Showing posts with label dvd. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dvd. Show all posts

Friday, July 25, 2014

Film Still Friday: Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! || Dir. Russ Meyer || 1965 || USA


Monday, July 21, 2014

Flicker by Theodore Roszak

Repost from 2009.

Theodore Roszak's 1991 novel Flicker concerns a young academic named Jonathan Gates and his spiraling obsession with an obscure German horror filmmaker named Max Castle. Castle was one of many Germans who came to Hollywood after World War I. Due to his obscure religion and the handlers from the religion that came along with him to Hollywood, Castle was eventually reduced to directing trashy, incoherent horror films after being dismissed as "difficult to work with." Castle was rumored to have died in a plane crash over the ocean at the age of 42. The novel follows Gates for roughly 20 years in his hunt for information about Castle, Castle's religion, and the lost or uncut versions of his films. Roszak does show off his history degrees by having Castle's religion tied to the Knights Templar, as well as being knowledgeable about film history. It is only when Gates begins to ironically preach about the films that are now considered cult classics, but were midnight movies in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and how they are bringing about the downfall of the world does the novel start to lose hold. It is that Gates never resolves his opinion of the cult movies of the 1960s and 1970s, nor is self-aware enough to know that he is obsessed with them and that his work on Castle may have partially brought these films about (at least in this fictional world, Roszak almost fully ignores the real-world events of the 1960s and 1970s in the novel), as well as his obsession with a young director also in Castle's religion who is making nihilistic "cult"-type films. Roszak seems to be implying that these types of films will bring about the downfall of the world, either overtly or subtly, but if that is the message, then it is extremely muddled.



Roszak barely covers how the Vietnam War, the impeachment of Nixon, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and how these events effected the films of the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is only treated in tertiary and occasionally humorous terms on why Gates was not drafted into the Vietnam War. But overall, these historic events are not given any coverage in Flicker. Considering that academic writing correlating the tragic events of the 1960s and 1970s with the edgier films of this time period did not emerge until the early-mid 1980s, Roszak may have cleverly averted the historical issues and their relation to films with good reason, considering the state Gates is narrating from by the end of the novel. Roszak makes a few clever set-ups throughout Flicker, things that are likely meant to annoy some readers for much of the novel, but eventually have some sort of pay-off. This includes Gates’ habit of sleeping with every woman that is introduced into the book. This aspect quickly became annoying to me, but Roszak has this as a part of the book for a reason, even if it is for purely contrasting reasons, as to eventually show how far Gates has become obsessed with Max Castle and his religion, the Orphans of the Storm.






Towards the end of the novel, he correctly equates himself to Joseph Cotten’s naïve character in The Third Man. Gates is perhaps not the most compelling or smartest character in the world, which is at a detriment to the story, whether it is an homage to The Third Man or not (side note: Orson Welles does make an appearance in the novel, as does John Huston via letter). While Flicker is in part a detective story (that takes about half of the book to get to), Gates spends the first half of the novel relying on one woman to teach him what he should think of film and film history. His obsession with Castle creates a break in this relationship, but he still trusts and relies on others too much, which is another factor in his downfall.


The character of Jonathan Gates may be a more modern take of Doctor Faustus. Gates does everything short of selling his soul to the Devil to acquire more knowledge on a single film director. It takes him around the world, and in the end, he loses what little he had to begin with. Like Faustus, Gates does not use his knowledge to benefit himself in any way. Although he is able to sleep with every woman he encounters, whereas Faustus is only given that option (such as it was in the sixteenth century), his friends encourage him to use his knowledge and his stature as an expert on this one director to gain tenure at UCLA, yet he continues this obsession because he thinks he can write a book once he figures everything out. His friends know that this obsession is going to lead to Gates’ end, and that according to the majority of the characters in this novel, searching for Castle’s films may not be the noblest cause to begin with. The main question Flicker seems to ask is if film has the ability to mask evil images and ideas either layered under the film’s main image in the print or within a film’s flicker, and if these “evil” images and ideas hidden within films can cause evil in people or in the world. Of course, this question is never resolved.


A stereotypical Robinson Crusoe device is used for the ending. It is a somewhat pampered Crusoe device, but a device nonetheless. Although I guess there are only so many ways to end a novel that heavily concerns conspiracy theories attached to a secret religion, but placing the narrator on an island is not the most compelling ending.













Flicker seems to have had an influence on a few films that have come out in the past few years. Cigarette Burns, one of the episodes in the first season of the television series Masters of Horror, concerned a young and troubled repertory film theater owner and his commissioned search for a film only screened once because it caused an entire audience to go insane and burn down the theater it was being screened in at a film festival. The search for the film of course leads the man on a dangerous path. Directed by John Carpenter, Cigarette Burns is both the most worthwhile episode in the Masters of Horror series and possibly the only worthwhile film Carpenter has made in the past 10-15 years. As a side note, Cigarette Burns was one of the first episodes of the 2-3 season series (at least if you count its major network-spinoff show Fear Itself), however, Masters of Horror got progressively worse from the end of its first season and into its second season. Carpenter’s second season episode, Pro-Life, is completely awful and preposterous. The recent DVD release The Hills Run Red follows a documentary film student and his friends as they try to hunt down the director and a print of a horror film called The Hills Run Red. The film was only screened once, immediately banned, and all prints were thought to be destroyed. While the first 45 minutes or so of The Hills Run Red are interesting in that it tries to subvert the typical horror film tropes, it fails in that the last 30-45 minutes return to other horror film tropes. It’s a shame really because the film, the film-within-the-film, and the film-within-within-the-film feature the creepy slasher Babyface. But The Hills Run Red and the documentary film inside of it do not focus on Babyface, and instead try to make the first two films a character drama, and a somewhat weak one at that. None of the characters are written or developed well enough to affect the audience when bad things start happening to them. This means that the filmmakers stuck to the biggest horror trope of them all. Not that sticking with Babyface would have likely been much better, but he was perhaps the only pitiable character in the films. Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Inglorious Basterds shares a theory that Flicker puts forth. Lt. Archie Hickox (played by Michael Fassbender), the British soldier and film critic espouses the theory that while German Expressionist films of the 1920s reflected German’s damaged psyche post-WWI, it also weakened them and allowed the rise of Hitler. Of course, Flicker adds to it that secret images and messages may have been added to these films to allow that.


What Jonathan Gates and the protagonist of The Hills Run Red have in common in that both seem to pursue their obsessions with their one “lost” film director as a hope that in the end, they will also find themselves. While this idea is directly expressed by the protagonist in The Hills Run Red, we’re not given enough background on him for it to be compelling or valid. The same idea is not directly expressed in Flicker, but it would make sense for a person like Gates, who basically spends half of the book in the shadow of a smarter and eventually more successful woman, to attach himself to a cause so he can find himself and achieve his own success. Gates really does not have much of a personality, is not very bright, and it is frankly hard to accept him as a character to follow for 600 pages.


When Jonathan Gates compares himself to Holly Valens, Joseph Cotten’s character in The Third Man, it is not a totally correct assessment. Holly’s quest in The Third Man is yes, naïve, but almost completely unselfish. He wants to clear his old friend’s name. Even when his old friend turns out not to be an upstanding citizen, Holly does what is considered the moral thing. Valens has his own career, and has not seen his friend Harry Lime for several years when The Third Man opens. Throughout the story, it is his intention to be the good old moralistic American hero in the film, not to find himself. Holly has the elements of being a lost man-child, although on the surface he is too old and too well-dressed for it by modern standards. He comes to Vienna for a job with Harry, although what sort of job is not revealed until much later. His only reason for seeking work is probably because he is bored with writing cheap pulp western novels, and because he misses his old friend. This displays a sharp contrast of the men and young men in Flicker and The Hills Run Red. The Third Man takes place after the end of World War II. Flicker opens in the late 1950s while Gates is in college, and American culture is changing just as much as film culture, with each affecting the other and vice versa (although Roszak does not acknowledge this). Film criticism, especially post-war European criticism is beginning to be taken seriously, and film studies programs are opening up at universities. Within a decade, it is okay for people to say things like “I’m trying to find myself.” Cut to almost a decade into the new millennium, and a young person’s search for the self becomes intertwined with the mega nerdy fanboy era and the need to discover and revive the most obscure film objects for glory and a place in obscure film history books, or at least Wikipedia. Reviving lost art, literature, and film is nothing new and often results into the formerly lost works becoming canon, especially if the works were by a member of a marginalized group of people (i.e., not white heterosexual males). Flicker, first published in 1991, predates the meteoric rise of director Quentin Tarantino, a man who has almost single-handedly revived obscure genre films and brought them to the public, albeit usually indirectly. Besides his former Quentin Tarantino presents video series, just his endorsement of an ultra obscure film will cause a cheapo DVD boxed set to be produced by a company willing to cash in without providing quality DVD transfers, but wanting to cram as many supposed-Tarantino-endorsed films as possible onto 3-4 discs and sell them all in a boxed set for $15-20 at Best Buy. Finding and reviving these films are for a niche market. How would one find themselves in such a project? It shows how much the world has changed since the 1940s that one has the ridiculous combination of privilege, egotism, and naïveté to believe that they can discover who they are by trying to uncover a “lost” film or director.


What Flicker merely touches on, and Cigarette Burns and Hills Run Red do not, is that it is normally works of art by marginalized peoples that become part of the canon after they have been rediscovered. Max Castle is somewhat marginalized because of his ancient, obscure, and secretive religion, and his religion’s dark influence over his films. But part of the conspiracy Jonathan Gates is trying to uncover in the novel is the Orphans of the Storm’s attempts to use film as a way to make their views become mainstream, and Gates’ work on Castle, conspiracy aside, does allow Castle’s work to become somewhat canon, even if on a cult level. Since all of the protagonists in these three stories succeed in their individual goals at a terrible price, these stories imply that searching for “lost” films for purely selfish or egotistical reasons is a path to destruction on its own, nevermind the films.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Notes on Jennifer's Body (2009)...

Repost from 2010.

Dir. Karyn Kusama (written by Diablo Cody) || 2009 || USA


Preface, Part I:
I could go on about how Jennifer's Body was much maligned before and during it's release last fall, by both the horror community and its subsect, the feminist horror community, but frankly, I was too busy studying 16th century British plays last fall to pay attention to blogs, or go to the movies very often. I think I was only paying attention to womenandhollywood.com's coverage because I thought it would be interesting. Melissa Silverstein is a feminist film marketeer and critic who tends to promote and review films I would never see in my life if I can help it (Katherine Heigl romantic comedies, most modern romantic comedies). But she actually wrote a favorable review of the Jennifer's Body and was confused when the film didn't do well. I know enough to understand that Jennifer's Body was not a well-marketed movie. For more information on the plot of the movie, go to Final Girl. For more information on how off-base it was for the horror community to dismiss Jennifer's Body, go to And Now the Screaming Starts.

Preface, Part II:
I am titling this post "Notes on Jennifer's Body" because I really do not have the time or energy to write a proper review, essay, or treatise on this film. I'm just going over the more interesting aspects. I will likely be responding to the posts made by Stacie at Final Girl and C at And Now the Screaming Starts, so I am encouraging everyone to read those posts first, since I'm not going to go over the plot of the film too much.


With a bullet, number one, kill the family, save the son
I left a comment at And Now the Screaming Starts about how a satanic emo or indie band would not be entirely off-base if Diablo Cody knew much about the indie music scene. There are stories of a couple of indie bands whose singers have raped or assaulted women and have more or less gotten away with it. One band in particular, these stories came out about 15 years ago in blurbs in national music magazines, and this band finally became popular about 5 years ago, complete with an iconic music video (I am leaving enough information to piece things together, y'all). Considering how 90s-centric Juno kind of was, and the obvious tip-off of the title of the film coming from a Hole song, I'd be surprised if Cody didn't know. There is even a scene where Needy tries to tell a classmate about how Low Shoulder are a bunch of creeps who actually didn't help anyone at the bar when it burned down, and her classmate basically replies that Low Shoulder are saints. People get really defensive about their favorite bands, and "indie" and/or emo bands tend to carry the stereotype of either not being sexist (or portraying themselves as such) and/or basically being wimps to the point where no one ever thinks they could do anything wrong, especially physically harming someone (or again, portraying themselves as such, considering a lot of indie band singers sound like whiny eunuchs).

Low Shoulder's reason for wanting to be successful is like any other band's: they don't want to work in coffeeshops anymore. But what is funny about this is that when the singer tries to convince his bandmate that sacrificing Jennifer is the way to go, he asks "Do you want to work in a coffeeshop or be Maroon 5?" I'm not sure if this, combined with the fact that Adam Brody is doing an impersonation of Brandon Flowers from The Killers (in both looks and moves), is supposed to be some sort of commentary on the term "indie" being just another marketing ploy, since neither Maroon 5 or The Killers were ever considered indie. Hell, it was that way 20 years ago, and it wasn't too different in this past decade. The casting of Adam Brody as Low Shoulder's singer is either perfect stunt casting or unintentional genius, since it was both the actor and his character on The O.C. who caused some "indie" bands to become so popular in the 00s. He's actually spot-on and menacing as a douchebag in a band.

In a twist opposite of the recent stories of bands whose shows resulted in fires that killed people, Low Shoulder becomes successful instead of failures involved in years of litigation (it is never fully implied that they started the fire but they were at least expecting it to happen - the whole scene at the bar is weird, between Jennifer becoming increasingly hypnotized during the band's performance, and the singer just strolling out with a drink from the bar after the girls get out of the fire). However, in a sort of Tales from the Crypt-ian twist, their success is somewhat short-lived after Needy, now partially demonized herself after her final fight with Jennifer, is successful in her revenge in killing the coked-up band in their hotel room. If the movie had gone on past that however, we likely would have found out that Low Shoulder became even more successful, because that's the way things are. Famous people are typically more successful and nearly sainted in death more than they were in life.

Bitter you, bitter me
As Stacie at Final Girl mentioned, the subplot of Jennifer terrorizing the town Devil's Kettle and Needy to try to maintain some sort of relevancy arrives too late in the film for much to be done with it. This is not a typical high school film where Jennifer terrorizes the other students for not being popular or pretty. While Needy tells Jennifer in their first fight that she was always a terrible friend, the only evidence we see of it is in the beginning where Needy tries on outfit after outfit to fit Jennifer's definition of "cute, but not cute enough to make me look bad" before they go see Low Shoulder. The only other way that this can be linked to the issue of relevancy is if you take C's take on why this was not a film where a girl was using her sexuality (and therefore, not the unfeminist film some people were making it out to be) - Jennifer maybe seduces one out of her four known victims, tops. Almost all her victims are confused and shaken boys in some manner - one from surviving the bar fire, the second a guy mourning the death of his best friend in the fire, and the fourth was just emotionally conned by Jennifer, and is reluctant and confused. It is a possibility that Jennifer's main target of terror was Needy. While Jennifer and Needy have a severely co-dependent relationship, Needy does have a boyfriend, and one other friend from school, and Jennifer kills them both. Jennifer seems to have no other friends but Needy. It is only when Jennifer realizes that Needy has more power over her than she does over Needy, and that Needy may genuinely not love her anymore that Jennifer is ready to surrender and die.

This is how the ending of the film comes as a surprise. In a typical horror film, it would have ended at Jennifer's death. But with Needy's newfound confidence and demon powers, she goes and exacts revenge to the band that ruined her and her friends' lives. She takes charge, and is the only one to throughout the entire film. I thought I would have a huge misgiving about the film stating in the beginning where Needy was and the story being told via flashback, but it was handled better than I thought it would be.

In some ways with the late relevancy subplot, it feels tacked on as though it is some sort of cautionary tale about the two women who star in the film. Megan Fox is not a terrible actress, especially not in this film, and even if she says stupid things from time to time in interviews, I kind of have to respect anyone who made it out alive after starring in two films with the black hole of charisma that is Shia Leboeuf. But considering the only successful films she has been in are the Transformers films, there is a relevancy issue with her career. Amanda Seyfried keeps a significantly lower profile than Fox, and is considered the more respectable actress, so she makes it out of the film and her post-Jennifer's Body career intact.

And yeah, I liked the film.

ETA 03/04/10: It is also possible that Cody was making a dig at the success of the Juno soundtrack when the singer calmly explains to Jennifer that the only way for indie bands to become popular now "is if they're on some shitty soundtrack!" As I stated in my Juno review two years ago, I am not one for twee cutesy acoustic music, but it was bizarre seeing a local record store mark up the what was likely a normally $5 self-released or Plan-It-X Records-released Moldy Peaches CD with a xeroxed black-and-white cover to $10-14 during the time of the soundtrack's popularity.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Oscar Wilde, Jude Law's prettiness, and working on my English-Lit degree

Repost from 2010. I think people just like the Mean Girls meme.


While it's a Wilde-meets-Mean Girls LOL image thing, this isn't too far from the truth, if you've seen Wilde or have read Wilde's "De Profundis." Jude Law was kind of brilliant as Bosie, who was basically a beautiful man, but a godawful boyfriend. Considering how many Jude Law movies I've almost inadvertently taken in these past few months, it's the only role where his prettiness fit perfectly with the role, whereas with eXistenZ, it was really distracting, and not helping the fact that eXistenZ turned out to be the only Cronenberg movie I've ever hated.

This is perhaps my long-winded way of saying that for the next 2-8 weeks I'm going to be too busy writing papers on Oscar Wilde and other 19th century writers to blog much. Any posts will likely be short and/or video-based.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (II) (1997)

Repost from 2010.

Dir. Steven Spielberg || 1997 || USA

According to Wikipedia, the reason why there has yet to be a Jurassic Park IV is because Steven Spielberg has yet to find a script he is satisfied with. One wonders why he did not use the same discretion for The Lost World: Jurassic Park II and I am assuming Jurassic Park III as well. The Lost World is a sequel that sort of chips away at any goodwill one has towards the first Jurassic Park film. It worst of all suffers from plotholes and having so many characters that one is never sure of some of the secondary character's names, nor why they are there to begin with.

In The Lost World, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is forced into a Ripley-like position of having to head a second exposition to the "Plan B Island" of the original Jurassic Park. His only reason is to save his paleontologist girlfriend, Sarah (Julianne Moore), who fancies herself a Diane Fossey amongst dinosaurs; and who wants to prove that dinosaurs, T-Rexes in particular, did take care of their young instead of leaving them to fend for themselves not too long after birth. Along for the ride is a documentarian (Vince Vaughn), a beardless Toby from The West Wing (Richard Schiff); and inexplicably, Malcolm's pre-adolescent daughter, Kelly, because there always has to be at least one child in supreme danger in the Jurassic Park films. Kelly sneaks into a high-tech caravan in California, which is put on a boat that I am assuming was at sea for at least three days. Why Malcolm did not make sure his daughter did not get in a car or taxi with the nanny he wanted her to stay with while he went to the islands, I do not know. By the end of the film, she does get to kick a raptor through a window using her skills as a gymnast, so she fills that absurd purpose besides being the endangered child.

Not too long after arriving at the island, they do find Sarah, who is nearly killed by a stegosaurus while trying to photograph them. Malcolm is failing at trying to convince her to leave the island, and we learn more of Malcolm's bad boyfriend and fathering skills. Much like the first Jurassic Park film, Jeff Goldblum does not do much; but in The Lost World he is not even allowed to be funny or charming. I guess PTSD does that to a man. Then helicopters arrive bringing a group of hunters to the island, courtesy of the new head of InGen, who I will call "British Bob Balaban". I do not know why this happens, but the hunters immediately proceed to hunt dinosaurs. Pete Postlethwaite is there to hunt a T-Rex, although no one ever considers how the hell you are supposed to haul a T-Rex back home. They capture some dinos, including a baby T-Rex. Vince Vaughn is there not only to document the island, but also serve as a representative for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Dinosaurs, so that night, he and Sarah free all the captured dinosaurs who then wreak havoc at the hunter's camp, destroying their equipment. He and Sarah can also work as Dinosaur Veterinarians, because they then take the injured baby T-Rex back to the caravan where they try to repair its leg until mama T-Rex arrives, knocking the caravan over a cliff after they give her the baby back. It's like a bad, overlong version of the Land Rover in the tree-scene from the first film. It's nice how Sarah proves her theory that T-Rexes cared for their young, but simultaneously forgets the damage it would cause to herself and others if she decided to treat an injured baby T-Rex. She also wears her jacket that is stained with baby T-Rex blood for the rest of the film, leading the mama T-Rex to the path of where her team and the hunters are going to try to get off the island since everyone's high-tech equipment is destroyed. Many deaths ensue. She really is no Dr. Grant or Dr. Sadler. We also learn that the Island B raptors do not know how to open doors, unlike the raptors in the original Jurassic Park. But they can dig holes under the doors like dogs!

The baby T-Rex is captured and brought to San Diego to be a part of a Jurassic Park exhibition at the San Diego Zoo, because British Bob Balaban never saw King Kong. Inexplicably, mama T-Rex manages to hijack a freighter ship and makes her way to San Diego just in time for the unveiling. Crappy jokes ensue, such as a poster of Arnold Schwarzenegger starring in MacBeth, Asian businessmen running down the street away from the T-Rex, and the 76 gas station logo ball careening past Malcolm's bitchin' vintage Cadillac.

Of course a film that I highly disdain brings me out of my blogging break. I think the only reason this film was made was because Steven Spielberg and Jeff Goldblum needed to buy new vacation houses. I guess this film made Vince Vaughn, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite and Peter Stormare into slightly higher profiled actors, but that is not saying much. I think it would have been more interesting to watch how a T-Rex hijacked a freighter ship, including lowering itself into a cargo hole. Or watch Vince Vaughn work as both a Dinosaur Veterinarian and a representative for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Dinosaurs (PETD).

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.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Crazy Theory #8: Ghostbusters as a Metaphor for Koch Era NYC


Last year for my Cinematic Urbanism class, I chose NYC to write about for my final paper. It was not until almost very late in the semester that I chose to write on Born in Flames after realizing No Wave Cinema was not going to pan out due to inaccessibility of most of the films. I briefly flirted with using the more mainstream films of 1970s and 1980s NYC in my paper, including Ghostbusters.*

I conducted some historical research into the Koch era of NYC beginning in the mid-1970s when everything was rather bad and the US government declined to help financially save the city that was on the brink of bankruptcy. NYC began to see some reversal in the early 1980s. But you still see how bad it was in films** - the city did not prevent these films to be made, sort of under the guise of "any publicity is good publicity". Wolfen (1981, Dir. Michael Wadleigh) was shot in the Bronx after a large portion of it was burnt down (primarily by landlords or pyromaniacs hired by landlords) and the borough's destruction becomes a part of the film: 

A shot of the Bronx from Wolfen (1981).

Ghostbusters was released in 1984, or thirty years ago this month. Stories have been told, particularly after Harold Ramis' death in February, about how he helped Dan Akroyd scale the film down so it would have a more reasonable budget and therefore more studio support. The film was originally supposed to take place in space in the future, instead of then-modern day NYC. Perhaps partially due to the fact that Ghostbusters was filmed in NYC as well as a soundstage in Los Angeles, the audience is never shown how rough NYC was or looked, even as it was in the beginning-middle stages of being cleaned up. The Ghostbusters somehow never leave Manhattan, nor do they venture to Times Square or 42nd Street - which were filled with porn theaters at the time, because Ghostbusters is a family film. But their work appears to be a metaphor for the clean up NYC was in the midst of during the film's production and release. They are cleaning out the past to make way for a future for the city (or arguably, the ghosts are the have-nots). This is alluded to in one of the perkier MOR songs on the soundtrack with the line "the Ghostbusters are back here, cleaning up the town, oh yeah!" The only allusion given to the aesthetic state of the city is when Egon says the future Ghostbusters HQ is in "a demilitarized zone." 

But of course the clean up job turns out to be much bigger than anticipated, particularly after the government (the EPA) steps in and releases all the ghosts that they have caught. Despite perhaps only having no more than 6 blocks of the city destroyed by the end of the film, mostly due to the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man exploding, we find out that the city and state blamed the Ghostbusters***. By the release of the second film, when the clean-up of the city was a success (and maybe a handful of years before the "Disneyfication" of Times Square), the Ghostbusters are not needed anymore. It is hard to say whether they are there to remind the city to not forget its past, including the past buried in NYC's infrastructure, or to remind the city to come together in the face of adversity.  

* If this post seems a bit stilted, it's because it's somewhat impossible to write about the one film I have seen the most times in my life. I used to watch Ghostbusters obsessively as a child, and I still watch it a few times a year as an adult. 
** While there is a coffee table book released within the past 5 years on NYC in films, I do not know if it chronicles the rougher Koch era much. You can see the issues in not only in Taxi Driver and Wolfen, but in The Warriors, Street Trash, C.H.U.D., Smithereens (and Desperately Seeking Susan to a lesser extent), Lucio Fulci's The New York Ripper, Frank Henenlotter's films from this period (Basket Case, Frankenhooker, Brain Damage), and you can see the porn districts in Bette Gordon's film Variety. The documentary Blank City features clips from No Wave films and early Jim Jarmusch films shot in the mid-1970s-early 1980s. Escape from New York was primarily filmed in St. Louis, which also had some trouble during the same period.
*** Okay, maybe I am underestimating the destruction. This simulation video released this week demonstrates the amount of damage the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man would do in terms of zones. The maximum impact zone would be 4-6 blocks, while the total impact area appears to be 24 blocks of Manhattan.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Peacock (2010)

Repost from 2010.

Dir. Michael Lander || 2010 || USA

Peacock is a film that went direct-to-DVD recently after sitting on the shelf for 2 years. While not a horror film per se (most are crediting it as a "psychological thriller"), the inability to categorize the film is probably one of the reasons why the film was shelved. I'm not sure if the other was that the film prominently features Cillian Murphy in drag, although Peacock is not the first film where he has appeared in drag. Perhaps Lionsgate felt that America, unlike Britain, was not ready to see The Scarecrow from the Nolan-era Batman films* in drag. Also, Cillian Murphy in drag is prettier than a whole lot of women.



I think that Peacock, even with its somewhat problematic and confusing third act, is a distant cousin to Psycho. Both films feature a shy young men who were abused by their mothers, leading to a split personality disorder with a male and female personality. But Peacock does not treat the split personality as a twist, but as a jumping off point for the film. John Skillpa is a banker of the Milton variety who is so shy that he has trouble speaking to people he works with or has known his entire life living in Peacock, Nebraska. His mother died a year and a half ago, and he still lives in his childhood home. He hides baseball cards and candy bars in a box outside of his home as a habit from childhood, not realizing that as an adult, you can eat candy bars whenever you want. Emma Skillpa tends to the house and laundry and makes the meals, leaving notes for John with his meals and reminders to go to the store on the way home from work. There is a solid routine for this, with Emma being up early in the day and taking care of things before John has to be at work. One day while Emma is out taking the laundry off of the clothesline, a train derails and narrowly misses her. The neighbors arrive and believe Emma to be John's wife. As more attention is brought onto the Skillpa household, the personality breaks become more divided, and Emma becomes more dominant, much to John's dismay and confusion, when he finds that he has been missing work more often and Emma has been doing and agreeing to things that he did not want to happen, like a political rally in the backyard that also functions as a fundraiser for the local women's shelter.

If you're wondering why no one notices how similar John and Emma look, it is at least partially because Cillian Murphy as John is not the typical pretty man version of Cillian Murphy. Neither character has his trademark bright blue eyes. As John, he looks middle aged, he has some wrinkles and a bad haircut; whereas Emma's skin is smoothed out and she has perfect hair. John and Emma both seem as if they come from the 1950s or 1960s while everyone else in Peacock lives in modern times for the most part (the exception being Bill Pullman's character, who dresses as if he either lives in the 1960s or 1970s and has the air of a desperate used car salesman about him). This is evident in the way the Skillpa's dress, down to the details of the house. John's bicycle is vintage, as is Emma's car, stove, kitchen clock. When the break begins to happen, John is more willing to display the old "I'm the man of the house!" attitude in public, much to the shock of his co-workers and Fannie, the mayor's wife who runs the woman's shelter (Susan Sarandon).


There is a weird tension to this film. Part of it is due to its similarity in some ways to Psycho, the other is the fact that Murphy has become an expert at portraying mentally ill people to the point where just knowing that he is not playing a normal person ratchets up the tension level so that you know something bad is going to happen to someone in the film. This perhaps means that he is officially a character actor now.


What is interesting about Peacock is not only its treatment of split personalities, but how John deals with it. As the flim wears on and Emma is taking over, John is in denial at first and tries to fight it. This includes offering the money to the local waitress/prostitute Maggie (Ellen Page) who bore his child so that she can have her wish to get out of Peacock and let her son have a better life. Characterizing Maggie as a the typical "hooker with a heart of gold" is taking the easy way out. She is just a poor and desperate woman. John's mother had been paying her off before her death, because she forced John and Maggie to have sex while she was in the room. John offers the money and interest in leaving with her and their son after Emma has gotten Maggie placed into the women's shelter, where clothes and food are provided and she can learn new skills to find a better job. He begins to believe that if he stays out of his house and leaves Peacock, he can leave the Emma personality behind. He donates the Emma clothes to the women's shelter. He moves into a motel only to find that he had packed more women's clothes with him. Both John and Emma begin smoking cigarettes, which is a hackneyed split personality character trait and trick typically, but it is used with some subtlety here because it indicates that a bigger breakdown is in the future, we just do not know how or when. And this is where the film gets a tad confusing, as the blur between John and Emma is not delineated anymore.

Because John is the more introverted character and does not always telegraph his emotions well (although no one buries his face into his hands to express anguish better than Cillian Murphy), we do not know how or when he decided to kill the John part of his personality and become Emma. Perhaps he feels that as John, he has no future. He is a broken  man with the inability to connect to anyone. At work, he is like Milton from Office Space, but not miserable about it. It is only when he has made some sort of decision, whether it is to run off with Maggie or to kill off the male part of his personality, that he begins to  act chatty towards his co-workers and neighbors. It is the typical behavior of someone who is about to commit suicide, as they see themselves as about to be free. Emma is trying to do good within the community and is connecting with women such as Maggie and Fannie. She is friendly and more understanding of people and their imperfections and indiscretions. But the dark side still exists within her. She somewhat secretly goes about trying to find out how she can adopt Jake away from Maggie, and at the end of the film she takes a photo of Jake that is not unlike the picture of baby John throughout the film. She realizes that because she still has John's memories, that she could never have a child without perhaps turning into John's terrible mother, whom she is already dressing as. The film ends with Emma giving all of John's savings to Maggie and Jake, and telling her to get as far away from Peacock as possible. The ending implies that the personality break is not over, and killing the other half is not an automatic and easy solution, as Emma begins to shut herself off inside of the house as the rally continues, not unlike John's behavior.

I think there is some odd victim/survivor dichotomy going on within John and Emma. John was a survivor of ongoing child abuse into adulthood, and this allows Emma to identify with Maggie, who was also a victim of the abuse of John's mother, as well as a victim of, as catch-all as it sounds, oppression in general. The film hints that the world was not kind to Maggie to begin with, and being a poor single mother in a small town does not help matters. This is why Emma wants to be helpful towards the local women's shelter, which helps out the abused women and children of the town. The film only hints as to whether or not people like the sheriff and other townspeople know that John was abused as a child. They know something is off about John and his mother, but they kept their distance. Not much is mentioned about John's father, so it is not known whether he died when John was a child or if John even knew who his father was. I do not know if Peacock is trying to say that given John's sort of old school attitude towards gender ideas, that it is hard for a man to admit to being a victim of abuse, and this is part of the reason for his personality split, or if it is trying to say something entirely different.

*I am trying my best not to insert a rant towards the treatment of The Scarecrow in the recent Batman films soaked in the nostalgia of the 90s Batman cartoon, where The Scarecrow was a terrifying character.

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!)

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.

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.