Thursday, March 30, 2006

Invasion of the Baby Snatchers.

2005, South Africa
Gavin Hood

In the past few years, the profile of international cinema has really been significantly raised in the US. The success of films like City of God have shown audiences that foreign filmmakers can make American action films just as good as Tony Scott can. Consequently, everybody and their immigrant mother are making foreign films about ethnic gangs living in slums, with originally being measured by the style of the subtitles. Tsotsi is the latest of the new wave of transplanted American gangster films, coming to us from South Africa. In this film, white Afrikaans director Gavin Hood orders around a group of young, poor black actors in a violent tale of life in the ghetto, demonstrating that while South Africa may have lost the letter of the apartheid laws, they’re keeping the spirit alive.

Because no one is capable of making a gangster movie not directly influenced by Martin Scorsese, Tsotsi is a tale of redemption, following the titular Tsotsi through his attempts to rehabilitate his gangster lifestyle by stealing a baby. If I’d known child kidnapping is all it takes to make things right with karma, I would have stopped my catch and release regimen a while back. Nevertheless, confusing moral message aside, this sweet story of an urban black man taking care of a child was a surprise winner at this year’s Oscars, as the Academy generally does not reward fantasy films unless they’re about the Holocaust. The film is not without its positive qualities, however. Since the film is emblematic of the Oscars’ recent attempts to replace their voting body with the United Colors of Beneton, Tsotsi does provide ample opportunity for reactionary racist jokes that help keep American theatres focused on Hollywood movies for white football players, as evidenced above. Taken on its own terms, the film is capably made, and entirely watchable, but aside from a strong performance by Presley Chweneyagae as the lead, there’s nothing that really distinguishes this movie from its imitators, or the films it imitates. And while it’s a good movie, I still think that German movie about the Holocaust should have won.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

R.I.P., Barnabas Collins. Sort of.

Sadly, Dan Curtis died Monday, and the age of 77. This is the man who brought cheesy, prime-time ready horror to the network TV market. Thank you, Mr. Curtis, for threatening millions with large spiders, Karen Black’s lazy eye, and a vampire soap opera. You will be missed.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Men Are From Mars, Women Belong In The Kitchen.

The Bank Dick
1940, USA
Edward F. Cline

Women hate W.C. Fields. But not for the same reasons they hate the Three Stooges. Hatred for Larry, Moe, Curley, and to a lesser extent Shemp comes not from a genetic predilection, but rather stems from a traumatic childhood event. Like most psychiatric pathologies, hatred of the Three Stooges, or ‘triretardophobia’, comes from a woman’s father, who crept in their bedroom late at night, pulled back the covers, and took them downstairs to watch late night stand-up comedians on Showtime at the Apollo. Short of quips about having trouble programming the VCR, women hating the Three Stooges is literally the oldest joke in the book, after the one about the Neolithic caveman, the Mastodon, and the Rabbi walking into a bar.

In case you're wondering, the punchline has something to do with big noses.

The aversion to W.C. Fields is, however, coded directly into female DNA, along with an exceptionally high tolerance for Jimmy Fallon and the ability to speak entirely in Sex and the City quotes. With men being blessed with strength, intelligence, in the case of certain ethnic groups, the ability to tolerate the stench of cheap, sour cologne , you’d think women would get some equally useful skills, like a repressed gag reflex. But no, all their extra X chromosome gives them is an instant, violent reaction to W.C. Fields and the almost supernatural ability to pick up the stale scent of Kleenex and KY Jelly that indicates that there is pornography in the apartment.

KY Jelly jokes are the fourth oldest, incidentally.

You’ll have to excuse me for falling into a tired, familiar pattern of gender stereotyping. It’s just that a discussion of The Bank Dick is impossible without it, like talking about American history but avoiding Lincoln, or giving a genocide lecture without opening with a joke. W.C. Fields spends most of the film reminding us why we love (or hate) his short films, and why that’s not a good enough reason to watch a feature. He drinks a lot, abuses his children amusingly, and does an excellent job of defining the word ‘bumbling’ for a game of charades. If you’re into that sort of thing, this is definitely the movie for you. If you’re not, go into the kitchen and make me a sandwich.

Video Round-up: March 28, 2006

Today, King Kong and Memoirs of a Geisha were released. So, really, your rental decision depends entirely on which group of savages you’d like to see exploited.

Monday, March 27, 2006

God Is Dead, But The Plot Device Lives On.

16 Blocks
2006, USA
Richard Donner

I broke a promise today. Long ago, I swore that should I ever again stumble upon a film that uses a hand-held tape recorded as a deus ex machina plot device, I would douse myself in gasoline and self-immolate to protest both lazy screenwriters and the effect Murder She Wrote has had on popular culture. Yet today, I sat through 16 Blocks, and still I live. Perhaps it was Mos Def’s charmingly idiosyncratic character. Perhaps it was the high-energy pacing. Or perhaps I slipped the roofie into the wrong large Pepsi, sacrificing a fun-filled evening with the girl I was babysitting in exchange for actually enjoying a movie for once . Regardless of what caused it, after 16 Blocks was done, I very strangely didn’t feel like ending my life in a fury of accelerant-fueled fire.

Me moments after watching The Inside Man.

Director Richard Donner is no stranger to action movies. He is, however, a stranger to good action movies. Those wishing to advance Lethal Weapon as evidence to the contrary should take a long, hard look at Mel Gibson’s lengthy mullet before making any hasty decisions, and what little room was left for pity in my heart was erased the moment To his credit, Donner has apparently learned a thing or two in the past few years, namely that people enjoy watching 24. 16 Blocks owes a great deal to that show, taking place in real time as it follows the attempts of a detective to get a hunted witness 16 blocks from a police station to a courthouse. Bruce Willis plays the detective, a tired, drunken old man who looks like he’s given up on life and liver, and he fits the role to a T. I think Willis is very good in this film, but I can’t be sure because I’ve never seen that happen before. What I am sure of is that 16 Blocks is a ridiculous film, even as action movies go, but manages to distract with original, captivating performances and a lightening quick pace, like a David Blaine TV special or Billy Graham.

Now, watch him pull a repressive and outdated moral code out of hat.

Which explains why the movie was so unsuccessful. Nobody wants to see an original action movie, even if it is just as unthreateningly stupid as the usual fare. 16 Blocks is an action movie without a love interest or a significantly large explosion, which is like a Martin Scorsese film without a redemption sub-text or a Harry Potter movie without a flamboyantly gay drama student in the audience. What the film does have is a lot of interesting characterization, which is no way to win an MTV Movie Award. Instead, 16 Blocks is destined to languish in the twilight zone between action and drama, rubbing shoulders with Heat and most late-period George Clooney pictures, and within spitting distance of Payback. And while cinematic purgatory may not seem like an ideal resting place for all eternity, it could be worse. You could be trapped in hell with Jessica Fletcher.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Beyond The Valley of the Blow-Up Dolls

Seed of Chucky
2004, USA
Don Mancini

Let’s deal with the obvious right away: this is not a good movie. But Jennifer Tilly and erections go hand in hand, or more accurately sweaty, twitching hand in tiny, 12 year old girl on the cusp of puberty hand. It’s a fact of life, and it should be mentioned at the beginning of every review of her performance. It doesn’t matter that she looks like a Reubens painting of a prostitute, she still sounds like your date talking dirty at a junior high dance. Of course, the net result of her presence in any film is that all the blood rushes from your head, leaving you much more susceptible to idiocy and illogic that usual, which explains the popularity of Bound.

Hot. That 12 year old girl is in bed with that 12 year old boy.

In Seed of Chucky, Tilly reprises her role as Tiffany, Chucky’s girlfriend from the previous film. The long-running Child’s Play series was thought dead when slasher films passed out of vogue in the mid-nineties, but the post-Scream boom led to a reinvigoration of the genre. 1998’s Bride of Chucky breathed new life into the series by giving Chucky a girlfriend, a distinct visual style courtesy of Asian director Ronnie Yu, and a bunch of labored Frankenstein references. Seed of Chucky continues that theme, patching itself together with twisted versions of other familiar story lines, like the screenwriter is trying to prove working in a video store for four years is a valuable learning experience. As the title would suggest, the star of the film is the progeny of the two dolls, an impossibility explained away rather dismissively by “voodoo”. As far as I know, the only thing voodoo’s good for is Haitian tourism and Anne Rice plot conceits, though if it made dolls speak like Jennifer Tilly I’d be prancing around in a top hat and chicken-bone necklace in no time flat.

The only way to enjoy The Vampire Lestat.

Chucky’s titular seed is nameless, British, and in search of his parents during the film’s very Dickensian first act. Once he discovers that his parents are murderous serial killers toys, the film morphs into a gender-bending riff on Ed Wood’s Glen Or Glenda, and a tongue in cheek story of addiction, as Chucky and Tiffany try to stop killing and become better role models. In fact, tongue-in-cheek is a good way to describe the movie, as it’s humorous, light-hearted, and cartoonishly violent. But, like keeping your tongue in cheek, afterwards all you’re left with is a canker-sore. And once all the blood flows back to your head, that can start to sting.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Buried Treasure.

Berlin: Symphony of a Great City
1927, Germany
Walter Ruttman

Seventy-nine years after its release, Berlin: Symphony of a Great City remains one of the most powerful, innovative, and exciting documentaries ever made. Completely eschewing traditional narration, the film instead structures its imagery chronologically, giving the viewer a literal day in the life of a great city, set to a great score and edited both poetically and rhythmically. There, that’s probably gotten rid of most readers, who just stopped by hoping that I’d tear into She’s The Man by claiming that man or no man, I’d still do Amanda Bynes up the shitter. When I was in high school, I got the best grades in any of my classes, not because I was particularly intelligent, but rather because I figured out pretty quickly that all you had to do with textbook learning was read the first and last sentences of any paragraph to grasp anything you would ever possibly need for a test. As I get plenty of hate mail from people who clearly haven’t actually read anything on this site not included in the title and opening joke, I’ve decided to apply that reasoning here. Since this is the sort of film people who skipped an Intro To Documentary Cinema class need to have seen for their exam, I’m obliged to provide some intellectual content, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still have some fun, and by fun I mean disparage the German people. Still, despite criticisms that Berlin: Symphony of a Great City avoids addressing any relevant issues or provide any sort of social commentary, the film’s very nature and structure provides a beautiful example of the many ways in which the form of documentary cinema, and film itself, can be expanded beyond its traditional borders.

If you look closely, you can see a hidden Mercedes Benz advert. And an anti-Semitic slur.

Director Walter Ruttman fills the movie with imagery that is almost distracting in its beauty, but every time we’re in danger of drifting off into a mindless appreciation of mere aesthetics, the robust, almost Eisensteinian editing draws us back into the film. Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, by focusing on a temporal structure instead of a traditional character driven narrative, manages to turn the city itself into a character. Which is great, because it means we don’t have to watch Marlene Dietrich stomp through a scene like a Teutonic Godzilla. I’m fairly positive the only reason she’s regarded as a beauty is because she looks like she’s made of granite, and therefore infinitely stronger than her detractors. All German women are frightening in their mannishness, like their culture so values strength and power their women are born with dicks bigger than my arm. Which is what makes German porn so terrifying. It’s not that they’re always defecating on each other or drinking sperm from milk buckets, it’s that I can’t tell who’s defecating on who, which causes me to question my sexuality even further than my Tiger Beat magazines do. And German men look like they collect Rutger Hauer action figures. So, Berlin: Symphony of a Great City is not only a fascinating viewing experience in its own right, it provides an example of the vast potential of the cinematic form, an example that, sadly, has rarely been followed in the subsequent century. Highly recommended, it's a film you should seek out, to find the buried treasure of entertainment within.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

'Twas Brillig, and the Slithy Toves Did Stick It Right Up In Brianna Love.

Robot Monster
1953, USA
Phil Tucker

Most men, on the rare occasions when they get the house all to themselves for an extended period, piss with the door open and watch lesbian pornography. I watch Robot Monster, over and over again. And lesbian pornography. But mostly Robot Monster, because this is the only film I have ever seen that makes me ask the question “how did anyone think this up?”. People ask this sort of thing all the time, usually rhetorically, when faced with a variety of either inventive or horrifically depraved movies. Recently, film critics have been posing the same question, particularly in regards to the newer glut of startlingly graphic horror films, like Saw 2 or The Hills Have Eyes. The latter film has a scene in which one mutated freak rapes an underage girl while another eats her pet birds. The scene has disgusted many, but I’m not terribly impressed, since I have to consciously make an effort not to think up stuff like that in public, or my pants will bulge in uncomfortable places. What I do admire, however, is the absolute dedication to gibberish evident in Robot Monster. This movie is nonsense poetry without the literary sensibility, like Lewis Carroll with a factory worker’s education. If I were to throw up alphabet soup onto a page, I’d still make more sense than this movie. Legendarily bad, but overshadowed by the films of Ed Wood, Robot Monster is a gem of ‘50s Z-grade sci-fi that must truly be seen to believed. I’ll try to describe it for you, but I’m not sure I can capture the essence of it. Perhaps if I lay it out on the page in sequential, things will make more sense. You tell me:

  1. Several dinosaurs get into a fight. At least, I assume their meant to be dinosaurs. What they actually are, are lizards filmed in close-up. The ‘dinosaurs’ wrestle for a bit, but it appears that one or both of them may be dead or rubber.

  1. The screen is filled with the covers of several fake comic books, or perhaps postage stamps. The image is unclear, but probably not worth examining closer. The title card comes up. “Robot Monster”, it proudly proclaims, despite the fact that neither a robot nor a monster are really in the film. There is also a credit for ‘Bubble Machine Provided By’, which is not the most terrifying title to lead into your film with.

  1. A young boy approaches two men in a cave. For a moment, I thought I’d accidentally taped over the film with some footage I shouldn’t have downloaded from the Internet, but sadly, this is not the case. The young boy introduces himself to the men, who claim to be archeologists, before running off to go home for dinner. Nothing is mentioned about either the comic books or the fighting dinosaurs. This is perhaps for the best.

  1. The young boy and his mother now live in a compound, two of the last 7 surviving humans on earth. One of the archeologists is now his father, and the other his sister’s wife, giving the viewer the distinct impression that the script has been re-written but no one has thought to inform the director until midway through the shooting.

  1. It is revealed that civilization has been wiped out by a “Ro-man”, which is a man in a gorilla suit with a fishbowl on his head. This is not what he looks like, this is what he is. It is not questioned by anyone in the film, and I fear reprisals should I do so now. The Ro-man is in contact with another Ro-man via television. Every time the second Ro-Man speaks, the on-screen room he’s communicating from fills up with bubbles. I wonder who provided the machine.

  1. The archeologist is apparently no longer an archeologist, but a chemist, and he has developed a cure for all diseases. This cure apparently also protects him and his family from the Ro-Man’s ray gun, a stunning causal link on par with the frothiest conspiracy theories or tin-foil hat ravings.

  1. The Ro-Man, frustrated in his attempts to exterminate the human race, manually strangles most of the family. Much of the last half of the film is devoted to this.

  1. The young boy wakes up outside the cave, having fallen down and hit his head. The two archeologists help him up, and it turns out everything was just a dream. Then, a bunch of bubbles come out of a cave, and Ro-Man walks out. Twice. I’m not sure if we’re meant the thing that he went back inside after forgetting his keys, or if the film has just been looped. Either way, it has no bearing over what happens next, or even what happened before, really.

  1. Then, Sativa Rose sticks a glass dildo into Brianna Love. I’m not sure if this was from the same movie, but it happened right after, and continued happening up until someone else came home.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A figure of speech in which two essentially unlike things are compared, often in a phrase introduced by like or as.

1943, USA
Howard Hughes

For a movie banned because of Jane Russell’s ample and spotlighted cleavage, this movie sure is gay. And I’m not saying that in a pejorative sense. I mean this movie is homosexual, literally. It aspires to high airs, has stilted, affected dialogue, and I’m pretty sure I caught it fucking The Ox-Bow Incident at the repertory drive-in off the 401. Jane Russell’s tits are huge, to be sure, but they take a back seat to the strangely familial sexual tension between Walter Huston’s Doc Holliday and Jack Beutel’s Billy The Kid. The two men spar verbally and physically throughout the movie, ostensibly over Russell and a horse, but in reality it’s just a pissing contest to see who has the bigger dick, which is like foreplay for gay guys when they run out of X. Essentially, this film would be Brokeback Mountain's ancestor, if it wasn't far too gay to breed.

Don't eat the brown Outlaw!

The Outlaw, directed by Howard Hughes before he started saving his urine, is a kind of pastiche of Old West heroes and legends, like a commemorative quilt or a laboured film clip collage at the 2006 Oscars. Holliday and William Bonney are joined by Pat Garrett and not a lot of research, coming off like a story about Sherlock Holmes fighting Dracula written by someone who has read neither. There’s too much dialogue and not enough action, with the camerawork in particular being more suited to a filmed stage play than a traditional Western. However, the subtext of the characters is fairly interesting. Bonney and Holliday alternate between friends and enemies at the drop of a hat, passing Jane Russell between them like a glass pipe full of crystal meth or, more accurately, like a fag hag trying to catch an infection. Pat Garrett, the hero of many a Western yarn, is a weasely lawman trying to make a name for himself, but in reality just distracts from the two protagonists, who switch sides like a bi-sexual high-school girl listening to an Ani Difranco mixed tape. Russell can’t act to save her life, but that doesn’t really matter, because she’s only there to give men a reason to watch this movie that won’t tip off their wives, like the fight-statistics in grappling magazines. And while the subtext does make the film interesting, there’s not enough on the surface to make it entertaining, essentially reducing it, like this review, to a series of bad gay-themed metaphors and similes.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Anarchist's Comic Book.

V For Vendetta
2005, USA
James McTeigue

This movie makes me want to blow up buildings. Well, more accurately, it makes me want to blow up more buildings. Generally, I prefer to stick to abortion clinics and churches in Alabama, using one to mask the motives of the other, but Alan Moore’s comic book and the subsequent film have aroused a more militant streak in me. Now, because I'm an impressionable idiot, I’m going to use my internet-learned bomb-making skills to blow up government buildings that oppress me, like the Post Office and the Sex Offender Registry, then blame it on this movie.

I bet you a ton of fertilizer and a detonator will get me off that list.

V For Vendetta is an adaptation of a comic book, or ‘graphic novel’ if you’re looking to get beat up and stuffed into a locker. As usual with comic adaptations, there’s plenty in this film to make purists retract their testicles deep into the abdominal cavity as they clench and shriek about Wolverine’ height and Peter Parker’s organic web-shooters. But ultimately, V For Vendetta succeeds because it preserves the original spirit of the comic book. In fact, many of the myriad changes and alterations made from the source material serve to enhance the militant, revolutionary social message of the comic, while dumbing everything down to the level that even if you sneak into the theatre after a Deuce Bigalow: European Gigelow screening, you’ll still get fired up enough to knock over a mailbox on your way to the Irish pub.

That's not even disturbingly unfunny. It just lies there, like a dead transient that no one wants to notice.

V For Vendetta is directed by James McTeigue, the second unit director from The Matrix trilogy, so already it’s in for an uphill battle. McTiegue approaches the material in a workman-like fashion, displaying flair only in the action scenes and giving the rest of the movie the same attention one would lavish on an industrial film about meat carving. The screenplay was written by the Wachowski Brothers, who stripped much of the poetry and beauty from Alan Moore’s original story in favor of a lean slice of pulp fiction. This is not necessary a bad thing, since many of Moore’s fascinating ideas were half-baked or, if you’re re-assigning the idiom to a drug reference, quite fully baked. While these changes do little to elevate the movie to the status of high art, it does make it tighter, and the message more direct. Ultimately, the film and the comic examine the relationship between fear and control, and the fine line between terrorist and freedom fighter. But while the comic was written in the 1980s as a critique of the British conservative party, the film has been updated to function essentially as a direct attack on the Bush administration, using the smokescreen of science fiction to advance concerns about the abuse of power, comment on the seductive power of fascism, and dribble saliva over frothy 9/11 conspiracy theories.

V For Vendetta features uncredited script re-writes by Michael Moore.

Starring Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving, the film tells the story of the titular V, a masked terrorist in a futuristic England who attacks the government in an attempt to both gain revenge and awake a sleeping populace grown complacent with the comfort and security of fascism. V struggles with sanity and his conscience, Portman struggles with her accent, and everyone in the film struggles to be as good as Stephen Rea, an Irish actor so used to putting in excellent performances in Neil Jordan movies he forgets how to ham it up in superhero fare, consequently making everyone else look bad. The film, also, is making critics look bad, forcing many of them ask embarrassingly stupid questions about whether the film advocates or condemns terrorism, whether it’s a parable or fantasy, and how many times one can use the word ‘dystopian’ in one review. The answers, if you’ve paid attention to the film, are 1) it’s trying to show both sides of the issue, 2) it’s both, idiot, and 3) I don’t know, but if I read than in one more review that tries to break the record, I’m sending a letter bomb. Once I’m done with the abortion clinic.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

A Remembrance Of Things Past.

Here’s an interesting bit of trivia. Years ago, I used to “write” for a website called I use the quotation marks because I would only do so on rare occasions where there was a Dr. Who rerun on Space: The Imagination Station that I’d seen more than twice, and it wasn’t so much writing as flooding the screen with racially-themed profanity. Among the several other writers who contributed to the site was a fellow named Dan Beirne, who went on to co-found Said The Gramophone, the go-to site for people looking to reference an obscure indie-folk band so they can lay the girl in glasses who works at the fair trade coffee shop. Dan wrote a weekly column called Waiting With Nathan, in which he watched a movie with Nathan Lane every week and then wrote about it. I had never met Dan, though I suppose he read my stuff enough to be irritated by it, so one week he wrote a Waiting With Ash column, in which he pretended to hang out with me instead of Nathan Lane. In this imaginary fable, we hung out and watched Russian classic The Cranes Are Flying, an unlikely event due to both my anti-social tendencies and the ultra-Nationalistic sense of pride that precludes me from watching anything not made by white German Protestants. Apparently, not only did I read this article, but I was introduced to Dan some time later and rather briskly dismissed him because I had actually liked the film he made me seem to hate in our imaginary meeting. I remember neither of these occasions, but nevertheless, I’ve read the article now, and am rather embarrassed to admit that it’s significantly funnier than most of what I write on this site (though I would not have opened with a David Spade joke). Anyway, check it out here if you’re interested.

Friday, March 17, 2006

House of Predictability.

House of Wax
2005, USA
Jaume Collet-Serra

I hate that I hate Paris Hilton. It makes me feel so pedestrian, like I should be downloading ring-tones or complaining about Spiderman casting. Clearly, her handlers are marketing her as the girl you love to hate, like a blonde Hitler but with stupider ideas, and nowhere is this more evident than in her much-publicized, gory House of Wax death scene. But I like to think that I hate her for different reasons than I’m meant to. It’s not because she’s rich. No, that’s obviously not her fault, since she has no marketable skills other than the ability to not vomit when someone shoots off on her breasts. And it’s not because she’s so beastly ugly she almost makes Nicole Ritchie look like she isn’t a shitzu that’s been punched in the mouth. It’s not because she’s dumb, or ditzy, or because she cocks her head in every picture like she just snapped her neck going down on a Backstreet Boy. It’s because she is single-handedly responsible for more bad jokes than Monica Lewinsky and Janet Jackson’s right tit combined. She goes on these stupid talk shows, knowing full well that the very next day, Jay Leno is going to ham his way through an opening monologue to the delight of only Kevin Eubanks and whatever retirement communities happen to catch the reruns on Comedy Central. Then, she writes a book, fully expecting that Tina Fey and David Spade will have a foot race to see who can come up with the same lame joke about how that’ll end up being the only book she’ll ever read. Comedians are like dogs. If you feed them shit, they’re going to eat it, and then everything they say’s going to stink.

Just straighten your neck! And wipe your chin.

Just like House of Wax, which is as inconsequential as teen horror movies come. It’s got no surprises, and nothing to say. It’s just a string of increasingly violent death scenes placed at mathematically determined intervals to allow for cell-phone conversations to run their course between murders. House of Wax is obviously created and marketed towards the 18-30 set, both in terms of age and IQ points, and if you’re expecting nothing else, you might be entertained. Personally, I fully accept and agree with feminist theoretician Carol Clover’s Final Girl Theory, as with other critics who view the male gaze and identification with the killer as tropes which align horror films with violent pornography, so I hated the film because seeing Paris Hilton in lingerie ruined my erection. Honestly, she looked like a bag of bones in a red ribbon, like someone gift-wrapped King Tut but gave him smaller breasts and a nose job. But then again, this wasn’t the first time she did something embarrassing on camera. And the fact that I had to make that last joke, ladies and gentlemen, is why I hate Paris Hilton.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Still Not Stoned Enough To Like Foghat.

1988, USA
Francis Delia

Did you know that you can still buy cough syrup containing codeine if you ask your pharmacist nicely? If you’re planning on watching Freeway, I suggest you pick some of that up instead of popcorn, because the very specific beast that is made-for-TV horror requires very specific chemical alteration to keep it interesting. Not only do you need to lower your cognitive reasoning skills down to the level that Total Request Live becomes appointment television, but you need to be sedate enough that sitting through a bad movie about road rage is a better alternative than rolling over far enough to reach the remote control. Apparently, in the southern United States, this also makes rap music somehow palatable.

Now free with any DJ Screw mixtape.

Thankfully, my semi-annual bronchial infection allowed me to watch Freeway all the way through, a feat I may not have been able to accomplish on my own without the aid of opium poppy. Otherwise, despite the presence of Richard Belzer and a guy who looks almost like Mickey Rourke pre-failed boxing career, Freeway is not really worth watching. Billy Drago, a character actor vying with Richard Lynch, Clint Howard, and Angelina Jolie’s lips as the most popular film freak since the death of Michael Berryman, plays a crazy priest driving around freeways shooting innocent drivers with a Magnum. He quotes biblical passages and excerpts from the NBC Standards and Practices regulations sheet, resulting in a movie that could probably play after Sesame Street without any significant edits. Still, with the new Anchor Bay DVD release, the film will finds a home amid any true movie junkie’s collection of drug-specific films.

Even with the yellow teeth, I'd rather fuck him than get whatever infection's swelling up Angelina Jolie's mouth.

Marijuana – Any movie which attempts to make either Harland Williams or Foghat seem cool, i.e. Half Baked, Dazed and Confused.

Psylocibin (magic mushrooms) – Films which require significant brain damage to enjoy and are long enough to allow in-theatre sobering-up, so you don’t get hit by a bus trying to hump a mailbox, i.e. films by or about Oliver Stone.

Codeine/Promethazine Cough Syrup – Films which require both a profound sense of apathy and partial paralysis. i.e. Made-For-TV movies, specifically Sci-Fi Channel originals. If you happen to flip to Yo! MTV Raps during one of the commercial breaks, add a cup of Sprite/7 Up and two to three Jolly Ranchers hard candies in case you catch a Paul Wall video.

Stay tuned next week when I review Gone With The Wind using the Anarchist’s Cookbook.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Aesop's Wushu

2005, France/USA
Louis Leterrier

Every film has a moral. Often, they’re made explicit, as if the film were a fable and the audience were kindergarten students sitting in rapt attention instead of 23 year old losers in basketball jerseys playing games on their cell-phones. Sometimes, the moral exists in the subtext, and often may not be there deliberately, a result of a subconscious judgment or fear on the part of the filmmakers. It’s certain that the message in Saving Private Ryan that war is chaotic and cruel is deliberate, but when it comes to those straight-to-DVD action movies sold out of the back of Source magazine starring whatever G-Unit member happens to be out on bail at the moment, the obvious moral that pride comes before a fall is often subservient to a subtext glorifying guns and drugs. While it’s unclear whether the decision was deliberate or unconscious, it’s obvious that the filmmakers of Unleashed are trying to convince us that the Chinese don’t make good pets.

Text, subtext, or Tech-9?

And they’re not wrong. The Chinese are feral, difficult to domesticate, and do not respond well to English commands. And while they’re very cheap to feed, subsisting on a diet of white rice and Styrofoam take-out containers, they often injure themselves racing import-tuned Hondas. In Unleashed, Jet Li plays just such a Chinia-Pet, a martial arts master kept on a dog collar and trained to kill by Bob Hoskins, who has apparently decided that his last good role was in The Long Good Friday and he would like to remind people of that.

Jet Li.

Other than that, there’s not a lot to say about this movie. Of course, it’s patently ridiculous, from its very premise to the end credits and everything in between, but pointing that out would be like picking a scab: satisfying, but ultimately detrimental to the healing process. I will mention, however, that if I were a blind piano tuner played by Morgan Freeman, and I discovered a half-dead Chinese fellow bleeding on the ground in a warehouse, I would probably call either the police or the city, instead of taking him home to probably rape my white daughter. Also, while I’ve never been in a street gang, I’ve seen one or to dealing crack outside my window in my time, and I can assure you that when they’re waiting in line patiently to get beaten up one by one by Jet Li in a bad Eurotrash kung-fu movie, they’re not comprised of two Wu-Tang Clan rejects, an Asian kid with a bandana from the local video game arcade, and a few street-punk-lites from No Doubt. But then again, maybe the film is trying to preach racial harmony. What a noble moral.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Where Have All The Killer Dinosaurs Gone?

2004, Germany/Turkey
Fatih Arkin

God. I’m so sick of movies examining culture clash and the simultaneously healing and destructive power of love as it relates to the Turkish community in Germany. They’re like Holocaust movies; a dime a dozen, and more common than the cold. You can’t turn on the TV without seeing Kelly Rippa giggle her way through an interview with Sibel Kekilli like a six-year old flipped on nitrous, or catching Steven Cojocaru trading frothy fashion tips with Birol Unel like a couple of hideously ethnic schoolgirls. Even director Fatih Akin has been making the talk show rounds, appearing drunk and pimped out on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, even directing an episode of The Amazing Race during February sweeps.

Birol Unel: The new face of GQ.

I hate the way the media rewards these “filmmakers” for producing commercial trash by making them celebrities instead of exposing them for the marketing hucksters they are. Clearly, films like Head-On are made for a quick buck, using German tax breaks and money-grubbing investment bankers to take advantage of government loopholes and a gullible public, turning a quick buck on easy-sell properties. A story about two self-destructive German Turks who meet in a mental hospital and decide to enter a doomed sham marriage to escape strict cultural constraints is just the kind of movie that guarantees a huge opening weekend, before word of mouth can turn people away from the theatre. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were based on a video game. My call, nay, my demand, is that the international film community stop glutting the market with these low-brow, deeply-moving character studies and let some other genres get some exposure. For once, I’d like to see something with a massive special effects budget but a script the length of a Hardy Boys novel at my local multiplex, instead of this unpredictable, wildly gripping tripe. I want something I can fall asleep ten minutes in and still figure out, something with dialogue cut together from various Lethal Weapon movies, something with a shiny, glossy, and empty soul. Something, essentially, with killer dinosaurs or possibly time traveling robots. Then, maybe, Hollywood get a fair shake at creating a healthy, stable American film industry, and I can finally get a sequel to Dungeons and Dragons.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Hills Have NRA Memberships

The Hills Have Eyes
2006, USA
Alexandre Aja

Born from the 70s 2000s new old wave of gritty, realistic horror, shitty, teeny bopper remakes, Wes Craven's Alexandre Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes is an overlooked over-hyped gem of surprisingly intelligent exploitation cinema money grubbing, soulless commercialism. In the 1970s 21st century, American culture was consumed with fear regarding the death of the so-called ‘nuclear family’ unit falling box office receipts. The sexual revolution Internet porn downloads, rising divorce rates movie piracy, and the new-found independence of teenagers Michael Bay movies were threatening to destroy the traditional family's Sunday dinner with 2.5 kids and a dog Hollywood hegemony of stupid action movies. Wes Craven Alexandre Aja, ever the master of subtlety music-video camera tricks masked by horrific violence really horrific violence, took this idea to the extreme, as did other low-budget high-budget horror filmmakers TV commercial directors. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Omen, The Hills Have Eyes, all these films dealt with a family either under attack or corrupted by progress have been remade to exploit dumb teenagers who won’t watch anything more than 5 years old. Written Photocopied by Craven Aja, the script for The Hills Have Eyes takes this idea to an extreme, as a happy, all-American nuclear family unit on vacation is attacked by a literal nuclear family, in the form of a gang of Mad Max type killers mutated by nuclear testing bleeding heart liberal anti-gun legislation. The conflict between the two essentially destroys both, but not without forcing each family to compromise their values a hippie peace-nick to kill a guy with a baseball bat. While unflinchingly violent, the film draws its real power from its subtext alarmingly right-wing point of view. The family, lost in the desert and besieged by a Sawney Beane penny dreadful flashy snuff movie, must abandon their peaceful, Christian morals in the face of wild, untamed frontier justice. Essentially, the film posits that in order to survive, a culture must adapt, change, or mutate, perhaps into something that it hates or fears, or be destroyed you can be as liberal as you want, so long as you have at least three guns to fight off cannibals or possibly negroes. And that is where the real terror money lies.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Creutzfeld-Verhoeven Disease

Soldier of Orange
1977, The Netherlands
Paul Verhoeven

Recently, studies have shown that injecting stem cells into the brains of mice suffering from Alzheimer’s may clear away the amyloid plaque that builds up in the cerebellum, indicating that there may one day be a cure for whatever’s causing Paul Verhoenven to make terrible movies. As evidenced by Soldier of Orange, and to a lesser extent Spetters, Verhoeven once had the ability to construct a cogent narrative, develop characterization, and stage action scenes all at the same time, whereas now, he’s so far gone into dementia he cast Jessie from Saved By The Bell in a lead role.

That's a real good way to get a cold sore.

Soldier of Orange has nearly everything you could want in a war film: action, subterfuge, and Rutger Hauer’s penis, thrown in to placate women still wet from being obsessed with Blade Runner in high school. Set in the Netherlands during the Second World War, the film follows a group of University students whose lives are changed when the Nazis invade. Some live, some die, and most show their genitals. The highlight of Verhoeven’s career, everything went downhill after this film. For a while, as in Robocop and Showgirls, it seemed like he might be doing it on purpose, like a crazy old man who shits his pants not because he’s incontinent, but because he can get away with it. Sadly, it quickly became apparent that he was just losing his mind. And he’s not the first to suffer from director’s Mad Cow.

  1. Ridley Scott. First, he made The Duelists, a light-hearted but beautifully shot period piece. Then, he did Alien, probably the best science-fiction film ever made for people who couldn’t sit still through 2001: A Space Odyssey. Then, the stress of trying to make Tom Berenger a star in Someone To Watch Over Me tore his mind apart, and before you knew it, G.I. Jane was being seriously pitched as the title for a drama.

  1. John Dahl. Revisionist film noir? Check. Low-key Western crime thriller? Check. Movie about killer truck? Awesome. That’s like authoring Wuthering Heights and then taking a job writing copy for AM radio.

  1. John Singleton. From the youngest person to be nominated for a Best Director Oscar to the only person to have seen his own film 2 Fast 2 Furious, all in just 12 years. Quite an accomplishment.

If you ask me, I blame Hollywood. Or Canadian beef.

Ignorance Is Bliss.

Inside Man
2006, USA
Spike Lee

I don’t know about you, but when I think of action movies, I think of Spike Lee. Wait, no, I don’t. In fact, I don’t think at all, because brainless action movies are for illiterate immigrants and the retarded, so they only way I can enjoy them is by holding my breath till I go stupid and forget how to speak English. Regardless, Spike Lee is probably the last person I would choose to direct an action film, after maybe Michael Moore and any woman. In fact, judging from this movie, I don’t think Lee has even seen an action movie before, much less thought about how to make one.

Coincidentally, he's also the last person I'd like to see do a documentary.

But that turns out to be a good thing. Because Lee is absolutely unprepared to make anything but an overlong, vaguely anti-Semitic diatribe about racism in New York spiced up with a few New York Knicks references, Inside Man manages to avoid most of the action movie clichés that have come to define the genre. A graduate of the Tisch School of the Arts, Lee comes from a generation taught to appreciate filmmaking as an art, not as a way to sleep with Lil’ Kim on the set of a music video. He’s a structuralist, mainly so he can claim the bad acting in his film is deliberate deconstructionism, which is an approach generally not suited to making things explode in slow motion. But by being completely unfamiliar in action film conventions, he ends up approaching a lot of things in a different way, making for some interesting viewing. He still manages to make the film his own, by including the standard character-standing-on-a-dolly shot, a greedy Jew, and horribly inappropriate music that ranges from what appears to be African chanting to free-form clarinet, but the movie remains unique in his filmography.

I got my degree in popping on her tits.

Inside Man is one of those heist films so full of twists and turns you can’t really describe the plot without spoiling it for the one idiot out of a thousand who can’t figure it out from the trailer. Suffice it to say that it’s about a bank robbery that turns into a hostage taking that turns into an extra half hour of unnecessary denouement after the main action is over. Clive Owen plays the lead hostage-taker with the cold, clinical feel of a speculum as he buts heads with Denzel Washington’s Detective Frazier. Washington is at his best when he lets a playfulness partially mask the depth of his character, and also when he remembers that he’s black. He does both here, and is definitely the highlight of the film. In terms of plot, none of the surprises are really that surprising, especially if you’ve been watching Masterminds on the History Channel. Also, the fact that the heist is over half an hour before the end leads to a deflating of tension and the complete collapse of the film in the last quarter, but it’s still fairly diverting. What’s more interesting, however, is how terribly self-serving each and every character in the film is, Washington included, so much so that the only person you end up feeling sympathy for is the one person you’re clearly not intended to, because he’s the only one who seems to have the guilt gene. Still, if you’re looking for an action film, you could do a lot worse than Inside Man. Provided you can speak English.

Rest In Peaceploitation.

Gordon Parks, the man who made Shaft, died on Tuesday at the age of 93. By all accounts, he was a good motherfucker.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

9/11 Is A Joke.

911 In Plane Site
2004, USA
William Lewis

Thanks to the Oscars, I’ve now sworn off of movies entirely. I’m paralyzed by the fear that should I see a good one, it’s going to end up as part of a lame montage sequence that plays like a cut Tonight Show sketch. And film isn’t the first art form I’ve abandoned. The last vestiges of my love of music died with the first Strokes record, forcing me to blow out my left eardrum with Darkthrone’s Transylvanian Hunger album so I’d never hear another recycled Stooges riff again, and The Simple Life actually made my TV dumber, so now all it plays is FOX News and So You Want To Be A Millionaire. I haven’t read a word since glancing at the back-cover copy of The DaVinci Code, and I’ve long since given up on pornography, choosing instead to masturbate to the obituaries in my local newspaper, a practice which is helped along by their close proximity to pictures of newborns in the Births section.

Yes. Take it off.

So, instead, I’ve decided to only watch films that directly oppose all the conventions of traditional narrative cinema. As black metal is to music, as abstract art is to landscapes, as Jerry Bruckheimer is to humanity, so is 911 in Plane Site to regular films. This movie is the outsider art of documentary, an abomination made by the retarded. Yet, as with retarded art, it’s perversely fascinating, like a sculpture made out of feces in a home for the mentally ill. I didn’t think I could find a worse documentary than Fahrenheit 9/11 until I saw Fahrenhype 9/11, but even that load has been topped by 911 in Plane Site, mainly by the obnoxious title alone. I mean, one pun is enough of a father-in-law joke as it is, but two is just uncomfortable and awkward.

The Anti-Christ has a nice tan.

911 in Plane Site is a film that uncovers the truth behind the events of September 11th, 2001, which is that a bunch of crazy people flew planes into buildings so that even crazier people could make money selling DVDs to even crazier people. But, as usual, I’m just taking the piss to be contrary. There’s a lot about the “terrorist” attacks that’s suspicious to the critical thinker, and despite all the “evidence” that’s been put forth by the government controlled “news” organizations, most people in their hearts know that something’s screwy, and that they need to use apostrophes so their delicious sarcasm will read well. But there’s just too much contradictory “information” out there for me to sort through on my own, so I’ll just defer to narrator/host David Von Kleist, who draws upon his expert training in being a lunatic internet talk show host to sift through several unreliable websites and come up with the truth. Apparently, it’s obvious from several still photos that a plane never hit the Pentagon, and if you slow down the footage of the World Trade Center attacks and watch it enough times, you can clearly see a second shooter on the grassy knoll. Combine all this startling research with 52 minutes of a guy sitting at a desk breezing through logical fallacies while reading off of cue cards slightly to the left of the camera, and you’ve got yourself a convincing documentary.

Proof that aliens exist at Area 51. No, wait. Proof that Bigfoot is a communist.

There’s a great deal of nothing in this documentary. Von Kleist has a great deal of non-existent evidence that he uses to prove his point, which is nothing. He just doesn’t believe what every one else does, for no reason other than to be contrary. He offers no explanation, just a bunch of mumbo jumbo easily refutable by anyone with the magical powers of logic. But there’s no way to convince any Lone Gunmen of that. The best part about arguing with conspiracy theorists is that any evidence you provide to contradict their claims can be easily refuted by them saying that it’s fake, like everything in the world is part of some vast lie and they just happened to find the Angelfire-hosted website that holds the truth in a couple of grainy, doctored photographs. It’s like arguing with a Creationist, or a woman; rationality or big words don’t work, and eventually you just give up. And move on to the obituaries.

Video Wrap-up: March 7, 2006

Today, both Jarhead and the new Harry Potter were released. The Harry Potter review I'm linking to is not of the most recent one, but I'm not convinced it matters.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Oscar Fever. Oh, Wait. That's An Infected Vein.

Sorry about the delay in posting, but I just woke up from falling asleep during the Oscars. Thanks to Jon Stewart and a whole bunch of shitty movies, this year’s telecast managed to be almost narcotic in its boredom, as evidenced by me waking up choking on my own sick and scratching an open sore on the inside of my thigh. Consequently, I’m now hooked on being incredibly bored all the time, going on a daily nod to Radiohead albums and C-SPAN. And every second Thursday, I blow my whole welfare cheque on Lord of the Rings DVDs and spend the rest of the week parked in front of the computer reading people complain about The Phantom Menace on the Ain’t It Cool News forums like I’ve had nothing to do in the last six years but fume over Jar Jar Binks.

He's an Ewok for younger, stupider kids. Get over it.

I’m not sure when exactly it was that I feel asleep. Probably, it was somewhere in between Jon Stewart’s proudly mediocre opening monologue and realizing that the Academy was treating the Oscar statues like loot bags, giving one out to everyone who came to the party. Normally, I’m a big Jon Stewart fan, because I have the smug sense of moral superiority that festers right between graduating from art school and killing myself and three others in a telemarketing office after three years of trying to sell business directories over the phone while desperately applying for grant funding. But I couldn’t take his tame, wiffle-bat swings at conservatives and rehashed Seinfeld stand-up bits. And the acceptance speeches, oh, the acceptance speeches. Clooney, patting Hollywood on the back for being socially progressive? Yeah, for every bigot whose prejudice was erased by Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, there’s a thousand shit-heads with Marine Corps tattoos who learned cultural sensitivity by watching Stallone kick turbaned ass in Rambo 3. And don’t forget that every third ticket to Passion of the Christ came with a swastika cell-phone charm. Between Philip Seymore Hoffman preening and Robert Altman apparently confessing to eating a woman’s heart, the best speech of the night ended up being a pile of gibberish from the Three 6 Mafia guys.

You should see them when they dress down.

But what was it that really puzzled me to the point of unconsciousness? It was that the best picture of the year apparently didn’t have a good director or cast, or that Brokeback Mountain¸ though exquisitely written and directed, was apparently not a very good movie. It’s not that I have a problem with splitting up the awards; it tends to make things more interesting for those of us who still care about watching Hollywood give itself a hand-job on national television. But it seems like this year they were trying to cover all their bases in regards to the Brokeback backlash, showing that they weren’t pushing the homosexual agenda, merely recognizing its existence. And in the process, they accidentally end up giving an award to Reese Witherspoon, who is clearly not an actress but some variety of giant forehead, like those brain bugs from Starship Troopers. I kept hoping the forehead would burst, spewing forth a host of space spiders to consume the audience, and end my boredom addiction. Sadly, I had to settle for the bugs crawling under my skin as I jonesed for another hit of The Two Towers.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Nocturnal Emissions: The Reprint.

2004, Russia
Timur Bekmambetov

***The following is a reprint of a previous review. There's some new stuff below.***

There was a time when Russian film was known mainly for its editing. They ran the gamut from Sergei Eisenstein’s rapid seizure cutting in the 20s to Andrei Tarkovsky’s bong-mellowed montage style in the 70s, where he postponed ending his shots in favor of sitting on the couch for another twenty minutes and polishing off a bag of Fritos while watching Duran Duran music videos. There was, strangely, nothing in between these two extreme editing styles, probably because Russians were otherwise occupied with trying not to starve while waiting in line for toilet paper. Then, communism collapsed, falling prey to the lure of capitalism, which promised the free flow of money through a meritocracy and easy access to Guns & Roses cassettes. American films were finally allowed over the border, and Russians discovered that along with moral superiority, they clearly had an intellectual one, because while Russia had discovered the power of editing to create associative links and mould time into emotional arcs, Americans had found that people will watch stuff about cars that talk.

I actually feel dumber having searched for Knight Rider photos.

So, Russia was clearly superior to the US in terms of filmmaking, though the US still won in the categories of music not involving balalaikas, food, and women who don’t look like lumberjacks dressed in brightly colored shawls. However, this did not last, for though Hollywood isn’t intelligent, it is contagious. Hollywood is like the bassline of a Jennifer Lopez song; it’s not something you would willingly allow into your home, but your girlfriend is inevitably going to pick it up by accident through a car radio or a speaker in a mall, and then it’s going to dance around in her head like an earwig in an urban legend until you either replace her with a latex Kobe Thai moulded vagina or shred her vocal chords with a cheese grater so she will finally please god stop humming that goddamned Herbie Mann sample so I can get some sleep. Now, where was I? Oh yes, Nightwatch. Apparently, Russia watched too many American movies on newly acquired satellite channels, and lost their ability to make intelligent films. Instead, they made Nightwatch, which is an overly-stylized fantasy film that’s something like watching Harry Potter fuck Frodo while watching a Mazda commercial, except not as good, because you don’t actually get to see a hairless pre-pubescent boy porking a midget. Not that that’s particularly arousing, but I’d still like to see how it ends. And an ending is exactly what Nightwatch doesn’t give us.

Yes. Now stick it in his one true ring.

Nightwatch is the first part of a planned trilogy of fantasy films based upon a series of Russian books. Apparently, there are forces of light and darkness that are forever in conflict with one another, kind of like Democrats and Republicans, except the forces of darkness are vampires that suck blood instead of money from MediCare and IQ points. The two sides have held an uneasy truce for several hundred years, administered by the Nightwatch and the Daywatch, who are sort of like the fairy police. However, there is a prophecy, as there tends to be when screenwriters don’t want to delve into too much back-story, and a child is born that can sway the balance from one to the other. Which side will he choose? I suppose we’ll have to wait for part three to come out, which is really annoying. These aren’t comic books or Saturday afternoon serials, people. These movies take years to make and release, and the fact that this film feels so incomplete, like an unfinished sentence, is almost an insult to the audience. I can forgive the over-reliance on special effects, the rapturous worship of Tony Scott evidenced in the editing, and the choking, smothering sense of style that overwhelms the senses, but I cannot forgive the lazy story-telling that denies the audience at least a sense of closure. There have been trilogies and to-be-continueds that at least offered an end, if not the end, without compromising the nature of the story, but to just give up like that and expect the audience to be waiting around three years later to find out what happens is completely