Sunday, December 20, 2009

Love's a Bitch

Amores Perros. Translated it means "love's a bitch." Great name for a film. Great film.

My previous post was about me recommending movies. I recommended I Stand Alone to a co-worker, who liked it. In turn, she brought me her copy of Amores Perros. I watched it last night and was fairly impressed. It was a long film, and if you are squeamish about animal violence (there is a lot of dog fighting), you may want to stay away from it. If, on the other hand, you are one of those people really excited about yet another Terminator sequel, you will definitely want to stay away. The film is depressing, violent and makes you think. In other words it is in that genre of films known as "box office poison."

American films have a huge following worldwide. They have influenced a whole new generation of filmmakers, too. (The French have revolutionized the horror genre, surpassing the Japanese.) What I find interesting, however, is that the films coming to our shores from overseas are generally excellent films. They seem to leave out a lot of the things American audiences are known for loving. Now, maybe we aren't seeing a lot of the crap over here. Perhaps there is a series of Rambo clones coming out of Armenia, but I don't know about them. I think this is good not only for the viability of importing foreign films, but for film as a whole. American directors will always embrace the crap formula films (there's an audience for them), but the new camera hounds will be exposed to other things, and that can only help their filmmaking. I'm not a purist when it comes to art. I think different cultural influences can only help the art form grow.

I will be thanking my co-worker tomorrow. She and I will probably take some time in the day to discuss the film, what it meant, our thoughts on it. Much like we did with Gaspar Noe's nihilistic bit of depression. I enjoy those kinds of conversations. They don't get inspired by things like White Chicks.

Love's a bitch, and so is stereotypical cinema. Give me something to make me think any day over car crashes and played out love scenes.

Friday, December 18, 2009

I Stand Alone in my Recommendations

When I am talking movies with people and they ask for a recommendation, I am careful. I have stayed away from recommending good films to people simply because I know the films will upset them. One of those films is the incredible I Stand Alone. If you've seen it, you know why I just don't mention it to anyone. Some people just can't handle certain things. No big deal. They just can't.

I did recently recommend it to a co-worker, who watched it and liked it -- as I thought she would. When she told me she enjoyed Irreverisible I figured I was on safe ground. Both films are from Gaspar Noe, both deal with some disturbing things. If you liked one, chances are you will like the other.

I don't ever recommend things like Transformers because I don't watch those films. And there's also the fact that a person is probably going to see the film regardless of what I say (and I would most likely say to stay away from it). Mainstream movies don't do much for me, so I stay away from them and can't say too much about them. That's not to say they are horrible (just because I don't think I'll like them does not mean they are garbage), it just means they are not something I want to see.

I have a handful of people I know I can share recommendations with (it goes both ways) knowing we will both enjoy whatever the other thinks we will. Our tastes are pretty similar, and we know what kinds of movies the other person digs. (A lot of my friends will tell me about any film they know of that has cannibalism -- yea!) I appreciate that. Nobody in that tiny circle recommends any of those teen vampire movies (though other people do), and nobody says things like, "The special effects are the only reason to see it." It's a wonderful thing when you have friends that you can seriously discuss cinema with, and I don't care how fucking pretentious that sounds. Film is an art form on par with writing, painting or anything else. Just because most people only view it as entertainment and treat it justly does not mean the art does not have political or social importance. If anything, the fact that film is enjoyed worldwide (especially American films) gives it a great deal of worth. It is probably the second most enjoyed art form next to music. It can inspire, anger, enlighten and cause some serious introspection. I Stand Alone does that. From everything I've seen and read, Transformers does not.

So, should you see Noe's film about isolation and misanthropy? Only if you understood what I wrote and agree with it. Otherwise, enjoy the robots.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Waste O' Space

Perez Hilton is about as entertaining as anal fissures. Honestly, I'd rather have throat cancer than spend ten minutes with the guy. He isn't funny. He doesn't come off as smart. He gives homosexuals everywhere a bad rap. (Is he even gay? No matter.) He represents all that is wrong with celebrity gossip ... and there ain't much right there to begin with.

Now I hear Drew Barrymore is thinking of suing his ass. I support that. I really do. If he's making false statements about the woman, whom I happen to find charming and delightful, then he needs to pay for it. Had it been me he made wild accusations about I would either A) ignore him (which is the best idea), or B) kick his ass (which would be far more satisfying). If I had the time to sit in the courtroom, I'd hold up a sign that said, "Way to go, Drew! Smoke that motherfucker's ass!"

I would be thrown out.

I don't know why this fuck gets me foaming at the mouth angry. Perhaps it's because he's one of those self-absorbed assholes who spend far too much time in front of me in line trying to figure out who to make the check out to or what wine goes best with fish. Perhaps it's because he kind of resembles a human pig and the way he colors his hair only serves to really draw attention to that sad fact. Perhaps I'm jealous that he calls himself Perez, which makes him sound well-traveled in fake tourist type of way.

Perhaps I'm just tired of seeing him pop up on my computer and on television.

In the real world, people like Perez, who spend a lot of time dishing about Hollywood faces that don't really contribute anything to the art of film, would find themselves doing so on their breaks at their Burger King job. Instead, we live in a world where celebrities are made simply because they write about other celebrities who have done nothing really special to earn that title. He represents that. He is the poster child of wasted time.

Then again, maybe he does have a place in Hollywood. If Deliverance is ever remade he could show off what a pretty mouth he has. Yep, I've found the role for him. Squeal, pig!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Twilight of the Sharkboy

Trying to avoid ads for The Twilight Saga: New Moon is like trying to avoid stupid questions at Gamestop. It just ain't possible. There is something about those ads that has been bothering me, however. Whenever I see Taylor Lautner, who I guess plays a werewolf named Jacob (I can't be sure -- I'm not a fifteen-year-old girl or an older lady who loves them), I can't help but think he was Sharkboy in The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl.

Turns out, he is.

This is probably a commonplace fact for those who eat, breathe and masturbate to all things teen vampire, but I thought his career would've tanked after that 3D film. Looks like I was wrong, and it appears there are these legions of females who form a loosely knit group called Team Jacob who love the character. Yeah, that's creepy and all that, but it got me wondering: Why does this guy play animal roles?

A sharkboy. A werewolf. What is it about him that says these roles are for him? (He's also voiced cartoon characters and has a song on the 3D bomb soundtrack.) Is it his eyes. His slightly non-threatening demeanor? Does he have incriminating pictures of someone somewhere? No matter. Millions of screaming girls can't be wrong apparently.

It's not my place to question his placement in a movie series I have no interest in seeing. He may do a fine job for all I know. I'm just kind of curious as to how he landed that role, and how many other non-genre actors have been graced to appear as predatory animals in movies made for a decidedly non-adult audience?

Maybe Lautner is on to something. Maybe he's setting a new trend. Maybe all those Team Jacob fans are right.

And then again, maybe he just had a really good audition.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tea With the Enemy

I have a video of some amateur sex where a man sucks on a woman's used tampon. Fairly sick by any standard, even if you are a vampire. Anatomy of Hell, a superb film that examines the power of women, takes things a step further, but in a fiction setting.

There is a scene in the movie where the woman dips her tampon into hot water to have tea with her enemy, as she puts it. It's a powerful scene, and one that helped put the film into the "controversial" status it enjoys. (That's actually just one of many things that did that.) Yes, that scene freaks some people out, but I found it very compelling and telling of one's attitude toward women. After all, if there's one thing that men hate about women it's the menstrual cycle.

The film does not shy away from examining the power of the female form. It looks at the beauty and ugliness of female sexuality, and does a fine job of putting it in your face, too. That was the intent. The film does not strive to make itself presentable. It excels in destroying the viewers' sensibilities. That is something I wholly admire.

I hate films that say they are daring yet play it safe. I find it insulting. This film does anything but that, and for that it has my respect (and a place in my library). I sometimes challenge friends to watch it. The few who have taken me up on it are inevitably upset with me and the movie. That suits me fine, though. It lets me know we've both done our job.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Why I Hate Torture Porn

The latest issue of Rue Morgue had an interesting editorial on torture porn. Movies mentioned were The Butcher, Hostel and The Devil's Rejects. The editorial spoke out against the "genre," claiming, in not so many words that it's just cruel and not entertaining or artistic.

I hate the term.

Torture porn is a lazy way to describe a movie. We know what torture is. We know what porn is. To describe movies as such (especially Rob Zombie's film, which isn't even a horror film) is to totally misinterpret a movie's meaning. (Now that torture porn is such a huge deal, however, some of these critics may be responsible for the creation of such films.) It's as if these critics are saying that a film that involves torture can't have any artistic integrity or even entertainment value (as crass as that seems). What was really surprising about this editorial, however, was the inclusion of Zombie's film.

The Devil's Rejects is not a horror film. It's a film that has horrific elements and scenes, but to consider it in the same family as something like Hostel is misguided at best.

When cinematic history looks back at this period of horror films, I believe the scholars will come to a few conclusions about the "torture porn" genre. The first being that it is a reaction to the political/social climate where as a country we were evil (I can't think of a better word) to the rest of the world under Bush Jr.'s regime, and reality television, where souls were bared to the entertainment of the world, reigned supreme. The other thing that will be seen is that these films were not only a reaction to the political/social climate, but also the state of horror films, where far too many "horror" movies that were being put out there as scary were little more than PG-13 teen fright flicks with little in the way of scares and much in the way of computer generated nonsense meant to unsettle viewers, but was often confusing at best. People like Eli Roth (Hostel) gained their love of horror in the '70s and '80s when horror wasn't safe and CGI had not taken over. As a director, seeing what has been done with the genre, he would naturally feel a bit insulted and challenged. What we get is what critics and general audiences have a hard time handling ... thus calling it torture porn.

What is surprising is the remakes. The Hills Have Eyes. Last House on the Left. The original movies are not pleasant bits of cinema (I would love to see what the torture porn haters would say about them now), and while I refuse to see the remakes I have heard from people who have seen both versions that the remakes are toned down versions of what went on before. I imagine the Cannibal Holocaust remake will be much of the same. So what does this mean? Has the horror film grown harsher? Nope. The problem lies with the audience.

Audience (of which critics are a part) have grown softer. Audiences are used to having the punches pulled. They are used to things being safe. After cinema lost its balls in the '80s, people started to feel very safe going to see the latest bit of "fright" or whatnot. And since we are Americans and have the attention span of an ADD MTV child, we forgot what horror cinema used to be like. Because of that, people are offended by what is coming out today (though it doesn't even come close to the Guinea Pig series which came out well before this run of "torture porn"). It destroys their delicate sensibilities and bothers them, thus they dismiss it as mere "porn" because in their minds porn has no value.

Here's the deal on torture. It's been used in movies before Saw came out. Our government engages in it. (Where is the outcry there?) However, one is fiction and the other reality. Horror movies have always been examinations of what is happening in our society. To think they would not be influenced by the actions of our government is to say you don't know the history of cinema or even horror cinema. It shows your ignorance.

Porn is an industry that generates billions. It is seen as a release for many people. It is sometimes erotic. Sometimes exploitive. It can be artistic or raw. No matter what it is, however, it serves as a release catalyst. It, like torture, has been around for a very long, long time. To dismiss its power or even societal value is to again speak to one's ignorance.

The fact that people call these latest horror movies "torture porn" in such a dismissive way shows one thing: They just don't get it. They are on the right track, as critics usually have some sense of film history, but they expose their biases in the terms they use. They expose their ignorance in the way it is said. So maybe it is torture porn, but it's only that way because it upsets you, which is exactly the point.

I prefer calling them what they are: reactionary. (Though years ago I coined the term "Hell cinema," though it would only apply to stuff like The Devil's Rejects in this case.)

Some critics never get it right. And they wonder why they aren't respected.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sonoma State University Winner for Best Comedy

Okay, the following short film won Sonoma State University's Best Comedy award. The director is Trevor Reece of Pirate Monkey fame. He's done some incredible stuff (and more is to come). After reviewing a short film project he did in high school for Film Threat, I had this long talk with him about how he should really make more movies. I don't think I was wrong. Enjoy ... or not. His sense of humor is not everyone's cup of tea, but I can guarantee you that if he sticks at filmmaking he will be known someday.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Paranormal Activity is Real

I knew going into Paranormal Activity that is was not real, and nor was it ever marketed it as such. Apparently other people were not privy to such information.

If you've seen the film, you know it opens with Paramount thanking a family and the San Diego Police Department. These few words prompted an audience member to say to her friend, "So it is true."

Yeah, it's true all right. Just like the Easter Bunny, Jesus and healthcare reform. It's all true and oh-so-frightening.

Audience members were scared, so the film had that going for it. When the film reached its conclusion some people were pissed. Some were puzzled (huge surprise). Others said things like, "Do you feel that noise? It means something is happening." Classic. So in that sense, the film did work.

But it also didn't.

It could have been much scarier. It could have done that without going overboard, too. Instead it went the subtle route (a bold move that showed much restraint) and hoped for the best. That helped sell the picture, but it didn't make it as heart-stopping as it could have had the filmmakers just opted to up the tension a bit.

The real value of the film, to me at least, is not how effective it was or wasn't. It is how the audience reacted to it. From what I saw, the film was wildly successful as it got people talking, made people jumped, and tricked more than one into thinking what they saw on the screen really occurred a few years ago. (One wonders, but ultimately doubts, if these people ever watch the news, as such remarkable footage would have surely made the rounds at some point.) Any film that can evoke such reactions and emotions deserves credit. After all, Premonition did not create such a stir. Nor did Fighting. In that sense, the little movie that could, did. Kudos.

Paranormal Activity is most definitely real ... but only if you believe it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Monster of Piedras Blancas

My friend and I were trying to figure out what movie this image came from (actually, the image we were discussing was one of the other most likely publicity stills). He thought it was The Creature From the Black Lagoon, while I seemed to think it was The Beast of Yucca Flats. Both of us were obviously wrong, but his answer was closer (especially when you consider that the creature costume for both films was made by the same guy).

I've never seen The Monster of Piedras Blancas, but the images from it have fascinated me (though apparently not enough to be able to correctly recall the film's title). I can attribute that to one thing: the bloody head.

Debuting in 1959, this film set new standards for gore, and though it was shot in black and white, I believe it was probably pretty effective. Even seeing the black and white stills now kind of take you aback. I challenge you to find other stills from the '50s that match the power of this one. Yeah, it's crude, but there is something about that crudeness that makes it more sinister.

Now that I've found the proper title to the movie, I kind of want to see it. I also have this strange desire to visit the lighthouse that provides the film's title and the one where it was filmed.

Oddly enough, I have seen most of (perhaps all, but it's been too long) one of Irvin Berwick's (director of The Monster of Piedras Blancas) most famous films, Malibu High, which has the tagline "Every Teacher in School Wanted to Flunk Her ... But Nobody Dared!" I remember my dad and his friends watching this and at one point realizing I was in the room and getting my young ass out of there. Sleaze by the bucket, but looking back at this still, I can't say I'm surprised.

Ahh, the good ol' days.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ebony and Ivory

I spent a lot of my youth fascinated by films of dubious quality. Yeah, I'm a fan of exploitation fare, but sometimes you gotta cut your losses. The Thing With Two Heads is one of those dubious films, and anyone who grew up in Eastern PA in the 1970s remembers that this was on television far too often.

Starring Ray Milland (Frogs, another questionable film) and football star Rosey Grier, this 1972 masterpiece tackles the age old question of "What if a racist got his head put on a black man's body?" I believe Different Strokes tackled the same question about a decade later.

Most notable for an insane plot and a competent (for the time) two-headed gorilla courtesy of Rick Baker, this film recently resurfaced on the THiS Network (where Frogs is also playing). Needless to say, when I saw it was on, I almost woke my five-year-old daughter out of a deep, deep sleep so that she could partake in one of the mainstays of my youth. (It was right up there with Squirm and The Incredible Melting Man.) Good sense got the best of me, however, and I let her sleep. When I informed her the next day of what I almost did her only reaction was, "Why would you do that?"

I had no good answer.

The trailer, presented below, gives you a fairly good idea of what this film is like. While doubtful that it will see remake status anytime soon, I think it could be the perfect vehicle for those Wayan Brothers (an inspired bit of casting would be Rush Limbaugh in the Ray Milland role). Sure, the Wayans may screw up the serious social commentary on racism and science gone amok, but think of the sheer sublime absurdity that would ensue. It almost seems like this project is green lighted before I even have finished this paragraph.

As for me that night it aired recently? I fell asleep, but woke up every once in a while and swore I was watching the same chase scene over and over.

What the hell was I ever thinking?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Paranormal Activity

Being a big supporter of independent film and horror films, I'm asking that Eureka's denizens demand that Paranormal Activity play here. If the studio gets one million demands the film will open nationwide. Click here to demand the film play in your town.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

India-Born Terror

About ten years ago a film came out of India that created quite a buzz in the independent film community. It was The Terrorist, a film that attempts to put a human face on human bombs. (Don't believe the hype on the poster, either. "She's a natural born killer" makes this sound like an exploitation film. I don't know whose idea this was, but it was a bad one.)

The film doesn't make apologies for terrorism, but it also doesn't make it into some scary monster that's out to eat your children. It instead focuses on one woman and her mission. It delves into her mindset, and it paints her as a human ... a concept foreign to a lot of American viewers, which is why the film didn't get as much play over here. Terrorists are always evil, and any attempt to figure them out and understand their motives makes you just as evil.

This movie couldn't have come out of America. Foreign countries, who have lived with terrorism longer than we have, don't have as many issues with it when it comes to examining it for artistic/political means. (I'm also convinced that had this been an American film it would have been deluged with gun fights and explosions.) That leaves the foreign film community with the ability to actually delve into places American cinema won't go ... at least not on the same scale. The two Battle Royale films from Japan fall into much the same category (and when it comes to terrorism, especially the second one). That's not just a political thing, but a cultural one.

Americans just don't want to see film where a terrorist is the main character, no matter how attractive she may be. We want soldiers and cops. We want good guys or safe anti-heroes. We want to make sure the characters are only killing the people we think should be killed. Terrorism, while often targeting specific people, often takes down innocent people. If our films feature buildings exploding, we don't want to see the people inside. And that's where The Terrorist did such a grand job. It put her in your home, and at your rally. It surrounded her with the audience, and it also had you wondering whether or not she would do her "job" at the end of the film.

Movies that tackle sensitive subjects like this one walk a very fine line. This one pulled it off. The movie is not perfect by any means, but it was handled very well. It got its point across, and it presented some very interesting questions. It also, in a roundabout way, showed why a war on terrorism will never work.

Could this film ever come from a major American film studio? Yes ... but only if it starred Bruce Willis taking down the terrorist before the "big one" could happen.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Exploitation of the Innocent

I was asked why I like exploitation films. The person said, "You kind of have a reputation of a movie snob, so why those films?" (I am actually not a movie snob, as my love of exploitation films proves. I just know what I like and am able to articulate. More importantly, I know what I don't like and am very vocal about it because it's part of my job.)

The answer isn't easy.

Exploitation films, the ones that had their heyday back in the late Sixties to about mid-Eighties, pushed the envelope of what cinema could show and was capable of. Yes, it was often done with the intent to be lurid and make money, but these films have an artistic flair that can't be dismissed, and their impact upon worldwide cinema cannot be mistaken. These movies were risky, bold, and somewhat alarming, and that's everything I love about the art of film.

I've heard people argue that movies like Transformers are modern-day exploitation films because there is no artistic merit to them, they are made simply to make money, and they appeal to the audiences' most base instinct. That is only somewhat true.

I'll admit that Transformers and films like it aren't made with artistic sensibilities in mind. Many exploitation films (not all) were, however, made as someone's artistic vision ... usually because the director was given lots of leeway and was left to his or her own devices.

I will admit that the blockbusters are made simply to generate cash for the studios. They are vehicles to sell toys, tickets and TV rights. But almost all movies are made with the hopes that money will be made. Especially those made by major studios. Yes, the studios release more artistic films (usually in hopes of obtaining an Oscar and thus generating more revenue), but at the end of the day the studios are businesses. Art doesn't matter much. Exploitation films were often art meeting cash. Often the financial backers of the films were somehow involved in organized crime and money needed to be laundered, hidden, or someone had a bug up their ass to get a film made for some kind of "artistic cred." Because of this the exploitation directors were left alone. Major studios leave very few directors alone. Focus groups dictate the outcome of a film. I doubt focus groups had no say in Thriller: A Cruel Picture.

There is something there about appealing to the filmgoer's base instincts, though. Time and time again audiences have proven they love a big explosion, big tits and big plot holes. Exploitation films did it differently, however. They lured audiences in with promises of blood, tits and sex (and often lived up to that promise), but then they went further. They took audiences to places they weren't expecting to go. Again, go back to Thriller: A Cruel Picture. The sex scenes are hardcore. An eyeball is removed in a horrible scene, and that's just a beginning. Nobody going into that film, even after seeing the trailers, could have any idea of its impact. (It made enough of an impact upon Tarantino that he supposedly made a character after One-Eye in Kill Bill. Guess who?) Transformers, again as an example, is happy to deliver what it promises, but nothing more. (And, no, I haven't seen it, but I have heard enough to be able to make that statement and feel fairly secure about it.)

All those things add up to give an more complete picture to the blockbuster versus exploitation film angle. Exploitation films are, at some level, challenging. Yes, some are amateurish and filled with every genre standard you can think of, but there is still the feeling of chaos to them. The major studio summer pictures can embody many things, but challenges and artistry are two pieces of the puzzle they cannot lay claim to. Does it make them worse than exploitation films? No, not really. I don't prefer them, but that's just me. I think most people can't handle the sorts of things that happened in the exploitation films of old. The gore would be too much. The tone too brutal. And the style would induce headaches in those raised on movies-by-the-number. If there's one thing I've learned audiences hate it is to be given something they can't predict (with rare exceptions). Exploitation films did that in spades, and that's why I like them and respect them for what they are.

I don't hate blockbusters for what they are. I dislike many of them for what they aren't. They aren't a challenge. They aren't anything new, and they take a captive audience and refuse to take advantage of it. That isn't bold filmmaking. That's cowardly, and that's insulting. But that is just me. Your opinion may very well differ. I can guarantee, though, that I Spit on Your Grave offers more to debate and discuss than Independence Day. I guarantee it offers more shocks and actually makes a far better social statement than that summer blockbuster. Both had similar exploitative film campaigns, but one delivered the goods. The other was a standard story with all the usual plot points. One insulted its audience. The other challenged it.

Why settle for less? Because now you don't really have a choice. The exploitation era is pretty much gone (though there are bright pockets here and there). Hollywood won. I would argue we are all worse for it, though far safer in the long run. Unfortunately, when it comes to art, safe is not a good place to be.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Gone Missing

Some of you have e-mailed me wondering why my reviews haven't appeared on Film Threat for some time (since 6/09 to be exact). Here's the answer.

Yes, I am still writing for Film Threat. There has been a change of guard there, and things got lost in the shuffle, including a lot of my reviews. I have been given the power (which I may have always had but never knew) to post them myself. So yesterday I tried it, figuring I'd just post everything I've sent.

It didn't work.

I don't know why it wouldn't work. It just didn't. I imagine the problem is being looked at now, but I don't know when or if it will be fixed, and if I have to send in the reviews again, I can see the same thing happening.

Frustrating, yes, but that is the way of the world.

At least your questions are answered now. I'll keep you all posted.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Sexy Poker Players and Cheaters

I finally got around to completely watching Rounders. It's only been out 34 years, so I figured it was about time. Since I like Matt Damon and play poker when possible (not nearly as often as I like), I also figured I'd enjoy the movie. All of my friends have liked it, and while their tastes aren't often the same as mine their recommendations rang true and made sense.

I liked it. It wasn't great, but it was good. As a poker movie I think it captured that special feeling you can only get from the game. It also captured the personalities involved in the game pretty damn well. Matt Damon, who should play Captain America before he gets too old, is his usual nice guy self, and it worked for the role. Edward Norton, who plays his friend Worm, was his sleazy friend who used and abused everyone on his way to the bottom. There were good dynamics between the two, though they didn't share a sex scene, which I was hoping for. (Perhaps under Obama's America, as detailed here, homosexual sex scenes will become the norm.)

Complaints about the film are few. The most prominent being was that it suffered from the same malady as most Hollywood movies: predictability. I knew the ending long before I arrived there naturally. I could've turned it off and still knew what happened. Poker players know this kind of predictability does not happen in the game, though you try to skew those odds so it does. Mainstream film audiences, though, think differently.

Filmgoers want their movies to end neatly wrapped. They want to take comfort in the ending. They want to leave the theatre as they came in: unchanged and unmoved. Had I written this film, Damon's character would've ended the film broke and laying dead in an alley, bullet wound in his head. There would be a small hole in the forehead where a decent amount of blood was coming from. As his eyes slowly closed, his on screen narration (which was helpful in this movie) would be, "And this is how it ends. If I would've listened to myself when I said I wouldn't have gone back as good as I listened at the tables, I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't be dying in some alley, hoping someone spots me in time to call an ambulance. This isn't Hollywood, though. This is poker ... and sometimes there are no happy endings. Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront has a famous line. He says he could have been a contender. I know I could've. I would've won, too. I would've won."

But I don't write movies, and perhaps I would refine that line more, but I think Damon's death would have been a better ending. Not because I hate the guy, but because when the pressure is on sometimes even the best sweat and flop. It would have robbed the audience of what they expected and instead given it what it deserved. If you love cinema as an art, you understand that is what is supposed to happen.

Good movie. Not great. Standard end, which renders most of what came in the previous two hours and forty minutes moot.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Crazy Nazi Killers Run Loose In France

Few things in life feel quite like taking down an enemy. And not just taking them down, but doing it with style and brutality. It's what separates us from the dolphins. Revenge. Now, suppose that enemy is a common enemy to the entire world? That feels even more satisfying. The Nazis fit that description. Pol Pot and company don't even give the world the same feelings as the Nazis. Knowing that, it's no surprise that Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds did so well at the box office. Who doesn't like to see Nazi's beat to death with baseball bats and scalped?

This is not Tarantino's best movie. It is, however, a cinematic delight. A wet dream ending in ejaculatory fire. There's only one problem: not enough Basterds.

Anyone going to see this is going to see the Basterds do their thing. You get to see a little of that, but nowhere near enough. Instead, viewers are immersed in a story that didn't have to be there. The actors on screen are captivating, and the music is familiar to Tarantino fans, so this isn't that big of a problem, but viewers want to see heads bashed in. They want their cultural revenge, and the film's climax just doesn't satisfy that urge.

I saw this film opening weekend at Eureka's Broadway Cinema. I sent out a text to all my friends (which apparently never went out as I learned after the show). The sound quality in both theatres showing it was atrocious. (Celebrity Watchdog George Anthony Watson questioned a cinema employee on this and was informed that the sound was that way because that's the way "QT" wanted it. No, dumbass, you minimum wagers can't run a theatre.) At the end of the show I heard something I hadn't heard in quite some time: clapping. People were satisfied despite the lack of basterding. (And for the critics who said this was "torture porn," a term I hate as it is lazy and thoroughly inaccurate, you were way off base. This was not that violent, though I wish it would've been. The violence, when it came, was memorable, however.) That was a good feeling. I think Tarantino would've been happy to hear that.

As of this weekend, the Bear Jew and the Jew Hunter have dropped to number two in the box office. I imagine that once the film hits DVD (with what I hope is a lot of the dropped scenes, as it was painfully obvious stuff was missing) it will be the number sale and rental of the week. Maybe a couple of weeks. There is Oscar buzz, too, which really doesn't mean shit, but it's nice to know someone is paying attention.

And all of this from a film where there was quite a bit of subtitles. That's usually a box office killer since people don't like to "read" their movies. It made no discernible difference here, and it added to the immersion.

Tarantino has said he will give up filmmaking when he turns sixty. That could obviously change, but if that is the case, this film will rank up there as one of his most accomplished. I don't know if any other director can make that claim about a movie that is thought of as so violent and in some cases "wrong." None. For that, Tarantino should be proud.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Those Wacky Asians

Start talking about extreme cinema, and eventually the path turns to Japan. You've got Living Hell, the Guinea Pig series, Kichiku: Banquet of the Beasts, Audition ... need I go on? The French may do disturbing like no one's business, but the Japanese just take things one step further than anyone thought possible. Watch Mermaid in a Manhole and tell me different.

I believe the French do disturbing so well because that culture really understands the artistic power of film. Cinema is viewed as a form of art and is treated that way. When you are a filmmaker in a culture that holds the medium in which you work in such high regard, you have to passionately study what works. If you are making a horror film, you want it to be horrific. You need to know what works.

Japan is different.

Japanese culture is a lot like American culture in some respects. It is as repressive as it is extreme. When people are repressed, yet artistically free, you see those repressive aspects of society come out in the art. Japan has also looked to America for much of its film heritage. It should be no surprise then, that when a Japanese director decides to do a horror film (or full-on exploitation flick) that it takes the mainstays of the genre and ratchet them up a few notches. It's not enough that the mermaid oozes multi-colored pus. That pus is then used to paint pictures of her as she dies. It's not enough to torture someone with a stun gun. That gun has to be forced into a man's mouth and turned on over a filling.

When a society is repressed, the artistic spirit eventually comes out one way or another. In Japan you have graphic comics, vending machines dispensing soiled panties, and film. It seems hard to believe that a society that still operates on shame could do something Kichiku with its heads blown halfway off in gruesome detail, but it actually makes perfect sense. This is how that oppression from repression works its way out. The culture's fascination with American films guarantees they can pull it off. The only ironic thing is that the Japanese films aren't bigger here in America.

These theories also go a long way to explaining the Canadians ...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, as many of you know, was only screened for a handful of critics who could be relied upon by the studio to give a good review. As a film critic, I want to thank the studio for sparing many of my peers from having to watch what can only be considered dreck based simply on the trailer. This film is the reason I don't review mainstream cinema.

Back when I first started writing for Film Threat I was asked if I would be interested in reviewing the big studio pictures. I declined for several reasons, all of which continue to be true. The first reason was that I don't like many mainstream films. They do what they do fine (for the most part), but to quote Suicidal Tendencies, I want more. The second reason, and this is even more important, is that these films get enough press as it is, and if I'm reviewing something like G.I. Joe, I'm not reviewing The Dysfunctional Book Club (a film I just reviewed). My review of Iron Man ain't gonna matter one bit, but I may actually be able to get something like Hacks new viewers. (Which, by the way, is exactly what I did.)

Back to the Joes. When a studio doesn't screen a film for critics it should be a red flag to viewers (many of whom will see it anyway). This flag screams, "We have no confidence in this film!" That should tell potential viewers everything right there. If the studio has no confidence in a film, why should you spend your money on it? The answer is: You shouldn't. When a studio does such a thing I just wants to get the biggest opening weekend possible, without any negative reviews, and then hope the picture recoups money overseas and on DVD. It's a ploy that has too many variables to actually determine a success rate, but it is worth noting as to why it is used.

Many people, some of them my friends, will see this film regardless of the studio's confidence level in it. They'll complain it was crap, and I'll toss off a snide remark or two. Worse, they may be apologists for it saying the usual things. "The story sucked, but the effects were awesome." You know those lines. You've heard them before and may have even said them.

It's the Joes. People are going to see it. I just think it's ridiculous so many people are so eager to prove they are suckers.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Technorati ID Verif


Broadway Revisited

As you can see by the comment on the previous post, the Broadway theatre here in Eureka, California continues to have its problems. That doesn't bode well for about the three remaining movies I want to see this summer.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Humboldt County Theatres Are Run By Morons For Morons

I took my daughter to see the first showing of Aliens in the Attic today. We saw it at the Broadway Cinema (part of the Coming Attractions mini-Empire) here in Humboldt County. It's a nice theatre, but it seems to employ morons and attract the same thing.

The film, for what it is worth, was far better than I expected. That's not what this is about, though. This is about what happens when someone can't run a projector and other people feel the need to comment about it.

When the trailers started, the image wasn't centered correctly so you had two halves of the film playing at the top and bottom of the screen with a large black space in the middle. It was fairly obvious what had happened, and while the projectionist attempted to get it right he or she (most likely a he) was having a fuck all time doing it.

People were fairly quiet at first. Then they started. "I wonder what's happening?" "Do you think they know it's broke?" "Who keeps fixing it?" "Maybe it needs to warm up." I could live with those remarks, as dumb as they were. However, when the movie started and it still wasn't fixed, I heard something that made me want to stab.

The woman seated next to my daughter, commenting that the beginning of the film was still split on the screen, said to her friend, "They must have put in the widescreen version."

"Why?" the friend asked. I would've asked, "What the fuck kind of drugs are you on you half-wit?"

"Because when I accidentally get widescreen movies I get the same black bar, but because mine is a DVD it is at the bottom of the screen not the middle. Should we tell them they have the widescreen in for a fullscreen movie?"

Jesus. Fucking. Christ.

This woman looked beyond child-bearing age, though I imagine at some point a child vomited forth from her drooling vagina. How anyone could let someone that dumb breed is not the scariest of thoughts, though. What terrified me was that she was still breathing because I doubt this was the first time something so profanely stupid fell from her gaped mouth.

If I had a knife ...

The film never got totally centered correctly. It was fine, but bad enough that I could see the mic in some shots. No biggie, though. As long as the woman two seats to my right didn't open up her trap again, I was fine. If she would, I would have to say something.

Luckily, for both of us, she didn't.

I can't have my daughter exposed to such nonsense. It ruins any kind of confidence she has in adults. It undermines her view of what a grown-up should and should not say. It takes her world and turns it upside down. Even she looked at me like the woman was off her nutter because my daughter, all of five years old, knows about widescreen. (We prefer our movies in widescreen in my home.)

Which all of this begs the question: Why would three women in their sixties and fifties come to a PG film for kids while not bringing any of their own with them? That's just weird, but maybe they wanted to see something they could understand and relate to on some level.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Something Witchy

The Manson Family. It's a film that is an acquired taste, and I know more people who hate it than like it. I'm not a huge fan of Manson and his followers, though I find the story fascinating. In the end, they're just hippies with a little more motivation. All things considered, though, I really like the film.

There is no narrative in the traditional sense of the word. What you watch is more of an experience (and may be best viewed on LSD). It's shot like a documentary (and has fooled people into believing they are watching actual footage of the family), and it has this almost anarchist glee about it. You can tell it's a labor of love and is definitely the product of vision and not committee. Thank God.

The above trailer doesn't actually do the film justice. To see it is to find out just how unexplainable it really is. There's a story set in the now and one set in the past. The one set in the past we all know (at least on some level or another), but the future one is pretty much just a device to tie it all together, and it shows how his followers have changed. (Most of the people I know now who are into Manson are not even close to hippies, who find the man most distasteful.) Now his followers are counter-culture miscreants that find more in common with punk and metal music than The Beatles.

My guess, and this is based on nothing more than a scant knowledge of the man, is that if Manson saw this he would like it. I've seen his interviews. He's either crazy or acting like it so he doesn't have to deal with the outside world. (As an aside, my ex-wife and I were once behind a caravan taking Manson to Pelican Bay. I joked that it was Manson and surmised busting him out in an elaborate car crash scheme. I didn't know it was him at the time, though, and good thing because I may have tried it. I later found out on the news that it was, indeed, him.) The Manson in this film comes across as nuts, but in a very workable way. The Manson we see now is just plain ol' nuts.

Once again a movie transcends form and leaves people either gaped mouth or scratching their heads. I've seen both reactions. I just happen to think it's a stylish bit of exploitation that never feels like exploitation. It also feels a bit forbidden.

Would you want anything less in a movie about Manson?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Horse Whisperer

If you've seen the film, the poster shown here either gives you chills or makes you say, "That documentary was not what I expected." That's a good thing.

By all definitions, Zoo would be a hard sell. A man dies after being screwed by a horse. The man was part of the U.S. government. He did this on a farm in Washington that catered to that sort of thing. This is a documentary about that man, only none of the real subjects are shown. After all, who appear on camera for this sort of thing? When you hear the description you can kind of only cringe ... except it's done almost poetically. It doesn't make excuses for it, but it also doesn't paint it to be the crime of the century.

I love documentaries. A good one can take even the most mundane subject and make it fascinating. They can be used as propaganda. They can call facts into question or mislead. When done right, they open your eyes to a world you either knew existed but didn't know much about or one you never knew was right under the surface. This film is probably going to be the latter for most of you.

I always knew people screwed animals or got screwed by them, but about a decade ago I was introduced to some people and publications that showed just how in-depth and organized that world truly is. Horses. Dogs. Monkeys. Dolphins. Zoophiles love every kind of animal imaginable, and the ones I dealt with seemed very respectable of their "lovers." (As an aside, I know of three people in Humboldt who have personally confessed to this sort of behavior. Two females. One male. Their counterparts? Two horses and a dog.) So while the documentary didn't show me a new aspect of society, it did shine a lot of light on the man who was fortunate enough to die doing what he loved.

The film's style is fascinating and worth watching for that alone. The subject matter is handled with nothing but respect. The story is nothing short of amazing. Yes, it is odd and definitely not something polite people talk about around the dinner table, but that is what makes it so important. These people exist. They work with you, serve your food, teach your kids, fill your cavities, date your son. Don't you think you should know more about them? See that maybe they aren't the deviant in a trenchcoat that you imagine.

Ignore it if you will, but I guarantee that if you watch it, it won't be anything like you expect.

Critical Success

Lately, as it tends to happen every few years, a few friends have stated that they think movie critics are pretentious and out of touch with what movie going audiences want to see. I've touched on this topic in my "Excess Hollywood" columns on Film Threat, but many of you may not have read those. As you can imagine, I disagree.

Yes, some critics are pretentious. Some doctors are bad. Some insurance salesmen rip you off. Some cops beat their wives. Every field has bad eggs, those who abuse power or get off on showing how smart they are. Being pretentious is not a requirement for the job, though.

Part of the misconception comes from the fact that critics and most movie going audiences are at odds with each other. Critics want to look at a film's place in cinema as art and entertainment. They want to see how it fits into film history, dissect it and see if it works by its own rules. They want to compare it to past films and see if it challenges the art form. General audiences want entertainment for the most part. General audiences made Kangaroo Jack a number one film.

When I talk to people about what they like in a film, I often get general answers. They point to "cool" special effects or one scene they really liked. They don't talk about the story, characters' values, its place in cinema or anything even remotely below the surface. They think explosions are cool, blood is awesome, and tits should be given Oscars. This is where the role of the critic steps in.

Film critics have to have a real passion for the art of cinema. They can't submit reviews that say, "This film rocked because the good guy kicked ass." It wouldn't fly. They have to do reviews that can be understood by both the mainstream audience who only wants blockbusters and the audience that demands a bit more from its viewing experience. A good critic will point out both the positive and negative in a film (or have to do a totally negative review in those circumstances where the film has nothing to offer). That's the role of the critic, and maybe that is why people don't like them.

Critics, because they see a lot of films (and believe me, that is not always as fun as it sounds), are less tolerant of scenes that have been done to death. They scorn those lines of dialogue they can see coming from a mile away. They loath standard endings. They, like any other moviegoer, want to be entertained and moved.

I've been accused of being pretentious. Often this is because I happen to like foreign films, which is a ridiculous charge. If anyone read my body of film critiques they would see that not only do I like some "high brow" foreign films, but also have a deep affection for exploitation films ... films the general audience often finds beneath it. To say I'm pretentious because I dare to take a film like Snow Dogs to task is beyond moronic. It's false. Flat out false. (And yes, while I have given that Cuba Gooding, Jr. epic a lot of flack, it doesn't make me some kind of film snob. I gave The Devil's Rejects all kinds of praise, too. That's pretty damn far from anything that can be considered high class.)

Critics of the critics can continue on their attacks. That's fine ... as long as they can justify them. When they can't, it's just pissing in the wind and puts them right on the same level of the pretentious critic they hate. Don't pay any attention to the critics if you think they are off base. That's your right. Just don't expect film lovers to take your opinion of a film seriously if all you can offer is, "It had a cool chase scene."

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Thanksgiving Is Coming

Eli Roth's Thanksgiving, which I have written about on this blog, is set to hit the silver screen. It may happen after his next flick, which will be PG-13. You can read about it here.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Here There Be Asteroids

As I wrote on my other blog, 8 Bit Disasters, Asteroids is going to be a major motion picture. For those old enough to remember, this is an Atari arcade game of the most simplistic sort. It's a classic and there is no real storyline to it.

What this also is, is Hollywood thinking that video game fans will eat up almost anything remotely related to the entertainment form they love. I can only hope that's not true, as it will lead to sequels and even more fast food tie-ins.

This should not be a film. It should have never even been an idea. My guess is that a screenplay made the rounds that was your standard asteroids present a danger type thing, and someone got the grand idea to attach the video game title to it, not realizing that it just sank the picture. They eliminated part of the audience that would have seen the film had it not been named after a video game, and made video game fans like myself question the validity of doing such a film.

If there's a lesson to be learned here it is that Hollywood will stop at nothing to mine anything it thinks has even an ounce of gold. And if you know what asteroids are made of ...

Friday, July 3, 2009

Born On The Fourth Of July

I never saw the movie. The prospect of Tom Cruise in a wheelchair was quite appealing (still is, actually), but the idea of sitting through some heavy-handed Hollywood morality tale about Vietnam seems as beneficial as sitting through a drug treatment program run by Method Man. In other words, it's a joke.

Tomorrow is the fourth. Fireworks will burn their images into your corneas and I will think of Land of the Dead and how the zombies were hypnotized by the same fireworks exploding overhead. (Do you think George Romero was trying to say something?) You can call it freedom, but "freedom" is just another pretty word for consumerism in this country. You think you got freedom? Try asking a filmmaker about dealing with the MPAA. Try talking to adult filmmakers who always run the risk of prosecution no matter who is in the Oval Office.

And that's just for the movies. Let's not even get into the inherent sexism and racism of our predominant economic system.

So, yeah, Tom Cruise wheeling his bearded ass around while shouting the usual slogans never really appealed to me. I never bought into the myth. I like to think Maverick became Ron at some point, but I know that's not how it worked. Hollywood's version of a war protest is a fantasy that has little to do with real life. How can Hollywood even pretend to give lip service to that notion when it lets various arms of the government approve scripts in order to gain insight into their world? Talk about biting the hand that feeds ...

So on this Fourth of July, just say no to Hollywood and its fake morality. Instead, say yes to thinking for yourself and calling out hypocrisy when you see it.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Am I Evil?

Movies have provided us with some incredible villains. And not only have they provided us with great bad guys, they have given us bad guys we can actually be sympathetic towards. That is not an easy thing to pull off, but it is essential to have in order to have an effective villain. It's the difference between Alex from A Clockwork Orange and any of the villains from hundreds of action films. Darth Vader works. Otis from The Devil's Rejects works. Hannibal works (in The Silence of the Lambs at least). Magneto works. John Doe from Se7en works.

Villains work best when we can see ourselves in them, when we can recognize their humanity and the motivations of their actions. We can still find what they do to be repulsive (and the more repulsive we find it we find ourselves that much more attached ... if done properly). If you can't find sympathy in a villain, it will never connect on anything other than a surface level. Who remembers the villain from Lethal Weapon 2?

The effect of villains in a film was hammered home to me when I got into a discussion with a friend, who was trying to be a writer, about The Devil's Rejects. I had told him how I thought director Rob Zombie did it right because even though you hate what the Firefly family has done, you can't help but feel sympathy. He said there was no way he could feel sympathy, and no way he could see how anyone could. I countered with, "Then you'll never be a successful fiction writer because if you can't make even the most despicable character human it will never connect deeply enough with an audience to make a lasting impression."

He is not the only person who has said things like this to me, but he was so offended by my assertion that Zombie's film actually built sympathy for a pack of killers that he couldn't wrap his mind about what I was saying. I stick by it, though. The greatest villains are the ones you feel sympathy for, the ones you make you see things from their point of view.

My ex-wife and I once got into a great discussion about Kevin Spacey's character in Se7en. We were talking about characters in movies who were self-actualized. I argued that Spacey's killer was self-actualized as he could thoroughly justify his motives, he could explain them, and he acted upon his beliefs. She stated he was not because he killed people and a self-actualized person would not want to harm another. I shot back that a self-actualized person could kill if he thought it would better humanity, something Spacey's character obviously felt, because in the end it is all a matter of numbers and a self-actualized person would have to realize that. It's like the old time travel question: If you can go back through time do you kill Hitler? We never saw eye to eye on the issue of Spacey and self-actualization, and I'm not even sure there is a right answer, but the fact that his character could cause such a debate speaks volumes as to how well it was written (especially when one considers how little screen time he has). We never debated the villain from Event Horizon.

When a movie calls for a villain, I believe the villain has to be better written than the hero. After all, we can all understand the hero's motivations. Luke wants to save the galaxy. Jodie Foster wants to catch a cannibal. Both are tasks we are all familiar with. They really need no explanation. Cannibals wandering around eating people are bad. Floating space stations that blow up planets can really ruin you day. Therefore, the villains have to have extra dimensions to them. It's easy to say Darth Vader is just a guy who wants to help rule the galaxy, and if you only watch one movie you can actually come away with that. The reality is different. Darth Vader starts out as a young boy with much promise who is yanked from his home by strangers. He is trained to be a Jedi and then as a teenager is told he doesn't have the discipline required for his station. His mother dies. He falls in love. As he progresses through life the people he thought he could rely upon show how little they trust him, and that wears him down. He only wants to learn how to keep his loved ones alive forever, and he wants honesty. His switch to the Dark Side is not only believable but also understandable. Hannibal has just as much dimension in the first film (first in the series, not chronologically).

Hannibal Lecter is first and foremost an intellectual. He feels he is above most people, and his knowledge says he is. He is an excellent judge of character, but he is also a sociopath and cannibal. Throughout The Silence of the Lambs you realize that Hannibal is actually scarier behind bars than he is once free because he is so good he can still get you even when locked up. You also realize that if you met him in real life you would most likely be safe because he only seems to kill those dumb enough to fall into his trap, and you think you would never be that dumb. Most people actually think they are smarter than they are, however, and what makes Hannibal work is that he lets you know that. He can hit the flaws in anyone, but since it isn't you, you are safe in laughing at the idiocy of those who fall into his clutches. He kils not only because he wants to, but because he can. He kills those he views as his lessers, and who hasn't wanted to do that from time to time? Compare him to the cannibals in Frontier(s) and you can instantly see why one is a cultural icon and the others will be nothing more than a footnote in cinematic history (though the French horror film is incredible).

The visual imagery of Vader, whose image I opened ths posting with, evokes memories of samurai, Nazis, and ultimately pity. Anyone who has seen all the films knows that underneath that armor is a broken old man who could not survive outside his shell. It's very symbolic, and it works. He is probably the image many people think of first when they think of great movie villains. (And while I like him, he is pretty far down on my list of favorites). He not only symbolizes his own inner demons, but that of all movie villains. We see them on the screen, large than life, striding forth either in costume (Alex) or dressed in normal clothes (The Butcher from I Stand Alone, who is a villain who actually carries the film) while carrying themselves in such a way that the armor is purely mental. We see them and we understand that under all of that is a human just as fragile as us. (Otis cares about his family, Magneto wants his "family" to be left alone by outsiders.) Darth Vader tops movie villains lists not because he is a great villain but because he symbolizes all great villains.

I let a few people read my cannibal manuscript. I was worried that the main villain, a woman I named Momma Rose, wouldn't stand out enough to be memorable. I could live with her not being a villain of epic proportions, but I wanted the audience to have some kind of connection to her. Quite a few readers gave me positive feedback on her, but only one said those words I wanted to hear. "I liked her. She was doing whatever she could to protect her family and keep her heritage alive." That was what I was hoping that people would see in her. They might not agree with the actions I had the character do, but they could understand them.

Villains, the good ones, are memorable because we all think they same thing. There but for the grace of God ...

And if you just don't get it, I don't think you ever will, which is a real shame, too. If you can't see what makes them great, you're actually missing out. You're not getting the entire picture. It may not ruin your enjoyment of the film, but don't expect to win any debates any time soon.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Free Bird

The night I got back from my descent into Hell The Devil's Rejects was playing on cable. Anyone who knows me knows my love of this Rob Zombie film. It's one of the few films in life that I think is actually perfect. Near my bed I have one of the rare movie posters (the one with the arm). It's a film that restores my faith in American cinema and exploitation culture (which is just about dead in any meaningful way). It's a hell of a movie, and I think anyone who appreciates film would have to agree it is very well-made and effective.

I know the film isn't everyone's cup of tea. I try not to judge people on what kind of films, books and music they like, but let's face it: Your artistic and entertainment choices are a reflection of you in one way or another. When someone tells me their favorite movie is the new War of the Worlds, well, I have to question their character. If they tell me Zombie's film is too much for them to take, I can sort of understand that, but also have to think, "It's a movie."

I don't like easy films, films that require little in the way of thought or emotion. I like films that challenge me, bring up emotions, get a reaction. Films that aren't "safe." This film is what I needed to see upon my return. It made me feel whole again. There is something about it that just feels right.

While on vacation I was subjected to some piece of garbage called Secondhand Lions. I didn't watch the whole thing and barely paid attention to it in an effort to save my sanity. What I do know about it, though, is that it was considered a film for the entire family, a feel-good piece of cinema that got some decent praise. The premise? A young teen boy is abandoned by his mother and has to live with two uncles he doesn't know and they don't really seem to like him at first. Yeah, that's a great movie for the kids. Isn't every kid afraid of getting left behind by his parents? Why would this film be considered fine for the entire family? Because everything works out in the end? (That's an assumption.) Because no throats are slit or breasts bared? Because it sugarcoats issues like lying, trust and familial discontent? I'm not saying the film is harmful, but I am saying that what is often put across as family friendly is often just as scary to a kid as something like Zombie's masterpiece. Perhaps it got all kinds of praise because there was no murderous clown. I don't know...

I'm not going to dwell too much longer on the strange state of Hollywood. I think anyone who matters can tell what kind of a joke it is now, and doesn't need me pointing out how ridiculous it is at every step. Just the fact that there is a sequel to Transformers pretty much sums that up as neatly as anything I could write. I will say this, though. I look forward to the day when films as gripping as The Devil's Rejects are as commonplace as things like the latest teen comedy or television show re-imagining. I don't think that day will ever come, but if Hollywood is the land of dreams turned reality, I hope my dream's turn is about due.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Must See

A friend lent me this DVD. I've wanted to see it for a while. Saw it. Loved it. If you liked the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre ...

Thank God for the French. That country is producing some of the best horror movies to be seen in years. Fuck the Saw series. Fuck endless remakes. Long live the French.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The WTO Is Doomed

I just watched the documentary The Yes Men, and I am impressed. It's not a great documentary, but the spirit of it cannot be denied. In a nutshell, two guys put up a satire website for GATT, and people from around the world contact them thinking they are the WTO. They, as any self-respecting citizen should, take full advantage of this and act as WTO representatives at various conventions and whatnot throughout the planet.

I'm a huge fan of pranks. Pranks change people's perspective on the world. They change people's lives. Pranks with a political/social subtext are even more impressive as they can really open people's eyes to the problems of the world. In that sense, this movie is incredible.

I had read about the Yes Men in various publications and books before, so I did not go into the film blind. To watch audiences' reactions to them was a treat, however, and that's not something you can adequately experience in a written piece. It's amazing how few people question what is going on around them.

I've been known to play a prank or two in my time. Some have been fairly large, but nothing on the scale these guys did. For that I am impressed. If I could pull off something that huge, I would. That fact that these guys did it in front of "the enemy" (in some cases) means even more.

If you can take any lesson from this movie, it is pull pranks whenever you can. Expose people for what they are, and have fun doing it. The people in control of us lose power when we laugh at them. In fact, it does more damage to laugh at them then to shoot them. It's our duty to cut them down to size, and if we can do it with a smile, we've won.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Sign Of The Apocalypse

The Wayans brothers have a new film out. This shit is in the Bible. It's a sign of doom. I beg of you people, if you have any self-respect, do not see their movies.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Umm, thanks?

I made a mistake ... maybe. I recommended Cannibal Holocaust (see the trailer here) to a friend. I recommended it with Haute Tension. She rented both. She was not exactly thankful for my recommendations, though she liked the slasher more than the cannibals.

I felt bad about recommending Deodato's classic of Italian cinema. I feel real bad. I warned her about the real animal violence and the sexual violence, but still. When I told her it had run into legal problems and had been banned, she had to see why. Had I known she would be watching it alone, I would have recommended against it or told her to come over and watch it with me. It's not exactly a film you should view alone, as many of you who have seen it know. It's grisly. There's no better term. I tried to warn her...

In the end, all is good. She doesn't hate me all that much. I don't know if she'll take any of my recommendations to heart again, but that may be for the best. I hate to think I ruined someone's weekend.

As for the people I hate, you should all rent this feel-good flick for your after Thanksgiving viewing party. Your family will love it. Just make sure you have some buckets handy. You'll need something to catch the puke.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Screaming Baby

This baby from Eraserhead, one of David Lynch's films, creeps me out to know end. It's especially creepy when it gets sick. I don't know why it disturbs me so badly, but it may be because I keep thinking of it as a baby deer with no limbs. Good Lord, what is wrong with Lynch?

The first time I saw this movie I thought it was incomprehensible. After viewing it several more times, I still feel the same way. It's a Lynch film. If you've seen any of his movies you know they are less like narratives and more like dreamscapes. This film is no different. Endless shots of Jack Nance's staring eyes, game hens on plates that still move, a baby that won't stop screaming. Anyone who gives birth to that alien-looking thing should have dashed it on the rocks as soon as it took its first breath. It's the same thing that should have happened to G.W. Bush.
(Ahh, that was unfair. I'm sure he's a product of love.)

Thank you, Mr. Lynch for freaking me out, and still being able to do so to this day. I don't know how or why you did it, but you did it and did it well.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

How Do You Do This?

A friend asked me to recommend a film this weekend. I told her I really liked The Devil's Rejects, but warned her it could be disturbing. (Turns out I did not have to worry about that as she sent me one of the most out-of-left-field texts I have ever received, and if I wonder if I should be the one disturbed.) She then asked for other recommendations, and I mentioned the film pictured here, Cannibal Holocaust.

I gave the usual warnings. Sexual violence. Real animal cruelty. I figured it was a safe recommendation after the text I got, but you never know. It seems like, however, whenever someone asks for my recommendations I have to throw in a caveat. When I write my reviews for Film Threat I often have to do the same thing. It comes from a time I just would recommend a film and then have someone flip out on me.

How do you recommend something like Cannibal Holocaust without seeming like a total maniac? I'm not sure you can ... at least not with most people.

The friend I recommended it to said she may work her way up to that one and asked if I had anything in between the two films. (She has since watched The Devil's Rejects again and liked it even more the second time. Should I be worried?)

I recommended I Stand Alone to a few friends. Most of them thought my warnings weren't stern enough, though they all agreed it was a good film. (It's actually a great film that ranks up there as one of the best of all time.) It seems like its a no-win situation. Hell, I've lost friends over film recommendations (Amateur Porn Star Killer comes to mind).
So how do you remedy that?

You don't.

I learned the hard way that no matter what you say about a film, no matter what warnings you give, the end reaction is on the shoulders of each individual viewer. As a critic and friend, you can only tell people what's in the movie, why you like it, and why they might like it. You'll either come off as a prick or a breath of fresh air. My experience, though, shows that you'll usually be the prick. But it all becomes worth it when you get a text like the one I received. You make someone's day and turn them onto a film you love. It doesn't get much better than that.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, Sickos!

The above trailer is Eli Roth, the man behind the Hostel franchise. It played between films during Grindhouse, a film that ultimately failed. It wasn't horrible, but it lacked spark. The trailers, however, were prime.

Fans of the film can order the Japanese version at Play-Asia. I don't think you'll be disappointed, but I have to admit that if it weren't for the trailers, I would have been even more disappointed. Roth's trailer shows why.

Roth's contribution, besides acting in Death Proof, is filled with bad taste and great imagination. I thought the thing was funny as hell. Others think it is mean spirited. (One of the people I saw the film for actually groaned when he saw the end of the trailer. Watch carefully.) To me it's like a Tom and Jerry cartoon only with vaginal skewering and borderline necrophiliac blow jobs. Yea!

Honestly, I'd love to see Roth's trailer as a feature-length film, along with a couple of the other ones that played. (Hear that, Mr. Zombie? I was lucky enough to talk to your co-star Sybil Danning at some L.A. function two years ago and she told me you had shot about a half hour of the movie and was thinking of doing Werewolf Women of the SS as a feature. What are you waiting for?) They'd be much better than the crap that is coming out this summer. An over played comic book movie? A sci-fi "re-imagining"? Another giant robots fighting film? God, why not just throw in another Apatow comedy to cap it off? Oh, wait ...

Roth and Zombie, hop to it. Horror/exploitation cinema needs you. I need you. Thanksgiving and Nazis need you. I'm begging you. Save cinema.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


If you like horror films of the slasher variety, chances are you've seen Maniac. It's a fairly nasty, sleazy, gritty slasher film -- the kind that gets feminists up in arms, and it's not exactly easy to defend against their accusations. Just look at the freakin' poster.

The movie is not great. Not even close. I'm not a huge slasher fan. I think most slasher films don't try hard enough. This film tries hard, and gets it right, but the film still doesn't quite do it for me. The killer is pretty realistic, but what really impresses me is how this film has taken on an almost legendary status, even going so far as to have homage in Haute Tension. (And no, it's not that opening decapitated head oral sex scene, which was quite a way to open a film.)

I've written about this film before on Film Threat, so my feelings on it are fairly well known. I'm writing about it again because I've read of remake rumors, and as with most remakes it is a bad idea.

Can this film be remade effectively? Of course not. It's a different culture, a different era. Hell, I don't even think they could do the poster today. Yet, like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, they will try and people will go to it. Hopefully those people will check out the original. They won't feel good after viewing it, but at least they can say they saw a film from a time period when filmmaking was still actually dangerous.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Monsters Vs. Marketing

I have a four-year-old daughter, which means I saw "Monsters Vs. Aliens" ... or at least part of it. I'll admit I thought there could be something I would enjoy in the film, but it just wasn't funny. In fact, my daughter, who loves movies of all sorts (she used to really love "Kill Bill Vol. 1"), asked to leave about a half hour or so before the movie ended. It was giving her a headache (we saw the 2D version), and she just didn't like it. I complied.

It seems this movie is yet another example of marketing vs entertainment/art.

Blame "Star Wars" for all the Happy Meal toys, cups, microwavable meals, backpacks, action figures, shampoo and so on. That movie started a machine that has not stopped rolling since. Not even an ailing economy can keep it down. But what are the pitfalls?

Obviously this is an issue when it comes to children's movies. The products, for the most part, are geared toward children and are directly linked to movies the studios want them to see. By releasing the products before the movie hits theatres, the studios create a sense of excitement for a film. It doesn't matter if the film is good or not, the kids want the toys/meals/accesories before they even plop their ass down in the dark theatre. It's a win-win for everyone on the money end. If the movie sucks, they all still got their money. The only losers in this are the children who end up disliking a movie and are now stuck with things they may no longer want.

Of course, no parent has to buy these things without seeing the movie first, but as anyone who has a kid knows, that isn't exactly fun or easy. (Can you imagine, however, what would happened if the latest animated film were marketed just right and kids all wanted the Dr. Fingerlord toy from Burger King and his character turned out to be a serial rapist in a movie that critics would call "far too adult for children"?) The smart course is to wait until the kids see the movie to see if they'll enjoy all the other stuff.

And then again, toys are toys and kids will often like them regardless of the movie's quality.

Story has taken a back seat to product, though, and since it's Hollywood nobody can be surprised. This will help teach astute children about advertising's pervasive techniques, and will hopefully open up discussion with their equally astute parents ... or not. Either way, the smart money is on this little rule of thumb: The more the movie is marketed, the less substantial it is.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

An Explanation

The picture in my blog title is from "Irreversible," a film by one of my favorite directors, Gaspar Noe (I can't make that little accent mark over the "e" in his last name). It's a brutal, brilliant film that shows exactly what good cinema is capable of. It's not easy to watch (like his other equally incredible film "I Stand Alone"), but it is important. It's everything I actually love about movies. Cinematography that draws you in and puts you on edge. A soundtrack that upsets your stomach (done on purpose). A story that holds no punches. You watch it and you realize anything can happen at any time and you are not safe.

That's what I love in a film.

I started this blog as a way to continue what I originally started with my old weekly column, "Excess Hollywood" on Film Threat. I no longer do the column, but still review films there and do the occasional interview. I've been involved in film journalism over ten years now. I've seen a lot. Little of it good. This blog is going to cover film, and yes it is a love letter to cinema, as I believe film, even more than my first love (books) can reach people the way no other artform can.

Sit back and enjoy, but like "Irreversible," it won't always be pleasant.