Showing posts with label 2000s. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2000s. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Picture of Dorian Gray (2004?)

Repost from 2010, when I was working on my undergrad thesis on the film adaptations of The Picture of Dorian Gray.



Dir. David Rosenbaum || 2004 || USA(?)

If you can withstand the first two minutes of the 2004 film The Picture of Dorian Gray without having to reach for whatever alcohol is handy, you are a stronger person than I am. This makes Pact with the Devil look like a masterpiece. The film tries to set the story in the mid-20th century with some vague notion that the Gray family was inherently cursed because Dorian's grandfather created the atom bomb. This notion is only vaguely and occasionally followed through in the film. The acting is horrible across the board, with the actors reciting lines from the novel in a wooden and unintentionally hilarious manner, as evidenced in the video above. The film becomes tedious within the last half-hour, when the fun and alcohol wear off. Unlike most of the other Dorian Gray adaptations, which at least make a point to either subtly or unsubtly point out Dorian's pansexuality, this adaptation's take on it is to mostly make Dorian a heterosexual cad ("I spoiled your bride on your wedding day!") involved in a hetero love triangle between the (female) painter Basil Ward and Harry Wotton; whilst having Josh Duhamel parade around in skimpy bikini briefs for 10 minutes of the film, with at least three of those minutes being shot over his ass while he's laying in bed. Also unlike the other adaptations which actually try to have the portrait done by a real artist on the production team, the painting in this one looks as though it was done by a first year art student whose strong suit is not painting. The degenerated portrait is pretty much James Cameron in a swimsuit (meant to be Dorian's grandfather, I think), not a hideous monster.

Unlike Pact with the Devil, or any other Dorian Gray adaptation, there is no good actor or interesting performance in the film to give comfort or make watching it somewhat worthwhile. Some people will want to watch this because of Josh Duhamel, but it's not a good reason because he is just as awful as all the other actors in this film. He's not even inoffensively passable, like he is in everything else he acts in. He even looks awful, with his badly dyed blond hair.

There is probably a lesson to be learned here, by the time I am done with this paper, since I generally avoid film adaptations of books. I get the feeling it's to just be happy when a film adaptation of a good novel is watchable at all. I think I am mostly happy that I did not choose the film adaptations of Dracula, which are numerous and are also likely to have more bad adaptations than good ones.

This version of The Picture of Dorian Gray is only available on Youtube, via the playlist of favorite movies of what is likely a 15-year-old girl. After the conclusion of the movie, it goes immediately into a 3-year-old video preview of the Twilight film adaptation with some commentary, which I imagine is hell for some people, but was actually a passive improvement for me to listen to while I stared off into space for a few minutes. This version of The Picture of Dorian Gray has never been properly released because it's awful or maybe because Josh Duhamel is rich enough now to have it suppressed, but you can occasionally find an overpriced DVD version of it on Ebay or at libraries.

(Apologies if this post isn't very coherent. I have fairly coherent notes and drunk texts to a friend that I made while watching this last night, but these posts are increasingly becoming an excuse to vent.)

(Adverbs, motherfucker!)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made (2004)

Repost from 2010. I now realize that this movie is a listicle in moving image format.

Dir. ???? || 2004 || USA

The Netflix Autoplay function is a both a blessing and a curse, particularly for its latest platform on video game systems such as the Wii. The game systems versions give you a limited amount of options, which means you still have to rely on the Netflix website to add films you want to watch on the game systems. There is no search function on the Netflix Wii. While you can of course access your instant queue, it's not like the options on the game system is giving you a ton of good movies to choose from. You may see a few of the films from the Criterion Collection, some actual enjoyable films, and actually a lot of pretty good TV shows; but mostly, you're seeing stuff you've never heard of and/or some truly bad movies. So it's really the equivalent of walking through a Blockbuster video store, just without the entire walls featuring fifty copies of whatever last summer's big movie was. That and I get the feeling that even Blockbuster would not even carry some of these films.

The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made is a short "documentary" that is a list of yeah, the 50 worst movies ever made. It features no talking heads, just clips of these films with the occasional interesting factoid, such as the director of Robot Monster attempted suicide after realizing what a terrible film he made, or that Burt Reynolds auditioned for the lead role in The Crawling Hand twice, but was considered too terrible to be cast. The film mostly focuses on films from the 1940s through the mid-1980s, and at least a third of the films were films featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 at some point (the narrator even sounds like J. Elvis Weinstein from MST3K and Cinematic Titanic, but it's not him). It lists no source as to where this list comes from or who decided that these were the worst films ever made. It lists Troll, but not Troll 2, which is known as being considerably worse. And the fact this was made in 2004 and cuts its choices off in the mid-1980s allows it to miss say, The Room, The Picture of Dorian Gray (2002/2004), Zombie Nation, Silent Night Deadly Night 2, and The Happening. Not even Manos: Hands of Fate is on the list. I kind of have to wonder if this list was partially based on what films they could get clips for.

The documentary holds a particular bias and disdain for bad films where the monster is just a guy in a cheap gorilla suit. The only film it claims to be "so bad it's good" is TNT Jackson, a blaxploitation-kung fu film from the 1970s. All in all, it is not a bad way to spend an hour watching if you're bored, and some of the film clips are kind of fun, but this is not a particularly groundbreaking documentary on bad films, or why people watch them.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Padackles, I love you, but you're bringing me down. Also, if you keep this up, I'm really leaving you for Doctor Who.

Repost from 2010.

The Christmas Cottage (a.k.a Thomas Kinkade's Home for Christmas)
Dir. Michael Campus || 2008 || USA (seriously, what did you expect, does any other country have a guy who calls himself "The Painter of Light"?)

Devour
Dir. David Winkler || 2005 || USA


There needs to be some sort of Oracle-like Twitter or Facebook page that tells you in 140-160 characters just how bad a movie is before you watch it. It could say that a film is "worse than stepping in dog shit while you're already late for work, but not as bad as watching the cast of The Room simulate sex" (or vice versa, depending on your taste) and other vague things that would at least give an idea what one is in for when they watch certain films. Yeah, there is Google and reading blogs, but having something that could be sent as text message moments before you hit "play" is best. At the very least it would serve as an indicator of how many breaks you would have to take while watching the movie, or how much alcohol may be required to get through it. It would take a mass effort, and some sort of database, but someone should make this happen.

In stupid whims to best some of my more stupid and masochistic whims, for Bad Movie Night at my house, I watched The Christmas Cottage and Devour back-to-back because they star Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles from Supernatural. I knew these films would be bad going in, and neither of these guys have great track records in their forays into film (Padalecki's is a tad better, even if they're mostly horror remakes). I'm no apologist, and I'm certainly not one of those Stans that harbors insane delusions that I'm going to marry them or that they're going to marry each other. Supernatural is a highly entertaining show and Padalecki and Ackles are very pretty men, and that's about as far as my interest goes.

I'm not sure much can be said about The Christmas Cottage. The Christmas Cottage is a film based on a Thomas Kinkade painting, or his life, or something. It falls somewhere between a wacky comedy about a quirky small town and your average Christmas movie that's about finding the true meaning of Christmas with a large dose of "we gotta save the *(insert structure here)*!". I think almost everyone but Padalecki and the people with actual acting honors were told that this was a comedy, and it sometimes seems as if the scenes were shot around Padalecki due to the high angle-reverse-angle shot and montage ratio. Marcia Gay Harden, Peter O'Toole and Ed Asner are there to give the film some sort of gravitas, but any attempts at gravitas or sentiment just makes things worse. There are so many subplots in this movie that after 20 minutes, it's not worth keeping up with.

The only scene of any worth is below, in a video response shot by Dustin Rowles of pajiba.com, and who provides his own laugh track. This is why Ackles is the only one who is allowed to cry in the Pretty Man Tears/"hell, let me tell you about my time there" scenes in Supernatural these past couple of seasons, while Padalecki just looks constipated.




Devour is something else, and I mean that in the most sarcastic and borderline abusive way possible, because this is a less watchable film than The Christmas Cottage. Someone should have informed Jensen Ackles that it's never a good sign when your co-stars are Shannyn Sossamon without her trademark short and sassy haircut, Dominique Swain, and a guy who looks like the result of Willie Aames, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Brad Dourif's spliced DNA; ergo, making Ackles the best looking person in the film. The plot of the film itself is the spliced DNA of The Omen and the numerous horror films about video games, websites or software that are evil and want to control you and make you question your reality (eXistenZ, Stay Alive). Like most films about evil video games, websites, or software, the filmmakers have nothing to say about the matter really and instead pull the "you're the son of Satan" card with some equally weak add-in about free will and a twist ending that revolves around incest. Instead of you know, maybe formulating an idea about why the film's particular video game, website, or software is evil or perhaps an allegory about how video games, the internet, or software may be evil in general, if you really want to try to state such a thing.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Othello (2001)

Repost from 2010.

Dir. Geoffrey Sax || 2001 || UK (made for TV)

The late 90s/early 00s were a time of modern day re-imaginings of William Shakespeare's plays. Hollywood in particular released at least three re-imaginings set in modern-day American high schools (although in the 1996 Romeo + Juliet, they were apparently home schooled). 2001's Othello cannot and should not be confused with O, also released in 2001. O takes place in an American high school and for some unknown reason stars Josh Hartnett in the Iago role, and the film revolves around the politics of high school basketball. 2001's Othello takes place in modern day London, revolves around the politics of Scotland Yard, and stars Christopher Eccleston in the Iago role (here re-christened as "Ben Jago").

Othello does not bother with attempting to adapt all of Shakespeare's language to the modern day. It comes in snippets, most notably from Jago. Scotland Yard is in turmoil because of while publicly stating that they plan to hire more Black and Asian officers, the commissioner is caught saying racist things right afterwards. In the meantime, Inspector John Othello has quelled a riot in a multiracial project he grew up in after a suspected Black drug dealer is beat to death by four white cops. Assistant Commissioner Jago, Othello's mentor, waits in the wings to receive the Police Commissioner position after the current one resigns. Othello, of course, gets it instead so Scotland Yard can basically kill two birds with one stone in a PR move. Jago plots his revenge on Othello, despite his claims of loving him, by planting doubts in Othello's mind as to the faithfulness of his new wife, Desi; and undermining the investigation of the four white cops who beat the suspected drug dealer to death.

It is a compelling, poignant, and fitting adaptation. However, I am not sure it will hold up well to a second viewing. While Christopher Eccleston does a pretty good job as Jago (and he probably kills this role on stage), his one soliloquy is shot as a hyper-edited temper tantrum in a hallway, which ends with Jago walking out of Scotland Yard and saying "well, that was dramatic, wasn't it?" to the camera. Constantly having Jago break the fourth wall does not seem as an attempt to make Jago charming or sympathetic, but it does make him come off as Bugs Bunny when Bugs says "ain't I a stinker?". Worst of all, Jago gets his wish by the end of the film. He is not hauled off and arrested, like in the play, and the sole source of comfort in the wake of all the bodies on the floor by the end (the death count is considerably less in this film). What the film is trying to say, I am not quite sure. Is it that manipulation is harder to prove in modern times? Is it that cunts are still running the world, to quote Jarvis Cocker? Evil will prevail? It is a depressing ending, made more so by the sinking feeling that I have that somewhere on the internet, someone has written fan fiction based on this film that has given Jago the "Draco in leather pants" treatment just because Eccleston was Doctor Who, a role where he divided his dramatic and apparent comedic talents well.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Over Her Dead Body (2008)

Repost from 2010. I think I only watched this because Misha Collins is briefly in it and this was at the height of my obsession with Supernatural...a show which I have not watched since 2011.

Dir. Jeff Lowell || 2008 || USA

Over Her Dead Body exemplifies the worst ideas and stereotypes I have of modern romantic comedies: that they are full of shrill, bland, unlikeable, and crazy people who I hope do not exist in real life. If I think about it too much, the idea that people pay $10 to see these things will make me an even bigger misanthrope than I already am.

Over Her Dead Body's plot is thus: Eva Longoria-Parker plays a bridezilla of sorts who gets crushed by her own ice sculpture on her wedding day. A year later, her still-despondent fiance, played by a slumming-it Paul Rudd, is convinced by his Manic Pixie Dream Girl-esque sister to start dating again and to see this acquaintance of  hers that is a psychic caterer, played by Lake Bell. While a psychic connection sort of fails, the sister gives the psychic caterer bridezilla's diary so that she can convince Rudd that she is psychic and can speak to his dead fiancee. The psychic caterer and Rudd fall in love, Eva Longoria-as-a-ghost wreaks havoc on the psychic caterer and they are torn apart by the reveal of the diary thing, and it ends with a reunion in an airport after Longoria realizes that she would want her fiance to be happy.

Again, Lake Bell plays a psychic caterer. It is never explained how or why she thinks she has psychic powers, and all we ever learn is that she is a lapsed Catholic, because she calls her priest to perform an exorcism at one point. It is also never explained whether she gets catering customers by using her psychic powers to tell them which competitors will give them food poisoning.

It's a pretty boring movie, and I only laughed once because of one of Longoria's pranks. Everyone in this movie, with the exception of Stephen Root, is bland or unlikeable. Paul Rudd manages to be both bland and unlikeable, which is unusual for him because he tends to have a lively presence in his films. His character is not interesting or funny and he seems to kind of hate his job as a veterinarian. He is just there for two women to fight over, and there is no reason to fight over him. You can tell that he doesn't want to be in this film, and that this is either a favor or that he needs money to put his kid into a good school. Lake Bell seems to be trying, but she is always bland, and I for one am always confusing her with the equally odd-named Piper Perabo, or Amanda Peet. Eva Longoria is just playing an extension of her character on Desperate Housewives. Jason Biggs is around as Bell's bland and unfunny catering business partner, who is a straight guy pretending that he is gay because he is in love with Bell's character and has been for five years. Even his comic pratfalls are awful. Ugh.

Over Her Dead Body has perhaps two things going for it. Rudd's character does call out the antics of his Manic Pixie Dream Girl sister, and accuses her of doing crazy things just because she wants to prove that she is right (this includes, after the diary reveal, kidnapping her neighbor's cat to bring it to her brother, the veterinarian because she thinks this will break the ice and make him not be mad at her anymore). And the actress who plays the sister is of course a ringer for Zooey Deschanel. And when Rudd flees to the airport to stop the psychic caterer before she flies to Las Vegas for a weekend with her not-gay business partner/best friend, he ends up paying over $1200 just to get a ticket to the gate because he pisses off the ticket counter lady. Although it is never explained how or why these characters know which carrier and which gate their beloveds are at when these things happen in movies.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Notes on modern French horror

A rambling re-post from 2010. 




Am I the only person who feels sorry for almost everyone in modern French horror films? I can't be, but at the same time I am questioning why these films are so effective for inducing sympathy.

Most of the modern French horror films that have been released in America share similar features. High Tension, Them, Inside, Frontier(s), Martyrs, and Calvaire are not long films. Not that most American horror films are long, but French horror uses their compact time frames to the advantage of good pacing, which is not the case with American horror (even if both Martyrs and High Tension get a bit clunky with their pacing towards the end). High Tension, Them, Inside, and Martyrs all use the scenario of home invasion for horror, even if Martyrs flips it, then re-flips it because it is the film's protagonists who are doing the invading. Frontier(s) and Calvaire are rural horror films where the protagonists are stranded in unfamiliar territory. Inside and Frontier(s) both feature the terrorization of pregnant women as well as Paris riots in the background (because, as a French professor once told me, "the French love to protest anything that upsets them", something also seen in the 2004 Chris Marker film Chats Perches).

There is not a lot of exposition to these films. Martyrs, yet again, is the only film with much exposition at all, and is the only film that uses flashbacks throughout the film. The uniting theme amongst all these films is random acts of violence (although High Tension and Inside, with their twist endings, can be debated on how random their home invasions and violence were). But with little exposition comes little character development, and it becomes not unlike the majority of American horror films, where we are just trying to watch people in terrible situations survive. Then why feel sorry for these characters? There is a natural sympathy towards the protagonists of Inside, Martyrs, and Frontier(s). These people are shown from the beginning to already be in horrible situations. In Inside, a pregnant woman gets into a car accident and her husband is killed; in Martyrs, a young girl escapes a torture facility and is put into an orphanage where she is still haunted; and Frontier(s), a group of friends escapes violent riots in Paris where the pregnant girl's brother is mortally wounded, and she has to leave him behind at a hospital because he urges her to run and escape the police. But the people in High Tension, Them, and Calvaire are just living normal lives before they are thrusted into bizarre, violent, and dangerous situations. High Tension of course is notable for being the first French horror import to America as well as its astoundingly stupid/borderline offensive twist ending. But the basic premise is two young women are terrorized by a killer while they are out of Paris for the weekend studying at the home of the second girl's family. Them is about a couple who leaves Paris for their weekend home in the woods and is terrorized by a mysterious group, apparently kids. It has a bleak ending, to say the least.

Calvaire, which isn't discussed as much as the other films I've listed, is just strange. Good, but strange and quite unsettling at times. The film is about a low-level, mediocre singer and entertainer who performs at retirement homes and other similar places. While on the way to a music festival of some sort before Christmas where he hopes to be noticed by a producer, his van breaks down and he is forced to stay in an lonely inn run by a former stand-up comedian whose wife left him many years ago. The singer walks around the village one day and comes across a group of men fucking a pig. If this isn't unhinged enough, the innkeeper becomes convinced that the singer is his returned wife, who was also a singer, and that he must keep him there by any means necessary.  The singer finds no solace because the other people in the town, which seems to consist entirely of males, also believes that he is the innkeeper's wife. I am of the belief that the innkeeper's wife gave everyone in the small town syphilis, but nothing is said as to why everyone in the town is insane.

The single common denominator between all of the films is that their protagonists are all adults. Even the clearly young protagonists of High TensionFrontier(s) and Martyrs are people in their early 20s, or at least no younger than 19. America and Japan seem to be the only countries where their horror films predominantly feature teenagers. Perhaps it is an age thing, but the older I get, the easier it is for me to sympathize with people who are closer to my age. Or maybe it is because most modern American horror films feature characters that are impossible to sympathize with or care about. It is as if the insufferable jerk amp is at 11. I understand that this is done so that the audience roots for the death of certain unlikable characters, such as Trent in the Friday the 13th re-make. And it isn't just the 00's films, although jerks in horror have gotten worse since the 70s or 80s. But it is at the point now where I find myself surprised when I feel pity or sympathy for a character in an American horror film. I've re-watched a few films in recent months, and I liked and felt bad for the group of kids in the original Nightmare on Elm Street, as well as everyone in Wes Craven's New Nightmare; and despite knowing the ending because I re-watch the film almost every other year, I feel bad for Angela in Sleepaway Camp. There is the scene where Ricky's friend is playing "Guess who?" with Angela and covering her eyes and she answers "Burt Reynolds!" that I find to be sweet and endearing. But these are all films from the 80s and early 90s, and for various reasons, while not holding a rabid allegiance, I've always preferred the Nightmare on Elm Street series over Friday the 13th. If I have to be pressed, the only film from this past decade where I felt some pity for the characters is the House of Wax re-make, with maybe some of the kids in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane placing second. I don't know why House of Wax sticks out, although it is not a bad film. It's not like it had great characterization, but with the exception of Chad Michael Murray's character (and this may be a problem with separating the actor from his roles - although the actor seems like a douchebag, and the CW/WB has been typecasting him as the "bad boy" since the Dawson's Creek and Gilmore Girls days), I thought the characters were decent and fairly normal kids. They were friends, and there wasn't a lot of backbiting except from Chad Michael Murray's character. Yes, even Paris Hilton's character was likable, even if it was a sort of parallel-universe version of her, where some of her known or perceived personality traits were there, but in a character who was just upper-middle class instead of an heiress.

I am not sure there is a direct answer as to why the characters, and even some of the villains in modern French horror films are easy to sympathize with. Overall, they seem more human and the French do not feel the need as much to stick to the archetypes that come from American horror and slashers, whereas in America, we built them and deconstruct them only to make slightly different versions of the same thing to adapt to changing times, ad nauseam. There's an odd comfort in the archetypes, sure, but at the same time even the attempts at deconstruction are becoming tedious, especially when at best, there are only small changes in archetypes or expectations being made.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Call and Response: The Pussy Posse Bad Movie Edition

Repost from 2010.

Recently, the local blog for the James River Film Society had a post on the top 5 worst films directed by Christopher Nolan, with Inception being at the top of the list, although it was an un-numbered list. The author called Nolan "the most celebrated bad director since Ed Wood."

Now, Nolan is no Ed Wood or Tommy Wiseau. He is a technically competent director. I would consider him more along the lines of a more subtle and less heavy-handed and narcissistic M. Night Shyamalan. Or a more lucid Michael Bay, but who has the ability to hire better actors (then proceed to waste them, like Cillian Murphy). But Inception is his worst film. While I think that The Prestige is a fun film, the rest of Nolan's films have never stuck with me for too long after I left the theater or turned off the TV. So I am not so sure that his stories are as compelling, smart, or deep as everyone makes them out to be. Inception at least has the honor of making me laugh, then a little angry afterward.

I guess all discussion for Inception must begin with a preface that yes, I understood the movie. I am not stupid and have been told that I can explain the plot (or more precisely what is going on) in Lucio Fulci's The Beyond better than most people, and The Beyond is a very strange film in terms of time and space. Inception had five layers of dreams with a big stupid action movie as its creamy center, with overwrought guilt as the peanuts. Too bad that the film tried to both embrace the illogical nature of dreams while at the same time giving it a structure, so that dreams have "architects", and when there is a team involved, there is a leader whose subconscious serves as mainframe of sorts. Otherwise, why would everyone dream an action movie? Why would only Ellen Page's character be concerned that their leader was unstable? Even as a newbie, she should have the right to say, "let's use a more stable team member so no one gets hurt." Contradiction, misplaced ambition, and discontinuity, thy name is Christopher Nolan.

Inception lost me almost at its opening scene. You cannot open a film with Leonardo DiCaprio being washed up onto a beach and not immediately think "a hundred years after the Titanic sunk, Jack finally washed up on the shores of...Japan?" Then Leo was nice enough to give his old friend Lukas Haas a brief role as an "architect" where he is kidnapped and never seen again. If "architects" are so disposable, why not fire Ellen Page as soon as she gets into the brain of Leo to find that he is one messed up dude? Do the inception-eers only have one client? What do they do when they are not battling Ken Watanabe? Does Leo just watch action movies? Because in the dream world, there is a whole lot of Bourne-like sequences going on, as well as the mountain scene that while some have called it a "Bond villain fortress", I call it something out of a xXx sequel. I think I would have liked the film a lot more if Vin Diesel inexplicably showed up on a snowmobile and high-fived everyone. This goes to show that perhaps they should have chosen a team member who likes comedies and British heritage films from the 1990s.

Then there is the overwrought and maudlin domestic drama that is Leo's subconscious. It is also where DiCaprio becomes a terrible actor. While I have not seen the original Solaris, I have seen the re-make by Steven Soderbergh, and I get the impression that if you're the wife of a well-meaning, but misguided guy in a somewhat dark sci-fi film, you will commit suicide. At least the Solaris re-make had some basis in reality, as the wife commits suicide because her husband disapproves of the abortion she had. Leo incepted his wife, she became mentally unstable as a result, and committed suicide. She haunts his subconscious because he feels guilty, as he should. The suicide is shown on film, and DiCaprio's reaction is some of the worst acting I have ever seen in a big budget film. If you cannot make me teary-eyed over the suicide of a family member or missing your children, you fail! Those are two of my top triggers.

I am not sure what could have saved Inception for me. It was not weird or ballsy enough for me to respect it in its failings. I know I was not expecting an action movie, although perhaps I should have, given that is what Nolan does now. It seems illogical to try to use the illogical nature of dreams while at the same time trying to make them logical or rein them in by using the concept of "architects". I think to make things worse, it reminded me in some ways of my favorite Phillip K. Dick novel, Ubik.

Can you find Leo strutting through this M.C. Escher piece? And Sad Keanu? The Leo Strut meme almost makes up for Inception. This one is a good hat tip to one of the two scenes I liked in Inception, where Ellen Page made the Paris dream city into a cube.




Also, my friend Erica made this Advice Phillip K. Dick meme awhile back:


+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

A couple of weeks ago, Movieline included Spider-Man 3 in their series Bad Movies We Love. Spider-Man 3 is also known as "the one where Spidey went emo". Which is true, as far as the haircut goes, and the fact that I am convinced that while Leonardo DiCaprio is starting to look like a grown-up now, Tobey Maguire will always look like a teenage boy. And it is also true that despite their image, emo boys can be insensitive jerks too, which is what Peter Parker becomes in Spider-Man 3. But I have always thought that if anything "emo Spidey" is just an homage to Ted Raimi, who is of course, the brother of Spider-Man 3's director, Sam Raimi, and who also appears in all three films as J. Jonah Jameson's assistant. Emo Spidey is an homage to Ted Raimi when he played Joxer on Xena: Warrior Princess. Joxer always thought that he was cooler and more heroic than he actually was. In other words, he was a dork, but a sweet guy. Joxer would totally think that these were some sweet dance moves, contrary to what the ladies on the street think:




Despite looking like a teenage boy, I'm not sure Tobey Maguire does dorky as well as Ted Raimi or even Jake Gyllenhaal.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Descent (2005)

Repost from 2010.

Dir. Neil Marshall || 2005 || UK

I'm easing back into this series with a well-known film while I still suss out my feelings about 2009's Dorian Gray, which I will post about either next week or the week after.

Upon its release in 2005, The Descent was heralded by some as a feminist horror film, primarily on the basis that the film focuses on a group of women who are extreme adventurers. While I liked the Dali-inspired poster art for the film, upon watching the film, I did not like the film as much as other people. I am ambivalent about the issue of whether a film featuring an all-female cast automatically equals feminist film. It tends to set low aspirations, or it lets certain films pass when they perhaps do not hold the most feminist viewpoints in the world. Upon second viewing, wherein I enjoyed the film more, I am willing to let The Descent pass, although it has an odd issue or two.




The main issue is that Juno's hubris is a double-edged sword, which may be the point. She wanted the group to go cave-diving in an uncharted cave in hopes that upon their making it out, they will have "discovered" this cave and get to name it, which would apparently be a first for a group of women. But of course, the uncharted cave is uncharted for a reason, and depending on which ending you prefer, only one person makes it out alive, or no one does. Or if you chuck in the recent sequel, which I have been advised by at least two reliable sources not to watch, there may be two survivors within the original group afterall. So ignoring the sequel and the alternate survivor ending, there is the underlying and vaguely sexist element of "well, if you ladies had kept your aspirations low and stuck to the charted caves, none of this would have happened!" Of course, at a certain point in the movie, most of the women feel the same way and are rightfully mad at Juno for putting them in danger.

I always see the two endings of the film discussed, but I rarely hear the idea discussed that perhaps the entire thing was a coma dream by Sarah after the car accident that kills her husband and daughter. There is the scene after she wakes up in the hospital where she is walking down the hallway and all the lights flicker off as she walks by. This scene heavily hints that it is a dream, but Sarah is woken up in the middle of the hallway by Beth, the nurturing member of the group and Sarah's best friend. The film immediately jumps a year later to Sarah and Beth driving through the Appalachian Mountains to the cabin Juno has rented near the caves, where we meet the rest of the group (which seems to deepen the unfamiliarity, since the majority of the group is British and are likely not familiar with this part of the US). Could the film just be a metaphor for Sarah falling deeper and deeper into a coma, while in her dream state sort of placing the blame on and eventually exacting revenge on Juno, because it was implied that she was having an affair with Sarah's husband (on top of in the possible dream, having killed Beth by accident and lying about it)? The original ending implies as much, where Sarah is shown kneeling over a fire and daydreaming about her daughter's birthday in the caves instead of climbing out, driving away, and envisioning a dead Juno (which is the alternate ending, and in the copy I watched this time, shown before the real ending with Sarah in the cave). The sequel apparently runs with the idea that it wasn't a dream, and Sarah is accused of having gone insane after the car accident, and killed everyone in the cave.

The other thing that the film only vaguely implies is that the creatures in the cave were at one point, humans. There are various shots where the creatures mouths are shown in close-up, and they have human tongues and teeth. There is another shot where you see the bottoms of their feet, and they are like the bottoms of human feet. The women find equipment that Juno claims is at least "100 years old", so perhaps it is the people who previously tried to explore the cave, could not get out, and evolved. It is a wise move that Marshall keeps this bit a mystery and instead focuses on the group trying to find their way out of the cave.

So I liked The Descent a lot more in this second viewing, and I will give that it is an interesting film. I just think that as far as Marshall's films go, I like Doomsday a lot more, and perhaps Dog Soldiers, although I haven't re-watched that in years. Marshall has his motifs and homages that he likes to use, such as the John Carpenter title fonts (The Descent, Doomsday), and having characters rendered immobile in dangerous situations by a sharp object to the knee (The Descent, Centurion).

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

La Horde/The Horde, 28 Days Later, and the division of heroines

Repost from 2011.



Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology || Jennifer K. Stuller || 2010
28 Days Later || Dir. Danny Boyle || 2003 || UK
La Horde/The Horde || Dirs. Benjamin Rocher & Yannick Dahan || 2009 || France

I recently finished a book by Jennifer K. Stuller called Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology. Despite the somewhat academic-y title, it's a breezy read, primarily because Stuller never takes sides in the debates over whether female heroines should be nurturing and sexual while still being protective, or not (i.e., the lone wolf stereotype); at least when these debates are brought up. The book of course covers Wonder Woman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena: Warrior Princess, Alias, The Sarah Jane Chronicles, blaxploitation films; and in a radical turn, Dark Angel, the series starring Jessica Alba. Most of these shows and films did allow the main female characters to have romantic and sexual relationships while still fighting for good. So it is only when discussing these shows or movies that Stuller takes the former side rather than the latter.

This crossover has maybe not quite yet made it into film, perhaps because TV is episodic and you get to know characters of the course of several seasons, if you're lucky; and of course you want to see characters develop relationships with each other in some form. When 28 Days Later came out nine years ago, feminist zinester friends of mine seemed to bemoan the fact that once at the military compound and/or she falls in love with Jim, Selena is not much of a fighter anymore and is made fun of by the military men when she attempts to. She is forced to shift over to protect herself and the much younger Hannah over the dreadful fate that looms over them (i.e., rape and forced motherhood). The problem with this argument is that it ignored the fact that Selena was not a superhuman warrior, she was not prepped to become one, and she was not trained by any secret force. She is just a human who had to put up a very cold facade to deal with an ugly situation. The only hint we're given to Selena's life pre-outbreak is that she "qualifies as a chemist!" While I'm sure she would put up a very good fight if she had to battle a dozen or so military officers with a machete, she would probably be defeated. In the scene where she and Mark give Jim the exposition in the subway convenience store, she is the only one who does not share what she had to go through to survive (the actress who played Selena, Naomie Harris, said that she made up the backstory that Selena had to kill her entire family when they became infected, including a 3-year-old brother). This doesn't explain why the recently convalescent Jim sprightly takes down the military group when he is a whisper-thin thing of a man, but it is Jim's story. In battle mode, he's like the wind, and perhaps uses his smallness to his advantage. Then again, he was a bike courier and those dudes are tough. There was an alternate ending or two for Jim. One being that he died from his gunshot wound, the other being a completely alternate storyline where Jim gives himself up by transfusing all his blood to the infected Frank, bypassing the entire military compound storyline. The latter was not shot, just storyboarded.

In zombie films, there is a divide. It can be pinpointed to the two different portrayals of Barbara in the 1968 and 1990 versions of Night of the Living Dead. 1968 Barbara, as portrayed by Judith O'Dea, was completely useless, but dealt with the new situation as some people would, which would be to have a nervous breakdown. Yeah, it's cool that in 2011 people are so inured to the fictionalized zombie world that they think that they could survive if zombies or something similar were to actually happen, but it's just a thought. See civilization and everyone you know fall apart or die, and realize that you actually have never held a weapon in your life, and we'll see what happens. 1990 Barbara, as portrayed by professional stuntwoman Patricia Tallman, becomes the hardcore version of Barbara. She breaks down at first, but becomes an almost cold and emotionless fighter. Tony Todd's Ben is more emotional in this film - he is more prone to crying. This isn't to say that Barbara won't break down later, but she shoots a fellow survivor in cold blood just because he is an asshole. There is no middle ground with the Barbaras in these two films.

Aurore in The Horde is closer to 1990 Barbara, despite being a whisper-thin (and braless) thing of a French woman. However, unlike Selena, she has had combat training because she is a cop. The Horde revolves around a small group of corrupt cops who invade a rundown building in the projects outside of Paris, seeking revenge upon a group of immigrant drug dealers who killed a fellow cop who was undercover. Not too long after the cops come upon the dealers, they realize a zombie infection has broken out. Not just within the dealers' apartment and the building, but also in Paris. The remaining dealers and cops must band together to try to find a way out of the building alive. There is a high level of distrust going on, especially from the dealers, as well as Aurore. Aurore early on is yelled at for crying, and the blame is placed on her for having the undercover cop killed, since she told him that she was pregnant with his child. It is implied that she did this just to mess with his head. She is given immediate care of the other wounded cop who has been shot in the leg.

Aurore and the wounded cop are soon separated from the rest of the group. It is soon displayed that Aurore is not someone you want to trifle with. She kills a zombie by repeatedly punching it in the head and body, then overturning a refrigerator onto it. She nearly kills the other cop, after he expresses some sympathy for her. The plot, character, and motivations in The Horde are not the most well-written. We don't know why Aurore suddenly flips and turns into a mercenary. It is likely that she has taken a lot of shit over the years for being a female cop, but why flip now? Even after the other characters notice the change in her, they still treat her as someone to be protected, when they perhaps should be more afraid that she will kill them all (and the group is soon small enough where she could). She particularly has it out for the leader of the dealers, Adewale, who she believes murdered the father of her child. The most reasonable member of both groups, Adewale is a Nigerian immigrant and refugee from the violence there, along with his more tempestuous younger brother Bol. He is the only member of the group who seems to have some sort of respect for the dead. Yet, he tends to patronize Aurore by calling her "dear", even after she has threatened his life.

The Horde is a pretty good film. Not as good as I thought it would be, but better than most. It is interesting because of the characters of Adewale and Aurore, as well as the fact that the characters tend to fight the zombies in hand-to-hand combat. Sometimes this is because there are no weapons, sometimes it is by choice. Aurore especially seems to thrive in crushing zombie heads. However, it is frustrating to watch the characters learn, then almost immediately forget that the zombies stay down if you shoot them in the head (not unlike the doctor in The Beyond). The zombies run in this one, adding to the tension. They also strangely hoard bodies. These are all interesting elements, but not enough is done with them. It is as if the filmmakers did not know whether to make a zombie action film or something a bit more human like the old Romero movies or the 28...Later series.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Crazy Theory #7: Dogtooth as a Temporally Nonlinear Film


An excerpt of something I wrote in grad school is below. Because it is based in more Gilles Deleuze, the Cliff Notes version: Time in Dogtooth (2009, Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos) is nonlinear based on the injury to the brother's arm and how it is displayed in various scenes. Therefore, on top of all of the other insanity in the film, you do not know in which order the events of the film occurred.

"The most complex display of the first index of the short form action-image occurs periodically throughout the film, perhaps to signify the concept that Dogtooth may be a temporally nonlinear film. The oldest sister slashes her brother’s arm with a kitchen knife. In the next shot, his younger sister asks him about his wound while they are by the pool. But for the rest of the film, there is no consistency as to when the brother is shown with his injury and when he is not. Particularly with the pool scenes where the siblings practice holding their breath underwater for their father (no bandage, cut appears to be healing), practice CPR (no bandage or sign of injury), or when the oldest sister re-enacts Jaws (bandaged arm). To interpret in terms of the ASA’, action (A) would be that the brother’s arm is cut by his oldest sister. The situation (S) would be the implications of jealousy on the sister’s behalf or nonlinear temporality. The last Action (A’) is the implied action that the mother punishes the oldest sister for attacking her brother by hitting her over the head and locking her in her room. But due to the jumps in time where the injury is displayed, then not, it implies that the attack and the punishment could have been two separate and unconnected incidents.[1] However, if the incongruities of time are delineated, it can be argued that the frequent jealous and violent behavior that the oldest sister displays towards her brother (and the subsequent humiliation of being forced to have sex with him) could factor into one of her reasons for escaping the compound."




[1] In order and with approximate times, these sequences delineate the inconsistency of the brother’s injury: his arm is  cut (:38), pool practicing CPR – no bandage or visible injury (:45), underwater breathing contest – cut is visible and healing (:48), dinner with Sinatra/”grandpa” record – bandage (:56), Jaws re-enactment in pool – bandage (1:05), brother picks a sister to have sex with – bandage (1:12), sex with oldest sister – bandage (1:14), finds the “zombie” in the garden – no bandage (1:16), parents anniversary party – no bandage or visible injury (but no close-ups of the brother either) (1:20), kisses younger sister – no bandage, possible healing of cut visible (if it is not a chunk of the younger sister’s hair resting on his arm) (1:28)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Double Feature (on a disc!): A Real Friend & X-Mas Tale (a.k.a. Christmas Tale) (2006)

Repost from 2011.

A Real Friend 
Dir. Enrique Urbizu || 2006 || Spain

A Real Friend focuses on a lonely little latchkey girl named Estrella who loves horror stories and films; and whose imaginary friends consist of Leatherface of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and a vampire. But as it turns out, the vampire may be real and dangerous. Estrella's mother is a nurse and soon men who either want to have sex with her or do have sex with her end up dead. While somewhat slow, the movie stays interesting until the final 10-15 minutes of its 75 minute run when the twist is further revealed. Then of course, it twists again, and it leaves more questions than answers. The twist and overall film is a bit more artfully done than say, Slumber Party Massacre II, but it's a bit messy leaving the questions of whether it was all in Estrella's overactive imagination, if any of the characters actually exist, or is this just a way for Estrella to deal with the fact that maybe her mom is still a prostitute? You know, things of that nature.

But points for having Leatherface be someone's imaginary friend. I know I would normally balk at the idea of Leatherface being anyone's friend, but it was kind of cute and well done.

X-Mas Tale
Dir. Paco Plaza || 2006 || Spain

X-Mas Tale is a film about a group of kids in the 1980s who watch way too many movies. It's a bizarre and dark take on films from the 80s where a ragtag group of kids takes on a bad guy like E.T. and The Goonies. A group of kids encounter a female bank robber in a Santa suit who has fallen into a hole in the woods where they play. They first try to go to the police, where they are ignored, only to discover that she is a currently wanted bank robber. A couple of the kids decide that they want to hold her hostage in the hole until she tells them where the money is, and the others reluctantly go along with it. It escalates badly from there, including attempting to deny the woman food and other care. The sole female member of the group tries to bring her food, but it is often taken by the meaner boys. The meaner boys after watching the film-within-the-film Zombie Invasion, perform a voodoo ritual over the hole one night. So after the woman does get out of the hole and starts stalking them with an axe, they decide that she is a zombie. And still, it escalates, and has a twist ending, but one not nearly as semi-hopeful as A Real Friend, although how you perceive the ending probably depends on how you look at things such as disturbed children.

Plaza is best known as the co-director of the [REC] films, and this film is a bit more visually dazzling than A Real Friend. He does capture the 80s retro style better than say, House of the Devil, which was primarily hyped as being an 80s throwback film based on the appearances of puffy vests, an early Sony Walkman, and squeeze bottle cozies. Plaza also captures the sheer loneliness of being the only girl in a group of boys. But this is an unpleasant film just because of how terrible most of the children are. Plaza does throw shades to the audience to acknowledge that these children are not old enough to have a definite moral compass, that their overwatching of films and TV is what is teaching them their moral compass since they seem to see little of their parents for some reason (the police are either shown from behind or from the waist down, but Plaza doesn't go as far as having the adults speak like the adults in Peanuts cartoons) and that perhaps police overhype how dangerous some people actually are; but he doesn't excuse the children's actions either. The fact that this movie takes place around Christmas holds little bearing. It is mentioned a few times, but there are no scenes of the children opening presents with their families or learning the meaning of Christmas. It is shown that most of the children, if anything, already own too many toys and things.

So neither of these films, while prominently featuring children, are actually meant for children to watch. A Real Friend does have brief sex scenes in it, and X-Mas Tale has a lot of cursing in Spanish. Both of these films were apparently made for Spanish television.

(And yes, because of X-Mas Tale, this had been in my Netflix queue since December, and due to a combination of my laziness with watching Netflix DVD's now and queue factors was this sent to me in February!)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Itty Bitty Titty Committee (2007)

Repost from 2011, when I was probably still working out my past in zines and feminist art collectives. I have been spending a lot of time lately reworking and rewriting a paper I wrote last year on Born in Flames and while I still think Itty Bitty Titty Committee is a cute, friendly film, it really is kind of gutless compared to Born in Flames. Then again, most things are.

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Dir. Jamie Babbit || 2007 || USA

Jamie Babbit's Itty Bitty Titty Committee at times feels like a lighter, more focused and coherent (and let's face it, whiter, especially for a film that takes place in Los Angeles) post-riot grrrl millenial version of Lizzie Borden's Born in Flames. The film focuses on a Los Angeles feminist art collective called Clits in Action (CiA) and their ambition to spread the word about feminism and their collective while dealing with a whole lot of lesbian drama. Having been in a few creative feminist collectives myself, I would say that the film does a decent job of displaying the frustrations of doing such activities; but at the same time, it's lacking a few elements, like haters who never do any work and meetings that just turn into long bitch sessions (not to be confused with Consciousness Raising). Former supermodel Jenny Shimizu strolls around once an act with a snide comment, but she's not a part of the collective, she just lives in their warehouse headquarters.

At the same time, I want to say that this is a truly escapist film for feminists and lesbians. There is a scene around the end of the second act or beginning of the third act where Meat, who supplies most of the art for the collective tells the other members that the only people looking at their website is them. The group is already tense due to an uptick in lesbian drama and the fact that their most outspoken member Shulamith got them in the news for brawling with a Christian woman at a gay marriage rally (where CiA went to try to tell everyone that marriage altogether should be abolished, thereby having the media portray them as anti-gay [marriage]). Of course the group disbands in the next scene, and of course our protagonist Anna comes up with an outlandish plan to get the collective back together as well as make it notorious. Parts of the last act of the film are eerily like the last act in Born in Flames, but much giddier and silly with presumably no deaths for the national monument that they destroy. The collective apparently grows and expands, everyone's happy! In real life, the entire group would be arrested on terrorist charges or the collective would not have banded back together at all to begin with. See, Itty Bitty Titty Committee is good escapist fare!

From an old organizer and promoter perspective, I think what the CiA lacked was self-awareness. They were a painfully insular group, and I say this having been in some painfully insular collectives and subcultures myself. They have zines and fliers made up promoting the collective, but the only new member brought in for the entire film is Anna and maybe Calvin, an honorably discharged female soldier and explosives expert they pick up on the way to the gay marriage rally in Sacramento. Then they complain that no one is paying attention to them and their acts of guerilla art, but they're not shown posting fliers around town. The zines that they have aren't even stapled or rubberbanded (but at least the insides looked like a real zine...and the film's opening credits are based on zine and '77 punk aesthetics). I know Los Angeles in the past decade has not been a bastion for zinemaking, but there are several scenes in the film where the women are at some punk bar that has shows with female musicians and are full of women. That element I know was somewhat true of Los Angeles in the past decade, so why not hand out fliers and zines there? For all the old riot grrrl music played throughout the film, you would think they would pick up on some old riot grrrl promotion tactics. To their merit, Anna does slip the CiA's zines into the beauty magazines in the lobby of the plastic surgery clinic she works at, which is an old riot grrrl tactic. But when she later tries to convince a client who wants a boob job (Melanie Lynskey from Heavenly Creatures) not to go through with it, she gets a blank stare. This film somewhat caters to some basic Feminism 101 ideas, so there are no gray areas for their to be room to say "well, if you're into letting a woman choose what to do with her body as far as babies go, then you kind of have to accept the idea that some women want to put silicone, collagen, and other weird things into their bodies too." And considering this film came out in the mid-2000s, let's face it, they needed a Myspace page. That's how you spread the word about stuff in 2006 or 2007, even if Myspace was on its way out by early 2008. But there was not even an obnoxious rant about how Rupert Murdoch owns Myspace and it is therefore a tool of the conservative patriarchy. But then again, having Myspace in your film is how you automatically date it, even 3 or 4 years later ('sup Diary of the Dead?).

Itty Bitty Titty Committee is a fun little film.  It's friendly to young feminists and lesbians while not being a total bore for ones that are a little older (if anything, some of Shulamith and Anna's behavior made me cringe - I remember being that obnoxious about certain issues in my early 20s). The only thing that grated on my nerves is that the soundtrack was too dedicated to two musical projects each by Kathleen Hanna and Corin Tucker. Radio Sloan of The Need "composed" the soundtrack. Yes, both women have had some cool bands (and some better than others - Le Tigre hasn't aged well) for the past 15 years, but there are other bands out there! It doesn't and didn't start and end with Kathleen Hanna and Corin Tucker!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Crazy Theory #5: Jason X and Its Prediction of the Future of Academia


Jason X is commonly either derided because of how silly it is, or how sillier it is than the rest of the Friday the 13th series. I like Jason X because it knows how silly it is and it is a fun movie. I admit that it is in my top 3 of favorite installments of Friday the 13th, and the only one I own a copy of. It certainly works better than Jason Takes Manhattan, also a silly, bottom-of-the-barrel concept.

What I have noticed during the past two recent viewings of movie is how well it eerily predicts the corporatization of higher education. Granted, it was likely already taking hold when the film was released, but it is prominent now. Academia is still romanticized to some degree, and it is because of this romanticization, as well as the rather poisonous culture of "Do What You Love" that has now resulted in more adjuncts being hired to teach undergrads and the adjuncts being paid at an extremely poor rate. I read early on in my graduate school career that 75% of people teaching undergrads at the university I was attending were graduate and PhD students. There were horror stories of an adjacent department where the PhD students had to teach large lecture classes of 200-300 students with no TA's.

And Jason X predicts this to some degree. The field trip conducted by the professor in the film does seem to be both a lesson and a form of work for various students once they are back on the space ship, with the work seeming to fall mostly on the older students, presumably grad students. The professor puts the lives of everyone on the ship in danger after he is told that Jason Voorhees would be worth a lot of money if brought back to Earth 2. He even dismisses the idea that the students would want credit or money for finding Jason by stating that the learning experience will be enough for them.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Roller Derby Double Feature: Hell on Wheels (2008) and Whip It (2009)

Repost from 2011.

Hell on Wheels 
Dir. Bob Ray || 2008 || USA

Hell on Wheels is a documentary concerning the travails of the early formation of the Texas Rollerderby Lonestar Rollergirls in the early 2000s and the offshoot league, the Texas Rollergirls. And yes, there is a difference, which this movie painstakingly shows. It's indeed more about the politics and administration of the teams and why there are two separate leagues rather than playing the sport itself, and it proves that it takes a lot just to get any event or organization off the ground at a single city basis. It's like The West Wing, but with more static shots and for Austin roller derby. It's quite possibly the most honest film I have seen about starting and organizing an event with a group of women. Given that the sport does feature sexy outfits and is often violent, the women on the teams acknowledge the line between "sexy and slutty" that the teams have to take to make the sport entertaining; but towards the end, that line becomes very uncomfortable as one league is forced to wrestle in oil at a bar to promote the upcoming game.

The film and sound quality for Hell on Wheels is not the greatest, and I'm pretty sure this film was made for a small budget, with cheap equipment, and took several years to come out. There are subtitles for some of the meetings, not because of dialects, but because of where some of the meetings took place (the patios of restaurants with miniature waterfalls). It's still an interesting film to watch if you have any interest in the sport or the recent history of it. Despite all the drama that goes on in the film, it has a happy ending because both leagues became the inspiration for the formation of other leagues all over the US and the rest of the world.



Whip It
Dir. Drew Barrymore || 2009 || USA

In Whip It, Drew Barrymore makes the conscious choice not to follow the politics of being on a roller derby team or a part of a league and instead focuses on what can make the sport so inspiring and fun. The film is based on a young adult novel of the same name by Shauna Cross, who played roller derby in Austin and Los Angeles. The plot primarily concerns Texas alternateen Bliss leading a double life between becoming a new roller derby player and a beauty pageant contestant, something her Mom has had her do her entire life. It is a coming-of-age tale of sorts and I don't want to give much away because it is a good movie with some positive messages. Drew Barrymore has an eye for talent and what makes a good movie (most of the time, your mileage may vary with the Charlie's Angels films she produced and starred in) and I wish she would do more producing and directing work rather than acting in crummy-looking romantic comedies at this point; although she has a small and funny role as Smashley Simpson, the most accident prone of the roller derby players.


The Ring (2002) and Its Prediction of Viral Media


I recently re-watched The Ring (2002, dir. Gore Verbinski) for the first time in about ten years because a friend is using it in his thesis on surveillance films. io9 recently ran a discussion post on what films could never be made today, and several people listed The Ring. Granted, it appears that some filmmakers in Japan, Ringu/The Ring's country of origin, have recently tried to place the story into 2014 with a "reboot" of the series. 

I do not necessarily believe that a film like The Ring could not be made today, but what I noticed upon my recent viewing is how it does exist in a certain weird time period in regards to technology. It also seems to predict viral media in a way, while at the same time functioning as an actual virus on some level.

The technology in The Ring exists in a time right before technology became more compact, or more functional. The video itself is on a VHS tape, not DVD. The characters have flip phones, but in their brief use at various points of the film, they almost seem foreign and they definitely cannot get a signal once on the island where Samara originated. The characters still have home phones, whether cordless or not. Rachel (Naomi Watts) conducts her research both in libraries or archives as well as on a computer.

The tape in The Ring functions as a normal biological virus would with the same imperative biological beings have - it has to replicate in order to survive. But where it goes horribly wrong is that if the viewer fails to replicate the tape, the viewer will die, not the virus/tape. The tape seems to exist with the confidence that it will never actually cease to exist, perhaps even predicting that it will continue to exist even as new viewing formats are invented and become popular. Samara's father seems to have an older, top-loading VCR (I mistook it for a Betamax player initially), so the tape began its rotation as home viewing technology became easily accessible. If somehow the series was perpetuated in sequels into the 2010s, there is no reason to disbelieve that the video would be online, or co-existing with physical media as well.

The Ring also came out sort of right at the beginning of viral media – preceded by The Blair Witch Project and its viral marketing campaign in 1999, but the only other sort of “viral” media I can think of or remember around that time are those images of 9/11 that circulated but were also doctored to feature things like Satan’s face in the smoke/dust of the buildings. So The Ring is predicting the uptick of viral media in a way, just making it biological on some level and deadly. Either that or it’s predicting creepypasta, which, like The Ring, exists in a realm that incorporates both urban legends and technology.

PS - The separate issue in this film is the presentation of what are essentially experimental film and Surrealist aesthetics as horror. This is not exactly the first film to do it, I just find it kind of amusing. Because this film was so popular, I like to think that it was the gateway to experimental films for some people.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Film Still Friday: I Know Who Killed Me || 2007 || Dir. Chris Sivertson || USA


From that brief moment in I Know Who Killed Me where you think that the film could seriously go into some seriously grotesque, hilarious territory. This image is verging on painterly, and is similar to Chuck Close's paintings in the 1960s and 1970s.

Proposal for a new genre title: Lohsploitation.

Monday, May 12, 2014

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003)


Dir. Donald Petrie || 2003 || USA

Preface #1
One of my interests this past year-and-a-half has been how it is really becoming rather impossible to ascribe one type of ideology or another to a film. Most films, almost regardless of whether or not they are produced in Hollywood seem to attempt to espouse both conservative and liberal ideologies (to use the most basic dichotomy of ideologies). However, this is not to say that How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days has an ideology at all, because I am not even sure the film ultimately has a point.

Preface #2
About two months ago, I was traveling for work and staying in a hotel. Oprah's cable network was having a "Never forget that Matthew McConaughey made romcoms for several years" night by playing Failure to Launch and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days in succession. I did not catch much of the former, which seems to exist in a universe where people who look like Bradley Cooper, Justin Bartha, and Zooey Deschanel are the "loser" or even more "loser-y" friends. I watched maybe 2/3 of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days before turning it off to read and go to sleep. Curiosity got the better of me and I actually rented it this weekend, determined to find out what the "project" of this movie actually was, or if there even seriously was one. Well, a project besides product placement of (and in ascending order) Revlon, Budweiser, and the New York Knicks. I am pretty sure the Knicks alone financed at least half of the film.

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, an 11-year-old film released in 2003, nonetheless seems like it was written and meant to be produced in the late 1990s. I cannot pinpoint why exactly, because it seems like people cared more about magazines or criticizing magazines then. But maybe I am projecting because I do not really see the point in the majority of magazines existing anymore, particularly in print. The covers of the magazine in the film, Composure, features non-famous women and models, in photos more along the lines of the pictures seen in "Women Laughing Alone with Salad". This is despite starring Kate Hudson, an actress who has probably been on dozens of magazine covers and having former supermodel of the 90s, Shalom Harlow, in a supporting role. The film fails to recognize the shift in actresses appearing on the majority of women's magazine covers now, above supermodels. It also maybe more late 90s-centric because it is one of those films that seems to erase 9/11 out of New York City on the basis that films are where people go to escape painful things and incidents. Also, it features a Ginblossoms song as chase theme music, which seems even more outdated in 2014 than it probably did even in 2003.

Kate Hudson plays Andie Anderson, a woman with a Master's degree in Journalism from Columbia University slumming at women's magazine Composure by writing a "How To" column on various trends or "lifehacks for the privileged" as they are sometimes called now. She aspires to write about politics and international relations, which her boss has shot down numerous times because of the inherent fluffiness of the magazine's content. Inspired by a co-worker's latest brief 7-day disastrous relationship, Andie begins her latest piece with the titular title. The film never seems to decide whether it wants to be subtle or broad in its characterization of Andie and her co-workers. Andie is supposed to be "different" because she has higher aspirations, likes to eat large hamburgers and go to New York Knicks games. She is actually called the "cool girl" at some point, which is another stereotype upon itself, a construct that some women feel they have to live up to so they are not seen as the "crazy girlfriend".*  Beyond its somewhat promising beginning, the film eventually decides to pack stereotypes upon stereotypes, and it never seriously questions too much that it is magazines and advertising that pushes these sorts of gender stereotypes.

McConaughey plays the also improbably cute-named Benjamin Barry, a fellow who works in advertising and feels stuck because his division only obtains the sports and beer accounts. He has recently snagged an account with a diamond company, with the idea that diamond rings should also be advertised to men as desirable accessories, or something - it's never made clear. Benjamin seems to be criticizing the diamond industry, knowing that it is an industry based on the false idea that diamonds are rare, and therefore valuable. And to an lesser extent he seems to be criticizing the sexist one-sided marketing of diamonds. But he is in competition with the division who typically receives the more women's-oriented accounts. A bet is made that if he can arrive to a party the company is throwing in 10 days with a woman who is in love with him, he will win the account.

Shenanigans and stereotypes ensue, almost endlessly for a a film that does not need to be 2 hours long. Andie behaves in the stereotypical (and seen through 2014 lenses, downright creepy) ways that men are supposed to hate. Benjamin relents because he wants to win the account. Both are frustrated. The reveals come at the big party, where inexplicably, female attendees are given diamonds to wear from a snack table, and feelings are hurt. Benjamin's partners show him Andie's article as he is working on the diamond commercial which still seems to be advertising to women, albeit to older women. Andie gets told she can write whatever she wants as long as its the typical fluffy stuff. She quits, decides to interview for a job in DC. Benjamin chases her cab through NYC and stops on the Brooklyn Bridge where they make up. And while Benjamin wins her over with the point that she can do the reporting she likes in NYC, we never learn if Andie succeeds. Can this film be seen as dark because it appears neither character actually succeeds in their careers? The ending seems entirely based in, "Well, they are attractive and they have each other."

The only time I laughed out loud was when Andie said Benjamin killed their "love fern" and he replies, "No honey, it's just sleeping." I think I might not be the right audience for these movies.

*Since Andie is a variation on what is typically a boy's name, maybe we can infer the Carol Clover theory that when male or borderline-gender neutral names are given to female characters, it is because that character is meant for male audiences to identify with.


Monday, May 5, 2014

What I've been watching lately in four sentences or less

Repost from 2011.

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The Fall of the House of Usher (1929 || Dir. Jean Epstein || France)
Not nearly as surrealist as some would have you believe.

Blood and Roses (1960 || Dir. Roger Vadim || France)
A slightly more heteronormative-incestuous take on Carmilla, but still interesting.

Au Hasard Balthazar (1966 || Dir. Robert Bresson || France)
Poor donkey.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011 || Dir. Joe Johnston || USA)
The most watchable and fun out of the Marvel Studios films released this year. No daddy issues ('sup, Thor?), and it doesn't take itself too seriously ('sup, X-Men: First Class?). It honestly has Cap jumping a ramp on a motorcycle, away from an exploding Nazi camp. Cap runs away from explosions quite a few times in the film, so it almost cancels out the terrible creepiness of the first 30 minutes consisting of Chris Evans being made to appear shorter and skinnier through CGI.





The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962 || Dir. Jess Franco ||France-Spain)
Jess Franco's first film, a slightly sleazier retread on Eyes without a Face. It's not a very entertaining retread and the era it takes place in is indeterminable.

The Spirits of the Dead (1968 || Dirs. Roger Vadim, Louis Malle, Federico Fellini || France-Italy)
European artsy-sleazy takes on Poe stories with pretty people? Bet you didn't know Fellini could do head decapitations, did you? I would like to frame most of the shots in Fellini's segment "Toby Dammit" and put it on my wall because that man could do Technicolor. The anthology is pretty good, although Malle's story isn't that great except for being able to look at Alain Delon and a brunette Brigitte Bardot.

Faceless (1987 || Dir. Jess Franco || France-Spain)
Another retread of Eyes without a Face by Jess Franco, this one being better, if a bit repetitive and drawn out. There are nods to The Awful Dr. Orloff.

Flyboys (2006 || Dir. Tony Bill || USA)
A dull movie that takes itself too seriously, despite what the trailer would have you believe sometimes (i.e., guy running away from explosion on top of a zeppelin). I fast-forwarded through much of the last hour and was a better person for doing that. Someone should have told James Franco that there were no frosted hair tips during World War I.




Punisher: War Zone (2008 || Dir. Lexi Alexander || USA)
The most comic book out of all comic book movies - the colors, the over-the-top violence and characters (complete with bad NYC accents for the villains), the cinematography  - all comic book. Sometimes the film drags a little, but then there's another insane set piece. 

Don't Open 'Till Christmas (1984 || Dir. Edmund Purdom || UK)
I watched this because the guy who played the dean in Pieces stars and directed this movie. I guess if the idea of a serial killer killing people in Santa suits sounds good, check it out. Otherwise, I can't recommend it because that's really all the film is: killing Santas and some police procedural - it's as if the movie was being written as it was filmed. This movie makes Silent Night, Deadly Night look profound.

Burnt Offerings (1976 || Dir. Dan Curtis || USA)
Many of the daytime scenes were very washed out looking and I am not totally sure why. It's perhaps better than most haunted house movies, if a little slow sometimes (this is a high compliment from me, considering that I've never been one for haunted house films). The ending is quite good and dark.

C.H.U.D. (1984 || Dir. Douglas Cheek || USA)
Not a terribly bonkers horror film, but it has a good "future stars" cast, good special effects, and it fits in well with other early 1980s gritty NYC horror films.




Children of the Corn (1984 || Dir. Fritz Kiersch || USA)
While I haven't read the short story since I was probably 12, this is not a good movie. It's like a moralistic, somewhat dull, and ballsless version of Who Could Kill a Child?. The film also has this bizarre dichotomy of the two good, non-cult children being cute, while the majority of the children in the cult are either awkward-looking or ugly.

The Bride Wore Black (1968 || Dir. Francois Truffaut || France)
Bet you didn't know that Truffaut did semi-Hitchcockian revenge films, did you? This is not a bloody film, but quite clever.