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Film Commentary, Film Reviews

"You make me laugh, but it's not funny" A NON-REVIEW // BEGINNERS

November 28, 2011

Written & Directed by Mike Mills / Release: June 3, 2011 / R, 105 min

When Richard Sánchez, a.k.a. the Creator of this space, asked me offered me the chance to drop my artsy-ricardsy critiques and impressions in a corner of his site – more exactly, where any dog would kindly pee — I said, “Ok. But no smartass reviews.”

I’ve known Richard for at least five years, quite indirectly, just a computerized and highly caffeinated version – or else where does he get all his acid humor? I met him through another Verbose Alchemist who also marks his territory in the corners of this page, the Muñoz Melancholia – much more apocalyptic than Lars Von Trier’s (do call on Mario whenever you find yourself too annoyingly cheerful).

Continue Reading…

Anime, Film Commentary

Akira adaptation moving forward with a possible re-write

March 2, 2011

Russ Fischer of /Film:

We know that Warner Bros. is aggressively moving forward on a live-action adaptation of Katsuhiro Otomo‘s classic manga Akira. Albert Hughes will direct the film from a script that has passed through the hands of several screenwriters, most recently landing on the desk of Harry Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves. He’ll rewrite and then casting can get underway in earnest. (There have been many casting rumblings already, and we don’t know if this rewrite is motivated by failed attempts to land big names, as has been suggested.)

Meanwhile, a few pages from an earlier draft have been sent out to casting agencies, and have also ended up on the web. Hardcore Akira fans will liekyl find the contents to be a mixed bag.

io9 got the pages, and later verified that, yes, they are from an early Akira draft, but that “the version of the script that Kloves is rewriting is reportedly a lot different, although it’s possible that some of these ideas still remain.”

So think positive. There is some bad stuff here, but also the very good possibility that it has all hit the wastebin; with luck these pages went out to casting agencies just to get across the idea of the world and the characters.

This is a nightmare.

Film Commentary

Cropsey Urban Legend: Truth is Grislier than Fiction

January 14, 2011
Cropsey urban legend

Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio’s horror documentary on the Cropsey urban legend, Cropsey, proves it.

The Shadow of Man and the Ink in His Heart

Personal belief (spoilers follow): The alleged underground Staten Island Satanic cult that lived underneath the abandoned Willowbrook complex in Staten Island was real.  They abducted mentally impaired children (children serial killer Andre Rand considered “imperfect” and therefore “impure”) for sacrificial ritual.  Pay close attention to the brief stints where the documentary reflects on Rand’s preoccupation with deformity and his mother’s employment at a mental institution that fiercely resembles Willowbrook–down to its very architecture.  When evidence of Satanic practices began to arise, unknown forces were at play to conceal the truth — a gigantic media-induced red herring I suspect Satanic cults have excelled in for centuries.  Notice the hints of such practices in these abandoned structures filmed in the documentary. Rand, the convicted scapegoat behind the Cropsey urban legend serves a life sentence at Rikers Island as a consequence of the found remains of Jennifer Schweiger, a 13-year old with Down Syndrome who mysteriously disappeared in 1987, and of eye witness testimony from residents of Staten Island. He was an undeniable pawn in the scandal.  He was an extremely disturbed and peculiar-looking man that worked maintenance at the now-condemned Willowbrook State School (something right out of Brad Anderson’s Session 9), who either witnessed or participated in the sexual atrocities that occurred there between the staff and patients.

The Cropsey Urban Legend: Your Worst Nightmares Incarnate

The footage shown of the institution through Geraldo Rivera’s 1972 undercover exposé, Willowbrook: The Last Disgrace, is straight out of a nightmare.  Mentally destroyed catamites, some deformed, rocking back and forth in indescribable agony, moaning, screaming, living in their own filth and excrement (an institution designed to house a maximum of 4,000 patients, housed 6,000 by the time Rivera showed).  When Rand was finally arrested, he was, literally, trapped inside the pitch blackness of his mind, in a fugue state–escorted to a cop car in handcuffs, he drooled rather profusely from the mouth, with eyes as subtracted of human consciousness as that of a gargoyle.  Rand would not come out of this fugue state for another three days.  Don’t take my word(s) for it, of course.  Go see it for yourself.  Looks like it made Roger Ebert’s best documentaries of 2010 list.

child serial killer andre rand

While the subject matter of this film is obviously not for the unabashedly faint of heart, I must insist on the squeamish to make a rare exception.  The point inherent to the film’s taut 80 minutes of running time, aside from junctures where the phenomenon of the urban myth is clearly explored, is distinctly more primordial than intellectual.  It is, quite simply put, a community’s fight against pure evil.  It is a microcosm of what happens on a global scale, everyday.  This is something that agnostics, Christians, atheists, and individuals of various faiths around the world ought to actively recognize as the barest good: the preservation of innocence in the face of malevolent forces we cannot begin to understand.  And what ambassador better embodies the boundless idea and existence of pure innocence than a child?

Check out the Cropsey trailer below:

Film Commentary

Everybody's Secret Reason to See Black Swan?

January 7, 2011

To watch a steamy, controversial lesbian sex scene, of course.

At least according to Natalie Portman in an interview with Entertainment Weekly (via Paste Magazine):

“Everyone was so worried about who was going to want to see this movie. I remember them being like, ‘How do you get guys to a ballet movie? How do you get girls to a thriller?’ And the answer is a lesbian scene.

Everyone wants to see that.”

Now I’m beginning to wonder if the sultry scene in question betwixt said actress and co-star Mila Kunis was Portman’s idea, not Aronofsky’s — who, despite being a bloody genius, is a bit of a voyeur (exhibit A being Requiem for a Dream, exhibit B being Black Swan).  Aren’t some of the greats pervs anyway?  See Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut for more sexually explicit details, please.

Still, considering that 70 percent of the film’s viewership on opening weekend were males, perhaps Portman’s assertion is a bit imbalanced.  In lieu of the male id, as unnecessary as this scene may have allegedly been to some of the more conservative-minded, a majority of dudes (versus gals) watched a movie about an obsessive ballet dancer (grossing $8.9M on opening weekend) when they could have watched something more comprised of blockbuster CGI effects and bouncy tits.  That says a lot about the male psyche’s fixation on lesbianic hyper-delusions and largely unrealistic femme-to-femme fantasies, which are perpetually stoked by, no doubt, the hardcore-cum-softcore porn industries.

Pornography aside, however, the subject of sexuality as depicted in film is a vast and gray tundra with no clear moral delineation.  It’s mostly a case-by-case basis, and films like Black Swan tend to prove that.

Still, I’d venture to say the best reason to get “guys” and “girls” to come (pun intended) and see a psychosexual thriller that involves ballet as its central motif is good writing and surgically brilliant filmmaking — which is what truly makes this motion picture worth your time, folks.  You can “bet your bottom dollar” on it.

For the rest of us daydreaming, KY-lubed perverts streaking wildly through the streets of our fair district (myself included), a good “old-fashioned” steamy lesbian scene (I’m thinking of you, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive) is just icing on the cake.

Somebody queue Sébastien Tellier’s Sexuality on their iPhone, please.  Suddenly, I’m in the mood for it.

Film Commentary

Arnold Schwartzenegger Congratulates Mike Maguire for His "Snappy Tweet"

January 6, 2011

Mr. Maguire is a “follower” of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s official twitter account (like many others).

Unexpectedly, Arnold recently posted a tweet announcing a contest daring his followers to tweet the best New Year’s resolution possible on his behalf.  The best resolution was set to afford the champion tweeter an autographed jacket.

Mike J. Maguire, published palindromist and co-writer for the upcoming independent film by writer and director Rohit Rao, Ultrasonic, won first place for the following tweet:

“Train like Pumping Iron, party like it’s Judgement Day and avoid Raw Deals!”
Mr. Rao, an occasional music collaborator of mine, reported that the “assistant that emailed Mike said ‘the boss loved your tweet, called it snappy’.”  Here’s to hoping that this represents a soothsayer’s stroke of good luck for Rao and Maguire’s film production.  More information on Ultrasonic — a psychological thriller of conspiratorial proportions — can be found here on Facebook.  Check it out!
Film Commentary

Armond White: Turns out he's not only a prick … but a trained one.

January 4, 2011

Via /Film, David Chen’s podcast interview with The Prick himself (7/20/10), where White states:

I do think it is fair to say that Roger Ebert destroyed film criticism. Because of the wide and far reach of television, he became an example of what a film critic does for too many people. And what he did simply was not criticism. It was simply blather. And it was a kind of purposefully dishonest enthusiasm for product, not real criticism at all…I think he does NOT have the training. I think he simply had the position. I think he does NOT have the training. I’VE got the training. And frankly, I don’t care how that sounds, but the fact is, I’ve got the training. I’m a pedigreed film critic. I’ve studied it. I know it. And I know many other people who’ve studied it as well, studied it seriously. Ebert just simply happened to have the job. And he’s had the job for a long time. He does not have the foundation. He simply got the job. And if you’ve ever seen any of his shows, and ever watched his shows on at least a two-week basis, then you surely saw how he would review, let’s say, eight movies a week and every week liked probably six of them. And that is just simply inherently dishonest. That’s what’s called being a shill. And it’s a tragic thing that that became the example of what a film critic does for too many people. Often he wasn’t practicing criticism at all. Often he would point out gaffes or mistakes in continuity. That’s not criticism. That’s really a pea-brained kind of fan gibberish.

It’s official, my dear readers.  Mr. White has beaten the currently accepted laws of elementary physics.  In the above excerpted quote, he was able to stroke his own cock and give himself a juicy, eye-gouging orgasm … by words alone.

Tibetan monks are in awe.

It’s also fascinating (kind of like roadkill is).  Roger Ebert, an untrained ignoramus-cum-Neanderthal (at least by the Haughty Prick’s standards), became (and still becomes) a more effective writer, thinker and critic than The Prick himself has ever been and ever will be.  Kindergarten-caliber jealousy, plain and simple.  I suppose this is what happens when vainglorious, windbag writers and artists shamelessly assume to create a difference between “high criticism” and “low criticism,” and thus, “highbrow art” versus “lowbrow art.”  Such a distinction has (thankfully) died with 21st Century, particularly through Mr. GrumpyPants’ bane of multimedia existence: The Internet (cue timpani drums).

Will we simian, plebian, lowly Internet-era thirtysomethings miss the bastard when he’s finally croaked his last negative word?

Maybe his momma will.


Chen is a lot more forgiving and diplomatic, of course, interestingly in lieu of White’s accusation of /Film’s incompetence as film analysts.  Albeit, I do applaud Chen for the double-edged conclusion of his post:

After last night, I don’t believe that Armond White is a professional troll; just a critic who (perhaps too) vehemently believes in the integrity of his art and longs for the golden era when the mainstream still cared what film critics thought. As for his outlying opinions on films, I don’t begrudge him them any longer, since he really appears to stand by what he writes. That being said, a man who finds Michael Bay more skillful than Christopher Nolan is not someone whose views I want to align myself with, no matter how pedigreed, trained, or well-versed in the art he may be.

Well said, Mr. Chen.  Well said.

Film Commentary

The (Alleged) Misogyny Inside Winterbottom

December 2, 2010

Directed by:  Michael Winterbottom / Release: Jun 18, 2010 / IFC Films / R, 1 hr. 48 min

Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me is currently playing on Showtime, and as things go, I happened to give it a shot. The movie is based on a 50’s era book, written as a memoir of a killer living in a southern Texas town. It stars Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson, Ned Beatty, Elias Koteas, Tom Bower, and so on.

I’m not recommending or berating the film in one way or another. I also may spoil several plot details, so be prepared if you are reading on.

There was a bit of controversy when the film was released, particularly in regards to the violent acts depicted against women.  Some were calling Winterbottom a misogynist, an accusation that he answered. (He said, “No, I’m not.”)

Not that the accusations would be totally ungrounded, if this film were used as sole evidence to the claim. The scene where Joyce (Jessica Alba) is beaten to a pulp lingers on and on. Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) continues to wail on her face with a methodical, but brutal display of force. There was a particular part of that scene where he hits her so hard she is sent flying to the wall. My reaction, apparently, isn’t isolated.

Later in the movie, his fiancé (Kate Hudson) shows up to his home, as she has been led to believe by Lou that the two will go away for a couple days to elope. When she arrives, he spits in her face, punches her in the gut, kicks her a few times, pulls her dress over her face, and watches as she urinates on his floor.

It is quite disturbing.

Now, as I finished watching the film, I couldn’t really decide if I liked it or not. There  were many reasons why I should or could like it. Casey’s performance was very appealing. Aside from his squeaky voice (or maybe because of it), he seemed to be oscillating like a pendulum from an extremely brutal to completely fragile figure. He exemplified the delusion of a sociopath in relation to everything around him. The rest of the cast was also very capable.

The camera work was phenomenal, and the cinematography was very well executed. The music was well used, there were good parts in the dialogue, and the pacing seemed good enough to keep me on edge.

At the same time, I had no intention of keeping this film among any of my favorite or most liked (or even just liked) films of the past few years.

Was it because of the violence? Was it because of the somewhat ambiguous story elements? (To this end, the story uses some flashbacks scenes that are never fully explained, such as an incident when Lou as a boy was apparently raping a child, or other scenes where Kate Hudson’s character was shown as somewhat of a sadomasochist sex addict herself.)

There was something to be said of the story. Somehow, somewhere, I was drawn in. Through whatever suspension of disbelief that was created, I reacted with dread and awe at the degeneration of the central character. It affected me.

If the film had not succeeded, at some element, then the violence might have seemed almost comical or completely ineffectual. But the contextualization of these murders made them more sinister. More surprising.

It’s strange that movies like those in the Saw franchise, and others of similar content, seem to do so well at the box office. People are willing to see disgusting depictions of violence, but in a certain context. However, this film provides something that may not be as gruesome (as far as guts and gore are concerned), but that—at least to me—is far more menacing and disturbing.

What makes the film even more quixotic is that, in the final scenes, Lou makes a reference to the characters that show up to his house. There is the DA (Simon Baker) who has been on his tail the entire movie, Conway (Ned Beatty), the villainous businessman, Joyce, who was previously thought dead, another deputy (Matthew Maher) who had been previously introduced, and a previously unseen deputy.

Lou looks at them and names them each, including the new deputy and describes them each, calling Conway “the villain.” But when he gets to the new deputy, he says something like, “You, don’t even get to say anything. They didn’t give you any lines.” I don’t remember it word for word, but it seemed so out of place. It was self-referential and unnecessary.

That moment served to break any sort of suspension of disbelief that had been built up, and made everything that came before it seem like an exercise in evoking shock and awe, just for the hell of it.

Now, that is a very minor element to an otherwise very intriguing tale. But even aside from that, I still would have a very hard time trying to reconcile any sort of reaction to this movie other than the one I currently have. It is steeped in a sense of dread and a perturbed reaction to the grotesque.

In fact, according to Wally Hammond’s interview with Winterbottom in Timeout: London, the filmmaker (who was accused of being a misogynist) stated that the violence in this particular film needed to be shocking and horrific, as opposed to the oft-exploited breed of cinematic violence that is crafted to be enjoyable or “entertaining” (Saw, Hostel, Cabin Fever, etc).  In that sense, I do agree that violence in movies is usually used as a form of entertainment, and perhaps, that just shows how deranged we are, as far as the viewing public (at least in North America) is concerned.

Consider Winterbottom’s response to one of Hammond’s key interview questions on the subject of misogyny and violence in film:

Since Sundance and Berlin, your film has had a rough ride. You’ve been accused of irresponsibility, nihilism and misogyny. Do you feel you are guilty of any of those things?

[MW]:  No! At Sundance, a woman stood up and said, “This is disgusting and the festival is disgusting for showing this film.” I think the gist of what she was saying was that the violence was shocking and horrible and so the film was immoral.

I completely disagree with that. What would be immoral would be to show violence that wasn’t shocking, violence that seemed enjoyable or fun or attractive or simple or easy.

I think the area of misogyny is a difficult one. In the book, the victims are Joyce [Lou Ford’s prostitute girlfriend played by Alba] and Amy [his long-term lover played by Kate Hudson].  So, for me, that was a given. This is the material – and we were going to make it.

Now, like I said before, this is not a film that I will probably see again, or list as one of my most favorite or important films of the past couple years. But it certainly won’t escape my mind, whether I like it or not.

Film Commentary

Why do bad horror movies get made?

November 5, 2010

Ti West (The Roost, Trigger Man, House of the Devil) in an interview with the A.V. Club:

TW: Anyone who complains about the state of horror, especially all the remakes, it’s your own fucking fault—you go see them. They don’t make the remakes because people are excited about them; they make them because they make a lot of money. Two original studio movies were Drag Me To Hell and Jennifer’s Body, and neither of them did very well. And then the Friday the 13th remake fucking destroyed the box office. So it’s the audience’s fault. That’s why that stuff is happening.

The solution?  Simple, stop paying to see formulaic remakes of Friday the 13th and start paying for unique studio releases like Drag Me to Hell and Jennifer’s Body.

I’ll go one further to opine that as true horror fans (that claim to nurture the genre), it’s our obligation. Our middle-class lives are boring enough.

Anime, Film Commentary

More fodder for why the live-action adaptation of Akira is going to suck ass

November 5, 2010

Peter Sciretta of /Film conjectures:

Another rumor which is making the tracking board rounds today is that Zac Efron has apparently been offered the lead role in ’ upcoming live-action adaptation of the popular anime/Katsuhiro Otomo‘s six-volume manga . I’m not able to confirm the offer, but one source tells me Efron is in talks, while another says that it is “far from a done deal.”

As effused heretofore in my previous harangue in July, this is a predictably aesthetic misfire, one of post-apocalyptic proportions. (Apparently) since July, the casting and writing talent rumors have gotten scarier and hairier.

Sure, call me an Akira purist, but anyone who’s at the least remotely affectionate of Katsuhiro Otomo‘s original cyberpunk serial manga (1980) and his subsequent anime film adaptation (1988) will know that all the wrong kinds of people are getting behind this pop-westernized (a.k.a., Neanderthaloid) live action production rather than the right ones.

Yet, the more sacrilegious this production rumor mill gets the more likely it will make a lot of money in America.

Yes, you know it will make a lot of money. Why? Because it’s us North Americans that give the studios behind popcorn smegma like Saw 3D $24.2M at the box office (since its wide release on October 29th); and Jackass 3-D $101.7M (since its wide release on October 15th).

Now, isn’t Zac Efron the tween heartthrob responsible for that mega-single, One Time? No wait, that was Justin Bieber.