Monday, July 25, 2011

Another Love Story

If you asked me (and I know you didn't), the film I most want to see this summer does not involve superheroes, transforming robots, or Justin Timberlake screwing anyone.  Nope, it's a tale of kidnapping, forced sex, mind control, a former beauty queen and Mormons.  It's also a documentary.  That film would be Errol Morris' Tabloid.  If Morris is capable of making something that isn't interesting, well, I don't know about it.  This looks to be no exception.

Here is a tale of a woman who falls in love and then her beau goes off with the Mormons.  Was he brainwashed by them?  Was she a stalker?  Doesn't matter, does it?  What happens is she kidnaps him, confines him in a cabin and has sex with him repeatedly over the course of three days.  The press goes into orgasmic overdrive with this one.

As with any Morris film, nothing is all that cut and dry.  Was it kidnapping?  Was it brainwashing?  Who is sane?  Who is insane?  This is the stuff good documentaries are made of, and I cannot wait to get my eyeballs on this one.  I'll avoid green wisecrackers and anything with Tom Hanks in it.  I won't even consider seeing Bad Teacher because ... shit, do I need a reason?  No.  Tabloid will get my time and money ASAP.  Still not sold.  Here's the trailer.  If this doesn't at least make you a wee bit curious, enjoy Larry Crowne.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Love is in the Air

Eat ... from my body
I'm not a fan of romance movies.  Well, to be fair, I'm not a fan of what one normally calls romance films.  Hell, I think Die Hard is a fine romantic film.  (Guy goes through hell to save his ex-wife, whom he doesn't even get along all that well with when he could've just stayed low and tried to escape on his own and probably would've succeeded.)  There is one film, however, that while technically falls under the category of horror, is really what I envision a romance movie to be.  If you recognize the image here, you know that film is Takashi Miike's 1999 classic Audition.

The plot is the standard stuff of romance films.  Several years after the death of his wife, a man sets out to find a new wife to help him raise his son.  He does this by setting up a fake audition for actresses with the help of his film producer friend.  At this point the film is comedic, with a lovely genre montage of wacky actresses.  Once our widower finds his woman, hijinks ensue.

The hijinks, however, are some of the most psychological and physically upsetting things far too many people will ever see on screen.  One of the early moments that lets you know something is amiss involves a seen featuring the chosen woman and a background object in her apartment.  It is truly chilling, and is a scene you won't forget.

What is love/Oh baby, don't hurt me
As a horror film, Audition fits the bill perfectly.  As a romance, there are no films that are as symbolically correct as this one.  Romances start out light and fun and end up with piano wire and needles.  As our wonderful object of desire, Asami, says, "Words create lies. Pain can be trusted."  If there's a better phrase to sum up courtship and relationships, I am not privy to it.

Asami may be the most perfect film female, too, or at least the most fully realized one.  Again, this is purely symbolic, but her character is one of camouflage, confusion, innocence, sexuality, deceit and pain all in one.  You don't get that with Kate Hudson or Meg Ryan.  All the romance movies I've seen (I've self-limited on that) all have the standard one-dimensional cookie-cutter characters often played by one-dimensional cookie-cutter actors.  When you make a movie with characters like that, you get movies that are surface deep.  Miike's film can be easily dismissed by anyone not thinking about it too deeply (audiences have walked out in record numbers), and you can get very angry at him for deceiving you with the first part of the film, but you can't say he isn't representing (again, symbolically) relationships, which are  often based on small deceits.

There is a lot more in this film that fits the symbolism of relationships (the history of abuse, the presence of dreams, the eating of vomit, etc.), but to understand its full power you actually have to dig your heels in and sit through it.  It will enrage some, and if your ideal romance stars Hugh Grant you will most likely have nightmares once this is over (if you can find it in yourself to take it all in).  By the time it's over, though, and once the initial shock has left your system (part of this movie will stay with you forever), you'll understand that as far as romantic films go ... this one is the most honest.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Horrible Bosses and the Forgotten Art of Murder

When I first read the premise and cast list for Horrible Bosses I thought it might be something I would want to see.  I liked most of the cast, except for the guy from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (that character bothers me -- low rent Bobcat Goldthwait) and the one from Saturday Night Live.  I'm also big on the idea of getting rid of the dead weight in your life.  Then I started to see the trailers.

What could've been a very dark comedy (I have no expectations of someone ever doing a serious drama about the justified killing of one's employer) instead looked like more inane slapstick.  The subject matter is serious.  Murder is murder, after all.  If one is to do a comedy about it, I would want to see the issue seriously explored in a darkly humorous way.  Workplace violence is not exactly rare, and the amount of people who harbor such thoughts is probably startling high.  To reduce such an important and life-altering subject down to a knee-slapper is fine for some people, but I want serious grit.  A film like that could still be funny ... in an uncomfortable way.

I decided to avoid the film, with the idea that I could possibly devote some time to it on DVD, but probably not.  A friend told me something, however, that he thought would not only totally change my mind, but blow it.

Jennifer Aniston plays a sexually harassing boss who says naughty things!

Seriously.  This was being used to sell the film to me ... and audiences, as this popped up in almost everything I read about the film.  She sexually harasses Bobcat Goldthwait-lite and says the kind of dirty things you fantasize her saying to you.  When I wasn't buying this selling point, my friend continued on, going into great detail on her exploits.

I finally had to remind him that Aniston wasn't her character on Friends and she was an actor who was playing a role.  That only seemed to strengthen his argument.  "I know!  She's never played a role like this.  It's awesome.  She isn't that good girl anymore."  I replied, "She also isn't a 'bad girl.'  She's an actor playing a role.  An actor playing a role isn't news, and it happens in every movie."  He didn't get it, though.  He just kept pushing it, so I changed tactics.  I decided that since logic wasn't working, I'd try being very serious.

"How funny would this be if the genders were reversed and it was a male boss doing this?  I don't think it would be that much of a comedy then."  Instead of pondering that, he must have thought I misunderstood him.  "No, she's the boss!  She's doing the harassing.  It's not the other way around.  That's why it's funny."

At this point I never wanted to see the movie if this was the type of audience it was attracting.  My friend, bless his shriveled, little heart, gets really jazzed about movies he loves ... and he loves a lot of what I would consider to be crap.  He gets so excited that he can't seem to think critically of them.

So he continued, extolling the non-existent virtues of an Aniston gone bad.  Telling me every little detail (which I blocked out) in such detail (and probably embellishment) that I seriously started to think he was masturbating in the theatre, or at the very least in the privacy of his own home, playing the scenes over and over in his head.

I needed to end his phone call, though.  I had a book to read.  And hearing about Aniston, who is not a great actor to begin with, and her dirty deeds done in character was giving me a headache.  I came up with the perfect way to end it, and ruin his fantasies the same way he destroyed my brain cells.

"So what did her employee do to her?" I asked.  "Did he give in and have anal sex with her while cutting her head off with a hacksaw and screaming, 'Is this how you like it, bitch!'?  Did he orgasm as she bled out on by the dental chair?"

Silence.  Then, "What the hell is wrong with you, man?  This isn't one of your sick French films.  We don't make movies like that in America."

No, but we should, and if it starred Aniston, I'd watch it.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Secret Video (a.k.a. The Blood-Draining Satanists)

If you grew up in the Poconos in the late '80s there was only one thing that brought fear into your average family's home.  It wasn't black people from New York moving in next door.  It wasn't skinheads (that came later).  It wasn't even the Tax Man.  It was long-haired Satanists who were carving up cats and kids in rituals deep in the woods under a full moon and under the spell of LSD or some other drug.  I know.  I was one of them.

Well, not really.

I was thought of as one of them.  I had long hair, listened to heavy metal and punk music, and had a tendency to really fuck with people.  About the only thing that's changed is the hair.  Anyway, back in those days, if you lived in the Poconos and had long hair and listened to -- gasp -- Iron Maiden, you obviously worshipped the Devil.  Or at least that was people's perceptions.  Since I like screwing around with people's fears and misconceptions, I often had a field day with this sort of thing, and when asked to partake in a project for the school I graduated from, I could not refuse.

The idea was simple.  A friend of mine who was still in school had to do an interview with someone on video.  He couldn't think of anyone to do it with, as all the good war vets and cops were already snatched up.  So he wanted to know if I would do something.  Being a prankster, I immediately agreed, as long as I could play one of those agents of Satan.  And so the die was cast ...

As we plotted this out, we realized I would be making up all kinds of crazy shit that could conceivably cause a police investigation.  I was no stranger to these investigations, but I tried to keep away from them as much as possible.  If you think the Eureka, CA police are trigger happy, you should travel back in time to meet the Poconos good ol' boys who passed themselves off as men of the "law."  Hey, what cop doesn't pistol whip his wife with his service revolver?

Since this video was going to be "damning," we enlisted the help of a guy who was working with the media at the local college.  He set up the lighting so I would be in shadows at all times (as long as I didn't get out of my chair), and if I recall correctly, we ended up disguising my voice.

For props I had some knives and a container full of fake blood that I made special for the occasion.  Then the interview began.  I don't remember all of what I said, but I do remember holding up the container and stating that it was the "blood of my victims" and that I kept it in the refrigerator.  And then going off the agreed up course of discussion, I talked about having a basement full of automatic weapons that would enable me to start a small war in the tourist haven of Northeast Pennsylvania.  Who would believe that shit, right?  Crazy.

The day comes for my friend to show his video in class.  I wasn't there, or I would've been laughing.  Apparently it was greeted with utter silence.  People were freaked out.  (If you don't know me very well, I can actually play a psychopathic character pretty well, and I'm fairly convincing.)  The video ended and the teacher went right to the VCR and popped it out.  My friend went to get it and was told by the teacher that he had to take it to administration right away because he was sure the police would want to see it.  He then wanted my friend to reveal the interviewee.  He refused to do it.

Nothing ever happened to me due to the video.  I don't know if the police investigated my friend, as we sort of lost contact with each other soon after that.  I like to think that somewhere in the basement of Pocono Mt. Senior High the video is in some abandoned desk drawer, the decision being made not to go to the police.  Someday someone will find it and hunt down a VCR.  My guess is it will be met with the same type of silence that was in that classroom that day.

When you think about the power of film and moving images, you often think of how it can be used to either lift the spirit or spread propaganda.  (Often one in the same.)  You don't often think of how it can be used just to screw with people and get a reaction that the participants may not even be around to see.  That was the entire reason I did the videotaped interview.  Manipulation of reality.  For those students in that room on that day, their world kind of went a little batshit.  There was some murderous Satanist wandering their neighborhood, stockpiling AK47s and keeping blood in his fridge next to the Coke and hot dogs.  They didn't feel safe.  They were scared.  And it was all a manipulation (and probably not even that clever) that played with all the fears going on in the community at the time.  (To give one an idea of how bad it was, I started dating a girl and her mom got an anonymous call from some woman stating that I got the girl into devil worshipping and we were seen killing a cat in a Satanic circle of some sort.  Luckily my girlfriend's mother was not an idiot and dismissed the caller as irrational and sensationalist.)  It was easy to do, and it was that easy because most people don't think about what they are watching.  They just absorb it.  It becomes real.  It becomes reality.  It doesn't matter how accurate the images are, or even how plausible.  They are reality.

The teacher helped sell it, too.  Any student thinking that maybe the video was a hoax, had to be given a second thought once they saw the teacher react so decisively.  The one person who should've been level-headed about the entire incident overreacted, and that only made it seem more real.

Never underestimate the power of film, and never forget to question what you are viewing ... even if it's pure entertainment ... or a fake Satanist with a fridge full of blood.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: Clicking on a link may earn me a Satanic commission ... paid in blood (or money).

Netflix and the Inevitable

I'll admit it.  I'm a Netflix user.  Multiple price hikes and a selection that is less-than-stellar (but still better than the video stores in Eureka, CA now that VX is gone) have not kept me away.  I get the DVDs in the mail, and I enjoy movies like Pervert via streaming.  Well, enjoy may be too kind, but you get the idea.

Netflix, as most people know, recently announced another price hike.  The second in eight months.  People were upset.  I was upset.  I'm too much of a movie junkie to let my service lapse, however, and that is the remarkable thing about this.  Netflix not only knew this would cause a backlash (any company that is thinking of the long term will conduct studies before it does something like this) and didn't care, it publicized the fact that it knew and didn't care.  Most companies will do no such thing for fear of angering its customers beyond a price hike.  Netflix, it seems, is pretty confident in its abilities as company to survive such a thing ... and it's correct in thinking that way.

There are problems with Netflix.  Over time it has gone more of the route of television shows and mainstream hits, whereas in the past you could find a lot of independent movies on there, too.  They still exist, but the stable is getting smaller.  What Netflix does right, however, is be all things to everyone.  It's not tied down by regional variations that plague video rental brick and mortar stores.  That all-encompassing scope works to its benefit, while it does in your standard place of business.

Video rental stores and interesting beasts.  They have to know the people they serve, and those people are usually the folks in the neighborhood.  In that population there are really two sorts of viewers.  There are those who look at movies as pure entertainment, and those who appreciate it as an art form.

The viewer who looks at movies as pure entertainment will primarily stick to new releases and old favorites that were popular three months ago.  This audience will keep a video store business in business as it is huge.  They can be counted on to rent whatever is new as soon as it is out.  This crowd is the store's bread and butter.  They usually live close to the store, too.

The group that looks at movies as art will rent popular and new releases, but it is also after stuff off the beaten path. The film with subtitles?  These folks rent it.  The one from 1973?  Same thing.  If a store has a good selection of these artistic/independent/foreign films, this audience will be customers for life, and they will travel to the store, passing several other video stores along the way.

The group that looks at movies as pure entertainment are fickle.  If a new store pops up that is closer, they will go to it.  If another store offers great deals, they will go there.  It may be a video store's largest audience, but it is also the group most easily swayed.  The video store, therefore, has to find some sort of balance.  If it caters to the artistic crowd, it risks not being able to pay its bills.  If it caters to the entertainment group, it risks losing them to something better.  Most video stores will err on the side of caution and cater to the entertainment group as that is far more easily predictable.  A store knows it needs thirty copies of Transformers on hand the day it comes out.  It doesn't even know if it needs one copy of House of the Devil.

Netflix erased that problem.  It became, essentially, all things to everyone, and streaming only sweetened the deal.  As the mainstream embraced the company, the company had to start dealing with more mainstream hits.  It had to start catering more to that audience.  It hasn't forgotten the viewer who demands more from a film (not yet, at least), but that is no longer its primary concern.  As long as it still has enough to draw that audience in, which it does, it has them ... myself included.

Netflix took a chance, and it will lose some customers.  It will retain more than it loses, though, and the company was correct in taking that gamble.  I'm sure it knows another price hike soon will cause it to have a serious disruption and open the door for something better, and I don't think that's a risk Netflix is willing to take.  It hasn't established itself as a thoroughly dominant force quite yet ... but it's getting there.  One crappy Hollywood film at a time.

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