What the Bleep/Down the Rabbit Hole

What the Bleep Do We Know was a surprise cult favorite in 2004. Last year, an expanded edition, called Down the Rabbit Hole was released, containing new footage and a special feature that allows viewers to play the film in different sequences.

What the Bleep
is a fascinating quasi-documentary about recent discoveries in quantum physics and some of the philosophical and metaphysical implications of this new science. This makes the movie controversial, and it has attracted almost as much hostility as praise. To hardcore rationalists, What the Bleep is full of pseudo-science and unproven mystical theories. They especially dislike the presence of J.Z. Knight in the film, who is a channel for Ramtha, allegedly a spirit from ancient Atlantis.

Yes, from a traditional scientific or rationalist point of view, What the Bleep is easy to criticize or make fun of. Yet it could also be argued that this “traditional scientific” point of view is quite obsolete, relying as it does mainly on Newtonian physics. I am not even remotely qualified to discuss the validity of the physics experiments or commentary in What the Bleep. However, I can say that the film is a truly interesting and thought provoking exploration of a certain point of view, one that bridges science and mysticism. What the Bleep is really exploring the metaphysical ideas such as “you create your own reality” and attempting to show how modern physics supports this.

I call it a “quasi” documentary not because of the controversial nature of the science (after all, most documentaries contain debatable opinions or points of view), but because there is also a dramatic element to the film interspersed with the interviews. Marlee Matlin stars as a rather unhappy person who is searching for a more meaningful existence. Her travels through an unamed city (Toronto?) lead her to encounter people and ideas that gradually change her perspective. This adds a dramatic and human quality to the purely theoretical content, though some viewers have complained that it’s distracting to go back and forth between drama and documentary styles. I did not have a problem with it.

I would recommend What the Bleep, or Down the Rabbit Hole to anyone interested in scientific or metaphysical topics, no matter what your point of view. It may change your mind about some things, or it may convince you further of your present point of view. Either way, it can be a worthwhile piece of modern (or postmodern) thought to consider.

Office Noir: alienation and black comedy in the modern workplace

Do you work in an office? If you do, or if you have ever worked in one for any length of time, the environment probably reminds you of the Dilbert comic strip. Absurd rules, meaningless corporate mission statements, dimwitted, self-important managers, and so forth.

Several movies have used the sillier and more depressing aspects of modern work life as a theme. I am dubbing this genre of film Office Noir. I’m sure there are more examples than I am listing here. As I think of them or discover them, I’ll add to the list.

Office Space , directed by Mike Judge, is the best known, and has achieved something of cult status. Starring Ron Livingston and Jennifer Anniston, it is a black comedy that, sadly, rings true in its portrayal of office life. I found the best part of it the early scenes that illustrate the overall mindlessness of corporate culture . Several cubicle serfs rebel by concocting a farfetched plot to steal money from the company. Office Space is an often hilarious, sometimes depressing look at a way of life too many people are stuck in.

My favorite of the “office noir” genre, however, is a lesser known film called Clockwatchers . Directed by Jill Sprecher, who also did the brilliant 13 Conversations About One Thing, this movie is more subtle and slow moving than most, which probably accounts for its obscurity. The cast includes Toni Collette, Lisa Kudrow and Indie film favorite Parker Posey. Clockwatchers is about the grim lives of temp workers in a company setting that seems intent on reducing their lives and personalities to that of non-entities. By focusing on small things that make life miserable, and an increasing sense of anomie and paranoia, Clockwatchers captures a kind of existentialist mood that, sadly, is appropriate in many ways in regard to the modern work place.

A more recent addition to the genre is He Was a Quiet Man, directed by Frank Capello and starring Christian Slater (who is almost unrecognizable as a balding, middle-aged nerdy type). This film is the most uneven and ambiguous of the three. It hovers between drama and very dark comedy. Slater plays Bob, the stereotypical repressed, inwardly seething “quiet man” who fantasizes about killing his coworkers. In a bit of movie contrivance that stretches credibility to the limits, on the day he plans to carry out his mission, another killer emerges and Bob ends up shooting him.

Bob ends up being not only a hero, but winning the love of a young woman whom he saved. This film is less about the day-to-day absurdity of office life (though it uses this effectively as a backdrop) and more about the psychological complexity and inner struggles of potentially violent people like Bob.

Richard Linklater

Richard Linklater has directed at least as many innovative, cutting edge films that are also highly entertaining as any other director out there. The only other director I can think of who may be his equal in this regard is Jim Jarmusch (who has an equally original but very different style).

Slacker was his first film, an underground tour of Austin, Texas and its quirky inhabitants. I’m not sure if this is a pure documentary or mockumentary, but it is funny and enjoyable all the same. Look for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who has appeared in later Linklater efforts as well.

Dazed and Confused is a teen comedy without the mindless quality of most Hollywood versions of this genre. It takes place in the 70s on the last day of high school. It’s an episodic tale of the various kinds of kids who populate any school and their goals, desires, fears and, as the title suggests, confusion.

Before Sunrise is one of the best dialogue-centered movies ever made (among the others I’d include the sequel, Before Sunset, My Dinner With Andre and Coffee and Cigarettes). It’s very difficult to pull of a film with little conventional action, almost all talk, that is not only interesting to watch but doesn’t feel like a play. The fact that it takes place in scenic European cities, and on board trains, doesn’t hurt, nor do the performances by Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. The conversations seem real and spontaneous rather than scripted, yet they are intelligent and interesting as well.

Before Sunset
is one of those rare sequels that is just as good as the original, no small feat in this case. Delpy and Hawke continue where they left off, rekindling their tentative steps towards romance.

Waking Life
is another of my favorite Linklater films. This is an animated exploration of dreams, and it raises some timeless philosophical questions, such as how can we ever be sure what is “real” and what is a dream? Waking Life features the voices of many Linkater favorites such as Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and radical libertarian activist Alex Jones. A fascinating film, worth seeing several times.

Fast Food Nation
is based on the book by the same name, though this is a fictionalized version while the book is nonfiction. While this film has a definite and somewhat heavyhanded political message, Linklater’s good sense of dialogue and character save it from being tedious. Still, I would not call this his best film.

A Scanner Darkly is based on Philip K. Dick’s paranoid dystopian world of the near future where the Drug War is the dominant fact of life. This is a strange film, full of ambiguity and not always easy to follow. We are never sure exactly what is going on, but then neither are the characters themselves. Perhaps being familiar with Dick’s work (which I’m not, unfortunately) would make it clearer, but the movie is still interesting and illustrates some of the contradictions and hypocrisy inherent in the war on drugs.

Jim Jarmusch: Indie Film Pioneer

Jim Jarmusch is a director who has helped to define the modern independent film. His films are always interesting, often brilliant and possess a unique combination of minimalism, deadpan humor and keen observation about the human condition.

What follows are brief descriptions of some of Jarmusch’s better-known films. While I have seen all of these, some I’ve only seen once and quite a while ago, which will explain the extreme brevity of some of them. More information is available on the links.

Stranger Than Paradise is often cited as a breakthrough film, even the first indie film. However you define it, Stranger Than Paradise is a brilliant and hilarious look at the aimless lives of two drifters. This movie is practically a crash course in existentialism. Well, at least as I see it; I’m sure some scholars of Sartre or Heidegger would disagree, but it’s still a movie worth seeing, or seeing again.

Down By Law is almost a sequel to Stranger Than Paradise, coming a couple of years later and having a similar style. This one is about three convicts who escape from prison, but like its predecessor, it’s really about the absurdity of life and relationships. I enjoyed this one, but not quite as much as Stranger, because it seemed to be coasting a little on that film’s style and energy.

Mystery Train is a film where Jarmusch takes off in a new direction, using some of the techniques that became popular quite a bit later with directors like Quentin Tarantino, such as combining storylines of different characters and jumping around in time. Mystery Train looks at several people in a Memphis hotel, many of them obsessed with Elvis.

Night On Earth
again contains several sets of characters, this time in different cities around the world. The common denominator is that all of the action takes place during taxi rides. Some great scenes of nighttime city life.

Ghost Dog is one of my favorite Jarmusch films. Here he once again breaks new ground and explores the intersecting (at least in this film) underworlds of the mafia and samurai warriors. Forest Whitaker is great as a modern-day samurai who wanders city streets enforcing an ancient code of honor. This is another film with unique idiosyncrasies that add to the enjoyment, such as the Whitaker character’s fondness and skill with carrier pigeons. One of the themes of Ghost Dog is the question of whether it is possible to hold on to a meaningful set of values in the wasteland of modern culture.

Dead Man
stars Johnny Depp in Jarmusch’s foray into the Western genre.

Broken Flowers stars Bill Murray, who might seem an unusual actor to appear in a Jim Jarmusch film, but he is a versatile actor who does well in everything from mainstream comedies to offbeat indies like this. Here he is on a road trip where he meets various women he’s been involved with over the years.

Coffee and Cigarettes
is yet another very different kind of film. It is almost entirely dialogue centered, and yet it remains fascinating and, to its credit, never feels like you are watching a stage play. There are a series of encounters between people, who literally do smoke and drink coffee, all in black and white.

There is a wide diversity of talent here, including Jarmusch favorites Tom Waits and Roberto Benigni, as well as Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, comedian Steven Wright, and Alfred Molina. What I love about this film is similar to what I admired so much in his earlier Stranger Than Paradise -the ability to convey so much with so little. The conversations in Coffee and Cigarettes all hinge on mostly subtle points, differences of opinion, concealed resentments and the like.

Whereas the average mainstream movie hits the viewer over the head with huge concepts and then usually disappoints when it comes to delivering anything meaningful, Jarmusch takes acorn-sized ideas and allows the viewer to watch them grow.

Of course, not everyone has the patience for this. People weaned on special effects, comic book characters, car chases and explosions will find a film like Coffee and Cigarettes boring and difficult to sit through. For Jarmusch fans, however, this is one of his trademark efforts.

Welcome to Indie Movie Hub!

This site will cover all aspects of independent film, from the perspective of fans as well as filmmakers. We will discuss and review movies, talk about film festivals, and resources for making and financing films.

The term “indie film” will always be a little fuzzy. For the last decade or two, the line between commercial and independent movies has gotten ever thinner. Those of you old enough  to remember the 70s or earlier –or anyone who has seen lots of older films– may recall that “art” movies were once a more distinct breed of film. These usually played at special theaters and included foreign and experimental films. Of course today, many of the films that were fairly commercial in earlier decades now have an indie flavor, if for no other reason that time has rendered them exotic.

Today we might ask if movies by people like Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorcese, Spike Lee or Woody Allen really qualify as independent. I would not spend too much time worrying about such questions of definition. I think most of us can agree which films are definitely not indie –blockbuster action and horror films, mainstream romantic comedies, and the vast majority of sequels and remakes of whatever genre.

So this site will cover indie films, using a loose and broad definition of the term. The real point is to enjoy and learn from the art of movies, whichever side of the camera you happen to be on!

Reviews, news and information related to independent films.