Saturday, May 28, 2016

100-Something Movies – More Films about Buildings and Food

Between this honorables section and the last, I made the error of watching still more genre films despite my stated plan, thereby setting back the next 100-something Movies update even more.  In keeping with the established order, I’ll get the science-fiction mentions out of the way before moving onto the stuff my average reader may actually find intriguing.

I found Upstream Color an utterly absorbing and completely baffling puzzle that most viewers, myself included, will need at least two tries to assemble in their heads.  This I could have anticipated, knowing just how dense the filmmaker’s previous work Primer was, but my resolve still died a bit around the 20-minute mark when I realized nothing was going to start making sense anytime soon.  Shane Carruth wrote, produced, directed, D.P.ed, edited, scored, and co-starred in the film, which makes Upstream Color the definitive independent motion picture and means that it exemplifies a very unified artistic vision the like of which you really don’t get to appreciate in, say, X-men 6: Apocalypse Now.

Accusations of piggybacking off of David Lynch tarred the reception of Richard Aoyade’s The Double upon release, but who better to imitate for this sort of story than Lynch?  The inside world of The Double is oppressively dark, industrial, and stifling, the outside world nondescript and cold and eternally smoggy.  As far as the characters seem concerned, the office is the whole extent of their worlds, the compulsion to be recognized within it their highest purpose, which is fitting as The Double is all about Simon James’ self-isolation and severe passivity.  It’s also unexpectedly humorous and at times depressing, since it also dramatizes the tendency of the unknowing and incompetent to rise upon the backs of the truly knowledgeable and competent.  Mia Wasikowska is underserved and Wallace Shawn’s voice gives you a big, fat grin until you realize he’s basically reprising the pernicious boss he played in The Incredibles.

The moment after I watched Rubber I was certain it would make the final cut for Update 1.  Today I’m certain it won’t, perhaps because it ends too soon, perhaps because it’s kind of repetitive, but mainly because it didn’t stick with me for more than 24 hours.  At any rate, you can probably judge for yourself whether you will like a movie such as Rubber, and its numerous hilarious quirks and subtexts are best kept under wraps.  I will say this: the decision to revamp the ancient Greek chorus as a diverse “moviegoing” audience camping out in Joshua Tree park is one of the best cinematic innovations of the decade.  Also, “I just saw a live tire,” has to be the movie quote of the year.

White God may well be the best dog-centered movie ever made: violent, visceral, sobering, and even epic at its best.  It’s the only movie in existence where you can see a throng of malcontented mutts charging through the abandoned streets of a city under curfew.  And yet it still falls so short of perfection, from the generic Zimmer-like music to its abundant head-scratching moments that leave you going, “Waaaaa?  Did they really just do that for the sake of moving the plot along?”  Watch the trailer, then if you don’t mind seeing realistic depictions of animal cruelty, pull up the movie on that one streaming service to observe all the scenes conveniently omitted from the trailer.

If any movie cried out to be played on loop on all the giant Costco televisions, it would have to be Baraka, which would be the greatest nature documentary ever shot (and not written) if it wasn’t so heavy-handed with its environmental posturing against metropolitan society.  I get it.  The guy standing in the street is tolling the bell for mankind’s impending doom, brought on by their own spiritual apathy and enslavement to commerce.  Ah, who am I kidding?  This probably is the greatest nature documentary of all time, because any guy other than Ron Fricke would try enlisting Morgan Freeman or Leonardo Dicaprio to tell us outright that we’re doomed.  Fricke just lets his music and slow-motion IMAX film do the telling.

Knowing Spike Lee’s penchant for racemongering, inciting violence, and “wanting to pick up a gun and shoot whites”, I wasn’t much expecting to like Do the Right Thing, and I’m still not sure I do, but I can respect it for being surprisingly even-handed.  Lee presents an Italian pizzeria owner as one of his most admirable and tolerant characters while making Buggin’ Out and Radio Raheem the most cantankerous and hateful residents of the neighborhood.  Nonetheless, one of my main takeaways from Do the Right Thing was that in situations of extreme stress, even the most decent, level-headed men can snap and do very not-right things to the hoodlums who antagonize them.

In any case, it’s curious to me how the same man who made Do the Right Thing, a movie that seems to ridicule blacks’ desire for inclusion in every club (“Why aren’t there any brothers on this wall?”), would get so upset about the lack of non-white actors at the liberal American circle jerk that is the Academy Awards. Do the Right Thing, it appears, is too smart for even its own creator to understand.

La Femme Nikita is yet another showcase of Luc Besson’s adeptness at writing interesting parts for women.  Idiots who take their cues from The Hunger Games or from current superhero comics erroneously assume that “strong female character” means a girl who maims and executes and copulates just as ruthlessly as the boys, but Luc Besson knows better.  Nikita commands our attention to this day not because she adheres to an archetype of action-man masculinity but because she counters it in so many ways; trained to be a pitiless assassin, she doesn’t enjoy taking life, she has emotional breakdowns, and she purposely avoids pursuing actions that would endanger those she loves.  Anyways, Eric Serra’s soundtrack sounds like a blueprint for the work he would ultimately do on The Fifth Element, but the way it’s synced up with the other sound effects makes the movie’s scattered action sequences quite exciting. In fact, this is one of the most Hollywood-ish subtitled films I’ve seen, so if you’re looking for an easy and entertaining entry point to foreign cinema, look no further than Nikita.  Then check out the CW spinoff and remind yourself why network television sucks.

Spring Breakers is a curious specimen of a movie, on one hand being an entrancing foray into filth and debauchery and lawlessness excused as harmless fun, on another being an excessive and occasionally shlocky piece of borderline pornography that left me feeling thoroughly disgusted by the end, which I suppose it was trying to do.  The acting is trashy, the dialogue banal and obscene, but neither detracts from the intended atmosphere, surprisingly complementing the themes of superficiality and hedonism that fuel Harmony Korine’s picture.  Random things I didn’t like include the gunshot transition SFX repeated over and over, the flashback elaboration on the one-shot cafe robbery scene that was really well done the first time, and all the boobs.  Random things I really liked include the clever incorporation of inane pop music into the plot (the whole soundtrack is surprisingly brilliant), the casting of Disney stars gone wild as a commentary on the cultural rot of youth-targeted sitcoms, the gorgeous, super-saturated color scheme, and just how strange the whole thing is.

I would recommend Spring Breakers to aspiring filmmakers who want to see how editing and cinematography and music can reinforce tone and communicate emotion in place of dialogue – in short, to anyone who wants to know how an effective movie is put together.  This wordless montage in particular is one of the most emotive scenes I’ve yet encountered.  I would not recommend Spring Breakers to my parents.

About halfway through a random mystery thriller I knew next to nothing about, I had an epiphany that The Falling must have been directed by a woman, not because of any message it was trying to convey, but because of what the director focused on and how.  Some female directors have succeeded at obscuring or neutering their sex on film, e.g. Kathryn Bigelow with the surf classic Point Break, a film that could only be construed as feminine because it revels so cheesily in its own hyper-masculinity.  The Falling, in contrast, has femininity coming out of its eyes, coming out of wherever, and that alone makes it an interesting watch even with its many bothersome excesses, like the scene of  spoiler  that was technically legal to shoot in the U.K. but would probably require a body double in the U.S.  Many of the key plot points in Carol Morley’s film go unexplained or suggested by subliminal imagery that is itself open to interpretation, so it’s also worth checking out for screenwriters to see how showing is better than telling, and all that cal.  Unless your audience is stupid, which seems to be the case with most of The Falling’s IMDb user base.  In short, the soundtrack by Tracey Thorn is superb, one of 2015’s best, and the storytelling nothing if not unique.  I just wish it was more likeable.

No relationship to The Falling, The Fall is very clearly a passion project by director Tarsem, brought to life with little studio input or outside pressures.  In a way this is a good thing, especially if you believe that films, like novels or paintings, can have a dominant voice and don’t need to be “collaborative art”, a la almost every Marvel product.  The narrative of The Fall doesn’t resemble any other movie save for maybe The Princess Bride, and it achieves an epic look without extensive CGI or props.  In another way, the independence is a bad thing, because I was bored out of my mind and struggled to find a sense of weight in what’s presented as a totally made-up story-within-a-story.  Granted it was 4AM when I started giving up, but it was still pretty damn exhausting.

On a side note, the R-rating of this is ridiculous and possibly even more interesting than the film itself.  The Fall has a prevailing tone of the unreal and whimsical, and is told with a childlike sense of wonder.  The primary audience may be adults, as the main character is an adult speaking to a child, but there’s nothing so scary or improper in The Fall to preclude most 12-year-olds (arbitrary number, +/- a couple years) from watching it with their parents.  Because of a couple brief scenes of fake bloodshed, cinemas would prohibit unaccompanied teenagers from going to see a very artistic, original fantasy drama, but would accept their money for braindead trash like Pitch Perfect 2 or Transformers 4 without a second thought.  The Lord of the Rings films are all more intense and grisly than The Fall, featuring lopped-off heads, human sacrifices, and a surplus of stabbings, but because they keep the on-screen blood to a minimum, they get away with a PG-13.  And why can you only say two F-bombs in a PG-13 movie?  F-bombs are ____ing great!  If I’m shooting a documentary about babies and motherhood and the momma curses three times during childbirth, do I get stuck with an R-rating just for showing how strenuous it is to deliver a baby?  Misogyny!

Brooklyn was last year’s most pleasant and generally delightful love story: well-written without resorting to voiceover, attractive without drawing attention to itself, and endearing without descending into melodrama.  I would definitely rank it among my 15 Intelligent Romances Guaranteed To Get Her Holding Your Hand And Weeping Into Your Shoulder.  It was also the most unprogressive story of the year, for reasons I may discuss later in a more comprehensive 2015 recap.

Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter had one of the more oddball premises of 2014, concerning a Japanese girl who obsesses over the movie Fargo and progressively ruins her life in search of the money bag buried by Steve Buscemi.  It has visual humor, it has beautiful coloring, and I’d recommend it wholeheartedly if the main character wasn’t a conniving, two-timing thief.  Unlike every other movie in this post, it’s also safe for the whole family, though kids under a certain age will probably find it boring as Fargo.

I should also mention this song.

No Country For Old Men was virtually faultless in every way.  I’m sure if I wanted to find logic holes in the story then I could do so, but the Coens’ filmmaking was so gripping I would be depriving myself to look for them.  I gave it a perfect score on IDMb and immediately thought it had a guaranteed spot in the 100-something movies.  It certainly stands among the best and most enthralling of the Coen Brothers’ work.  It just isn’t one of my favorites, and I’d be besmirching my own list if I put anything on it I didn’t engage with on some personal level.  Still, check it out.

Cross-apply most of the points made about Jarhead in the previous post to The Master, which obviously thinks itself much more intelligent and important than it is.  I watched this in a last-minute scavenger hunt for a movie that “had an impact on me that might be considered spiritual”, and came away with unscathed spirit.  Paul Thomas Anderson’s resounding message is that cults are bad, we should pity anybody gullible enough to fall into one, and that everybody has to serve a master.  The 65mm cinematography is incredible, as are Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, but what else would you expect?  Hearing Hoffman cuss out a skeptical reporter is worth the price of entry alone, but don’t go in expecting a revelatory film that will open your eyes on, like, religion or human nature or something.

Three Colors: Blue by the late Krzysztof Kieslowski has a booming classical score, great acting, and some periodically interesting use of color.  I wouldn’t exactly call it required viewing for wannabe directors, which is the whole reason I watched it.  Maybe its narrative themes are a strictly French thing that doesn’t translate well to American audiences.  White is skippable and I’m hoping Red is better when I get to it.

Nothing need be said about Ennio Morricone’s score to The Mission.  If only the rest of the movie was as compelling for all of its two hours.  The Mission, unfortunately, is kind of an agenda film first and a story second.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t moving in places, or that it doesn’t document a very ugly period in imperial and church history, but I don’t remember much of anything about the characters.  Robert De Niro liked stabbing people with his sword and Jeremy Irons let a bunch of women and children die because he didn’t believe in violence.  What a maroon!

The Rover takes place sometime after some disastrous event turns the world into the same savage desert we’ve seen a hundred times before, and it trudges along at much the same pace one would need to adopt to survive in such a world.  It’s a revenge story that withholds the reason for revenge until the very last scene, and director-writer David Michôd pulls that scene off in the most raw and unaffected way possible. There’s moody cinematography, Guy Pearce is hard to recognize but great, and A24 is putting every other studio in its place.

Blue Velvet is one of the best-directed and -shot generic crime stories ever told.  I’m probably the 5000th person to describe it as dark and atmospheric, but the truth is that it’s really dark and atmospheric.  I may have felt more satisfied if I hadn’t kept waiting for a twist that didn’t come.  Blue Velvet is more modern fairy tale than psychological mystery, and nothing you see is meant to mislead you.  This ain’t no Mulholland Drive, folks.

Speaking of Mulholland Drive, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, and your ability to enjoy it will depend in large part on your toleration of plots that don’t make sense.  I find myself admiring the technique of David Lynch’s films but grasping for some deeper meaning that most likely doesn’t exist.  Mulholland Drive is optimized for group viewing and discussion, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a group of more than two who’d willingly sit through it without escaping into their phones.  The sad realities of modern life…

More than two decades later, The Crying Game certainly remains topical, this being the year of the… well, I won’t say in case you haven’t already seen it.  In retrospect it seems like a movie that drew more attention for its subject than for its execution, but it’s still as well written and unpredictable as it was on opening day. Those suffering from Disney story arc fatigue should give this a look.

Pi and Europa are really good-looking B&W films from Darren Aronofsky and Lars Von Trier respectively.   The former sucked me in with its philosophical depth, disturbing images, and prototypically 90s big-beat score (complete with Massive Attack), while the latter literally put me to sleep.  Only cinephiles or fans of Chemical Brothers/Aphex Twin-style music should investigate.

I greatly admired Breaking the Waves the first time I saw it and thought for sure that I would recommend it to anybody.  Then I watched it a second time for a research paper and realized that the first important story beat doesn’t happen until 51 minutes in, and then there’s another 108 minutes of mental torture to go through after that.  I concluded that Breaking the Waves is a more exhausting, grounded, and joyless version of Dancer in the Dark, which I adore but would never subject myself to again without the musical interludes.  Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

Youth in Revolt is what Me and Earl and the Dying Girl could have been if it was actually funny and not enamored with its own reflection.  Both stories revolve around eccentric nerds who pride themselves on their vinyls or arty film tastes, and both are set in motion by the dork’s run-in with an unattainable, equally weird girl, but one film is just so much more competent than the other.  Youth in Revolt isn’t amazing or original by any means, as teen coming-of-age stories tend not to be, but it is bursting with quirkiness and funny dialogue.  “I’m sorry, sweetie, but not with other people in the room.”

On the subject of arty and vinyl, I watched Pink Floyd: The Wall by myself and immediately afterwards wondered why no one else has tried to imitate it.  A kind of feature-length music video based on one of the band’s arguably more accessible and catchy records, it’s packed with surreal and haunting imagery that loosely relates the story embedded in the album. It’s a genre unto itself and fully deserves the attention of anyone who cares about music or film.

Screw that socialist blowhard Roger Waters.  Trump 2016.
Pink Floyd’s going to pay for it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

More Stuff that Larry Twicken Says

Those who’ve been following this website for a while should already be familiar with Larry Twicken of Saddleback College, an intellectual cavalier of the Howard Zinn Order who “professes” a great many revealing things to students of his political science classes.  Last year we provided a short-form overview of the lecture he most prizes, that being his sensational, “f____ing incredible” rebuttal of the “mythology” of Christopher Columbus.  Unfortunately, in our rush to share Mr. Twicken’s sage discoveries with the world, we ended up excluding a myriad of one-liners that didn’t make it into the pilot episode of his classroom drama.  Taken straight from the Author’s notes, these quotes are intended to emend that error.

On religion:
“From a scientific perspective – you know, facts – one story [in the Old Testament] makes no sense: Adam and Eve.” 
[In an earlier class] “People say to me, ‘Jesus loves…’  What if Jesus was at the border?  Would he say, ‘Get the f___ out of here!’  The Jesus I know would say, ‘Give me a f___ing hug.’” 
[In another, later class] “You can’t make religious arguments about marriage or the Constitution.” 
“My church is 98% Afro-American.”

On the Declaration of Independence:
“One people didn’t include American Indians or African-Americans.” 
“The Pursuit of Happiness clause was implicitly racist, because it was about avoiding confrontation with the king over slave ownership.  Changes were made to minimize U.S. hypocrisy.”

On factions and due process:
“The first question is, ‘What the f___ does factions have to do with the Constitution?’” 
“In America, if you’re in a small group of people, a hated group, you’re f___ed.” 
[Doing his New Castrati voice]  “But Mr. Twicken, what about freedom?”  [Mr. Twicken voice]  “I’m the majority, I don’t need to give a s____ about that!” 
“Judges very rarely throw out evidence.  Only on TV is evidence ever excluded.” 
“A judge shouldn’t care about justice… Prosecutors and defense lawyers don’t care about justice.” 
“The average person on trial is Latino, while the average juror is an old white guy.” 
“The system is problematic because no one is responsible for justice.” 
“We don’t even have a system for finding out who’s innocent, who’s guilty.” 
“Prosecutors have incredible power over powerless people.” 
“He [Todd Willingham] couldn’t enunciate clearly because he was borderline retarded.” 
[Speaking of the Central Park Five rapists]  “They were completely innocent.”

On the gays:
“Have you ever noticed how many cops hang around gay bars?” 
“So Texas says, you know, f___ it, there’s good sodomy and bad sodomy, and only homosexual sodomy should be illegal.” 
“Anyone 50 and above is stuck in the mud.  Under 50, attitudes are way different.” 
“The American government treated women and LGBT way worse than King George treated the colonists… It’s who makes the grievance, not the grievance that matters.” 
“It’s in us.  If we as a majority decide we don’t like LGBT discrimination…” 
“Gay folks do not have the same rights as black folks right now… Someone who is gay does not have the same rights as heterosexuals.”

On immigration:
“Most of the discussions we have in California about immigration are racist.” 
“I looked at this thing [Proposition 187] and I knew this was unconstitutional.  The Supreme Court said it was unconstitutional.” 
[Still on Proposition 187, which excluded illegal immigrants from public accommodations such as taxpayer-funded schooling]  “How can you do this?  How can this happen?” 
“The 14th amendment says ‘any person’.”  I guess that any person can vote in the United States.
[Another class, Twicken speaking]: “Here’s a question: should illegal immigrants be allowed to vote?”  [One of Twicken’s female students, sweetly]: “I think so…”

On what the U.S. government does and doesn’t do:
“The federal government in reality doesn’t do much.” 
“In terms of military, we’re the baddest mother____er in the world.” 
“When Cheney says, ‘Oh, we’ll be liberators,’ you know that’s just dumb.” 
“One of the worst things we do is health care.” 
“With checks and balances, Bush and Obama can’t do ____ about immigration.” 
[On Bradley v. Milliken]  “Now the Supreme Court says it’s not their business where people live.  In 20 years, we’ve gone backward.”

On the Constitution and original intent:
“No right is absolute, nor can be denied absolutely.”
“Originalists are like Biblical literalists.”
“The Constitution means everything and nothing at the same time.  The Constitution is not written.”
“Separation of church and state is not in the constitution, but it’s an established legal concept.” 
[Draws a diagram of the judicial spectrum, with activism/Progressives on one side and restraint/Originalists on the other]  “Good judges are somewhere in between.” 
“The Originalist view is just a view, not the view.  It’s kind of bogus.”

Size doesn’t matter, or does it?
“The problem with the Tea Party is that the Constitution was created to make a huge government.” 
[Speaking by analogy about Madison’s goal of “extending the sphere” of government, basically spreading representation across a larger area]  “I’m trying not to look at any of you in particular, but… When I was in my 20s, if I could get my hands on a bare, naked female breast, I never thought, ‘Well, what if it was a little larger…’  I would be so grateful.” 
“The truth is, the white man was afraid of that bigger, blacker penis.  If his wife gets a hold of that, no way she’s going back.”

On the media:
“The media has a marginal impact on politics.” 
“There is no liberal media.”  Just in case you got the wrong impression. He goes on to explain that the media get their money from advertisers, who want to appeal to the center, and therefore journalists cannot exhibit a political bias.
“Newspapers were way more biased in early history.” 
[On the KFI talk radio hosts]  “John and Ken are reading straight from the L.A. Times.”

On John Kasich:
“I think that Donald Trump is really just in it for entertainment value… The governor of Ohio is the real guy you should be watching in this race… I can’t remember his name.”

Fast-travel to other parts:
Stuff That Larry Twicken says
Even More Stuff That Larry Twicken Says

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

100-Something Movies – Building up to Update 1

In my ongoing quest to expand the Files’ 100-something Movies, I’ve encountered a fair share of noteworthy films that either didn’t click with me in some personal way, didn’t demonstrate excellence across the board, or have such a limited appeal that it’d be counterproductive to put them on a blanket list for people who love movies.  Given the merits of each one and the positive reception of our more economical reviews, it makes sense to start a sort of companion series similar to but separate from the main list.  The first part of this catch-up will mostly focus on horror and other genre films, while the second part will cover everything else. Consider these 30-something movies you should watch if you share the Author’s taste in movies.

The Witch does to the New England Puritan household what The Revenant wanted but totally failed to do to the 19th-century fur trader/pioneer.  I watched it in a mainstream Edwards theater with five other adventurous people, one of them a middle-aged woman who muttered upon the credits, “That was one of the dumbest movies I’ve ever seen,” which just about proves director Robert Eggers must have done something right.  The full-frame aspect ratio lent a giant and formidable appearance to the woods, the child actors weren’t annoying, and the horror ranged from interpersonal to environmental to darkly sexual in nature.  I definitely wouldn’t have minded a subtitle track, though.

Goodnight Mommy is known primarily in the States for a misleading trailer that a bunch of clickbait websites labeled the scariest thing they’d ever seen.  Obviously it was not, because the trailer for The Witch came out right around the same time.  Anyways, subsequent to its two seconds of fame, nobody bothered to distribute, publicize, or pay to see the movie, which is a damn shame because Goodnight Mommy weaves an artsy and absorbing tale that you want to watch again immediately after it’s over.  A lot of idiots IMDb users seem to dislike it because they guessed the twist pretty early on, but foreknowledge of a movie’s plot does not a terrible movie make, especially one as atmospheric as Goodnight Mommy. Goodnight Mommy is not a whodunnit mystery drama produced for simple minds to puzzle over what’s going to happen next; it’s a dark, astonishing, and beautifully rendered treatment of depression and denial that keeps the spectator riveted to whatever’s happening right now.

Everyone’s raving about the CG bear attack scene in that Leonardo Dicrapio movie, and I’m sitting here getting traumatized by Backcountry.  Backcountry is not as long a movie as The Revenant, nor does it have as many famous people feigning gruff mountain man accents as The Revenant.  It’s still a much more suspenseful and immersive movie than The Revenant for being a hundredth of the price to make.  I especially liked the way the actors are so often pushed off to the side instead of centered in the frame; even if nothing truly dreadful happens to them for more than an hour, I was still restlessly scanning the screen for motion in the background.  This would be a perfect movie if not for some close-ups and musical cues that made me think the director thought I was daft.

Drag Me To Hell
was a rather routine Sam Raimi movie with a larger budget and some 21st-century effects. Lots of creepy dutch angles and jump scares used appropriately.  What sets it apart from other haunting or satanic-themed movies is that the heroine isn’t a slut or a bimbo or a nuisance, so the parts that are supposed to scare you actually put you on edge.  Other parts, such as the talking goat or the possessed handkerchief, affect you in another, no less giddy way.

In Fear concerns a couple that go for a road trip and get lost in a wooded maze where there’s probably no reception.  They drive around in circles and panic a lot until their gas is all but depleted and they have to venture outside of the vehicle, which is a rather bad idea with all the creepy goings-on around them.  For most of the film, my mind remained in doubt about the nature of the threat they faced, and once I thought I’d figured it out, the final shot upended my assumptions, recalling classic horror films where the monster is decidedly supernatural, omnipresent, and unkillable.  The ending shot, incidentally, is one of mainstream viewers’ chief misgivings with the film, controverting the closure they’ve been reared to expect from Hollywood.  I thought it was perfect.

Whether the terrifying force is mortal or immortal, bound to or exempted from the laws of physics, the vacationers themselves may be their own worst enemies.  Like The Loneliest Planet, In Fear deals with trust between individuals and the illusiveness of a friendship in which that trust is fractured.  That’s not to say it’s a really profound movie, as the main attraction for most should be the splendid low-light cinematography, mostly accomplished in the interior of a car.  Caveat claustrophobes, or maybe that’s a recommendation.

Slither is a mid-budget creature feature courtesy of the director of Guardians of the Galaxy, though it’s definitely aimed more at horror and B-movie buffs than at the general public. Charming and campy to the extreme, it feels like an ode to all of James Gunn’s influences and effortlessly integrates body horror, alien invaders, and zombies into one freakish and hilarious picture.  Two survivors walking off into the sunset has rarely been done so well.

Cross-apply the points on Slither to last year’s indie darling Turbo Kid, which is like Mad Max meets Tron meets a lot of other 80s cult classics, with cartoonish levels of gore as the cherry on top.

At first glance Creep appears to be a really generic, trapped-in-a-subway slasher/thriller, prime video-game material but a shoddy subject for a film.  Then the plot thickens and it somehow metamorphoses into a really gruesome, effective, and wordless statement on abortion, one that’s only a statement because of how sickening its violence gets.  If you can stomach it, there’s also some strong lighting, location, and makeup work to be admired herein.  The reason it doesn’t make the cut is because it turns into a stupid horror movie at the end where the characters pass up four or five good opportunities to kill the mutant thing that’s terrorizing them.  It’s knocked down, you dummies.  Press X to finish with harpoon.

Ten years later, the indie found-footage movie Creep released to an audience of nobody before going almost straight to Netflix.  Written, directed, and acted by two people, it would be an OK movie without the supporting presence of Mark Duplass, but he elevates it to the status of greatness.  Duplass’ acting in Creep is the stuff of which Oscars would be made, if the Oscars actually designated substantive achievements.  Isn’t that right, Leo, Eddie?

Dario Argento’s Suspiria is one of the reddest, and probably most beautiful films I’ve ever seen.  Any critic who puts Wizard of Oz on their 20 essential movies list but not Suspiria is an ignoramus, or a pander, or both.  Every particle of the sets looks meticulous and purposeful, and the unrelenting experimental soundtrack by Goblin carries the film.  Basically, whenever nobody’s talking, this is pretty faultless as horror goes.  The reason it’s not on the list is because I watched it back to back with David Slade’s Hard Candy, and Hard Candy does the Suspiria aesthetic even better than Suspiria, without the terrible dubbing and acting.

After Suspiria and Hard Candy, I checked out Wong Kar Wai by means of 2046, which I wasn’t aware was a sequel to his most famous In The Mood For Love and which left me somewhat confused.  Sensuous and evocative though it is, 2046 is not a good entry point to its director’s work or to foreign cinema.  Having no central relationship or clear delineation between the world of the actual and the world of Tony Leung’s authoring, the film captivated me with its cinematic virtuosity and persuaded me I need to watch a Wong Kar-Wai production that actually makes sense.

From Dusk Till Dawn is penned by Quentin Tarantino, but I found more stylistic connections with the Evil Dead series than with anything else.  I won’t say anything else about the plot, except to say that it’s just pure, dumb fun.  Likewise with True Romance, which I didn’t like as much.

Coherence was shot in a single house on a budget of nothing without much of a script, and released in 2013 to Amazon Prime but not to Netflix, which automatically reduces its coolness for many of my peers.  It involves three or so couples coping with a meteoric phenomenon that causes a convergence of innumerable parallel universes, to the detriment of any coherence in the narrative.  The film is designed for multiple viewings, but I only had time in my week for one.

Rewatching Hanna, I noticed a lot of cool stylistic choices that didn’t stand out to me on first viewing: things like the synchronization of certain actions with the musical beats, the none-too-subtle references to Grimm’s fairy tales, and the somewhat childlike, fanciful point-of-view throughout, most prominently in exterior shots.  Recruiting the Chemical Brothers to provide music and plastering them all over the advertising was a wise move, albeit one squandered on one of their weaker stand-alone albums.  Joe Wright is also a retard, but in the case of Hanna, his rights outweigh his wrongs.

House of Flying Daggers is just as immaculately produced as its predecessor Hero, lavishly shot and choreographed from the courtly game-turned-showdown at the beginning to the exhilarating chase through a bamboo forest.  It’s a shame its plot is so trite and Twilight-y by comparison.  Still, if you’re a fan of action or wuxia films or close-ups of Ziyi Zhang, you’d be a fool to pass it up.

I gave Saving Private Ryan a second watch a couple months ago and it was still a technical marvel. Historical inaccuracies or fabrications aside, its best achievement is starkly showing what an incredible sacrifice it is to fight and die for one’s country.  I just don’t think it needs to go on another movie list, not with the gratuitous patriotic framing scenes in the graveyard, the forgettable soundtrack, Matt Damon, or the asinine, Hollywood drama at the end ensuing from one soldier’s cowardly incapacity to shoot the Germans.  Give me a break.

Jarhead pretty much falls into the same camp as The Revenant in that it’s one of the most technically astounding, emotionally hollow mainstream art films ever made.  The script itself is a smugly pacifistic satire of the United States’ meddling in foreign nations, wherein every situation is exaggerated times 10 to “prove” a point, but it also wants to be taken seriously.  I kind of hated it.  But Roger Deakins is a genius, as is Thomas Newman.

And no, we’re not done comparing movies to The Revenant.  We still have to talk about the “live-action” remake of The Jungle Book.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Deadpool Wasn't That Offensive, and We're Foolish For Thinking It Was

This last Valentine’s Day weekend, a little movie called Deadpool came out to compete with another, even littler movie called How To Be Single.  Why any typical Beatissima student would knowingly pay to watch an instruction guide on being single is an insoluble conundrum, as insiders will attest that undergrads at this and other luxury schools already have that skill set down pat.  Nonetheless, I did notice at least one fellow Bea entering the showing room for How To Be Single, and this would be a cause of great discouragement if I hadn’t already figured the direness of her need for that particular film.

Singleness aside (though it really isn’t all that unrelated), if you have no idea what a Deadpool is, then the movie will explain it to you, but it goes without saying that Deadpool was just about the most anticipated movie at Beatissima since Star Wars.  It also goes without saying that Deadpool is not a film that’d be endorsed by anybody within the Beatissima power structure, revolting as it does against all common standards of morality and public decency.  As recent events lamentably expose, Beatissima is not an establishment to suffer indecency in speech or writing.  The Author’s Files are never a publication to suffer stupidity in the same, and it was precisely for this reason that I found the first half-hour or so of Deadpool rather irksome and puerile and inane.  “But that’s the point!” protests the Pool’s army of rabid fanboys. Still, for some reason I wasn’t buying the concept of a purposefully awful film consisting mostly of penis jokes and bad behavior and priding verbal asides about how awful it all is.

Somewhere down the line, Deadpool started to work as more than just a wacky pitch.  Maybe it happened after he’s suffocated, impaled, and buried underneath burning rubble, a scene that’s brutal, intense, dramatic, and absolutely necessary to make us root for a protagonist who’s frankly gross and cruel and despicable to all but one person in his life (whom he’s disgusting to in a different way).  Or maybe it happened as soon as the bad guys kidnapped his girlfriend, forcing him to round up a posse to go and fetch her back in the most excessively violent way.  “I would go with you,” says his bartender friend Weasel. “But I don’t want to.”  The Wade Wilson-woman romance really didn’t affect me, being based like much of the humor entirely on sex, but some part of me still wanted to see Deadpool beat the people who wronged him to a pulp, and this he does in extravagant detail throughout.  For better or worse, Deadpool appeals to the same baser impulses of hatred and merciless retaliation that made Kill Bill such an enduring hit with audiences, and when it sticks to its revenge tale core, it functions well enough.  The “love story” is an incidental albeit well-timed bit of studio strategery to milk the Valentine’s Day weekend time slot, plus what ticket-paying adult doesn’t like to see kinky sex scene montages rammed into a comic character’s origin story?  Nonetheless, by the final pull-out wide shot, I felt that I’d experienced a story which was oddly cohesive, complete, and satisfying.

Due to its highly referential shtick, Deadpool has a lot of random moments that will only make sense to Marvel fans or nerds who consume a lot of subpar entertainment.  One of my favorite moments is when Wade opens the door on Negasonic Teenage Warhead and says excitedly, “Ellen Ripley from Alien 3!”  The cringeworthiness of this greeting may only be appreciated by someone who’s seen and suffered through David Fincher’s conclusion to that series (we shall not speak of Alien: Resurrection).  Drawing inspiration from the comics  or so I’m told –, the writers routinely mock the very storytelling conventions they rely upon, as when an important connection enters Deadpool’s headquarters seemingly at random and Weasel remarks nonchalantly, “He might further the plot.”  This so happens to come after a 10- or 15-minute stretch of setup – a long time in a comedy this short – where just about nothing of consequence or entertainment value is occurring.

There were a great many things I liked about the execution of Deadpool.  I liked how innocent Colossus was, avoiding violence wherever possible, shielding his eyes from a naked breast, and chiding Deadpool for his dirty mouth.  I liked that he had a Russian accent, and I liked that he could talk even though the trailers made him out to be a hulking metal mute.  He’s the only likeable person herein except for maybe the old blind lady.  I didn’t really like that they made him give Deadpool an inspirational lecture on heroism right before the end, because I knew exactly how the scene was going to play out and the inclusion of it just reminded me what a murderous scumbag Deadpool is, but one ill-advised scene didn’t ruin the movie in this instance.  I liked the taxi driver and Pool’s efforts to transform him into another psychopath.  I liked that Stan Lee only showed up in the most inappropriate place the director could have put him.  I liked the action on the whole, the lightness of the fighting, the absurdity of the slow-mo bullet trick shots, and Deadpool challenging his nemesis, “Let’s dance, and by dance I mean let’s try to kill each other.”  I liked that the name of his nemesis is Francis.  I liked the resurrection of the catchy Salt N’ Pepa song, I liked that they acknowledged how similar the character is to Wolverine, and I guess I liked that Deadpool was fighting and killing for completely selfish reasons that had nothing to do with planetary conquest or destruction.

A bunch of clowns on Deadpool

What I didn’t like so much about Deadpool was how little it tried to make me dislike it.  This was sold as the satirical comic movie which would finally take a sledgehammer to political correctness, but I left the movie with the impression that anybody could have enjoyed it just as much as I did; ergo it must have done something wrong.  Deadpool does turn one random bad guy into a kebob, and makes no apology for it, but aside from that he stays away from skewering white people, black people, Jewish people, or any other ethnicity.  He doesn’t mock conservatives or leftists, homosexuals or feminazis, rich people or poor, female female restroom users or male female restroom users.  Simply put, Deadpool doesn’t aim to criticize or lampoon any gender, race, nationality, religion, disability, political leanings, or culture, and the only people who stand to be offended by his debut movie are those who don’t like sophomoric sexual humor and those who bear responsibility for pumping out the same exhausted Marvel movies year after year, forever.  It also might offend Rosie O’Donnell, but there aren’t a lot of things that don’t offend Rosie O’Donnell.
I don’t know what parameters Marvel sets for what their comics writers can do with Deadpool, or whether Deadpool even has a history of propagating disparaging, politically unacceptable attitudes.  Maybe Wade Wilson is nothing more than a foul-mouthed, oversexed mercenary who takes out his self-loathing on everybody equally without regard to any physical traits or lifestyles.  My only acquaintance with him is through this movie, which I can say with certainty had nothing to do with mocking political correctness or the wussification of America.  Thanks for the lies, Breitbart.

Does it really matter that Deadpool wasn’t the scathing political wake-up call to make America great again? Of course it does.  The plebeians who spam about how offensive Deadpool was are the same pseudo-hipster poseurs who think that Human Centipede is extremely transgressive horror, that listening to Kendrick makes them smart or edgy, and that Bernie Sanders is an “outsider” candidate with a revolutionary new vision of government predicated on expanding government control and distributing stolen favors to voting interest groups, as opposed to the Democrat Establishment’s platform, which is conversely predicated on expanding government control and distributing stolen favors to voting interest groups.

These are the corporate-controlled utensils who are inadvertently dismantling our free country, and these are the doublethink-spinning drones Deadpool 2 most needs to liberate from the shackles of their own stupidity.  Deadpool paves a path of destruction and dead bodies in his origin story, but at least he leaves our 1st Amendment rights intact.  By the time the sequel rolls around, the constitutional republic we once knew and called unjust will be just another casualty of socialism, dropping from above into a historical freeway of brief, now-dead democracies, and Ryan Reynolds will look at our sad, mutilated corpse and say, “That guy was up there when I get here.”

Deadpool is not Offensive, and the fact that so many people think it is shows how ill-equipped we are to deal with thoughts and institutions and atrocities that truly call for our offense.  God damn us, quoth the mentor of the president of the United States.  “God damn America.”

2016 Trailer / Industry Reviews So Far
Free State of Jones – Goodie.  Another Civil War movie with boring actors in it, straight from the boring director of Hunger Games and Pleasantville.
Hail Caesar – Another movie with tons of famous people in it, but at least it looks like the Coen Brothers had the decency to write an original script.  I’ll check it out on DVD, because that’s the only format on which I can now check it out.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – I guess this happened.
Independence Day 2 – That they waited until 2016 to release this film proves that Independence Day: Resurgence of Independence will be the greatest comedy of the year.  The question on everybody’s mind: Will ID4.2 feature veiled commentary on the European mass migration and the collapse of western nationalism?  The answer to that question: NOPE.
The Nice Guys – This looks like a splendid Redbox rental.  I like the part where the guy goes splat all over the tiles, and the part where the girl says, “Dad, there are whores here, and stuff.”
Black people parody of The Purge – I don’t remember anything about it, and the only reason I recall seeing it advertised is because I pulled out my phone in the theater and made a note of it.
Actual The Purge sequel Insidious and The Conjuring were OK, but man, do I hate Blumhouse Productions.  These franchise movies are to the horror genre what Disney is to animation and Nicholas Sparks is to romantic dramedy, and it’s sad because those masks look really cool.
Hardcore Henry (originally titled Hardcore) – Saw it.  May review in more depth later.  If it’s still playing near you, you should go watch it because the makers put a lot of hard work and love into creating the best action film since Fury Road.  If you’re a parent who’s concerned about the R-rating, you should take your kids anyway because you probably let them play video games that are just as profane and violent, without a satirical bent.  If you’re a 16-year-old who’s concerned about the R-rating, just go because they’re not going to card you and turn away your money.  If you’re a 13-year-old who’s concerned about the R-rating, tell your mom that it’s a superhero movie, like The Avengers, or like Deadpool.
Batman vs. Superman Episode 2 Attack of the Drones – What bugs me even more than the existence of this trash is that so many of my friends forked over good money to see it instead of an original idea like Hardcore Henry, which they thought “looked so stupid”.
The Brothers Grimsby – Sacha Baron Cohen said something about Ukrainian Ben Affleck, and his brother told him to stop shooting everything.  Nobody cared.
Mike and Dave – I think there were jokes in the trailer.  Anna Kendrick is dead to me after Pitch Perfect 2 and being a Democrat in general.  I don’t watch Zac Efron movies.
Eddie the Eagle – The spot was about 30 seconds of an actor getting ready to ski off a jump, and I didn’t care enough to watch anything more.
Allegiant Part 1 – The teenagers have to bring down the bad government by flying through the desert in their space pods, or something.  I feel like all these YA movies get pooped out on a script-generating conveyor belt, yet somehow they get respected actors to sell out and appear in them.  Shame on Jeff Daniels, Naomi Watts, and the Whiplash guy.
Captain America: Civil War – As advertised at every movie showing over the last four months.  I don’t get why Captain America is the rebel and Iron Man the defender of the status quo.  Isn’t that ignoring every Marvel movie leading up to this point?  Anyway, I don’t care that Spiderman is in it; I just want them not to repeat Avengers: Age of Terminator.
The Conjuring 2 – When are we going to admit the first one was really overrated?  Forget it.  All of these “based on a true story” haunted house movies are basically sequels to each other, at any rate.
Demolition – Eh.
Green Room – I liked Blue Ruin as much as the next indie horror hound, but this was a lame trailer.  Find something other than blood or “shock and awe” to sell me on your film.  Unfortunately, there now exists a half-hour Half in the Bag episode on something I was marginally interested in, so I literally may not have a choice in seeing it.
Ratchet and Clank: Just the Cutscenes – Apparently no one got the memo that the only thing amusing about Ratchet and Clank games is their racy titles and the mindless catharsis of blowing everything up.
The BFG – Blech.  Hideous Polar Express-like faces everywhere.
Harry Potter spinoff thingy – From J.K. Rowling and Eddie Redmayne comes a movie for children and adults still capable of tolerating J.K. Rowling and Eddie Redmayne.
The Angry Birds Movie – Introduce familiar imagery... recycle Astro Boy lasers-from-my-butt line, because kids think butts are funny.  The saddest thing is they’ll probably make their money back.
Finding Nemo 2 – Featuring the boring animation and recurring dialogue of Finding Nemo 1.
The Secret Life of Pets – The pets are gay.  Also, I hate kid films.  The one thing I remember about this trailer is that it went through three or four different music tracks, all of which repeatedly cut out right when a character says or does something that we’re supposed to think is funny.  This is condescending and obnoxious.
Ghostbusters – I don’t know if this is worse than the Fifth Wave trailer I saw at the beginning of the year. It’s pretty bad.  Still, I would gladly watch this reaction video every day for the rest of the year.  Angry Birds!  Finding Nemo!  These are things I know.