Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Primer" comments by Andy

As I have said before, I fall asleep during movies. I fell asleep during "Primer," even though the movie is a very efficient 80 minutes. Bad choice. I only dozed off for a few minutes, but they were critical minutes.

I had no clue what happened. Today I ran the film again from that last place I remember understanding what was going on. Turns out I would have still been confused, even if I had stayed awake. I paid attention, I listened to the dialog well, and at the end, I still had to check wikipedia to understand what the hell happened.

Thank goodness for wikipedia. But it begs the question, can a film be great if I have to check wikipedia afterword to understand it?

The answer is no, at least in my opinion, but "Primer" sure came close. Yes, I was very confused at the end, but wow it was an intense movie. My wife said she was totally lost, but her heart was pounding just the same.

The acting was superb, and the only reason I didn't like the low production values was that I couldn't quite hear the complex dialogue, and you really really really need to hear the dialogue. So what I would change, and what would make it much less confusing, is to add a scene or voiceover that gives a little bit of context and information about how the time traveling began to spin out of control. It wouldn't need to be much.

"Primer" is supposed to be the most accurate filmic portrayal of time travel, and from the movies I've seen, I totally agree. Time travel is scary, messy, and ultimately results in a dynamic (and thus an effective absence of) history and future. I don't think we humans are capable of accurately understanding, describing, or portraying what time travel actually is, but I think "Primer" has gotten the closest to it.

As a separate issue, I really liked the complex dialogue (but I wish the audio was better). I read that the director intentionally left it complex rather than dumbing it down for us. Yes, much of it went over my head, but I think the complex dialogue was nicely juxtaposed with a very complicated plot and concept.

Good film. I feel smarter for having watch "Primer."

comments by Andy

Thursday, November 26, 2009

"Five Obstructions" comments by Andy

Um....I thought I was becoming more mature in my movie tastes. I considered myself to be growing and learning, much the result of the movies we've been watching for this blog. I guess I'm not as far along as I thought. I didn't really get why we needed "Five Obstructions."

I get that it was a short film that Jorgen Leith did many years ago and that Lars von Trier obviously loves. I'm just not arty enough to understand why Jorgen needed to do it again with different constraints.

I think that's what I'm struggling with in my movie-going maturity - can I appreciate art films with no plot???? I don't know. This had interesting parts, I guess, but on the whole I didn't enjoy it, nor did I appreciate it's artines. It's beyond the line for me. I needed to watch a good big-budget mainstream movie just to get back to center.

But I'm still interested in a challenge, and I'm in no means swearing off odd films...

thoughts by Andy

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"The Five Obstructions"

by Jason Pyles

In keeping with the spirit of this unusual documentary, I’ll place an obstruction on my review and limit myself to 500 words or fewer to hone my craft.

For those who are unfamiliar and therefore unprepared, “The Five Obstructions” documents a contest between two gifted filmmakers, Lars von Trier, and his mentor, Jorgen Leth.

The latter made a 13-minute, experimental film in 1967 called “The Perfect Human.” Von Trier apparently has always loved Leth’s film and has watched it numerous times. But von Trier wanted to challenge Leth to remake five variations of his movie, with each new attempt having some sort of handicapping stipulation(s) inhibiting the filmmaker. In fact, the obstructions often are multi-faceted.

I won’t list the obstructions here, because learning of the new requirements is part of the fun. I will say that many of them are technical with regard to filmmaking itself, but not all. Intriguingly, von Trier tries to delve uncomfortably deep into his mentor’s psyche, seemingly wanting to punish him but “for his own good.” (Why is this is not surprising coming from the maker of “Dogville,” “Dancer in the Dark” and “Antichrist”?)

It is a wonder that Leth agreed to entertain von Trier’s bizarre challenge, which takes a couple of years to play out, and involves location-scouting, casting, etc. But what is most endearing about “The Five Obstructions” is Leth’s sincere determination not only to hurdle over each obstruction, but also to make a film that excels in spite of it. Watching the seasoned filmmaker work out these cinematic puzzles is what makes this film worth watching.

Still, “The Five Obstructions” is the kind of art film — much like “The Perfect Human” — that leaves moviegoers with a distaste for art films, in general. Indeed, I suspect that only those viewers who are filmmakers or film art scholars, or both, would truly enjoy this documentary. I’d wager that most people I know would shut it off because of its “weirdness.” As for objectionable content, this unrated film would probably be rated R (though the original 1967 version of “The Perfect Human” would be approximately PG).

A note for those who plan to watch this on DVD: I have three exercises for you that I think will enhance your enjoyment and appreciation of the film:

1.) Before watching the documentary, go to the DVD’s “Extras” and watch the original version of “The Perfect Human.” It is interspersed throughout the feature film, but I personally wish I had seen it first in order to gain my bearings.

2.) Watch the documentary next.

3.) Watch the U.S. trailer and observe how a trailer can be effectively cut together to make a film seem like it has widespread marketing appeal. The Danish trailer wasn’t nearly as appealing to my American sensibilities.

By the way, my favorite new versions are the results of Obstruction 1 and Obstruction 4.

Word count total: 497

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Kill Bill Vols. 1 & 2

by Jason Pyles

Quentin Tarantino’s two “Kill Bill” films have an undeniable video game quality. This is not uncommon in modern action films, but these two examples are special because each one has a different video game emphasis. In “Vol. 1,” Uma Thurman’s The Bride character slices and dices numerous victims — many of them nameless, faceless blanks. Gamers are accustomed to mowing down hundreds of place-holders, such as these.

“Vol. 2” — as well as the two films collectively — illustrates the way one must progressively climb the ladder of “bosses,” having prerequisite, episodic showdowns that must be won in order to face the biggest boss at a long-awaited finale. I love that.

Of course, I don’t think it was necessarily Tarantino’s objective to bring a Double Dragon-like video game to the screen. No, according to the Making of “Kill Bill” short film that accompanies the DVD with “Vol. 1,” while QT was filming “Pulp Fiction,” he and Thurman came up with the concept of this Bride character as a woman-scorned, revenge flick. In addition, as he is wont to do, QT also intended to draw upon his vast knowledge of the Kung Fu film genre to weave an amalgam of Hong Kong cinema, ‘70s grindhouse cinema, exploitation cinema, samurai films and the spaghetti western.

The more one knows about these various genres, the more one will appreciate what QT has done with his “Kill Bill” creation. I don’t claim to be an expert on any of these genres; however, I do know a thing or two about martial arts films, which enhanced my appreciation for “Vol. 2” specifically.

The concept of having a vendetta — especially one that could develop within a young person whose loved one(s) has been slain — is a prominent martial arts film theme. Spoilers ahead: Knowing that we were watching a Tarantino film, there was no doubt that Copperhead’s little girl was going to witness her demise. And following the genre, The Bride tells the kid to come find her when she’s older if she’s still sore about her mother’s death.

Another common martial arts theme is having foes who are specially trained with one, unconventional weapon, just as GoGo is with her chain mace.

Perhaps the most prevalent martial arts film theme is the student’s unconventional training by a superhumanly powerful master teacher. Accordingly, The Bride learns the mysteries of Kung Fu under the cruel tutelage of Pai Mei. Now, this sequence cashes in — thrice — on the screenwriter’s technique of set-up and pay-off, which is where information planted earlier in the film comes back around later. Also, I would note, there is something in The Bride’s education relevant to battling each of her three foes in “Vol. 2.”

The Bride’s training of being able to punch through wood from only three inches away addresses her escape from Bud’s seeming death sentence. (This sequence, by the way, is masterful: The way the screen ratio claustrophobically changes while she’s in the coffin, as well as the initial pitch blackness with incredibly haunting sound effects of shoveled dirt, constitutes the film’s most effective — and affecting — portion.) And naturally, the way The Bride plucked the eyeball (Elle Driver) and the superb execution of the five-point-palm exploding heart technique (Bill) were also set up during The Bride’s training. Because it was a set-up and pay-off scenario, I wasn’t disappointed with this seemingly anti-climactic, fatal blow: Again, and maybe this convention comes more from martial arts video games than films, but it is common for a martial artist to have one finishing technique, ie., Daniel Larusso’s Crane Kick in “The Karate Kid.” Finishing moves are a big deal when you’re a Kung Fu master.

Just a quick actors’ note: Michael Parks, who plays his usual character Earl “Pops” McGraw in “Vol. 1” and then Esteban in “Vol. 2,” is one of my favorite character actors. He was also in the exceptional introductory sequence of “From Dusk Till Dawn.” I wish that guy had also been squeezed into “No Country for Old Men.” Anyway, he’s a dynamic actor who’s worth mentioning. Also worth noting is Daryl Hannah’s passable performance: After seeing her execution of her role in “Wall Street” (1987), I seriously had my doubts about her acting abilities. (A quick check at the reveals that she won a Razzie Award for that role, as well as for two other performances.) In any case, I liked her in these films.

Though they inspire much discussion, the “Kill Bill” films are two of those rare motion pictures that are difficult to describe because they speak for themselves. I feel that way about “Mysterious Skin,” too. I realize that I’ve likely contributed very little above to the pages and pages of writing about the “Kill Bill” films. They combine to form so rich a work, that it’s a challenge to write commentary beyond scenes I admired.

I will agree with Andy’s post below that the second film is slower, but it also features better storytelling. (It probably doesn’t help that it’s about 44 minutes longer than the first film.) Nevertheless, I found it engaging upon my first viewing, which this was. That brings me to Andy’s point: This was Andy’s second viewing, and I could see where these films would not hold up us well with subsequent viewings. After we’ve already learned the tricks of the narrative, we’re left with video-game violence and lengthy dialogue, which is still intriguing, but not the way it is in, say, “Pulp Fiction” or “Reservoir Dogs.”

As for Tarantino’s purpose in slicing “Kill Bill” in two (and it looks like three, slated for 2014), I’m sure there are official answers for this, but my speculation would be that this is an example of a notably extravagant filmmaker who has indulged himself in the work of constructing an epic.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

"Kill Bill" Andy

For our movie this week we decided to review both "Kill Bill" movies. I've seen them before, and I remember them much more fondly than I feel now.

I fully admit that I fall asleep during movies. In fact, it is very rare for me to stay awake for an entire movie. I do better in action films, but even that's not a guarantee that I'll stay alert. I fell asleep during my first viewings of "Batman: Dark Knight" and "Inglorious Basterds" (both were late showings). I'm not proud of it, but movies help me unwind and fall asleep. I have trained myself to fall asleep during movies. I even do it friends houses. If I want to watch a movie, I need to take a nap before, and generally watch it during the morning. Anything after 6pm and I'm toast.

Why do I bring this up and what does it have to do with "Kill Bill?" Generally, when I watch a movie, I'm doing it just for entertainment. I don't have intelligent thoughts about many movies - I just watch them for fun. But when I watch a movie for the blog, I try very hard to stay alert. Staying awake doesn't help me write better or more intelligently, but I put forth the effort anyway.

I really thought I'd be able to stay awake for a full viewing of "Kill Bill." I've stayed awake for marathons before. I did all of "Lord of Rings" and even such films as "Lawrence of Arabia" in one session. Four plus hours is a lot for a movie, but I started at 7 and I had good violence to anticipate throughout the film. Right?

Wrong. Yes, I'd seen the movies before, but it's been a long time. I forgot just how terribly boring the second movie is. In preparation for writing, and to try and come up with some answers, I did some quick research. No, the film was not shot as two films, so Tarantino can't blame changes in production staff on the slow second film.

I honestly don't get it. He obviously understood what we wanted. We start out with a glorious battle between "Black Mamba" and "Copperhead." It was quick, but it was fantastic. And what was next: terrific story development about "Cottonmouth." Lucy Lu kicks butt, and so does her staff. She was fabulous playing a half-deranged mob boss when she cuts off the other boss's head and then calmly tells the other bosses that "her door is always open" to discuss their concerns, ideas, and needs.

Following that character development aside, we come to the end of the first film, and one of the best choreographed fight scenes in film. "Black Mamba" single handedly destroys "Cottonmouth's" entire organization. And Tarantino wisely broke up the scene into several distinct sections, leaving "Black Mamba" to kill each of "Cottonmouth's" major subordinates one by one. And then, just to be ridiculously awesome, "Black Mamba" takes on the entire gang - somewhere near 88 (hence the name, "Crazy 88"). And after all that build up, she finally takes on "Cottonmouth." Wonderful. As "Cottonmouth" fell to the ground, scalped from "Black Mamba's" priceless hand-made Hanzo Hattori samurai sword, I couldn't help but anticipate the second film.

In retrospect, I did remember the fight scenes in the first film, but not the second. I now know why. The second film's fights suck. There's no other way to describe them. She doesn't even get to kill or get even with "Sidewinder," even after he shoots her in the chest with rock salt and then buries her alive. No, some idiot writer thought it would be better if "California Mountain Snake" did him in with the bite of an actual black mamba. Stupid. And why is she called "California Mountain Snake?" The name is not catchy, and with so many other snakes with much more terrible reputations, why that one?

And the fight between "California Mountain Snake" and "Black Mamba" was terribly short. In fairness, I did like how it ended, with "California Mountain Snake" wandering blindly around a trashy trailer with a black mamba waiting to kill her, but why did the fight scene have to be so short? Aren't the villains supposed to be getting more difficult for "Black Mamba" to kill?

And then the finale. Or should I say anti-climactic ending? She finally gets to "Bill." They have a very long dialogue discussing why "Bill" did what he did, and why "Black Mamba" did what she did. I get it. I didn't mind the dialogue. But damn it if the fighting scene was so short I had to scan back because I missed it reaching down to get a little drink. They didn't even get out of their chairs before she had perfectly executed the five-finger-exploding-heart trick punch.

Terrible ending. And I fell asleep twice in the second film. Why? What would have possessed Tarantino to make such a boring second part of the film?

So here's my theory - Miramax broke up the film into two parts because they knew that if they release the film as a whole, it would do terrible at the box office. This way, tons of topeople would see the first film, love it (and it was deservedly great), and then see the second film. I'm shocked volume 2 did as well as it did in the theaters. Maybe the juxtaposition of both films in the same night brought out more boredom than seeing them several months apart. I don't know. What I do know is that I'm kind of bummed about how much I didn't care for Volume 2.

thoughts by Andy

Thursday, October 29, 2009

"The Son" comments by Andy

I've got to say, with all-due respect and deference to my distinguished colleague Jason, this was a great movie, and I wouldn't change anything about it. I will say that I approached the film with the huge benefit of having read Jason's review, and it certainly made it more tolerable than it would have been otherwise. It was nice to know ahead of time that the film would be slow and simple. I am proud to say it only took me two sessions to finish the film. You watch the film as though you were a fly on the wall, not listening to someone tell a story.

"The Son" is easily the most "real" film I've ever seen. My wife (Shawn) and I discussed this film in depth and I think we agree. There was nothing contrived about the film. Most films require complex dialogue, plot twists, and quick edits to keep us entertained and the story believable and tolerable. And frankly I'm glad that not every film is like "The Son" because films would be arduous to watch and not fun. But every once in a while, watching a "real" film is just what I need. "The Son" was such a movie.

Where I think Jason and I disagree is on the fundamental construction of the movie. Yes, you could tell the same story in about 30 minutes, but I think it is the length of the shots and the slow pace of the story that makes the film so believable. The story had a very realistic intensity that could not be sustained if the shots were not so long.

And, at the end, I appreciated the absolute simplicity of the story. I know we give spoiler alerts, but for the sake of not ruining anyone else's film viewing, I won't discuss the issue of the movie, but I loved it. It is true drama. It touched a cord with me like few movies have.

"The Son"'s beauty is in it's understatement and simplicity. I wouldn't change a thing.

comments by Andy

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Up Too Close and Personal

by Jason Pyles

In his review of “The Son,” esteemed film scholar and critic Stanley Kauffmann, of The New Republic, said “... both times (I saw ‘The Son’), I felt that I was in the presence of a work that is larger and more deeply roiling than we are usually prepared for in a film.” In another review, he described this film as “... magnificently simple and large ...”

Roger Ebert raved about “The Son,” calling it “a great film.” In fact, in his review he wrote: “... go see the film. Walk out of the house today, tonight, and see it, if you are open to simplicity, depth, maturity, silence, in a film that sounds in the echo chambers of the heart. ... If you find you cannot respond to it, that is the degree to which you have room to grow. ... I grew during this film. It taught me things about the cinema I did not know.”

The New York Times’ A.O. Scott said “The Son” has “devastating power.” He also wrote, “To call ‘The Son’ a masterpiece would be to insult its modesty. Like the homely useful boxes Olivier teaches his prodigals to build, it is sturdy, durable and, in its downcast, unobtrusive way, miraculous.”

The three critics quoted above are all greater than I. Also, I will be the first to confess that I have much to learn about the cinema, or as Ebert puts it, I have “room to grow.” Having said that, I think “The Son” is mostly irritating, slow and therefore boring, and a bit lean in its story. No, not all cinema should be entertaining or formulaic (“The Son” is neither), but its simplicity approaches a dullness comparable to my workplace's safety training videos.

Specifically, what drove me nuts is the way the camera piggy-backs over Olivier’s shoulder through most of the film. I’m fine with wobbly, hand-held camerawork, but it was the perpetual close-ups and medium shots that literally made me keep scooting back from the screen, so I could get some distance between the actor and me, in hopes of gaining some perspective.

I watched the entire film closely (I had no choice!) to see why the directors Dardenne chose to photograph their principal actor in this claustrophobic way. After all, films tell their stories with more than just the script: editing, cinematography, sound — and basically every other element usually contributes to making the narrative materialize before us, so I suspected they had a reason for this pervasively noticeable stylistic choice. The best I could come up with was the close camera (which witnesses Olivier’s troubled nature), symbolizes how his burdensome knowledge was a “monkey on his back.” After the scuffle in the woods when the unlikely pair load the wood together in the final scene, the camera finally backs off a little, as if to suggest that Olivier is now free from the information he was harboring.

The film is painfully slow. Some films’ slow pacing assists in conveying their narratives, as I mentioned above. “Cast Away” is a great example of this: It is slow — of necessity — to help give us a sense of Tom Hanks’ long passage of time on the deserted island. But “The Son” is not only needlessly slow, it doesn’t seem to care if we’re watching or not. Case in point: At one point we see Olivier begin to put on his back-support belt, but before we get the thrilling opportunity to watch him put it on, Olivier is partially out of the frame, off screen, so we just have to wait for him, without getting to at least see the belt sequence, which is better than watching nothing.

I admire the naturalistic performances. The cast members seem more like regular people in a documentary than actors in a screenplay. Also, I like how the Dardenne brothers wrote their story with credible developments and outcomes, rather than resorting to ramped-up drama like the material we’d expect to see in an artificial (albeit entertaining) Hollywood flick.

Yes, there is finally some degree of power within “The Son,” but it’s like cracking the shells of pistachios to get the nut — or sucking on rib bones to get a little meat: There’s eventually a good morsel, but it’s not really worth all the work to get to it. Put another way, “The Son” would have worked much better as a short film.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Diving Bell and the Butterfly," thoughts by Andy

Let me start off by saying that I do not particularly care for movies that glorify cheating, or movies whose main character is a cheater. That said, I especially don't like such movies when the cheater cheats on someone with whom I cannot somehow find fault. What I'm getting at is that I did not care much for our "hero" in this film. I'm far less impressed with Bauby than my distinguished colleague.

Yes, it is incredible that someone wrote such an apparently powerful autobiography after being totally paralyzed. That fact is not lost on me. Before grad school, I worked in a hospital as a nursing assistant. I have taken care of many patients with varying mobilities. I've seen people struggle through rehab. I've even seen people make incredible changes in their lives after suffering a tragic accident or trial. The idea is not lost on me that someone can advance beyond oneself even when physical limitations are acutely present. I know about a young girl who raised funds for cancer research when she herself was dying. I'm aware of a guy who thrice tried to kill himself, and in so doing lost his sight, hearing, and horribly disfigured his face, and now he write inspirational books and has a well followed lecture circuit. I personally know of many teenagers who have answered the call at home and raise younger siblings or get jobs after school to help out with family bills. I get it. He blinked out a book. It is incredible. For that single accomplishment, I am inspired and in awe.

Bauby's a jerk though. And for that reason, I have a hard time feeling so inspired by his story. I don't care how remarkable you are, when your wife (ex?) comes to visit you in the hospital, and she's the only family you've got that comes to visit, and she brings your children so they can continue a relationship with you, and you take a phone call from your girlfriend that your wife has to translate where you tell your girlfriend through your wife "I wait everyday to see you," you are a schmuck. And yes, I know the previous sentence ran-on and was almost intelligible. I don't care that I don't pen a great tome like Bauby, and it's unlikely that I'm going to ever write a book. But I've never done that, and I'm pretty sure that alone makes me a better person that Bauby. I've done some bad things in my life, and I am certainly not a perfect person, but come-on.

He did an incredible thing by writing that book (although what else was he going to do - let's give a ton of credit to his help). But that to me is all that should be celebrated in his life - at least as far as he is depicted in the movie. Beyond the novel, he was a jerk to his wife and even his girlfriend, and if the movie is accurate, a total pig.

comments by Andy

Monday, October 19, 2009

In the Blink of an Eye

by Jason Pyles

I am writing a book, which I note here only to assert that it’s an even more laborious endeavor than one might suspect. While writing a book is an appreciable feat, writing a book in the manner Jean-Dominique Bauby did is inconceivable.

“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” is a gem of a film about an unbelievable story: After suffering a stroke, a man is paralyzed and can only communicate through blinking his left eye — the means by which he painstakingly “writes” a book, letter by letter, with some long-suffering assistance.

This film already has been cited as a testament to the unconquerable nature of the human spirit. No doubt this story is a boon for inspirational speakers.

But Bauby’s achievement most effectively illustrates the power of incrementalism and what can be accomplished through self-discipline and determination — which is, to me, the real value behind “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” I’m increasingly convinced that with enough discipline and desire, one can pull off just about anything — even seemingly impossible tasks. Bauby’s literary victory seems to support this notion.

So the real question becomes, what do we — the spectators — do with such a film?

For instance, Michael Bay movies have two purposes: make money and entertain, in that order. A film like “Schindler’s List” (1993) may have more complex designs, such as enlightening, educating, etc., but what is the purpose and utility of “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”? Is it solely to inspire us — or are there loftier, grander goals? What good is an incredible story if it doesn’t inspire us to act?

Neither the film nor its makers are wholly responsible for our decision to engage ourselves with their creation: Indeed, movies can only change the lives of those who empower them to do so. If we choose not to learn or change after having watched such a saga, then we allow this true tale to be relegated to mere entertainment. And that’s fine, I suppose, but it’s our loss.

Relatively few are the films that possess the potency to influence us to truly change, and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” is one such example.

As for me, I’m using it as encouragement to finish my book. After all, if Bauby can write a book with his unlikely method, I can surely complete mine using conveniently conventional means.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"In Bruges with the Brothers Bloom" thoughts by Andy

Can someone tell me - are the Bloom Brothers, as the title suggests, given the last name of Bloom? If so, is Brody's character Bloom Bloom? If not, why is the movie called "The Brothers Bloom?" This is just one of the many things that bothered me about the movie. And I really tried to think it was masterful; as Jason wrote, I really liked Rian Johnson's movie "Brick."

"The Brothers Bloom" was a fun movie. I liked it just fine. I didn't think it was super intelligent though, as I did "Brick." The dialog was excellent, but the story was kind of stupid and unbelievable. There were a handful of really ridiculous assumptions that I was asked to make to believe the film that I just couldn't accept. First - if Penelope is so incredibly talented at so many different things, why does she keep crashing her Lamborghini into stuff? You'd think she could learn how to drive a stick if she can juggle chainsaws on a unicycle and flip-kick a skateboard. It seems her character development was flawed. I accept that she was eccentric, but was she an idiot-savant, stupid, or gifted and driven?

Next - if Boom Boom was such a great demo expert, how does she leave a brick of nitro in a backpack? And exactly how did Penelope talk herself out of trouble with the Po Po? Then, why did Stephen use the one-eyed Russian if there was such bad blood? And who gets shot in the side (a mortal wound I might add), and then leaps to his feet and pretends it was all part of a "con?"

I love crime capers, con men stories, and all sorts of thieving yarns, but I just saw too many plot problems with this movie. Come on Rian ---- these were fairly simple fixes too.

On to "In Bruges." I confess, my main motivation for watching this film a few months ago was to see Bruges before traveling there to see it for myself. It's an exceptionally well preserved medieval town in Belgium, and I can't believe I'd never heard of it before this movie came out.

The highlights of "In Bruges" would all have to be focused on the exceptionally funny and witty dialog of Ray. I am not a huge fan of Colin Farrell, and not for reasons that you'd think (my wife doesn't care for him either, so it's not that reason). I really just haven't felt inspired by any movies he's been in. I always assumed he got his roles based on his looks (he is plenty handsome), and his prominent movies are totally forgettable - "The Recruit," "Phonebooth," and "Swat." This movies was different. His character was incredibly funny, and his lines were intricut and his timing perfect. As much fun as he pokes at Bruges, I wonder if the city officials regretted allowing the project access to the city....

My complaint of the movie is simply this - can't we do some more killing already???? Don't give me an assassin movie where a total of four people die. I want to see some skill - necks slit open, .22 shots through pillows with people sleeping unawares next door, chloraformed guards and black ninja suits. Don't give me freaking scenes of Bruges... Where's the blood?

The assignment from the boss man (who can actually write worth a damn, unlike me), was more of a comparison/contrast of these two films.

Here goes - both crime capers had decent dialog, but "In Bruges" was much better. Both had plot problems, but for totally different reasons. "In Bruges" was far too simple, and slow, and "The Brothers Bloom" was too complicated and unrealistic. Somewhere in the middle would be better for both films.

comments by Andy

“In Bruges” and “The Brothers Bloom”

by Jason Pyles

“In Bruges” and “The Brothers Bloom” are both comedies about professional, criminal duos. And both films present a pensive, prominent theme of a youthful life not lived. As is typical with this film discussion site, spoilers follow for both films:

Colin Farrell’s Ray character in “In Bruges” accidentally kills a boy during his new line of work as a hitman, and the premature extinguishing of that little life haunts and harrows the killer’s thoughts. A life was senselessly robbed by his being a criminal.

Compare this with how Adrien Brody’s Bloom character in “The Brothers Bloom” complains that his personal identity and existence never were permitted because he was always playing some role in his brother’s schemes. Another life senselessly robbed by the choice to be a criminal.

Comedy is closely linked with tragedy, which seems counter-intuitive, I know, but it’s been that way at least since Shakespeare, probably earlier. Though both films are mostly light-hearted comedies, the sad theme described above amounts to fairly weighty emotional baggage. If you think about the murder of a child or the theft of a childhood for very long, you’ll quickly realize that these are terribly heavy anchors to risk installing on such comedic ships.

But because these risks were taken — and well executed — both films work extremely well as comedies, and are all the better for it. Both movies have enjoyed warm receptions, critically and in the mainstream viewership, but I’d still have to choose sides and say, of the two, “In Bruges” is the better film.

“In Bruges” is ferocious in its descent into increasingly intense violence, which culminates with a pay-off that’s remarkably amusing (despite its darkness), especially considering that it’s tied to the boy’s murder discussed above. What I’m referring to is when the savage but principled Ralph Fiennes character, Harry, admits earlier in the film that if he killed a child, he would immediately turn the gun on himself. Then, at the end of the movie, when he unintentionally kills a dwarf that he thinks was a child, his prior claim is proven with exactness. That’s kind of funny in the moment, yes? But isn’t it bizarre when we recall that this humorous event is actually built upon the tragic incident of a murdered boy? Amazing. The risk is great, and so is the reward.

A side note: I couldn’t help but suspect that the quirky, fast-paced dialogue from “In Bruges” is inspired by Tarantino’s writing.

Now then, I’ve heard many rave reviews of “The Brothers Bloom.” Though I liked it just fine, I don’t think it’s anything overly special. I felt the same about “Brick” (also written and directed by Rian Johnson), but my colleague, Andy, loves that movie. My chief criticism of “The Brothers Bloom” is a nitpicky one that I also have with many con-man and megalomaniac, serial killer movies: The insanely intricate, excessively extravagant plans that were somehow devised and put into action by the con-genius or lunatic always seem to unfold perfectly. I guess this bothers me because anyone who’s ever tried planning a wedding, for instance, knows that no matter how carefully you plan, something always goes awry.

And so, yes, though the cons in “The Brothers Bloom” are entertaining and seem to be brilliant, let’s just remember that they are the epitome of contrivance. And precisely because it’s a con-man movie, we know that there will be tons of twists and turns, especially with the final con. And thus it is.

Oh, and one more complaint: Adrien Brody is an exceptional actor (see “The Village”), but I like him least when he is brooding, as in this film or “King Kong” (2005).

Putting the pettiness aside, “The Brothers Bloom” is quite clever in its misdirection of our attention. It doesn’t cash in as much on the young-life-lost theme as does “In Bruges,” but I guess it doesn’t need to, because Bloom eventually escapes his brother’s life-stealing scripts and gets the girl, too. “In Bruges” resolves said theme by removing “the bad guy” (Fiennes) with it, and “The Brothers Bloom” brings closure to the life-lost theme by restoring the life in question.

Regarding "Southland Tales"

by Jason Pyles

Of the two writers actively contributing to this site, I must humbly defer to Andy for any substantial thoughts about “Southland Tales.” His apparent understanding and explanation of this film eclipse mine.

Nevertheless, I’ve endeavored to write something coherent, which is more than I can say for Richard Kelly, the writer-director of “Southland Tales.”

Begin Prelude:

Narrative cinema strikes an ever-present, ever-changing, three-way balance when it comes to a film being a so-called work of art, a business venture and escapist entertainment — all of which vary with each individual film project.

Typically a commercial film will be produced with heavy considerations toward its business investment, which is only enhanced more favorably, the more entertaining it is. (Word-of-mouth buzz works — just look at the current, blossoming success of “Paranormal Activity.”) Widespread appeal is always profitable, though the same cannot always be said of ambitious works of art.

I won’t attempt to define a “work of art” here, but for brevity’s sake, let’s just say it’s a creation valued by its creator and potentially by others. Some works of art require open-mindedness and in-depth consideration. These types are prized for their innovative, gadfly-coerced growth for the human mind.

Other works of art are simply the artist’s runaway flights of fancy, and are only considered valuable art for art’s sake. (We’ve all seen a pile of garbage glued together in a museum that someone has declared art. This reminds me of the way we must endure ignorant hate speech in order to preserve “freedom of speech.” Anyway, one man’s junk is another man’s art.)

End Prelude:

For “Southland Tales,” I believe Richard Kelly had some noteworthy ideas he wanted to convey to our post-9/11 society, but he obviously succumbed to the latter description above, thereby failing to challenge us with epiphany-yielding concepts or concise cinematic statements in order to indulge his own tangential shenanigans and definition of appealing entertainment.

In other words, a much simpler way to restate all of the above is this: Richard Kelly alienates — and therefore, loses — his audience, which cost him an intelligible, halfway decent film. I’m not saying every viewer will be completely lost — nor am I saying I was altogether at sea. To conclude this point, I must admit that I could probably be fairer by viewing the film a second time, but I just don’t know that I could make myself sit through it again. And to discredit myself further, in full disclosure, I never was a fan of political films, generally speaking — and as Andy notes below, this movie targets myriad political topics.

Yes, “Southland Tales” is colorful and visually stimulating. It even has moments of intriguing peculiarity, such as Justin Timberlake’s musical number or the talk-show hosted by porn stars (was that mocking “The View”?).

But I must disagree with Andy on one point, and that’s Dwayne Johnson’s performance. I just haven’t been convinced that he has much acting talent (though he has undeniable screen presence). Sure, I never held him too accountable for movies like “The Scorpion King” (2002), which is nearly unwatchable, but the best he’s done have been “The Rundown” (2003) and “Walking Tall” (2004).

No, I wouldn’t call “Southland Tales” a terrible film; it’s just an inaccessible one whose joys are limited.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Southland Tales - comments by Andy

Hmm....I really tried to like "Southland Tales." I really, really did. It had a terrific and deep cast, and a huge one at that. The acting was great - Dwayne Johnson did a great job at a neurotic scion of sorts. The film was also visually stunning. And it was long enough to get even a long and complicated story told (2:20 ish).

Can someone explain the plot? I think I understand the underlying issues and arcs - the world is in chaos after nuclear attacks on the US plunge the war into WWIII. The Patriot Act in the film mimics the real act but on steroids. Big Brother is alive and well in full Orwellian glory. And there's some sci-fi stuff too - apparently there's a new energy source that is poised to obviate any need for other types of energy, but it's a cancer on the earth's rotation (slowing it down).

Here's where it gets weird. The new energy source slows the earth's rotation and rips the time-space continuum. A couple of characters travel through the rip (for reasons I don't understand and are not adequately explained), but there's some new drug that causes the characters to forget whatever it is they are involved in, and why they are involved. Oh, and it's an election year, so all of the characters belonging to the underground neo-marxist movement are trying to disrupt the conservatives who are currently in power (and not willing to give up control any time soon),

And confusion ensues. I guess that if one character who has gone through the rip meets himself, the world is destroyed???? I couldn't quite figure it out. It wasn't instantaneous.

And I can't figure out who won, ultimately. The republicans killed most of the neo-marxists, and the rest were apparently blown up along with all the major republican players in the zeplin explosion. I don't quite get it. Fascinating, but confusing as hell.

I tried to get the back story to see if someone had the ability to explain it to me, but I didn't find it readily. What I did find were reviews similar in feeling to mine. Although some critics enjoyed the film, most did not. The film was a huge financial disaster too (generating a few hundred thousand but costing upwards of 17 million). I doubt it will have the cult following that "Donnie Darko" has.

I really did try to like the film though.

by Andy

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sometimes a Vamp's got to feed...

Wow. What a fantastic movie!!!! I watched it in Swedish with English subtitles, which didn't make my little brother too happy, but I liked hearing the acting. And it was superb.

I wasn't as upset about the cat scene as Jason was. I always root for the cats...and seeing several felines attacking the crap out of a new vamp was awesome. I enjoyed the movie for the story, not necessarily the effects. They obviously weren't trying to hard to make it a slasher flick as evidenced by the fact that the "father" obscured the victim when he slit his throat.

But sometimes it pays to have a vamp friend. I tend to root for the underdog, and seeing the bullies get their come-upins makes my heart warm all over. I had to watch the pool scene a couple of times to see if the fat kid got his too, but it looks as though he did not. I didn't see any blood, and I think he was moving. Too bad.

I think Jason covered everything else, but I loved the obvious perpetuation of the story. How many humans does a vamp go through before someone puts a stake in its heart? That was the intriguing part of the story for me: realizing at the end that the "father" started out just like Oskar. I wonder if Oskar knew it? I doubt it, although he picked up on Eli vampireness right away, so he's not a total lush.

thoughts by Andy

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Let the Right One Remain the Only Right One

by Jason Pyles

Vampires are an endlessly intriguing concept that have always been conducive to the cinema, even in the silent film era. Supposedly debuting in the cinematic medium in 1909 (though I’m not positive about this) was “Vampire of the Coast,” that is, according to Wikipedia. Arguably, the earliest vampire flick that has been widely seen and is fairly well known is the creepy German silent, “Nosferatu” (1922), directed by F.W. Murnau. It is a must-see for vampire lovers.

These scary beings have become their own horror subgenre whose conventions are familiar to just about everyone. Therefore, when we receive a fresh, new spin on vampires, such as “Cronos” (1993) or “Let the Right One In,” we should be grateful for such dark and lovely gifts.

I remember when I first watched Guillermo del Toro’s “Cronos.” I knew nothing about it — not even that it was a vampire movie, which was not really a secret. But still, I went in with a blank slate and didn’t realize it was technically a vampire movie until about halfway through. For me that fact alone makes “Cronos” something special.

Speaking of special, it’s difficult to discuss “Let the Right One In” without solely recounting a handful of remarkable, unforgettable scenes. Aside from one baffling exception, every visual aspect to “Let the Right One In” is stunning, from its photography, to its casting, to its production design, to its settings, to its lighting. The look of this film is not only beautiful; it also evokes a time and place in space. Watching it, I was a little uneasy, because I was convinced that Eli and her world coexist in mine.

Obviously, the disappointing exception, visually speaking, is the terribly silly-looking cat-attack scene. Not only do the cats look fake, when they gather upon the tortured new vampire lady as she is fleeing, they’re obviously just fluffy and unconvincing props, attached to her clothing, producing the look of a comedic scenario from the “Scary Movie” franchise. This scene is a real chink in the film’s armor.

But it’s nearly forgotten altogether with the very convincing portrayal of the chilling pool scene, a sequence the director, Tomas Alfredson, said in an interview took months to execute correctly. Also, when Eli’s “father” or caretaker dies, that scene looks alarmingly real.

As I mentioned, it’s tough to get beyond mere description, because the film’s delivery is so affecting. In short, I love our simultaneous affection and fear of Eli: She’s mostly sweet and endearing but at times utterly horrifying. You know a film is successful when it can evoke such a paradox from a 12-year-old girl.

A Seriously Long But Related Tangent:

Now, I’ve recently learned from my favorite guys at The /Filmcast (the official podcast of that “Let the Right One In” is inexplicably going to be remade, which to me, is like trying to repaint the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling — it’s pointless and unneeded.

When something is done right the first time, perhaps it should just be left alone. Naturally, the previous sentence smacks in the face of scientific progress, so there are exceptions, but “Let the Right One In” was just done in 2008, and it was done right.

The new version will be made by Overture Films and stars Kodi Smitt McPhee, Chloe Moretz and Richard Jenkins. It’s supposed to start shooting next month, according to No doubt this remake has to do with “Americanizing” a foreign film that many people (like my friends to whom I have tried to recommend this movie) will pass up because it’s subtitled or dubbed. But just saying it’s “a Swedish vampire film” sounds cool enough on its own, even without it being a refreshing, unsettling entry to the genre.

If history repeats itself (and it does), this may end up ugly, much like the Americanization — aka bastardization, in this case — of the chilling Dutch/French film “Spoorloos” or “The Vanishing” (1988). Its ending is truly upsetting and perfect, but when it was remade here in the United States in 1993, starring Jeff Bridges and Kiefer Sutherland, the ending was changed altogether, an act that was nothing less than a screenplay abomination. (I couldn’t help but think of the ending of the film that is finally made in Tim Robbins’ “The Player.”) As a result, countless Americans will have seen the dumb remake of “The Vanishing” and will never check out the superior Dutch version.

I’m afraid the same thing will happen with “Let the Right One In.” Maybe I’ll be proven wrong and have to eat my words — I hope so — but I think we should let Alfredson’s “right one” remain the only right one. If they must try to reboot it, they should wait at least 10 years, so people like me can have time to try to talk people like my friends into seeing the Swedish version.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Wrong Stuff

by Jason Pyles

Maybe the mysterious cream filling inside Twinkies is The Stuff.

Actually, according to the Internet Movie Database’s trivia page for this movie, The Stuff was portrayed with various products, depending on the scene, such as Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream, yogurt, and fire-extinguishing foam. Other scenes used superimposed images and animation. (My guesses were Cool-Whip and sour cream.)

Among the innumerable unwise decisions made in planning this movie, it was wise to vary the look of The Stuff’s consistency by using different products. This variation helps to enhance the intrigue of our guessing game, where we, the viewers, try to figure out what the filmmakers used.

I guess that’s part of the fun of this movie — trying to figure out what The Stuff is — both within the context of the film and in terms of the prop itself.

Above all, this film is a mystery, more than a horror movie or a comedy. It follows an investigation into defining the bizarre product, and regardless of how ridiculous the movie becomes, we are committed to sit through it until the end, in hopes of finding out the big revelation. Unfortunately, the revelation isn’t that big. We find out it comes from the center of the Earth, and maybe a few other details, but The Stuff remains largely unidentified.

I appreciate the absence of a tidy resolution in this way, because it allows the mystery to linger. For example, one masterstroke of “Cloverfield” (minor spoiler ahead) is that the monster is never explained — not what it was or where it came from. I love that. It makes it a little more real; we probably wouldn’t have very many answers about such a monster attack, if it happened in reality.

Movie properties (ideas) are recycled just about every decade. Clearly, “The Stuff” is a variation of “The Blob” (1958), which was remade outright three years after “The Stuff,” in 1988, and is slated to revisit us again in 2011. Similarly, “The Blob” is about an inexplicable substance that “eats” anything and everything and grows bigger the more it consumes.

(By the way, even the “G.I. Joe” cartoon put a spin on “The Blob.” It was fairly ingenious how the Joes killed it: They led it to eat an apple orchard, because apple seeds contain a tiny bit of poison.)

But “The Stuff” doesn’t stop with one borrowed concept; it’s a “Blob” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” hybrid.
Even though it’s built from scraps of semi-successful 1950s B-movies, “The Stuff” just doesn’t sound like a good idea on paper. I mean, a horror movie about an attacking food item surely must have been a difficult sell. We can plainly see how challenging it was for the filmmakers to make the white, creamy substance seem scary.

Obviously, “The Stuff” was intended to be satirical, made with a wink and a smile, something like the recent “Drag Me to Hell.”

I don’t believe all movies are designed to have some kind of “message,” but I believe that just about all movies can be assimilated to parallel prevalent social concerns. Filmmaking usually at least subconsciously reflects the moods from its era of creation.

Andy noted in a previous post that The Stuff may have been a commentary on an ice cream boom of the ’80s, which may explain the plot and the use of Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream. But I’m not so sure.
I wondered if it was intended to be a metaphor for drugs, in general; pop (soda); or fast food. I say pop specifically because Coca-Cola is often described by its lovers as addictive. Indeed, I’ve heard that many soft drinks contain some degree of addictive additives (but don’t quote me, I’m no chemist). For just a moment, abide my baseless speculation: The pop idea rings true when considering the ending of the movie, where The Taste would contain only 12 percent of The Stuff.

Alas, after some research, it seems that maybe Andy and I need not pinpoint one particular product but consumerism at large: Scott Tobias of The Onion A.V. Club thought “The Stuff” was writer-director Larry Cohen’s “answer to the noxious excess and conformity of the Reagan ’80s: a product that consumes the consumer.”

And Scott Weinberg from the Apollo Movie Guide interpreted this movie similarly, calling “The Stuff” a “none-too-subtle statement about the state of consumerism in America.” He also called it a “tongue-in-cheek social parody that pokes fun at a society that simply must devour the latest craze on the market.”

“The Stuff” has some genuinely fun moments: I particularly enjoyed seeing the cameo of the old lady from the “Where’s the Beef?” commercial. Remember that?

And I also thought it was humorous how Stuff fans are called “Stuffies.” And I appreciated the set where the room turns in order to produce the effect of The Stuff pouring “up” the wall. It turns out, according to said trivia page noted above, the turnable room was recycled from “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

Along with Andy, I wonder about this movie’s R-rating. It was released in June of 1985 (a summer blockbuster!), which means it was rated after the MPAA added the PG-13 designation that began in 1984. Obviously, the MPAA, infamous for its inconsistent and arbitrary rating system, must have found “The Stuff’s” violence/gore enough to merit an R-rating, though I’d think that considering its silliness, the PG-13 rating should have been considered.

But then again, watching this film in 2009, with 24 years of special effects advancement informing us, it’s difficult to imagine how troubling these scenes might have looked back then. Nevertheless, the heart extraction in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (which is credited as one of the sources that brought about the PG-13 rating) looks much more convincing than anything in “The Stuff.” So, yeah, PG-13 would probably be most appropriate.

I enjoyed “The Stuff,” despite its dumbness. What’s best about watching a movie like this is the way glimpses of it will someday flicker again as fleeting memories in your mind, and you’ll remember watching it, with some degree of fondness, but you won’t know when, why, where or what is was.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Some Thoughts on "Mysterious Skin"

by Jason Pyles

Some films simply defy the imposition of a critical voice. I believe “Mysterious Skin” is one such rare film. And yet I brazenly proceed, because it’s my unholy duty (albeit self-appointed, on this site) as a film critic.

Unless one is careful, critiquing a film that tries to communicate such sober themes can trivialize the weighty matters at hand in order to nitpick — or praise — its execution. For example, after being utterly blown away by the emotional power and devastating nature of “Mysterious Skin,” I opted to watch the theatrical trailer on the DVD. (It can also easily be seen at

As is common with critically celebrated films, the preview boasted favorable comments from prominent film critics, including this phrase from the New York Times’ A.O. Scott: “...a remarkably poised performance by Joseph Gordon-Leavitt.” I agree with Scott’s description of Gordon-Leavitt’s acting, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt that any cleverly written observation I or any other critic could devise would only make noise where there should be silence. A pensive, reflective silence.

“Mysterious Skin” is so unsettling and upsetting, it almost seems like one should observe some sort of quiet moment of respect for the countless abused victims this film bleeds for, before tearing in to an assessment of it. And now, having taken such precautions, I will proceed:

Though it never explicitly or graphically depicts the actual child abuse scenarios, “Mysterious Skin” is disturbing because it places us on the inside of the crimes, and to some degree, in the mind of the abuser. The film’s concluding revelations — which are primarily verbal descriptions — are nearly unbearable. It’s no wonder some children “go away,” mentally, to escape the experience when such things occur. I felt myself wanting to “escape the film.”

Actually, this sense of spectator resistance reminds me of bell hooks’ concept, “the oppositional gaze.” She wrote an essay called “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators.” It focuses on black women’s tendency, generally speaking — according to hooks — to eschew terrible portrayals of black women, or an altogether lack of portrayal of black women, in film. And though I had a film professor once scold me for suggesting that I, a white male, had ever experienced spectator’s resistance or something akin to the oppositional gaze, I still believe that even a white male like me can want to escape unthinkable themes and depictions in movies, even if they don’t coincide with the plight of African-American women in the cinema.

Another unforgettable scene in “Mysterious Skin,” unlike any I’ve ever experienced in the cinema, is a situation where the young Neil preys upon some poor kid on Halloween, sending off fireworks from his face, then proceeds to “appease” him afterward, as a sort of sick consolation. I was utterly horrified and repulsed by this scene, which was no doubt the intention.

Also, it is clear that either Scott Heim, the author of the novel this movie is adapted from, or director Gregg Araki — or both — went to great lengths not to suggest that Neil’s molestation led to his homosexuality. Indeed, before the abuse ever begins, the film lets us know (though it seems unlikely, according to my memory) that Neil has a significant sexual appetite as a biologically young boy. On this point, I think the film was too heavy-handed in establishing Neil’s intense desire for other males.

And finally, many films have addressed prostitution, and many of them have done it irresponsibly. But the responsible portrayals, such as the one in “Mysterious Skin,” reinforce the perils of such a profession. From what I understand (though I admit I have never worked in such a field), films that show brutal encounters when the working gal (or guy) is ravished are conveying an accurate, fairly common occupational hazard. “Monster” is another example, with a twist.

Moral of this story: Stop pedophilia and prostitution. Sure, but I’m afraid it’s much more complicated than that, which is why “Mysterious Skin” aims to stir and afflict its viewers. It succeeds.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Urban Menace - or how I wasted my Sunday, by Andy

I watched "Urban Menace." It was tougher than I thought it would be. Way more "F" words than were necessary, and I thought "South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut" wasn't overboard. Just terrible. I really don't have anything else to say. Just stream of consciousness here, but is Snoop a vampire or supernatural being of some kind? What about the dude with the goatee? Was he a reformed bad guy? Why do thugs shoot their guns sideways with a slight down-tilt?

comments by Andy

Sunday, September 13, 2009

"The Stuff" as reviewed by Andy

I had to look it up. Rookie mistake. Larry Cohen is not one of "the Coen Brothers (Ethan & Joel)." I'm sort of embarrassed to admit it, and as I was watching "The Stuff" I questioned where Mr. Cohen could have written such great films as "No Country For Old Men" and "Fargo" and the ridiculous film that I was watching. Turns out the answer is the obvious "no." He is credited for writing "Cellular" and "Phone Booth," as well as "Body Snatchers (not the "Invasion of...")."

"The Stuff" is a spoof, as far as I can tell, of the 80's ice cream fad, or should I say ice-scream fad. I feel really stupid for just having written that, but it so typifies the silliness of the movie. I, of course, eat a lot of ice cream because I'm LDS, so I don't remember there being a fad in the 8o's for ice cream and more than today...

The proprietors of "The Stuff" as it's known in the movie, discovered the substance at some sort of industrial mine. It happened to taste good (who tastes glowing white crap eeking out of the ground?), so they shut down the mine and start marketing and selling THE STUFF as a replacement for other deserts. It quickly becomes a nationwide fad, replacing almost all other food in many consumers' diets. The tag line for the marketing is something like "the more you eat, the more you want..." And that's what happens, only the addiction people have to THE STUFF is biological. THE STUFF IS ALIVE!!!!!

I'm not sure what the purpose of THE STUFF was, but it apparently got really pissed when the hero started figuring out what THE STUFF was. He, of course, wasn't investigating for any altruistic reason; he was paid by the dairy conglomerates at some sort of secret corporate espionage yacht-meeting. And hilarity ensues.

Enjoyable, but I'm not sure that the movie shouldn't have been in our section of worst movies. It certainly wasn't as bad as several of the movies on our list, but I would probably put it in the same category as the other cult-classics "Blood Diner," and "Plan 9 from Outer Space." Shockingly deep cast for such a silly pseudo-horror film. Also, I'm not sure why it was rated R (don't remember any bad words, scenes, etc., and the horror was no big deal).

thoughts by Andy

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Mysterious Skin by Andy

This was a difficult movie to get through. It's interesting to me that I had a difficult time watching this movie because I am public defender and I deal with child sexual abuse cases on a daily basis. None of the information, story, or disturbing behavior is anything new for me to process, and other than the movie, shockingly few related stories (true or not) actually disturb me.

So what is the value, then, for me to watch this kind of a movie? Other than my man-crush on J. Gordon-Leavitt? I think the value it held for me was in the true drama of it. Bad things happen to good/innocent people, and sometimes good/innocent people are ruined by traumatic experiences. In our story, Neil and Brian have totally different reactions to the same traumatic sexual abuse.

Neil is noticeably deeply affected by his coach's abuse, so much so that his whole sexual identity is warped and destroyed (by the way, as a side note, I'm not suggesting that abusing kids make them gay or that gay people were abused or that Neil, as a character, chose to be gay: I personally believe homosexuality is not a "choice"). His life spirals down hill at a pretty decent clip until he finally realizes that it was his reaction (re: failure to deal with) the abuse that has lead him to be a male prositute. It doesn't say at the end, but I'm guessing that Araki intended Neil's rape to be his "rock bottom." Hopefully Neil climbs his way out - real life statistics are against him for sure.

Brian is the outwardly opposite situation. He is shy, reserved, and prudish to Neil's extroverted, showy, whorish personality. Brian has struggled through his whole life with acute traumatic amnesia about his event. He blocks it out with only a nosebleed to remember it by. He was the real story, I think. He lived a fairly normal life (albeit completely absent of any kind of romantic experience). I wonder at the end whether Brian's ultimate recollection of the abuse was cathartic or a huge emotional setback. I wonder if blocking bad memories is so bad. His "rock bottom" was in many ways worse than Neil's (even though Neil's life was seemingly so much more destructive) because how far he fell and how fast he did. I wonder how quickly he came to grips with his abuse and how long before his life returned to a sense of normalcy.

Not a fun film for sure, but the acting was excellent and the drama very compelling.

comments by Andy