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.