Friday, April 21, 2017

13 Reasons Why and all the controversy surrounding

A lot of buzz these days about 13 Reasons Why, the new book-to-Netflix adaptation about a teenager who kills herself and leaves behind 13 tapes explaining what led her to that point. I’ve heard praise for it and also, recently, a lot of criticism based on how the show treats suicide.

The show is basically what I said - a girl, Hannah Baker, kills herself and leaves behind 13 tapes explaining why she did it. Her friend and would’ve-been-boyfriend Clay is the main character and we see things through his eyes as he listens to them and figures out this unwinding mystery of sorts. I was drawn into it almost immediately - not in the least due to the incredibly thick suspense and tension about it. It turns into this bat-shit crazy thriller set in a high school with this group of teenagers trying to keep those tapes hidden and save their own asses from the mysterious crimes that begin to unfold. I couldn’t help but be invested. It was exciting shit. I had to find out what was really going on.

What I did find was also a very well done and poignant show about the teenage experience, the isolation, the confusion - it had powerful and relatable themes, and it wasn’t just a show about suicide so much as it was a show about the whole experience of being in that world and going through these problems. The way the show tells these interwoven stories of escalating isolation, bullying, sexual assault and more is compelling and important to show on screen in some way.

Now, going forward - keep in mind that I have a fairly laissez-faire approach to art. I believe you should be able to talk about absolutely anything in your art if you're going about it with the intention of expressing a sincerely-held truth that you believe. That said, obviously opinions will vary on the execution of those things. That's where pretty much every discussion, debate, etc over film criticism and the meaning of films, especially in terms of important real-world topics, comes from.

This is an unreliable narrator story. We’re seeing things solely through the eyes of these kids, and a lot of it tends to ring true - as high school students, they don’t have the breadth of knowledge to recognize depression or see the long-term consequences of all their actions like the bullying. People can kind of suck and kids are mean to each other. The way the side characters are developed in the wake of the suicide is also excellently done, with a lot of attention to detail and important social commentary woven in there as well. And there are scenes of Hannah’s parents trying to reconcile what happened - they didn’t see the suicide coming either. It happens. No one thinks something like that is about to come their way. I can believe it.

What the show DOESN’T feature is a more in-depth look at Hannah’s own psyche or whatever it really was inside her that made her want to kill herself - the kind of deep depression or illness that, maybe, it could’ve been. So I get why that troubles people, because it seems on the surface like it’s trivializing or glamorizing suicide. But we don’t really see inside Hannah’s thoughts. We just hear her words on the tapes, and teenagers like her character are not fully formed in the way that they can rationally explain everything up front. That’s all we’ve got - it’s an unreliable narrator thing and it isn’t supposed to be the Truth, per se. I took this as a show about bullying and about the American teenage experience, with the suicide as a theme as well, but not as some way to explain or rationalize suicide - merely to present it as a stark fact of something that happens, without offering a true explanation, of which there usually is none. Sure, you get the tapes, which is an over the top and unrealistic thing, but it’s just used as a way to convey this story in an artful manner and move it along to get the point across.

Though I appreciate that people critique this aspect of it - some have said it’s sensational and teaches kids that after their suicide, they’ll be important; that sort of thing. It’s a fair argument. I am not sure how suicide should be handled in fiction. The best we can hope for is that it opens up the lines of discussion. Either you shouldn’t do it at all, or you should do it in such a way that discussion is encouraged. I think this did well for the latter. After watching the little featurette on Netflix, "Beyond the Reasons," I think the creators and cast were doing their best and I can side with them here.

And you can find a number of articles where mental health experts decry the show’s portrayal of suicide in that it could cause more suicides, or make it look fashionable or glamorous. I understand that. It's a thin line to walk. As I said, I’m not sure what the 100% reliable way to show these topics on screen is. In the final episode, they show this incredibly awful, graphic depiction of Hannah killing herself. The creators say they wanted to hammer home how suicide isn’t the right decision. Opponents say it could encourage more people, particularly young kids, to kill themselves. I think the existence of this scene, and the show, are enough to make the argument that this is exactly why we need to be more active in talking to kids and making sure this does not happen. We should be so open and honest about these topics that we can prevent as much of it as we can. That’s the value of this show and what good art about serious topics should aspire to do.

You should know what your kids are watching and you should talk to them about important stuff like bullying, rape, suicide, etc when applicable. 13 Reasons Why accentuates the reasons for that. I can understand the critiques of this show and I am not saying they’re not valid. In fact I think they’re part of the discussion I think is so important. Keep talking about this stuff.

The national suicide prevention hotline is 1-800-273-8255.

Image copyright of its original owner, I do not own it.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

#Horror (2015)

Well, it's been a hot minute, but we're finally back to doing what we were born to do on this blog – reviewing terrible, never-heard-of-it horror films found in the bowels of Netflix's giant stomach. This week, the one we are looking at is called #Horror. Yes, Hashtag Horror, or, the movie most likely to confuse the fuck out of your elderly aunt who thinks that's still just the pound sign on the phone. But then, isn't confusing elderly people the main aim of all horror movies?

Director: Tara Subkoff
Starring: Chloe Sevigny, Timothy Hutton

Co-written with Michelle.

I guess this was directed by artist and fashion designer Tara Subkoff. If that's your thing, great! Personally I did not have an opinion on her one way or the other before this, and now afterwards, I am very confused.

We start off with an old classic for a horror movie: people having sex in a car and then getting murdered! Wow! What a way to set up a story!

Apparently fucking Carmen San Diego is a real fetish... why would she wear that fucking hat?

Then, in a truly inexplicable choice, we see that the credits of the film are a seizure-inducing blend of horrific CGI graphics and garish, cartoonish colors that, I think, are supposed to be the Internet or some sort of app popular with teenagers. I'm guessing the reason it looks like the vomit of a Care Bear who just woke up from a bad hangover is because they couldn't afford better effects – in which case I think they definitely should've saved up more money and then bought the rights to use Facebook and Twitter in their low-budget horror film. It's so simple!

These images brought to you by... I honestly don't know. I've got nothing on this one. This is beyond insane that anyone would put this shit in a movie.

Our main characters include an asshole father who constantly tells his pre-teen daughter Cat to stop playing with her cell phone, and a wealthy lady who spends much of the first 20 minutes of the film whining about the fact that her family is falling apart because her husband is fucking his therapist, or some nonsense like that. They're so dysfunctional that they live in separate wings of their huge mansion and almost never talk to each other. Wow, I'm sure they do a lot of crying into their wads of hundred dollar bills every night. Boo fucking hoo.

The blonde lady is just a caricature of what a rich person is like – she constantly walks around in bathrobe type clothing with her hair up, screams at her clearly hyperventilating and overworked servant to find her phone, which ends up being under the couch she's sitting on. Great scene, five stars!

"Lick my boot, peasant!"

Oh, and all the main characters the movie focuses on the most are teenage girls around 12 to 14 years old – which hasn't been done before either. But maybe that's because it's a terrible idea.

See what I mean?

Seriously – I guess it could work if you had good characters and writing. But this movie just seems to be content with having bad characters and writing. Like, did we need a several-minute long scene of the one girl, Cat, bullying the fat girl at the party? It's like, did they just leave the camera off? Why is this going so long? She tells her to KILL HERSELF for fuck's sake. It hasn't been that long since I was a kid – who are these little sociopaths?!

Oh, and the backstory here involves this guy named Ray Jameison who used to live in the house, who once killed all the people at this party he was hosting because they wouldn't leave! There's your ghost story. Just that. I guess it IS a way to make sure no one COMES to your future parties... but honestly, I'm just amazed that they chose Ray Jameison as the name of the ghost. That's not a ghost name – it's the name of a burnout hippie guitar player who you can find six nights a week in that bar by the beach playing to ten people.

The movie becomes a faceless run of mush after that – a lot of scenes of the girls just talking about bullshit, including one where they point a gun at one another! Glad that one was in there.

Maybe Russian roulette would be a good thing for this movie? Please consider it.

Finally, they kick Cat out after she won't quit bullying the fat girl. I don't know why, though – it isn't like the other girls are any better really; they're all mean as fuck to each other too. They have a few scenes where they're nice to each other, but then by the climax they all hate each other too.

There's some talk about how the fat girl's life is ruined because of stuff posted about her on the internet, and some other scenes where they actually decide to stop looking at their phones. That's actually the least realistic thing in the fucking movie. But then they also have scenes like this one after they lock their phones away:

Movie... please stop. PLEASE STOP!

So really, I am not sure how much of a victory this was at all. Girls, just get your phones out and go blind looking at them. It would be preferable to more of... whatever the fuck this is.

Then Cat's father, Dr. White, shows up – a real asshole, who seems to get off on screaming at little children. He's there, I guess, because his daughter is still missing and the others kicked her out of the house. This leads to him threatening them with a large knife!

I'm sure glad we're dealing with this situation in the best most mature way possible. Phew. What a relief to have a real adult here!

He spends so much goddamn time screaming at these little girls that I think he could've found his daughter by now if he'd actually been doing something constructive. Jesus Christ. This scene also goes on for an inordinately long amount of time and I'm inclined to think Subkoff fell asleep in her chair at some point and the actors just started improvising. Because if THAT wasn't the case, then it means someone watched this and thought it was a good idea to show the world. And that scares me more than most horror movies ever could.

By the blessing of Odin and all the other gods, the guy finally goes away and bothers someone else. That just leaves the girls to start freaking out like the apocalypse is happening. The one fat girl begins to eat cupcakes constantly, and that is all everyone else talks to her about for the rest of the movie, just a constant barrage of fat jokes. Another girl, they think she lied about having sex once, so they just start bashing her for that. DIALOGUE, THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT!

Then, mercifully, the killer realizes it's almost the end of the movie, and so starts killing everyone. This happens in extremely interesting and new ways, like their throats getting cut with a knife. Wow, a real Jack the Ripper here. Real original.

Totally unoriginal, 1/5.

Finally, I guess, the killer is revealed to be Cat the whole time, the little girl who they kicked out before. Woah, I totally couldn't see that one coming! But then again, I am an idiot. She then kills herself with a gun in the driveway of the house, which is really the ending this miserable fucking movie deserved all along.

Oh, except for the insanely trite ending where they have a bunch of fake news clips about how there were a lot of people watching and doing nothing except taking videos on their phones for social media. What incisive social commentary! You are the new George Orwell! What a fucking genius you are, and everyone should immediately blow you right now.

What was the point of any of this? It was long, boring and had almost no story structure, to the point where it was hard to even write about what happened scene to scene. The whole plotline about Ray Jameison the ghost went absolutely nowhere since it turned out to be a real person killing everyone. If it was supposed to be social commentary about people being on their phones, what was it really trying to say? It's totally a muddled message because they don't do anything with it beyond have the kids USING their phones. Not exactly a biting social satire.

I guess it was supposed to be about cyberbullying? I don't know. I can see it now that I've read the Wikipedia page, but honestly, it didn't come across very well in the film. I appreciate the attempt to tackle a real world issue, but it came off as muddled and confused the way the film did it. I didn't like or sympathize with any characters, either, which could've helped in a movie about bullying victims...

So what are we left with in #Horror? A really dumb title and an excruciatingly boring, annoying film. I guess you should see it if you want to know what a bad movie looks like? Either that, or if you've watched literally everything else on Netflix.

Images copyright of their original owners, we own none of them.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)

I can't believe after all the years doing this blog, I'm still reviewing Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies. I know what you're thinking – couldn't you just, like, stop reviewing them, then? The answer is yes, yes I could. But that would be so much less fun in that sweet schadenfraude way. I have to do this. It's just how it is.

Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Starring: R. Lee Ermey, Jordana Brewster

Co-written with Nathan.

This is a prequel to the 2003 remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which is a real feat of confidence, as the gall it must take to assume anyone cared about that piece of shit movie and wanted to know more is far greater than anything I've ever felt.

This one starts off with a woman giving birth in the middle of a meat packing plant, which as everyone knows is exactly how you birth a serial killer. I'm glad they showed us this because I never would have known how Leatherface was born if they didn't and that was always the worst thing about the original movie. The way humans are born is just a total mystery to me so I'm glad this movie is setting the record straight on that!

Then we flash forward like 20 years to the same meat packing plant, now closing down, I assume, to become a vegetarian meat packing plant. Damn new trends... actually it's because of financial woes, I guess. For some reason, Leatherface is working there right as it's closing down – he's working in the exact same place he was born. I wonder what that's like... must be weird.

Then we learn by watching the manager that it's a bad idea to insult a mentally handicapped giant with a hammer in his hand while you're all alone in close proximity in the dark – it doesn't turn out well for him, to say the least.

And we see how he gets his infamous chainsaw – he just picks it up off the table at the meat factory as he's leaving. What an Earth shattering revelation. I am amazed how these writers were able to tie together the rich history of that chainsaw throughout multiple movies.

The main characters this time around are totally different from the last movie. Instead of a bunch of really attractive people, it's a bunch of really attractive people who have a few lines in the movie about going to Vietnam to fight a war. What a change! I guess these two guys are brothers and one of them doesn't want to go back to the war. Yeah, this is awesome. I watch slasher horror movies for serious plots about Vietnam war draft dodgers. I'm weird like that!

I do like the one scene of the brother tied up about to have sex with his girlfriend, and then he can't do it at the last minute because he's thinking about his brother too much. An every day occurrence I'm sure. Maybe producer Michael Bay is working some stuff out with scenes like this.

This is the time for deep thinking...

So I guess the Leatherface family, helmed again by R. Lee Ermey's Sheriff Hoyt character, are upset that the meat factory closed down because, I guess, this will mean the town is taken over by hippies and bikers? What a weird correlation. Except then we see that they're right – bikers just magically appear in town. Right on cue!

Did they sprout from the ground like mutated weeds? What the hell?

What follows is an incredibly strange scene in which this one woman biker chases the heroes on a motorcycle on the road with a giant gun to rob them – because I guess the movie forgot that this is TCM and not fucking Mad Max. But to be fair, a Mad Max sequel would be way better than this movie.

I liked her better when her name was Sarah Connor.

There's also an insane car crash that flips the car over and shatters several windows, yet the people inside don't break any bones or show much injury at all save for some blood on their heads! Man is that gonna be a mess! Damn car crashes.

It'll take hours to wash this off and put makeup back on! Fucking car crashes!

Hoyt shows up and kills the biker girl though, kidnapping three of the main characters – both brothers and the blonde chick. The other girl is not kidnapped because she was instead thrown out of the car in that crash earlier, yet she's perfectly fine and without a scratch on her! Because, I guess they can't have anything that ruins her hotness at all, lest they lose the interest of the people they delusionally think are watching.

The next forty minutes of this movie is all a bunch of torture porn nonsense. Really nothing scary at all – just gore and torture crap, which is almost always awful no matter what. A few highlights:

There's a needless scene where Hoyt makes the one brother do push-ups and then keeps hitting him while he's down. It goes on waaaay too long and has no point – Ermey's character just isn't well written enough to make it work as a tense scene. It's kinda gross and weird, but not scary or tense in the least. Plus being in broad daylight makes it kind of lame.

He's in the military and can barely do any push ups. Weird.

The main girl teams up with this lone biker guy to go save everyone, and their brilliant plan is of course to go do it alone. No point in even trying to get help, because what would THAT accomplish? You know, except for an awesome scene where a bunch of badass bikers fight Leatherface? That would actually be a cool scene, but what do we get? Just more of the same boring crap.

Instead, the biker shoots this old man in the family and then is butchered by Leatherface in an extremely predictable manner – it is always amazing to me how horror movie scripts do these tired, predictable scenes over and over like this. Do they think we all just have amnesia and really don't know what's going to happen at every fucking turn? I really want to meet the ideal person they think is going to watch this: “Holy fuck, I never expected him to jump out at that extremely obvious moment! What avant garde film technique!”

It's gory, but is it scary? No. No it isn't. That would require actual suspense and stuff we haven't seen a hundred times over.

Then Hoyt decides to make Leatherface cut off the old guy's legs, both of them, because he was shot in one of them. Even the other family members seem baffled by this, which is the real Litmus test for what a piece of shit you are, if the Leatherface family thinks you've gone too far.

So while the 2003 remake skipped out on the dinner scene so infamous in the original film, THIS one decided to put it in for no logical reason at all! Better late than never I guess, even when it makes no sense. Except I guess to establish that... the family is crazy and has always been crazy, since they apparently do this constantly? What an astute judgment of their characters. Why aren't the writers working in the field of clinical psychology?

"We could just kill you now, but that would make no sense for our plan of making no sense. We're just crazy! So we do nonsensical things!"

Hoyt gets beaten up with his head smashed against the floor several times, which looks pretty bad. It was mentioned at some point that he was in the Korean war – so can this just be a Jacob's Ladder scenario where none of this movie happened and it's all in his head as he's dying? Both of those things would be the best case scenario for me.

Then the main girl escapes and goes running through another meat factory, exactly like in the end of the 2003 remake. I wonder if the Leatherface family feels weird about their lives repeating all these moments over and over again, verbatim, like they're trapped in a Hellish loop.

Perhaps the silliest part of all is when she finds this car and gets in, only for Leatherface to suddenly pop up in the back seat after several minutes of driving and kill her. How did she NOT see him back there? He's a seven foot tall fucking giant with a chainsaw. That car isn't that big – it's not like he had a lot of room. So what the fuck, right? I don't feel bad at all about her dying because of this.

"I am very quiet and flexible enough to fit into small places. Isn't that cool?" 

I turned to Nathan before this happened, as she was getting in the car, and was like, wouldn't it be funny if he just popped up in the car behind her like Michael Myers? We laughed about it. Then it happened. That's pretty bad. How dare this movie appease the ridiculous whims of my imagination?

Then Leatherface gets out of the car and walks away into the complete black darkness on the other side of the road. Why is it like that? Can't they put in some fucking street lights over there?

She crashes her car into a state trooper and kills him - some street light could've prevented this tragedy.

Seriously, though, what's the point of anything in this? It's supposedly a prequel to show what happened before the Texas Chainsaw story, but it doesn't do anything but give us a rehash of the same shit we already know about. Oh, but there's a two-second scene of him being born and then finding a chainsaw! The audience was really too dumb to piece THOSE things together!

The rest of it is just boring. The original was good because the violence felt real and they didn't just shove blood and guts in your face from people tied to tables. This one is a bunch of torture porn gore garbage. Fuck this.

Images copyright of their original owners, we own none of them.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Logan (2017) and the Value of Quitting While Ahead

Here's the Cinema Freaks podcast (featuring myself and Tony) for the new movie Logan, in theaters now:

(SPOILERS in the video!)

By now you've likely seen Logan or at least heard about it and have plans to see it, so here's my take. This is one of the greatest superhero movies ever made. I don't think that's too hard a bar to clear – what else would make the cut? Superman from the 70s. The 1989 Burton Batman. The Dark Knight. Maybe a few others based on your personal taste, but I think this is pretty close to a prime cut for the genre that has grown out of being a niche and into a full-blown phenomenon as you can get.

People love superheroes, and this movie is basically for the people who were kids in the 80s and 90s and have now grown up – but still love their old favorite characters. Superheroes, like it or not, aren't just for kids anymore – geek culture has gone mainstream and those who liked this stuff when they were younger aren't letting it go, entranced as they are by the timeless stories and the iconoclastic characters. Logan the film is a dark, gritty, brutal and ultimately emotional and somber picture, and it's made from something that, in the 90s, was marked by pastel colored cartoon characters and colorful costumes fighting giant robots.

And yeah, I know that old show and the X-Men as a whole could be quite great at times before – I'm not saying it was just kiddie stuff. But Logan is another level – it's a superhero action film made with the class, artistry and style of an A-list drama. While it hits all the tropes you're familiar with, from a cross-country road trip chased by bad guys to a superpowered little girl and a reluctant hero, plus boatloads of cool action sequences fueled by superpowers, it does these things with a very serious temperament and a care for great cinematography and atmosphere more befitting of a No Country for Old Men-style dirge.

It's just really well done from a directing point of view, made whole by powerful performances from leads Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart. We've seen this kind of stuff before – old men reckoning the ends of their lives, regrets buried deep coming to the surface, an obligation to do what's right even in the face of the desire to just crawl into a dark bar and stay there. But Jackman and Stewart, framed by a vague story of horrible happenings years ago in which most other mutants like them died apparently, make the story visceral and intense. The story is tried and true, but what's new about it is how well it is done.

I like that you get so little of the backstory behind this – the film takes place in 2029 and follows, as I said, an apparent tragedy that killed off most of the other mutants in the world. I like how vague that all is. Please, filmmakers, if you read my blog – don't make any prequels to this, nothing explaining how this came to pass. Also, if you read my blog, I'm sorry if I bashed any movie you made and you're now considering making prequels to Logan in spite of that.

But seriously – that also goes for the fact that Stewart and Jackman will reportedly not return for any more X-Men movies after this. I hope they stick to that as close as they can. I think there is a virtue in going out on top and not over-extending your welcome. Personally, I hate it when a series just drags on forever and loses the quality it once had, and I usually value a concise, beginning-and-ending story contained in one film over a never-ending sprawl of them. The story should end whenever it needs to, and if that takes three good films or only one, I personally like to see it end at that point – not just milked afterwards for money.

In this case, both Stewart and Jackman are going out on fucking top. There's nowhere else to really go from here. Logan is a wonderfully made, dark, harrowing and sad epic, but it's also a testament to the power of quitting while you're ahead. Here's to that.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Get Out (2017)

So after the rousing success of Get Out, including a 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, director and comedian Jordan Peele is set to direct a handful of other horror movies about 'social demons' over the next 10 years.

I think that's fucking great news.

We need more horror movies about stuff like this – about the current issues of the day, about social ills. 

In Get Out, Peele talks about race relations and prejudice and turns those things into a bizarro-funhouse horror/comedy flick. The film, about a black guy named Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) who goes home for the holidays to his white girlfriend Rose's (Allison Williams) parents' huge mansion and begins to notice things askew, is a breath of fresh air for the nuance and intelligence with which it talks about its subject matter.

SPOILERS henceforth... is henceforth even the right word? I don't know.

The basic concept is that he starts to notice that the family's black servants, and the other few black people he meets in the area, are all acting really strange, like robots or aliens – to the point where things start to get disconcerting. At first, you think it's a pretty obvious and heavy handed thing – oh, it's about slavery, they hate black people, et cetera. And I thought so too. But as it went on, you see it's different than that. These old people are actually using the black peoples' bodies as a kind of body-swap thing, brainwashing them and then putting other peoples' dying brains inside them and becoming them. But still, also, leaving a part of the original person inside, too. Pretty cruel stuff.

I love the humor in this too. Like Rose's dad has a line about thinking Barack Obama is the greatest president of his lifetime. So how could HE ever be racist, right? I love it. Pretty soon, all the conversations turn into stuff like that. It's crazy to me – but hell, to a lot of people, this kind of stuff is likely routine and depressing in how often it happens. We don't know how to talk to one another well enough.

And I like that this is a film about race, made by and starring black men, that isn't just a period piece retelling the horrors of slavery or something like that. I think some more modernized takes are welcome now – there's more to talk about then that. Between this and Moonlight, I'm enjoying the takes on subsets of American culture we haven't seen enough raw, real takes on in mainstream movies. That's a good thing, to see more diversity and culture than just that of the standard middle class white guy protagonist we've seen over and over for decades. It's a step forward.

It's the mutation of racism into the modern day coded words, the 'oh, we don't hate black people, we enjoy conversations with those rare specimens under microscopes and in controlled environments.' It's all the bullshit racism still prevalent in our society that dumb people pretend doesn't exist anymore because slavery was outlawed and Civil Rights happened in the 60s, and that's all there was to worry about, right? God bless the U.S. education system whitewashing everything else that happened.

And we should have more movies like this – so, good that Peele is making more. We live in some weird, crazy times right now, very polarized politically, and social issues are increasingly in the spotlight as we continue to fight over them in the USA. Movies can be mirrors of these social issues. They can have a meaning behind them. Horror, too, maybe more than some other genres, can be used in an allegorical manner – fears run wide and far of so many different things in our society and that's why we created monsters like the Wolfman and Frankenstein to talk about them. Modern horror can do that, too. Movies like Get Out are an important step in that direction, again – I'm glad this was so visible and so well-reviewed.

“The best and scariest monsters in the world are human beings and what we are capable of especially when we get together. I've been working on these premises about these different social demons, these innately human monsters that are woven into the fabric of how we think and how we interact, and each one of my movies is going to be about a different one of these social demons.”
--Jordan Peele, in the article I linked earlier.

Spot fucking on, man.

For that matter, it's just an entertaining film. It's a horror comedy that exists as a tense, creepy thriller, but also injects a fair amount of humor into the whole thing. This is a funny movie, both in awkward, subtle ways as Chris navigates his girlfriend's family's weird, creepy neighborhood and in overt ways with the character Rod (LilRel Howery), a TSA agent friend of Chris's who helps get to the bottom of what's going on. It's just good to have a horror film that's also funny WITHOUT parodying the genre's tropes – we've seen enough of that shit. This is just funny while also being scary. It is possible.

So this is a great, smart horror movie that manages to be creepy, funny and socially aware all at the same time. Go see this. I can't wait to see more of Peele's films.

Image copyright of its original owner, I don't own it.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A Cure for Wellness (2017)

This is Gore Verbinski's new weird as fuck horror/thriller type movie about a crazy mental hospital and also eels. I went into this expecting something dark and creepy, and, uh, I got it.

There are SPOILERS ahead for the film. Be warned.

Director: Gore Verbinski
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth

This thing starts off with Dane DeHaan playing Lockhart, an American businessman who does nothing but eat junk food, work 24/7 and be rude to people, like all Americans and all businessmen. His bosses catch him doing something wrong and are going to fire him if he doesn't go to this weird asylum hospital place in Europe and bring back this top official of theirs who seems to have lost his mind there.

"We are business people, and so we have no regard for human life or safety! We'll blackmail you forever!"

Naturally, the place is weird right off the bat, with nurses who look too long at you and speak solely in cryptically threatening messages for the movie's trailer. The head of the place is played by Jason Isaacs, who seems to have drunk heavily from the goblet of Evil Villain Movie Potion and comes out with creepy music following him, a sinister serpentine smile and everything he says comes off as threatening. Gee, I wonder if HE'S gonna be the bad guy?! I bet this guy even comes off as creepy to the employees at the bank or the grocery store.

“I'll check out now with this gallon of milk, these bananas and these eggs... mwa ha ha ha...” (evil music)

“Uh, sir, you're just at the grocery check out counter, calm down. Do you want your receipt or not?”

There's also the mysterious girl who Lockhart sees doing a balancing act on top of the castle – we learn later that this is Hannah, a girl who has lived there her whole life and who the director guy wants to keep safe. So I guess that's why he just lets her stand on thin ledges where she could easily fall to her death.

Then on the way back, the driver guy and Lockhart get into a horrible car crash when a deer runs onto the road and crashes into them, sending the car into a Nascar-style multiple flip into the woods that should have killed them both. But then Lockhart wakes up without a scratch on him anywhere except for one broken leg he is apparently well enough to start walking on crutches with immediately. I guess the crash just looked worse than it was...

No cars were harmed in the making of this movie. Probably.

Things just keep getting weirder and weirder as Lockhart begins to suspect there's something wrong – something he'll CONTINUE to suspect for the next hour and a half of the movie, yet stays there anyway just waiting for worse shit to happen. He finds some weird microbe thing in the water, continually sees odd visions and has characters just act plain strange and ominous – yet he remains DEDICATED to staying there until he can find Pembroke, the guy who his company sent him there to find. I guess it's a commentary on how much Americans are obsessed with work? Or maybe he is just a fucking moron.

Then he does talk to Pembroke, not very long into the film, even persuading him to come back home with him. But then the next day he's told Pembroke's “condition” has worsened, and so now he's not available anymore, and Lockhart is blamed for stressing him out! Lockhart, naturally, sees nothing too wrong with this, and just sticks around waiting for him to come back I guess. This would already be the point where I personally would just leave and tell my bosses things have gotten fucked up. But not for Lockhart – he just sticks around.

Then, the leader of the place tells Lockhart HE is sick and should stay around and receive the same treatment everyone else there has gotten. Bizarrely, with no real logic behind it, he agrees to this. In one bizarre sequence, he is submerged in a tank of water and told to remain there for 30 minutes to simulate birth – okay, well, whatever works for you, man. The guy watching him, however, is distracted when a nurse randomly enters the room and flashes him her boobs, and he just sits there and jacks off to that instead of paying attention.

Unfortunately, that is also precisely the time when the tank fills up with a bunch of eels that really freak Lockhart out. He nearly drowns and is saved by the two guards, which, I guess is good that they prioritize drowning over boobs. This is never mentioned again – you'd think an American businessman, as high strung as they are, would sue the fuck out of the place for this. But nope. Never mentioned again!

Instead it's just more of the movie's elongated storytelling – he never tries to leave or do anything but confront the leaders of this place, which is pointless, because they're the ones who have the power to lock him up and never tell him anything. Just go! Run! I don't get what the hell is so difficult about that. But he stays and just tries to keep discovering the weird shit there. He doesn't have enough evidence yet that this place is weird!

He goes underground and discovers a network full of famished-looking elderly people trapped in tanks full of science-y looking liquid... his course of action is to stay there and shout at the people running the place. Christ. I bet if he witnessed a murder, he would just stick around and try to reason with the murderer; figure out WHY he's doing the things he does. Just go!

"Woah, I better not actually take any drastic measures now that I found this. I'm sure just confronting the owners of the hospital angrily will be good enough! They probably have an explanation!"

He even has a chance to leave, as he and Hannah ride down to town to figure out what's going on. In a very bizarre scene, they stop at a bar and end up getting in a fight with a bunch of kids that look like a schizophrenic's interpretation of the 80s, all mohawks and black leather. Luckily, the hospital people show up and break up the fight, taking Hannah back with them. Lockhart, for some reason, goes too. We know there's a train in this area that could take him out of here - why the fuck he's still staying there is so utterly bizarre to me.

Then his tooth falls out and he's taken to this crazy dentist guy. Just a word of warning – if you go to a dentist and he has a giant jar full of human teeth on his desk, like the guy does in this movie, then leave that dentist and run far away. Lockhart, though, sticks around long enough for them to rip out one of his teeth for no other reason than punishment, and frankly I think he deserves it for being so dumb as to stick around this long.

What a good dentist he must be. Look at all those teeth!

In between all these scenes, there are more weird scenes with eels in them. Just eels. Lots and lots of eels. Why, I have no earthly clue. I think Hollywood just had a surplus of eels that weren't being used in any other movies, and Verbinski just went "I'll use all of them!"

This is the cover for the next issue of the niche fetish mag "Girls and Eels" coming out this month.

Eventually, he figures out that his leg isn't even really broken! You know, just an easy mistake to make. I assume this is to speed along the plot as we're already two hours in and we need him to run faster. He rips off his cast and then goes about finding out even more of this place's secrets – because the rest of the shit he's seen just hasn't really convinced him yet, I guess. He finds out that the guards take dead bodies into this cave area and feed them to a bunch of eels in the water. Because why not?

Then they manage to get him again and stick him in this full-body tank with only his head sticking out, where they put a tube in his mouth and then flush a bunch of water with eels into his body. Because, again, why not? If you can think of a weird thing to do, just do it! That's the motto of this place.

You'd think this – with Lockhart now being brainwashed and part of the place – would be the end. But nope! We have a bizarre final 20 minutes where it's revealed that all of this weird stuff has been going on to sustain the head doctor played by Isaacs, who is actually a 200 year old baron in disguise who wants to fuck Hannah, who is actually his daughter. I guess this makes as much sense as anything else, sure. Isaacs' real form looks like a Marvel Comics villain complete with scaly green skin and super strength. Sure! Why not!

So I guess Lockhart kills him and he and Hannah burn the hospital down and then escape. The end!

Honestly, I kind of enjoyed this whole thing. It's frustrating as hell the way Lockhart continually makes the worst choices just to elongate the movie and keep him in the hospital. And a lot of these plot twists have been done before. But the whole thing is just so brazenly crazy, not giving a fuck what anyone thinks of it, that it's almost impossible not to be entertained by it. It's a ridiculous film, totally ludicrous, but it takes itself just the right kind of seriously that it becomes a gloriously bizarre freak show ride of a movie.

In summary, I learned two things from this:

1. Americans work too hard and are stressed out, but that's still better than what goes on in weird healing therapy hospitals in the backwoods of Europe by far.

2. Eels are terrifying and should be feared in the way that evangelicals fear God.

I guess that's as good of a lesson as any. Review over.

Images copyright of their original owners, I own none of them.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Top 13 Movies of 2016

Well, you knew this list was coming, especially since I did the worst of list a few days ago. And who am I to be overly negative on this blog? Here are the best movies I saw in 2016. I'm sure I missed a couple, and there may be choices you don't agree with, but hey, them's the breaks, right? This is a better list than the Oscars. Yeah, I fucking went there. Read 'em and weep!

In all seriousness, this was a super great year for movies. I had a hard time narrowing this list down. I hope you enjoy it.

13. A Monster Calls

A unique and atmospheric film about grief through the eyes of a child. This would have been an almost claustrophobically sad movie if not for the vivid, imaginative and colorful scenes from the monster voiced by Liam Neeson telling the kid a series of parable-like stories relating to his real life. This is a layered and somber film that explores human emotions in a nuanced manner – that's what I liked about this and why it's on this list.

12. Jackie

Striking, unflinching period piece on Jackie Kennedy in the aftermath of JFK's assassination. Natalie Portman acts her ass off, and the story about power at that level and how humans emotionally deal with it is dizzying, especially in this polarizing time. Great soundtrack and visuals add a huge atmosphere and weight to everything that happens here. This was a hypnotic, entrancing and gripping piece.

11. Captain Fantastic

Kick ass family drama/comedy about an unorthodox family led by Viggo Mortensen living out in nature and then they have to come back to civilization for a personal tragedy. This had a lot of fun scenes, some great drama and a lot to say about parenting, nature versus nurture and the ways family affects children. Lots of good acting in this and an overall fun, propulsive pace that made it a joy to behold.

10. Imperium

Really important film in our current political climate, for how it talks about white supremacy and terror groups and how one is radicalized. Daniel Radcliffe does a great job in this, but the real meat of it is the complex morals of the film – the way it portrays some of these young neo-Nazis as lost, disenfranchised, angry kids in need of a group to join is a lot more insight than most films approaching these subjects ever get. I found this exciting and provocative and timely.

9. Don't Think Twice

This is a really fun, enjoyable film, with great character dialogues that are funny and heartwarming. But it's also a thoughtful work about art and ambition, and what pursuing those things can do to friendships. This movie asks some hard questions about things and isn't afraid to tackle a story that so easily could've been cliché with levity and realism. Director Mike Birbiglia did a great job here and it lends credence to the idea that comedians are the modern philosophers.

8. The Witch

This is how you do a fucking horror movie. This has to be one of the most evil movies I've ever seen, with its story of a complete perversion of the Puritanical religious values. But it's also an empowering feminist tale of a young girl finding her way in that wretched, oppressive time. This has a lot of great visuals, tension thick enough to cut with a knife and building suspense. One of the best horror films of recent years.

7. Arrival

Denis Villenueve is my favorite modern director, and this movie is just more of why – his feel for gripping, epic, slow-burning stories of a multitude of genres is unmatched. This one is a great alien flick with twists abound and a good sense for epic cinematography and scenery. A visual pleasure and also a striking, individual story.

6. The Killing Joke

I've loved Batman since I was a kid, especially the old 90s Animated Series, so this was a treat – pairing Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill with the old creators of that series for an adaptation of one of the most audacious Batman comics ever made. This is a bizarre, provocative and polarizing story, but it's told with a visual artistry that makes it endlessly captivating. I liked the stuff they added that wasn't in the comics, too, adding shading and depth to these characters.

5. Moonlight

A lyrical, poetic film about a young gay black guy growing up in Florida. It's got a lot to say about masculinity and homosexuality, and how our culture views those things – especially through the lens of a black guy. This was just a feast on all senses. The scenery and cinematography were gorgeous and the story was raw and simple but layered at the same time. It's snappy, smart and powerful filmmaking – addictive and entrancing stuff.

4. Hell Or High Water

I haven't had this much fun at the cinema in ages. This is a neo-Western crime flick that just seems to go down the list of what makes a good film and check them all off with ease. Great characters, fun dialogue, a fast pace, great action and a lot of cool, gritty violence. It's a pure joy. I can't get enough.

3. Nocturnal Animals

I didn't see anything else this weird, unique or opaque all year. This is a strikingly individual film unique not in what it says but what it doesn't say, playing with your expectations of action in film by having most everything that happens be a fantasy, a flashback or something else. Yet, through that, it creates a layered, complex and dark story of lost love and missed chances. I was totally enthralled by this movie.

2. Swiss Army Man

This is maybe one of the weirdest movies I've ever seen, but it's also one of the best of the year. A deeply funny and strange film that becomes touching through really clever writing. This is full of a lot of juvenile (but funny) fart and dick jokes, and Daniel Radcliffe hams it up as a talking corpse leading Paul Dano through the woods. But through those things, it tells a wonderful sort of coming-of-age tale. It's a bizarre way to go about that, but you can't argue with results, right?

1. The Family Fang

I thought long and hard about this one, but frankly, nothing else I saw this year captivated me like The Family Fang did. This is a soulful and personal movie that weaves a tale of what havoc parents can wreak on their children and also asks some open-ended, thought provoking questions about art and its purity and what it can be used for. Layered performances from director-star Jason Bateman and Nicole Kidman and a funny, down-to-Earth script make this an accessible film with a lot more under the surface. It's a great flick and I hope people see it. The best I saw this year.


Here are some other movies I really liked but thought it would be a bit too long to put in the main list. So I am putting them here.

Manchester By the Sea
A tragic drama, but with enough humor and levity that it doesn't become grotesque. Casey Affleck really delivers here.

Edge of Seventeen
A fun, funny and insightful teenage dramedy with a great performance by lead girl Hailee Steinfield. Pretty much all of this was compulsively watchable and entertaining.

Green Room
Savage, punk-rock horror/action from up-and-comer director Jeremy Saulnier. This is a nonstop blitzkrieg ride of violence and fuck-you's to Naziism. Great music, too.

Doctor Strange
Marvel Studios' best film in a couple of years now. Visually fun and action packed with a surprisingly emotive performance from Benedict Cumberbatch.

The Nice Guys
A fun detective comedy with great performances from Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling – and the '70s aesthetic does a lot to give this its own flavor. Very enjoyable.

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