Monday, March 22, 2010

Quote of the Day - Otis (2008)

"I thought your dad could cut his fingers and toes off and we could blend them into a smoothie and make him drink it." - Kate Lawson

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Kissed – Lynne Stopkewich (1996)

WARNING: This is a review of a film about necrophilia. If you have a problem with, you know, getting offended and junk, you'll want to stop reading now.

Okay, necrophilia may happen to be the topic of the first feature film by director Lynne Stopkewich, better known for her work on television shows like The ‘L’ Word, but banging corpses is not really what this film is about.

As Dr. Lecter might say, "No, that's incidental."

"Kissed" is about obsession and the lengths one will go to in order to insert or even force themselves right into the thick of the ugliest, most intimate facets of the life of someone they love.

You would not think that a story about having sex with corpses could be emotionally moving and beautiful, and even gentle and meek at times, but here it is.

If you can stomach the actions of the characters, you'll be surprised at how natural and human their behavior is.

Aside from the whole, "I bang dead people" aspect of the movie, this story is very deeply emotional and alarmingly sweet at times.

"Kissed" reminded me of "Secretary," a film that came six years later about a sadist and a masochist who find true love after we've giggled our way through like a hundred minutes or so through a dark and kinky comedy about a cutter and a spanker.

Then before you know what hit you, "Secretary" is suddenly a touching, sweet love story.

Both of these movies shock you on the surface, but end up touching you if you give them the chance.

The desperation with which Matt desires Sandra and the sacrifice he finally makes to be with her doesn't feel sick like you'd expect or, indeed, even as the filmmaker may have intended, but rather it feels like ultimate and sweet (if obviously misguided) devotion.

I was moved by Matt's final act of love. That probably means I have issues, but I've made peace with that.

Don't be afraid to look for "Kissed."

It probably won't be at WalMart of Blockbuster because, I don't know if I mentioned it, but there's some necrophilia in this picture.

But it's more than worth going out of your way to find it.

Hell, go buy it online.

Quote of the Day - Das Weisse Band (2009)

' I gave God a chance to kill me. He didn't do it. So He's pleased with me.' - Martin

The Tripper – David Arquette (2007)

WARNING: This review is about an incredibly violent, albeit fun movie. There are also quotes from the very potty-mouthed script. BEWARE!

Okay, an insane mental patient, released during the Regan emptying of mental care facilities just wants to kill hippies.

Unfortunately, there is a love-fest type musical festival (ala Burning Man) near the forest this guy calls home.

So, we have a psycho in a very realistic Regan mask, killing people with an ax, screaming things like “There you go again,” and “Well, Nancy, you know young people today. No respect for anything,”

And carving “Just Say No” into the bodies of the drugged up hippies he’s killed.

Also, the shot of the naked hippie dude hanging upside down with his spine hanging out like a slab of ribs is just a priceless visual.

We also have Pee-Wee as the concert promoter saying things like, “God, I don't give a fuck if you sing motherfucking Kumbaya. Just get the fuck out there. We have a contract by grace of George fuckin' Washington, you motherfucking fucking fucks.”

Then, covered in excrement, he is cut in half with a chainsaw. What fun!

The whole thing culminates with Ronald Regan with an axe just hacking his way through a crowd of hippies in a euphoric kind of blood orgy.

There really is nothing at all to not like about this movie.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Les Chats Persians - Bahman Qobadi (2009)

Qobadi's masterpiece out of Iran doesn't just embody what's great about independent film. It represents everything good in rock and roll.

Hell, I'll go you one better. Les Chats makes a statement about the function of art in general.

That function? Rebellion.

The connection this film makes between political uprising and art isn't a new concept, but Qobadi makes his argument with an eloquent rage I don't think I've ever seen.

Maybe that's because we have the luxury of taking for granted this concept of living in a relatively free country.

The films quieter moments are just as powerful as its raucous, sometimes gleefully angry musical interludes.

One of the most memorable is a scene where one character, mostly obscured by a door, begs for mercy from a harsh judge.

The underground Iranian filmmaker rails against government and religion for just under 2 hours.

It's eerie that the film won the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival just weeks before the now notorious riots following the disputed (stolen) Iranian elections. In retrospect, the film feels prophetical.

Qobadi is filled with fury at how his government treats his people. In an interview, he railed against the treatment of women as 'the voice against God.'

The film, as angry as it will make you does have its share of humor and that is what makes now exhiled Qobadi a gift.

The cinema community embraces him and every one of you should desperately seek this film out.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Stay The Hell Home This Weekend! Boycott Repo!

Hey there, grave-robber. Can't get it up if the girl's breathing?

Miguel Sapochnik, you suck.

Forest Whitaker, I had to watch Ghost Dog to remind myself that I don't hate you, but you're on notice.

Jude Law, not even eXistenZ can save you. You're off my cool list.

Liev Schreiber, RZA and Alice Braga, bad bad bad. (And Ms. Braga, as an enormous fan of City of God and Blindness, it breaks my heart to say that.)

Now, everybody boycott the hell out of this rip-off Repo movie this weekend.

I’m fairly certain this lame-rip-off of a movie will not feature:

a) Anthony Stewart Head sticking his arm up a guy he just gutted and doing a ventriloquism routine with his hollow corpse.

b) A homicidal but irresistibly attractive Skinny Puppy lead singer.

c) Paul Sorvino singing with his best Italian fat guy opera voice.

d) Paris Hilton’s face falling off.

e) The little girl from Spy Kids all grown up and disturbingly hot.

f) The greatest rock and roll movie soundtrack since"Rocky Horror."

So go to your local Best Buy or WalMart or wherever and buy, don't rent from NetFlix, don't download it, but buy a copy of "Repo! The Genetic Opera."

And it's saying something about "Repo Men" when I'm advising you to visit your local WalMart rather than go to the movies, is it not?

"Repo! The Genetic Opera" is the real movie.

You will not be sorry.

Like a mop, or a broom.

No one likes a thankless job.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Das Weisse Band - Michael Haneke (2009)

Let's just get this part out of the way. "Das Weisse Band" ("The White Ribbon") from Germany should have won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

I am still astonished that the Academy gave the prize to Juan Jose Campanella’s adequate but ultimately forgettable cold-case drama, "The Secret in Their Eyes" from Argentina.

Both "Un Prophète" and "The Milk of Sorrow" were better than "Secret."

And here's the kicker. "The Secret in Their Eyes" was a very good film. It just shows how strong the Foreign Language Film category was this year.

Although how did "Sin Nombre" get overlooked?

"Das Weisse Band" wasn't just the best in the category of Foreign Language Film. It was a better film than any of the ten films nominated for Best Picture.

Michael Haneke constructs a disturbing tale of ritualistic punishment under the guise of either religion or responsible child-rearing.

The episodic nature of Ribbon works so beautifully. Each scene could easily stand on its own as an exceptionally strong short film.

And there is a mystery surrounding a series of either unfortunate or sinisterly planned accidents in a German village in the year or so leading up to World War I.

As the pastor, the s
choolteacher, the doctor and the baron deal with the children of the small town in their alternately sadistic and confused ways, they learn that the Archduke of Austria has been assassinated in Sarajevo.

It’s like the evil from the outside world is seeping into the town. Or is it the other way around?

Haneke has a long history of hypnotizing and unsettling us at the same time with films like "Funny Games" and "Cache."

When I watch one of his films, I am stunned that he can imagine a world where human beings are capable of such intense and profoun
d evil, yet he presents it so casually.

When a child is ushered into a room by his parents and the door is closed behind them, that shot of the white door that we stay on for maybe 8 or 9 seconds has more tension and dread than anything in any horror film I've seen.

"Das Weisse Band" is Haneke's best film to date and as moving as Claudia Llosa’s meditation on illness and sexual abuse, "The Milk of Sorrow" from Peru is, Haneke deserved to be honored by the Academy.

(Frankly, had Haneke lost to "Sorrow," or even "Un Prophète," I don’t think it would have bothered me.)

Haneke has long been admired for in the film community, both here and in

I, for one, certainly thought his haunting tale of ritualistic punishment and a serious of mysterious tragedies in a small town in pre-WWI
Germany was one of the night’s foregone conclusions.Alas and alack.

The Crazies – Breck Eisner (2010)

Most remakes are not going to live up to their predecessors. I understand that and I've made peace with it.

Romero’s 1973 film is a landmark as much of his early work is so Eisner has some big shoes to fill.

Remakes, especially horror remakes are difficult to pull off.

I could probably count the good ones on one hand.

We have Philip Kaufman’s 1978 update on "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," along with Abel Ferrara’s 1993 eminently creepy "Body Snatchers" for that matter.

And there’s Tim Sullivan’s darkly comic and gleefully brutal "2001 Maniacs" which I just adored.

No, "2001 Maniacs" didn't come close to Hershell Gordon Lewis' gleeful, bloody masterpiece, "2000 Maniacs," but it was fun as hell to watch.

The reason I think that film worked so well is that it was obvious, to me at least, that Sullivan and probably everyone else who worked on the film had seen the original "2000 Maniacs."

I wouldn’t be surprised if Sullivan had a shrine to Herschell Gordon Lewis in his home that he burns candles or incense to like a saint or a Buddha.

Rob Zombie also did a hell of a job reinventing Michael Meyers.

He didn’t come anywhere close to the proficiency or depth he showed with "The Devil’s Rejects," but Zombie’s "Halloween" films both scared the hell out of me and gave me a protagonist in place of Jamie Lee Curtis that I simply adored.

And you have to tip your hat to the greatest horror sequel in existence, John Carpenter's "The Thing."

But as a general rule, horror remakes suck. "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "Prom Night," "The Stepfather," "Friday the 13th," "My Bloody Valentine," and on and on and on.

So I didn’t go into this 2010 version of "The Crazies" expecting a whole lot.

And nothing much is exactly what I got.

But goddammit, I was let down right from the beginning.

What with the trailer and its "before our lives end and before our cities are taken over blah, blah, blah... It will begin here" and then we see the guy walking onto the field of a Rockwell-esque baseball game with what might be a shotgun or a baseball bat or something.

I was hoping for a scene reminiscent of Shirley Jackson or something from one of Stephen King’s creepier stories.

You know the ones I’m talking about.

Where nothing supernatural is happening and it’s scary as hell just because of what human beings are capable of doing to each other?

The best example, in my opinion and my favorite story King ever wrote is "The Long Walk," a novella published under his pseudonym, Richard Bachman.

I've read it at least six or seven times and it still scares the hell out of me.

The image of that kid lifting one foot and putting it front of the other screaming "I can’t! I can’t!" over and over has stuck with me since the first time I read it in Jr. High.

But I digress.

The opening scene I’m talking about was not shocking or horrifying or menacing or even tense.

Fortunately, after that things picked up a little.

Eisner and scribes Scott Kosar (who on the one hand, wrote Brad Anderson’s brilliant "The Machinist" but on the other hand wrote the god-awful screenplays for the remakes of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "The Amityville Horror") and Ray Wright (who really has no resume to speak of) wisely stick to George Romero’s formula.

And please don’t misunderstand. When I call it a formula, this is not a put down. Romero does not revisit the same territory over and over.

His philosophy of horror is that it ought to be a vital part of the social and political debate. This was evident from his original "Night of the Living Dead" in 1968.

Romero's formula, for lack of a better word, or his motif, (I guess I didn’t lack for a better word after all) is that in any kind of crisis like a zombie apocalypse, our fellow human beings are much more dangerous than any monster or mutant.

Kosar and Wright certainly do that here in their screenplay.

With Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, the 2007 Blackwater massacre in Baghdad, it’s obvious that the film is telling us that our rogue and mercenary government is far more dangerous than "The Crazies."

In a scene where our heroes capture one of the military men, he talks about how he doesn’t want to be committing the atrocities they just witnessed, but he was just following orders.

You understand.

The film is comparing the impunity we’re giving those who abuse their power in the name of the ‘war on terror’ to the argument used by the defendants during the Nuremberg trials.

Had Romero written the screenplay, he would have made the same point, but he would have done with more wit, subtlety and style.

Also, in Romero’s 1973 classic, the actions of the military in the film were clearly Romero’s indictment on what happened in the killings at Kent State.

This time, The Crazies is a plea for disarmament. The message is that we have as much to fear from our own weapons of mass destruction as we do from the WMDs of other ‘rogue nations.’

Okay, enough political analysis. What say we move on to the scares, or what little there were.

There were a handful of malicious moments, but they were few and far between and none of them were genuinely frightening.

And Eisner doesn’t seem to have much of a sense of humor.

Films like "2000 Maniacs" and its remake, "2001 Maniacs" have very sadistic and dark streaks of humor running through them.

And they manage to do so without compromising the unsettling nature of the film.

(Could I possibly plug those two movies more?)

How can you not love a movie where Southern Belles stand in a line and open their umbrellas to keep themselves dry from the shower of blood?

I think Eisner wanted to avoid humor altogether because he was afraid of making something that would be perceived as a parody.

Well, you only have to worry about that if you’re not a good enough director to walk that tightrope. Eisner didn’t even try to walk that tightrope and he still didn’t make a very good film.

It sounds like I hated this move and I really didn’t. My son and I went to see it and it was an enjoyable enough film. Just a side-note, "The Crazies" is rated R and my son is 15, so that gives you an idea of how gruesome it was. Not very.

I wouldn’t take him to most horror films, but if you’re on the fence about letting your teenager watch this one, "The Crazies" really isn’t so bad.

As I was saying, I really didn’t hate this movie. Like I said, infrequent as they were, there were some tense moments.

Without question, my favorite sequence was the pitchfork in the hospital scene.

If you’ve seen this movie, you know what I’m talking about and if you’re a horror fan, it was probably your favorite scene, too.

That sequence was wonderful. It stuck out as a brilliant, sickening thrill as opposed to the rest of the dull film.

Along with a handful of gruesome moments like that, Kosar, in spite of some flaws, does know how to tell a story. And that’s important.

I liked these characters and cared about whether they lived or died which is rare for a horror film.

The most disturbing scenes were of the military killing uninfected civilians. It’s grounded in reality.

There’s no need to suspend your disbelief, there's no safe feeling of 'yeah right zombies, whatever, that won’t ever happen' element that allows you to separate yourself from that fear.

But soldiers shooting unarmed civilians and then blasting their corpses with flamethrowers so their germs would die with them?

Far-fetched to be sure, but unlike zombies and all that supernatural crap, it’s a physical possibility. And yes, I'm aware that technically, "The Crazies" is not a zombie movie, but it's structured like one and it plays out like one, so for all intents and purposes, let's not split hairs.

I think my exact words to my son when we walked out of the theater were, “Well, that was fun enough.”

His reply was, “Yeah, there were some fun parts.”

Then I came back with, “It’s nothing I’m gonna run out and buy when it comes out on DVD.”

And he responded by saying, “Meh.”

I think that sums up "The Crazies" perfectly.


I'm not tagging this movie as 'bad' but the pitchfork in the hospital scene is the only thing saving "The Crazies" from that fate.

Antichrist - Lars von Trier (2009)

WARNING: Antichrist is a movie that will offend almost everybody. My review of it is blunt and I don't shy from talking about its content. Please stop reading if you don't want to hear about graphic violence, mutilation, harsh religious themes and some profanity.

This film elicited such a strong reaction from me that I found myself unwilling to censor myself when it came to language, so don't read this if you're not up to it.

Before I start, let me say that I would absolutely recommend that about 90% of you not see Lars von Trier's new masterpiece, Antichrist.

It is unbelievably hard to watch. If Antichrist were food, it would be Guatemalan insanity peppers.

Yes, it is brilliant and von Trier comes closer than ever to reaching the greatness of
Breaking the Waves, (#28 on my top 100 list if you were wondering) but seriously, I would not wish this film on most people.

The vast majority of you will not appreciate or understand that and I do not mean that as an insult in any way.

On the contrary, I think that there must be something wrong with me the way I connected so deeply with Charlotte Gainsbourg's character, the figurative Antichrist for whom the film is named, and felt like I understood this movie so well.

Having said that, this is not only an unusually astute film, but also a very important one, socially and philosophically speaking, that the remaining 10% of you must seek out, no matter how hard it is going to be to find.

One more thing before I dig in.

Antichrist has been promoted as a horror film. Oh my God, it is so not.

It is horrifying, revolting even. It says something about a film that it made me look away a couple of times.

But it is not your standard horror fare as there is not a single thrill to be had.

There is also no paranormal element. The title,
Antichrist, is metaphorical.

So here we go.

It would be very hard, if not impossible, to argue that Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves was not easily one of the best films to come out of the independent revolution of the 1990’s.

It is equally impossible to talk about feminism in film without talking at length about von Trier's body of work.

He may be one of the most misunderstood filmmakers not only of our, but of any time.

I have heard von Trier called a misogynist, which is a laughable accusation.

I don't remember which critic it was, but someone actually called Breaking a "celebration of women's suffering."

Clearly, the suffering of women is the theme that ties his films together, but this misery seems to make him by turns weary, morose and livid.

I truly wonder if something horrible happened to a woman that he loved at some point early in his life for this to be so rooted in his cognition.

Breaking was a grizzly epic, a thesis on both the suffering and the heroism of women.

It was one of those rare film, I think there have only been six or seven of them, when I sat through the credits and several minutes of employees cleaning up popcorn after the showing because I was just too emotionally exhausted to move.

My heart still breaks every time I think of Bess’ willingness to forfeit her very soul trying to save someone she loves, losing her life in the process.

Seriously, try to wrap your mind around the gravity of Bess' actions.

She believes with all of her being that her actions will condemn her to an eternity in the fires of hell.

This belief is very real to her and this danger of burning forever is as real to her as any worldly, physical danger is to anyone.

And she makes the sacrifice anyway to redeem this man she so desperately loves.

Bess is one of the most beautiful and selfless characters, not only in film, but in art.

Von Trier followed Breaking the Waves with Dancer in the Dark, another tribute to women’s proclivity to self-sacrifice.

Selma's child will not go blind even though it will cost Selma her life.

Again, a woman, suffering and selfless.

That was followed by Dogville, where the other side of the coin of the misery of women was wrath rather than nobility.

Von Trier's anger, like Grace's was more than understandable and even righteous up to a point.

These are three masterpieces that will stay with you forever once you’ve seen them and von Trier’s latest film, Antichrist is no exception.

To say that the opening sequence of Antichrist plays out like one of Lynch’s Obsession commercials would be accurate but flippant, thick and unfair.

We are treated, right out of the gate, to a black and white montage of Willem Dafoe making sweet slo-mo love to his special lady inter-cut with images of a toddler wandering around the apartment with an aria from Rinaldo by Handel playing in the background.

Von Trier isn't exactly going for subtle here. Character with a God complex accompanied by music by Handel, the guy who composed The Messiah.

The first thing that struck me was just how damn un-Dogma this movie was.

Then, we are jerked from this surreal opening straight into a beautifully shot, devastating tragedy.

The rest of the film continues to break pretty much every rule that von Trier set up for the Dogma movement, but you can still see that harsh realism under the surface, trying to claw its way out of every dream sequence, every camera trick, every metaphor, every art-house cliché.

This is probably the first time I have ever used the word cliché without meaning it as a rebuke.

Von Trier swings them like a hammer with deliberate purpose, contrasting them with the realism of the harsh, raw open-nerved emotions his characters are dealing with.

The dream sequences and artsy flashbacks cut into the horrific realism the way the musical numbers broke up the tragic evens of Dancer.

Willem Dafoe is a therapist whose wife is understandably falling apart after the death of their child.

Dafoe quickly finds fault with the care she is receiving from a colleague and breaks one of the rules he lives by as a therapist: don’t treat family.

Of course, it isn’t long before he finds himself breaking another rule: don’t have sex with your patient.

But give the guy a break.

He’s married to the woman.

Still. Turns out, fucking your patient is a bad idea, even if you’re married to her.

It is established almost immediately that this film is about payback.

The puzzle lies in figuring out which character has it coming.

You have the therapist, Willem Dafoe’s best performance since The Last Temptation of Christ, whose narcissism is so bountiful, whose God-complex is so vast that von Trier names the film after the character who defies him: Antichrist.

And just as we have tentatively decided who to indict, we realize, to our shame that nobody has it coming. We have spent a hundred minutes thinking about blame, as have the characters in this harsh and disturbing film.

But despite the events in the opening sequence, bad things do not happen because we are sexual creatures.

And suppressing our sexuality to the point of mutilation, sometimes figurative, sometimes tragically literal is never the answer.

Von Trier’s point here is this: Nature is not Satan’s church.

It sounds like a ridiculous notion, but it’s ingrained in our collective psyche nevertheless.

We think of human sexuality, the most natural thing in the world, as a breeding ground for all that is wicked.

We do in fact believe that nature is Satan’s church.

But we do not have it coming. We do not deserve it. We have to stop punishing ourselves.

It’s more than sad, it is appalling how people see God, but this is an accurate portrait of how western Christianity has set him up.

Like von Trier presents Willem Dafoe's therapist, Christians have painted God as a malicious being who talks about love, but whose sole purpose is actually to dole out unflinching, unforgiving and unjust punishment.

Too many see him as evangelical America has presented him: as a brute to be followed by the anonymous and faceless masses.

That is how so many see God because that is what too many of our religious leaders have been insisting for centuries that he is.