Showing posts with label netflix watch instantly. Show all posts
Showing posts with label netflix watch instantly. Show all posts

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.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Jane Eyre (1944)

Repost from 2010.


Dir. Robert Stevenson || 1944 || USA

Jane Eyre, while possibly one of my favorite books, is not a novel without some issues or critical debates that still surround it today, mostly in regards to feminist and post-colonial issues that surround Jane as well as Rochester's first wife, Bertha Mason, and Jane's cousin St. John's mission to India, which at the time the novel was written, was a colony of Great Britain.

The 1944 film adaptation of Jane Eyre does a pretty good job of cutting some of the fat away from the novel, although it takes some of the more Gothic elements away as well, such as Jane being locked away in the scary "red room" at her Aunt Reed's house before she is sent to Lowood School as a child. The entire St. John storyline is cut as well, which is a mixed blessing in the film. On the one hand, St. John is an insufferable and overly moral bore who tries to convince Jane to marry him solely to help him with his mission work in India. On the other hand, it is at the end of the St. John section of the novel where Jane comes into money and sees fit to attempt to return to Rochester as an equal. In the film, it is barely implied that Jane returns to Rochester with her own money because she is the last living heir of her Aunt Reed (whose brood was reduced to one child in the film, instead of three in the novel). Her redemption, so to speak, comes from caring for her dying aunt who was so terrible to her as a child.

Jane and Rochester's relationship is slightly less complicated than it is in the novel, although the film highlights Jane's need to befriend and be kind to the "friendless", Rochester does not put her through nearly so much testing before proposing to her. Rochester does not accuse Jane of being otherworldly nearly as much as he does in the novel either. The film does sort of bring into question why Jane would fall in love with Rochester to begin with, other than she is clearly the only woman he can trust, to an extent. Rochester is "friendless" and Jane can see a kinship there because she was orphaned and friendless for her entire life. But without St. John around as a comparison point to show why Rochester would be preferable, despite his faults, the film feels slightly rushed.

I did not realize until watching this film for a second time that Orson Welles is wearing a fake nose. It is quite distracting. I think Jane Eyre is one of those films that everyone seems to think Welles directed, although he did not. The night scenes are very shadow heavy and there are some disorienting slanted shadows and angles going on around the castle at times, but those call to mind The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari slightly more than Citizen Kane.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Dolls (1987) & Child's Play (1988)

Repost from 2010.

Dolls: Dir. Stuart Gordon || 1987 || USA
Child's Play: Dir. Tom Holland || 1988 || USA

Released a year apart from each other, Dolls (1987) and Child's Play (1988) both feature children from broken homes whom no one believes, murderous dolls; and at the very least, light criticism or jabs at the toy industry, Child's Play moreso than Dolls. Child's Play is the darker of the two films, while Dolls is more of a campy fairytale.

Dolls is meant to be an odd fairytale of sorts, what with its wicked stepmother, magical house with an old couple, and overall message about not losing one's childlike wonder, even in the face of death and destruction. It's a little too gory at times to show to children, but maybe pre-teens may not be too scared by it. Overall it has a lighter and campier nature, setting the stage for all the other evil doll films that Charles Band would later produce via Full Moon Pictures. Band produced this and most of Stuart Gordon's films in the 80s and 90s. The story revolves around Judy, a little girl who is vacationing in Italy with her inattentive and borderline abusive father and her new wicked and wealthy stepmother. Their car gets stuck in the mud one evening and they along with a nice guy and two Madonna-wannabes, find a house belonging to two elderly dollmakers. Only Judy and Ralph the nice guy marvel at the dolls and toys, so as predicted, everyone else gets to encounter the darker side of the dolls as the night progresses. Dolls takes a light jab at the manufactured toy industry early on, but mostly plays up the inherent creepiness of older and handmade dolls. While I believe the film peaks 10 minutes in with the brilliant killer teddy bear scene, it is a fun film to watch.

Child's Play is an odd film with a few tonal shifts that veer from satire, horror, and a vague and somewhat gritty realism. While I have not seen all of Child's Play 2 and 3, I have seen the more recent sequels Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky, which exist entirely on camp. The first film sets the tone a bit for the later films, especially in the beginning when the film shows the little boy watching the Good Guys cartoon that encourages children to beg their parents to buy the dolls and accessories, while he is already wearing Good Guys pajamas and eating their franchised cereal. The Good Guys dolls are clearly based on the My Buddy dolls that were popular in the 1980s and meant for little boys (the Kid Sister doll were meant for girls), although I don't remember if there was a cartoon associated with the doll. Those toys always seemed to be advertised to lonely children, without siblings or friends, and the film plays up that idea, as if a doll, even a large one, is a replacement for a friend or sibling.  Being that it is his birthday, he guilts his mother, who is a single widow that works at a department store, into buying him a Good Guys doll for his birthday. The dolls normally cost $100 (!!!), but his mother is able to buy one from a homeless guy in the alley of her store for the shocking low price of $30. It is after this scene that the film loses its elements of light satire and realism (because if the mom had been like mine, she just would have said, "no, I can't afford to buy you a doll that costs $100"), because of course, we all know that the doll the mother has bought is no ordinary doll, but a doll possessed with the soul of a serial killer who just happened to die in a shootout in a toy store the night before. Which, while kind of spooky, is also silly. I can see why the more recent films veered into pure camp, because killer doll movies are hard to take seriously.

Nonetheless, Child's Play doesn't go where I thought it would, which would be to have the other characters demonize the single working mom. That seemed to be a favorite past time of some groups in the 1980s, so score another one for the general open-mindedness of horror. The child is more demonized, at least by the other authority figures in the film; and he is placed in a psychiatric hospital. Mom eventually pieces it all together and convinces the cop to help (which he only does after being attacked by Chucky). It is also in the first film that the sequels are set up, since by the third act, Chucky begins his long and often interrupted quest to possess the soul of a human.

Child's Play has aged well, or better than it has any right to. I think it is due in part to having two Oscar-nominated actors in the cast, although you still have to wonder how the hell actors like Chris Sarandon and Brad Dourif got into a film about a killer doll. This wasn't Sarandon's first time at the horror rodeo; but unless you count The Eyes of Laura Mars, it was for Dourif. And he since become one of the go-to guys for horror, although he still has roles in higher profile or higher quality films. The film also stars Catherine Hicks as the mother, and while she isn't bad, this is mostly amusing because she later went on to play the mom on the WB/CW Christian family drama series 7th Heaven.


Monday, June 9, 2014

Biker Chick Double Feature: She-Devils on Wheels (1968) & Easy Wheels (1989)

Repost from 2011.


She-Devils on Wheels
Dir. Herschel Gordon Lewis || 1968 || USA

Despite some impressive visuals in the few films of his I've seen, I'm not exactly an H.G. Lewis fan. I sort of appreciate Lewis' use of bright colors in his films, even if I tend to like the artwork on the walls in his films more than the films themselves. With this in mind, I watched She-Devils on Wheels expecting the worst and actually ended up liking the film. Lewis made the film after criticism of how women were often treated in his other films. She-Devils on Wheels is about a female motorcycle gang called The Man-Eaters that often fights better than the male motorcycle gangs. The Man-Eaters race each other, and whomever wins gets first pick in "the stud line", a group a men that come to their house. The film makes an attempt to follow newer recruit Karen, but tends to pick up and drop her storyline as it pleases. Karen comes into play only after the gang beats up her favorite "stud" Bill, who they think she's in love with, which is against the gang's rules. She comes into play later in the film when her clean cut ex-boyfriend Ted warns her about the male motorcycle gang that has it out for the Man-Eaters. Ted often implores Karen to leave, but she refuses. I think Ted and Karen are supposed to be the moral center, acknowledging that being in any sort of gang probably is not good, but most of the film makes it seem kind of fun. However, the majority of the film is racing and the stud line parties. Lewis uses the shots of people driving away and parking way too much, but it's kind of a fun film when there is dialogue. The final scenes of the battle with the male motorcycle gangleader is bananas in the most perfect way possible.

Easy Wheels
Dir. David O'Malley || 1989 || USA

Easy Wheels is an odd and occasionally funny comedy with the pedigree of having been written by Ivan and Sam Raimi (Sam writing under the pseudonym Celia Abrams) and being produced by Robert Tapert and Bruce Campbell. Like She-Devils on Wheels, it concerns a rival male and female motorcycle gangs, but with added mythos behind each leader. She-Wolf (Eileen Davidson from The House on Sorority Row and the soap operas The Young and the Restless, Days of Our Lives, and The Bold and the Beautiful) is the leader of the gang The Women of the Wolf. They have been riding around the Midwest and stealing babies. They deposit the female babies to a park so that they can be raised by wolves and they leave the male babies with a baby broker who runs a sleazy bar. She-Wolf was raised by wolves herself and believes that she can create a new and more formidable society of women by stealing babies and having them also raised by wolves. They are tracked throughout the Midwest by The Bourne Losers, lead by Bruce, a Vietnam vet with a steel plate in his head that causes him to have visions. The gang's goals are to "find the evil, destroy the evil, and find a really great lite beer." So in real life, they would probably still be roaming around, twenty years later. Of course when they finally cross paths, She-Wolf and Bruce are immediately attracted to each other, causing She-Wolf to want to give up her abstinence (much to the dismay of her more devoted and/or lesbian gang members) so that she and the other members can bear children of free-spirited men. Bruce mostly remains in denial about She-Wolf being a babynapper.

Yeah, for a goofy little comedy, it kind of has a complicated plot. The ending gets a little confused in its message. Both gangs are laughable in their own ways, but I guess it is a given that babynapping is wrong, so The Bourne Losers are given more preference. Unlike The Man-Eaters in She-Devils on Wheels, The Women of the Wolf are a gang not only because they can fight and fight well, but because they are sick of being treated as second-class citizens. But it's hard to view them as "evil" when all they want is to remain independent and have a better society, either at a micro level or at a macro level.

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)

Monday, June 2, 2014

Image Association: Deleuze and Films About Money

The Queen of Versailles (2012, Dir. Lauren Greenfield)

Wall Street (1987, Dir. Oliver Stone)
Danger: Diabolik (1968, Dir. Mario Bava)

"Money is the obverse of all the images that the cinema shows and sets in place, so that films about money are already, if implicitly, films within the film or about the film. This is the true 'state of things': it is not in a goal of cinema, as Wenders says, but rather, as he shows, in a constitutive relation between the film in process of being made and money as the totality of the film...What the film within the film expresses is this infernal circuit between image and money, this inflation which time puts into the exchange, this 'overwhelming rise'. The film is movement, but the film within the film is money, is time...And the film will be finished when there is no more money left."
-Cinema 2: The Time-Image by Gilles Deleuze, 1985

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!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Dolly Dearest (1992)

Repost from 2011.

Dir. Maria Lease || 1992 || USA

Apparently made in the post-Child's Play glut of killer doll films, Dolly Dearest tends to fall flat and become quite dull when we're not watching the doll wreak havoc on the family or the Mexican people employed at either their house or the small rundown doll factory that the father owns and runs. Maybe this film is a metaphor for keeping work in the US instead of going to another country to take advantage of cheap labor and factories.

Much like Child's Play, the dolls are possessed, but not by a serial killer. They are possessed by the spirit of a child devil worshipped by a group of ancient Satanists.* Archeologist Rip Torn (sporting a weak Mexican accent until he has to forcefully yell at someone) investigates the tomb neighboring the doll factory after his friend and co-worker dies in the tomb. His death unleashed the spirit of the child devil via sub-Ghostbusters technology, and the spirit found its way into the doll factory, where the last owner left a dozen or so set of dolls that all looked alike. The family of the new factory owner settles into their house. Jessica, the daughter, is given a doll from the factory and becomes immediately attached to it. Then she starts displaying weird behavior. The film can never quite settle on whether Jessica is possessed or not. I get the feeling the child actress was hired primarily on her resemblance to Drew Barrymore when she was a child. The mom is the only one who notices the change. Poor mom is forced to stay at home all day and unpack their belongings.

Like I mentioned before, there is not enough crazy doll action to make this film worthwhile. The doll contorts her face and yells to surprise all her victims before attacking. It's funny. Also funny is that the doll's giggle sounds like the noise of blowing bubbles into a drink. Unfortunately, Dolly Dearest is too caught up in subplots for there to be much doll action at all.

At least the mom had some nice clothes:




*March is not only Women's History Month, but apparently Satanists month here at the blog. I'm going to have to create a tag before March is over.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Sherlock Holmes (2010...no, not that one, the other one)

Repost from 2011.

a.k.a. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes || Dir. Rachel Lee Goldenberg || 2010 || UK & US

Oh, where to begin? To its merit, the 2010 Sherlock Holmes (released direct-to-DVD approximately a month after the 2009 Sherlock Holmes helmed by Guy Ritchie and starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law) is shorter than the Ritchie version (which was too damn long), has a color scheme, and a tiny T-Rex. It's co-produced by The Asylum, makers of Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus and other cheap quickie cash-ins like the soon-to-be-released Battle of Los Angeles, a response to the new film starring Aaron Eckhart Battle: Los Angeles. The former stars Kel Mitchell (of the 1990s Nickelodeon show Kenan and Kel) and Nia Peeples, in case you were wondering where they went off to.

To its demerit...while I've seen very few Sherlock Holmes adaptations, I can pretty much trust that this film has the worst Sherlock ever. He's not authoritative, quirky, or awesome. He's a jackass with the wussiest English accent ever in the history of English accents, real or otherwise. He's not even an awesome jackass that you can respect like the two more recent takes of Sherlock by Downey or Benedict Cumberbatch of TV's Sherlock. I kept wanting Watson to dropkick him off of a cliff in retaliation to all of the bullying he suffers from the pipsqueak Holmes. But Watson just kind of quietly scowls at him, not even bringing the disgusted eyerolls like Law or Martin Freeman. At least tiny T-Rex bodyslams Holmes against a wall once, and causes smashed glass to injure his leg. Go, T-Rex, go!

The story and characterization is weak and not exactly canon as far as I can tell having just read Doyle's short stories on Holmes. Watson, forever getting the brunt in this film, is often mistreated and disrespected by Lastrade. Lastrade and Holmes get along better than they do in most stories, and Holmes treats Lastrade better than he does Watson.  Mycroft (or not Mycroft?) is given a lower status than he has in most adaptations and was a simple cop before he was injured. In his spare time, Mycroft apparently makes dragon robots, suicide bomber Victorian sexbots, and copper robot suits that resemble Iron Man's.

Much like Dolly Dearest, the film loses any sense of fun or awesomeness when the tiny T-Rex is not around wreaking havoc around London. Tiny T-Rex, like the doll in Dolly Dearest, tends to spring up out of nowhere, mouth agape, and kills brutally. In one scene, it appears that he has eaten the face off of a shopkeeper who resembles Karl Pilkington.

In case you were doubting my claims of a tiny T-Rex, here is the T-Rex springing into frame before it eats the shopkeeper:



 So it's not exactly the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, that's for sure.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Smithereens (1982)

Repost from 2011.

Dir. Susan Seidelman || 1982 || USA

Recently, there have been a few films that have popped up on Netflix Watch Instantly from the 1980s that concern young women trying to become famous via punk music. So far Smithereens has been the only one I have watched (unless you count Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains). The premises of Smithereens and the like films kind of boggle my mind, but I came up in a post-punk, post-Ian Mackaye, post-hardcore, post-riot grrrl world where one is not supposed to get into punk or zines or whatever for fame, money, or even glory really. Punk and its various subcultures now are perhaps overly earnest, naive, and insular; things I'm realizing more and more as I get older and more distanced. I was a year old when this film was released, but it is my understanding that punk was already on the decline by 1982, and that is the world that Smithereens somewhat reflects. It's also one of those New York City films that could never be remade today. This film and The Howling are two films off the top of my head that show how decrepit NYC was 30+ years ago.

Smithereens is about a 19-year-old girl named Wren from the North New Jersey suburbs who comes to NYC to yes, seek fame in punk music. She works in a copy shop where she makes fliers of her face to post around the city. She constantly claims to be busy trying to get bands together, but it never happens. She's rarely seen actually speaking to musicians who might want to be in a band. She's blown off by a band who plays frequently at The Peppermint Lounge. She gets involved with Eric (Richard Hell) a has-been singer from a one-hit wonder band called The Smithereens. From Eric she learns that most of the punks have left NYC for Los Angeles. So she schemes to somehow get enough money to leave with Eric. In the mix is Paul, a cute guy traveling through NYC from Montana who sleeps in his van and eventually wants to settle in New Hampshire. He's enamored of Wren, but she blows him off and generally just toys with him until he gets tired of it, which takes awhile.

Wren is not a sympathetic character. She's manipulative and is basically a bum in both the sense of constantly couch-surfing (or bed-surfing, or van-surfing), borrowing money to the point where even her family refuses to loan her anymore, and being a social climber of sorts. And yeah, people like her do exist in punk and zines. Although she goes as far as acting jealous and fighting other women Eric speak to and ruining "business" Eric is trying to attend to so he can further his own career; you do feel sorry for her sometimes, especially at the end of the film. But despite how unlikeable almost every character in the film is, Smithereens is a interesting and fairly compelling movie. Seidelman gets bonus points for having The Feelies' "The Boy with Perpetual Nervousness" as the main and recurring theme for the film. The Feelies' Bill Million helped with the soundtrack.

PS - I was finding it weird that the film was called Smithereens, after Eric's band, when Eric is a secondary character. But it is perhaps an appropriate title to the film because of the phrase "blown to smithereens", which is what Wren's life is throughout the entire film.

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.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Tank Girl (1995)

Dir. Rachel Talalay || 1995 || USA

I remember liking Tank Girl as a teen in the 1990s, but looking at it now, it's easy to see what a mess this film is. It's not an odd or even fully enjoyable mess, and it's only occasionally amusing. It can't be chalked up to inexperience or disinterest in the source material, qualities that tend to factor into the better comic book films; because Talalay was an experienced director at this point and did like the material. But by all accounts, there was a lot of studio interference with the film because up until this past decade, very few people knew what to do with comic books or graphic novels as source material. The film is live action, but it also has clips from the comic books and animation sequences.

Most post-apocalyptic films tend to have a timeless quality to them, no matter what decade they were made in. Tank Girl is so 90s it hurts. The situation that the film takes place in is timeless - where a comet hit Earth and it hasn't rained in 11 years, so water is high in demand and only a select few has access to it. But everything else is 90s. Considering that one of the first places I was introduced to Tank Girl was an article in Harper's Bazaar, the fashion magazine (yeah, I read this as a teen, what?), the film is very high on costume changes (IMDB counts 18 for Lori Petty as Tank Girl) and it's all very punk-grunge-pseudo-riot grrrl. Even The Rippers dress in 90s clothing (flannel shirts and t-shirts, one Ripper looks like a half-man-half-kangaroo member of Color Me Badd). It's funny that in the comic's revival in the mid-2000s by IDW Publishing, Tank Girl was drawn as wearing a lot of 1980s power suits because the reasoning was along the lines of "a lot of people still dress like Tank Girl from the 1990s, it's no longer edgy." The soundtrack, supervised by Courtney (Love, Love-Cobain, whatever she's calling herself now) is sort of a mix of good 90s music and music that never made it past that decade, along with some bizarre covers (like Devo covering Soundgarden's cover of Devo's "Girl U Want", or something).

Tank Girl is an overwhelmingly cartoon-y film. And yeah, Tank Girl is a cartoon character even in the comics, but on film it's ridiculous. The film just meanders. The sense of urgency towards saving the little girl that lived with Tank Girl is never there because of all the side missions that are jokes and costume changes. It would almost be a parody if the film could settle on anything whatsoever, other than being a valentine to Tank Girl as a fashion icon of sorts, and occasionally her other positive attributes; like being a good friend or being a loud-mouthed and brave woman.

The one thing that I will give the film is that for much of the film, Tank Girl and Jet Girl (Naomi Watts!) have realistically post-apocalyptic water shortage greasy hair. Do you know how rare that is in post-apocalyptic films? Although Tank Girl's makeup rarely smudges, even when being in a torture chamber for what seems like a couple of days.



Monday, May 12, 2014

My New Favorite Bad Movie: Revenge of the Living Dead Girls (1987)

Repost from 2011.
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Dir. Peter B. Harsone || 1987 || France

Revenge of the Living Dead Girls is perhaps my new favorite bad movie. I have been watching some Jean Rollin films on Netflix Watch Instantly this summer, and RotLDG is likely just a trashier retread of his films (also lacking the atmosphere and melancholy that are in Rollin's films), with perhaps only a vague knowledge of how film zombies typically work. Granted, European zombies have always been a little different. The zombies in Italy's Nightmare City and Burial Ground: Nights of Terror work together to terrorize and catch their human prey, sometimes even using tools and weapons. A running theme through the Rollin films I have watched so far and RotLDG is that the dead were brought back to life via toxic spills, so there is the element of environmentalism to these films. RotLDG is part corporate espionage thriller, part zombie film, and part revenge movie that is almost constantly on the verge of turning into a softcore porn.

The version on Netflix Watch Instantly claims that it is the "Special Uncut Edition", which cannot be true. The film only clocks in at 73 minutes and the last 5-10 minutes of the film are extremely rushed and haphazardly put together; introducing not only Catholic priests who believe the zombie girls are the work of the devil, but random townspeople who are out to destroy the three zombie girls. There are disparities to how the zombie girls look (the main one has full makeup that covers her hands, while the sidekicks do not seem to warrant the full treatment and have living human hands), disparities to how they move (slow, then fast) - and such disparities are not limited to just the three zombie girls. The humans in the film seem to suffer from intelligence and motivation issues that vary at any given moment. In one of the weirder scenes of the film, our supposed human hero who is a chemist that works for the corporation, arrives to the house of his boss because he is having an affair with his wife. Little does he know that the zombie girls just dispatched her (for the zombies seem to run on the old adage, "I'll kill your family, then you"). Our chemist, not realizing anything is wrong, proceeds to drink one glass of champagne, gives a short monologue that seems to revolve around the fantasy that he and the boss' middle-aged wife are newlyweds and she's a virgin (it includes the line "I'm going to caress my expert hands all over your virgin body")...and he fucks the main zombie girl. For the rest of the film, he only has a vague notion of what may have happened and it's apparently not that big of a deal. A messed up hand that's becoming infected? No big deal! Your cute, but dumb wife manages to miscarry her near full-term pregnancy and/or the fetus and uterus turns itself inside-out? Crazy and disgusting; but since this comes in the last 5-10 minutes of the film, this is also no big deal. I know everyone has different tolerance levels for alcohol of any sort, but one glass of champagne typically does not lead to necrophilia.

It is sometimes easy to forget as an American just how good the Europeans are with making trashy films. Revenge of the Living Dead Girls does suffer from some pacing issues, which are basically most of the corporate espionage parts. The gorier and trashier parts (such as the zombie girls having a murderous lesbian sex scene with the prostitute in the film) are somewhat sprinkled throughout the film almost as an afterthought, as if the filmmakers and editors knew that the audience would get bored. Since I cannot find even a solid page on Wikipedia on this film, it is hard to tell if there are other versions of this film out there and if this is one of the many European horror films that were cut up several times in the 1980s and have several different edits to please whatever restrictions a particular country may have against gore, violence, necrophilia, hinted male rape and lesbian zombie group sex/rape onto a female human. I would be interested in hearing any information anyone may have on this movie. I do believe that there has to be a slightly better version of this film out there (and yes, the ending is somewhat bananas in the scheme of film zombies and what they can do).


George Romero did not in fact invent swimming and/or pool zombies. The odd and kind of cool thing about this scene is that the main zombie (the middle one) keeps splashing her hand in the water either as a sign of impatience, to signal the other two zombies as to when to attack, or to just see if the humans would hear. It is at least a sign that someone was trying.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Flesh for Frankenstein & Blood for Dracula (a.k.a. Andy Warhol's Frankenstein & Andy Warhol's Dracula) (1974)


Dir. Paul Morrissey || 1974 || US-Italy-France & Italy-France  

It is advisable to watch Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula back-to-back if possible. It is how they were made and both have the same main three actors (Udo Kier, Joe Dallesandro, Arno Juerging) in similar roles - Kier as Dr. Frankenstein, then Dracula; Dallesandro as the proletariat servant-gigolo, and Juerging as Frankenstein and Dracula's assistants. Although the films appear to take place in different time periods, they also seem to be similar in atmosphere...and that atmosphere is bizarre, trashy, and campy. These are not adaptations to watch if you are looking for faithful adaptations of Frankenstein or Dracula. Both of these films seem to take place in some realm either before or after those stories, or almost a netherworld just outside of the original stories. It is a world that takes some adjustment because while it is laughable in Frankenstein that an actor with an Italian accent and Joe Dallesandro with his heavy New York accent are supposed to be lifelong friends who grew up together in some European countryside; by the time you get to Dracula you just kind of have to accept that Dallesandro is going to stick out like a sore thumb. Udo Kier takes some adjusting as well, although he fits into these films easier than Dallesandro, especially Dracula. For at least the first half-hour of Frankenstein, I could not shake the notion that Tommy Wiseau has been fooling us all along and is just doing a very extended impersonation of a young Udo Kier in Frankenstein. Except Udo Kier actually seems to be mentally present in his scenes, and not in space like Wiseau. 

While Flesh for Frankenstein ends on a note similar to Twitch of the Death Nerve, I find Blood for Dracula more interesting and prefer it a little more. In Blood for Dracula, Dracula and his assistant have traveled to the Italian countryside so that Dracula can find a bride, preferably a virgin. They take up with a family with four beautiful daughters who have fallen on hard times due to their father's gambling problems. They are able to keep their villa, but the daughters must do the farming. They only keep one servant - a handyman played by Dallesandro of course.  And of course the mother is insistent on allowing Dracula and his assistant to stay with them, although almost all of the daughters find him to be creepy and too sickly to marry. The family has two virginal daughters who are actually virgins; and two wild daughters who lie about being virgins, because they have both been having sex with the handyman, and apparently with each other. The wild daughters are steadfast about their lying, even when Dracula tries to insist that he does not mind if they are not virgins and that it is just something his family insists on. Dracula  finds himself poisoned as soon as he tries to drink the blood of the two wilder daughters.

What I find interesting about Blood for Dracula is that the daughters' situation or prospects is beset on all sides. Dallesandro's Socialist handyman character insists that the aristocracy is dying and perhaps the girls should learn how to work; which is not a terrible idea, except for the fact that Dallesandro's character is a rampant misogynist and a rapist. Blood for Dracula takes place in the early 20th Century, not the 19th, so it is a bit odd that there is the insistence of keeping up appearances with the mother, although it is often remarked that the family has not had visitors in years. If that is the case, then there is no need to worry about shocking society if the daughters do not marry an aristocrat or a wealthy man. The other side to this is that other than perhaps the youngest daughter, the daughters seem to be settled into the idea that they should marry up (just up, not middle or down or even for love really) and that there are no other options because that is how they were raised. The father (played by director Vittorio de Sica) leaves the film early on for London, leaving the mother and daughters to fend for themselves (i.e., remain willfully ignorant of how dangerous Dracula is). Only the handyman catches on to Dracula's nature which leads to the gory and over-the-top fight sequence at the end of the film. And Dracula is not a romantic hero, he is a conservative traditionalist and a rapist as well considering that he attacks the daughters often in mid-conversation. While one could find the end of Blood for Dracula a bit more hopeful than the ending to Flesh for Frankenstein (or see it as the Socialist/proletariat killing off one more crumbling aristocrat), I do not believe that the survivors are much better off with the handyman. The film seems to be more concerned with the Socialist argument with just a bit of subtext thrown in to acknowledge the changing times, but it does not appear that it wants to give the female characters in the film too much choice in the matter. 


And this is just creepy. 
(I am not commenting much on the hand that Andy Warhol had in making these movies, because it seems as if it was in name only; besides the presence of Joe Dallesandro, who was one of his people. If one was expecting a set of films with pop-art sensibilities, they would be somewhat surprised that both films were shot in neutral tones. I guess better to see the eventual blood, gore, and Udo Kier's blue eyes with.)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What I have been watching lately: Jean Rollin, Red State, The Walking Dead, American Horror Story...

Repost from November 2011.
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I should be working on papers right now, although I took an extension on them for Winter Break because of intermittent severe headaches and vision problems leftover from my concussion in October. I have no control over when they happen, and unfortunately they keep happening when I want or need to write or do research. My papers, as I predicted in October, are on Jean Rollin, classical French film theory, and I also have one on Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon that I have been sitting on, unfinished, since the day before my concussion. I have been on a French film and surrealist bender this quarter. I have been watching a lot of Jean Rollin's films this year and this past month. While my paper will only be focusing on The Rape of the Vampire and The Night of the Hunted (one of his three "zombie" films), I have still been watching anything of his that interests me or that I can get my hands on. The only one of his films that I cannot recommend at any level is Zombie Lake, which oddly enough, is his fairly straight zombie picture...I say "fairly straight" because it does have a story line where one of the Nazi zombies has reunited with his pre-teen daughter...although the Nazis were assassinated during of course, World War II by the villagers, and the film seems to take place in 1980, which makes no sense if the daughter is ten years old. Zombie Lake was also one of Rollin's lowest budgeted pictures, and that's saying something if you have ever seen any of his movies or read much on his films. It is one of the few Rollin pictures where you can tell that it seemed impossible to make the most of what little money there was.


Yeah, I don't know either. At least the Italians made their zombies look all arts & craftsy, what with the papier mache faces.

I think I discovered Rollin at a good point, considering for the past couple of years or so, I have been quite bored with horror at times. While Rollin has his obsessions that anyone will notice if they watch enough of his films, including how entrenched he is in surrealism well after its time as an art movement was over; I like how unconventional his films are. His endings are rarely happy and even if certain films end relatively well for the characters, there is still a sense of melancholia or even a looming sense of death. 

Speaking of unconventional horror films, I watched Red State last weekend. I am not a Kevin Smith megafan. I liked his movies when I was a teenager, but now I tend to see every other one if it sounds kind of interesting. Red State is not a perfect film - it is not subtle in its message, it's final message is kind of mixed, Melissa Leo's acting was over the top, and the opening scene at the high school bugs me to no end because that is not how a public school teacher acts in any era; but it is unconventional. It is almost like Full Metal Jacket how abruptly it switches gears, tone, and the characters we follow. Who we expect to live just based on horror conventions, likeability, or even logic is defied. The only other good thing I can say about the film is that John Goodman is awesome in it. I have missed seeing John Goodman in movies.

I have been watching a lot of bad TV this past week since last Monday night I had the worst headache I have had since hitting my head. My doctor says it is okay if I watch stupid things. So I was bedridden for a couple of days watching nothing but the second season of The Walking Dead so far and whatever episodes of American Horror Story I could find on Hulu. 

I was not a total fan of the first season of The Walking Dead. I maintain that the first episode was wonderful. But if I have to remain diplomatic at some level, I will say that the even numbered episodes were terrible, while the odd ones were better. Other than Rick being Sheriff Exposition for the first five minutes of the second season premiere, the first episode of this season was pretty good. Unfortunately, it has become tedious and like a spinning tire*. I look forward to this week's episode if it means opening up the zombie barn and maybe losing a few more characters. The series likes to project things, then take several episodes, if perhaps another season to get to the issue and/or resolve it. Lori's pregnancy for example. What is being projected this year from the main characters and secondary or even tertiary characters is Rick's leadership, the issue of neglect, and the idea of splitting up the group. Shane and Andrea, obviously. Daryl in last week's episode (and Daryl truly needs to ditch the group, even if it means taking boring old Carol), and in the second episode, T-Dog, even if he reneges on the idea later. What I find weird about T-Dog's "fever" thoughts is that he is right - he, Dale, and sometimes even Glenn are sidelined because of their age (Dale) and races (T-Dog and Glenn). Women on this show are sidelined altogether. The Walking Dead is not exactly Lost, where we learn about each character every week. Granted, Lost was not a perfect show either and harped on the Jack-Kate-Sawyer love triangle for several seasons, but at least each character got his or her individual episodes! And maybe The Walking Dead is going in that direction a bit this season, where we followed Shane and his adventure to get medical supplies to help Carl, and last week's episode with Daryl in the woods, but it was too little and did not establish much beyond what we already knew: Shane is likely deranged, and Daryl is a badass...and oh, he's not as racist as his brother Merle because he has saved T-Dog at least three times by now**. I think they fired last season's writers and replaced them with even worse writers. But yeah, the group will at least temporarily disband before the season is over. And maybe Lori will finally tell Rick about her pregnancy and/or her time with Shane, and maybe The Walking Dead will finally have a Maury Povich-based episode. And I guess Daryl better watch it since characters played by noted indie character actors do not live forever on this show, as this season has shown yet again.


We know that Shane is crazy because of the shaved head, vacant stare, mouth agape, and furrowed brow.
American Horror Story is at least fun-bad and thoroughly entertaining. It is truly the most batshit live-action television show I have ever seen. The pregnant wife eats a brain like it's no thing! There is a teenage boy stuck in 1994 who frequently speaks of Kurt Cobain (just Kurt Cobain, never Nirvana), Quentin Tarantino, Al Pacino, and Robert DeNiro; and the depressed neo-Blossom Russo-dressed teenage daughter of the family nevernever asks him his opinion on the more recent and terrible movies Pacino and DeNiro have been in! I have never been one for haunted house stories, but American Horror Story takes your average haunted house story and amps it up several times over and then combines it with at least one other horror story or trope every week, usually more than one! It is hard to say if there is a bigger meaning to this show, I doubt it even knows. The classmate who told me about this show said it was Ryan Murphy's gay revenge on America. We keep discovering the lives of the previous inhabitants who are now ghosts of the house. There is the drunk surgeon-turned-abortionist-turned-mad scientist and his wife, two nursing students, a gay couple, a woman who was raped, the pregnant mistress maybe, the male redheaded twins...but we also have the people from the home invasion episode, and rubber man who may or may not be a ghost. I mean, I guess redheads have been persecuted throughout society. Some people believe that everyone on this show is a ghost! We will eventually find out that the house was built on an Native American burial ground, because why not?

American Horror Story is also fun because most episodes feature at least one "hey, it's that guy!/lady!" moment. 


Rubber Man, Rubber Man. Does whatever a rubber can...except not.
* Yesterday, I read this post at the TCM Movie Morlocks blog that discusses how bloodthirsty zombie movie fans and movie characters are these days. I would not say that I am a bloodthirsty zombie fan or that the characters on The Walking Dead are bloodthirsty (although that is another inconsistency, especially with Rick). I would like The Walking Dead to be a watchable show that like in the first episode, does consider that the zombies were people once. Overall, I would like a good story and some characters I could care about and who are maybe more thoughtful or intelligent. The only thing The Walking Dead has been somewhat good at displaying is the tried-and-true story method of humans being just as dangerous to humans as zombies are, if not more so.

** 2011 seems to be the year of the (good) redneck in horror. I finally saw Tucker and Dale vs. Evil a couple of weeks ago because it surprisingly came to the indie theater in town (I guess because it takes place in West Virginia, and I live about 40 minutes away from the West Virginia state line now). I was worried that it would not meet my expectations because I have been anticipating this movie for almost two years, but I also had no idea what the film was about past the trailer. It was a good, fun movie that was surprisingly sweet and had some interesting twists to the story and characters. And yes, the film was quite gory at times. So there are surprises out there every once in awhile. 

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.


Monday, April 21, 2014

Conflicted Romantic Protagonists in (500) Days of Summer and +1 (Plus One)

Spoilers ahead for +1, the newer film. 

(500) Days of Summer (2009, Dir. Marc Webb) and +1 (2013, Dir. Dennis Iliadis) are both a part of a somewhat recent spate of films that involve romantic male protagonists that if you think about it enough, are completely unsympathetic characters who paint their girlfriends or ex-girlfriends as villains simply by the will of their own states of denial and imaginations. The other similarity between these two films is that they deal with time - (500) Days of Summer through memories and filmic time, and +1 by virtue of being a science fiction film that involves doubles/alternate universes and time. +1 is bizarrely the more linear film. Despite the trailer making it appear to be something along the lines of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it is more about what happens when and if doubles encounter each other at a gigantic college party where each person attending has a double. The "why" part does not factor in to +1, it is more of a tale about fear of being replaced and morality.

David, the protagonist of +1 has been recently dumped by his girlfriend of two years, Jill, after she finds him accidentally kissing her similar-featured fencing opponent after a match. She is also unhappy that David appears to be content with staying in the town they grew up in and stagnant. They both of course end up at the large party, with David intent on winning Jill back. David, his two friends, and another party guest are the first two notice the existence of doubles after the lights mysteriously flicker on and off due to a faulty transformer. Actions are being repeated. David manages to subdue his double. But with each electricity flicker, the repeated actions of the doubles start to get closer in time to the current actions of the original attendees. This eventually results in confrontation because both groups of people are confused and scared. David, in the melee, of course tries to repair his relationship with Jill. Failing to win her back with one conversation, he tries it again on Jill's double, this time saying the "right" things and the couple appears to get back together. But like a wacky romantic comedy with an extreme dark side, David has to keep second Jill away from "original" Jill. This ultimately does not go well for "original" Jill. The final shot of the film is the party's host and various attendees walking around shocked, devastated, and crying, while David and second Jill make out beside the estate's pool house. Granted, one might want to feel uneasy about the protagonist being played by Rhys Wakefield, the creepy blond preppy killer from last year's The Purge, but he does well with playing normal for most of the film.



(500) Days of Summer is the more complex film that has been subject to different interpretations. I have heard the sentence, "You can tell a lot about a person about who they think the villain is in (500) Days of Summer." I think sometimes interpretations are based on depending on who you find to be more attractive, Joseph Gordon Levitt or Zooey Deschanel, since some people have a near-rabid hatred towards Deschanel and her image. This film makes a weak attempt to have her play against this image, but the sheer Etsyness of some of the aesthetics of the film overpowers this attempt. Joseph Gordon Levitt has had to comment about people who think Tom is the ideal boyfriend, stating that Tom actually is not a good boyfriend at all. Whenever I watch this film (which has been two times now), I watch it with my brow furrowed. I do not think it is a very funny film. It is sad and a little scary more than anything. It is also a 90 minute indie music compilation that also doubles as an IKEA advertisement. Who goes on dates at IKEA? She's wearing a dress and he is wearing a shirt and tie (under a hoodie) to IKEA!

What is odd about the film is that while it wants to point out that Tom and his friends are maybe not that great, and that Tom's perception and memories of Summer were filtered through his own point of view and selfishness, (500) Days of Summer has an ambivalence about both Tom and Summer that constantly switches until the last half hour or so of the film. In the last third of the film, while it wants to show that both Tom and Summer changed from their quasi-relationship, the film propels itself to the requisite happy ending for Tom, and an inscrutable ending for Summer. There are multiple interpretations of whether or not she is actually happy being married. The film sets this up to an extent by showing the ending to The Graduate twice in the film, which also features an inscrutable ending. The first time the ending of The Graduate is displayed to show that Tom thought it was a happy ending, especially when he was younger. The second time, the ending is shown to display that Summer finds it to be a sad ending, to the point where she is crying in the theater. This is also what seems to spawn her decision to break up with Tom.

(500) Days of Summer also attempts to align itself with French New Wave films from the 1960s and briefly with Ingmar Bergman. This accounts for not only the shallow comedic parodies that Tom seems to mentally project onto a movie screen while at the theater after the breakup, but with the nonlinear time structure of the film. Alain Resnais' Last Year At Marienbad is also a film about the issues of memory and denial unfurled out in an even more nonlinear, repetitive fashion than Days of Summer. (500) Days of Summer at least flashes what day of obsession Tom is on throughout the course of the film. Typical American romcom structure, even filtered through an "Indiewood" production, still demands a happy ending and some clarity.

Despite the film being a commentary on modern relationships and how filtered they are through greeting cards/greeting card holidays, films of any sort (Star Wars and Ferris Bueller's Day Off are also referenced in the film) and even music, the commentary for the most part falls flat. The film tries to either take an ambivalent or neutral stake in the relationship and eventual break up of Tom and Summer, but it is unclear in its attempt to do so. This is the ultimate failure of the film. The film ends with the sentence of someone (the screenwriters? the director?) calling an ex-girlfriend a "bitch", thereby canceling any sort of neutral stance built up in the film. They are no different from Tom and his friends at their most unbearable in the film, with their preconceived, gossipy notions of Summer being a "stuck up bitch" or a "skank" before they even talk to her. (500) Days of Summer, despite being filtered through the maximum Etsy "cute and quirky" filter, is ultimately a film about awful people both in front of and behind the camera, but who only have an inkling about how insufferable they are. The cluelessness is not played up by anyone or for anyone except for Tom on occasion. I get it, these people have faults, but this film seems to think its more charming about it than it actually is.

In some ways The Break-Up is a more radical film than (500) Days of Summer because it at least puts forth the idea that Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn's characters are okay being single, apart, and moving on with their lives by the end of the film with little regrets. That film, if I remember correctly, also seemed to give equal share to the couple's individual point of view. (500) Days of Summer denies Summer a point of view, and that is why this movie fails to some degree in any vague attempt to take a neutral stance on Tom and Summer's relationship. Summer, wholly intentionally or no, is just built up as an object - from her initial physical descriptions (we are not given the height, weight, and shoe size of Tom) to her apparent influence (all with the implication it is because of her beauty)  - and remains so for the film. Despite the "edgy" attempt to break stereotypes and to have her be the more reluctant person in love and not wanting a relationship (and stating this quite a few times), it rings cheap and false because we are not given much reason insight to why she thinks this way other than her parents divorced. Even with the expense of making the film 30-45 minutes longer, would it have hurt to feature Summer's point of view more?