide further confirmation of this . . .

For a movie that deals with heavy, filthy subject matter it has a nice look to it. It's widescreen with a mixture of handheld and calculated types of shots to liven it up. It sometimes seemed to be channeling a little bit of Tony Scott's frenetic acid trails kind of visuals but more grounded. No big action movie scenes here, no human beings outrunning rapidly expanding fireballs, or endlessly spraying bullets from assault weapons loaded up with Hollywood clips. Everything, especially the violence, is rooted in physics and physiology.

Bellflower is, maybe, a pre-apocalypse movie. It seems to depict the last crumbling bits of what it will be like to be an urban dweller in the United States right before shit gets real fuckin' ugly. Or maybe, considering it was released in 2011, it actually is supposed to be a post-apocalypse movie. 2011. We're talking post-9/11, post-Mission Accomplished, post-economic meltdown,  post Iraq War, getting on towards post-Afghanistan, the defeat of universal healthcare by Republican activism and Democratic compromise, and a further degeneration of American intellectual life. People have no interest in science or culture (aside from competitive bug eating and how to make lethal weapons and fast vehicles). No one talks about religion or spirituality, so it's kind of like people have finally given up the pretense that bullshit like that has any substance to it. The world collapses into a tiny group of friends who drink too much, and can't see three feet past their own pain and desire. And their B-movie, fan fiction daydreams nudge them on to conflict and annihilation.

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