Thursday, June 28, 2012

Brandon hearts Statham (but so do I)

I read your post right after I posted my most recent one. THANK YOU! I feel validated. Your comments about Michael Bay went beyond what I was trying to say, but I agree. There are a lot of successful working directors out there who know how to put a picture together but don't really have a vision of their own. I wouldn't hold them to the same standard to which I'd hold an auteur, because they're not trying to do the same thing. They've set out to make a crowd-pleasing film and have been chosen for their ability to choose people who can get the job done, who themselves have vision but maybe for a smaller piece of the pie. When I watched the Transformers making-of video I was all set to defend Bay, but it sounds like he needed convincing to do the picture at all, and even then seemed to be in it for the experience of making the film more than the film itself. I could totally buy him signing on for ten more films because of the money he stands to make off them. But I don't want to shortchange all the other talented individuals who are actually putting their creative energies into a project to try to make it as good as it can be. I'll often appreciate a movie more once I've seen the behind-the-scenes featurette, even if I didn't like the movie all that much upon first viewing. Sometimes it helps to have more context, though a superb film shouldn't need it. Nevertheless, when I hear people talking about the vision behind even the dumbest comedies, it helps me to be able to enjoy them more.

I knew it was a Statham film, if not The Mechanic. I went back and reread your post and realized I was mixing up your love of Statham with the film itself. I'm not a huge action film buff, basically I love the Die Hard movies and I love Jason Statham. I've watched Lock, Stock, and Snatch, all three Transporters, both Cranks (Chev Chelios is the weirdest and coolest name for an action hero), and Death Race (I haven't given The Expendables the time of day. I want Statham to be the only star in his film). Conversely, I could count on one hand all the Stallone, Van Damme, and Steven Seagal films I've seen.

On a side note, I'd wager that the most homoerotic fight scene in recent history is in Eastern Promises, though I haven't seen The Mechanic to compare it.

Peeping Tom

Oh man oh man I loved this film. I don't know that I can say anything insightful about it, but everything I've read about it being ahead of its time is absolutely true. Almost everything about it was perfect: the pacing, the soundtrack, the acting, the suspense, the lighting, the cinematopgraphy. This may be the best serial killer/horror film I've ever seen (as opposed to straight-up slasher--e.g. Se7en is serial killer horror, while Friday the XIII is slasher). I was riveted the whole time. Okay, one small complaint. The scene in the studio with the redhead dancing around did go on a tad long; it lessened the suspense as a result.
The actor who plays the young man does a phenomenal job of portraying the tension of having severe emotional problems while wanting to be whole and human. He wasn't evil; he was really screwed up, and it's easy for the audience to sympathize. The blind mother was a hoot and a great strong character to contrast Mark's.
Before the film even ended, I found myself looking for copies on eBay/Amazon. I think I want to own this movie.
It's on NWI, but only until July 1st. Have you seen this, Jeff? I think it's a film we could agree on.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Frickin' Transformers

A few responses, then some more about Transformers. I probably won't have time to finish this post, so per Brandon's request, I will write what I can and post it and finish my thoughts (maybe) later. I haven't even finished reading the responses to the conversation I started in some sense (the one where Jeff and I went back and forth and Brandon butted in--I know that was  awhile ago, but life has been a bit all-consuming lately.

First things first, yes, it true that Adrienne and I were a little shell-shocked after Hostel, and yes it's true that, while I've owned Hostel 2 for a couple years now (there was a coupon for a discount ticket to some currently playing horror film that came with it), I'm still trying to work up the guts to watch it. However, some of the observations I stated in my post Adrienne and I BOTH came up with in our discussions following the film and we both appreciated at the time what it offered to the horror genre. So don't let her convince you that we were just a couple of little girls who couldn't handle our horror. I'll admit that "enjoy" is not the right word for my experience with the film, but I have a genuine appreciation for it.

Both Brandon and Jeff I think misunderstood my one-sentence rating for Curse of the Cat People. I just want to reiterate that I may have liked it better than the first, but mostly because of the little girl's performance, which was simply precious. My confusion is in its relative lack of  connection to the original, and the weird ghost lady.

As for who I like better, Brandon or Jeff, the answer is that I don't like either of you douchebags. Haha, just kidding. I think I'm easier on Brandon because when he likes a film, he doesn't seem to need to qualify it as much as others in film club. He seems to have an easier time enjoying a "piece of shit" movie and, while he can be abrasive and irrational when he doesn't like a film, he is capable of appreciating lowbrow entertainment. The man liked The Mechanic for crying out loud. So, you're probably right that I should harass him as much as you.

Chris, we're gonna have to just agree to disagree where horror (and apparently 90% of everything else) is concerned. I guess I just think that calling 90% of film (and, by association all art?) "shit" is an incredibly negative view of human creativity and I can't get behind it at all. My nature is to try to find the good in everything, that everything has some kind of redemptive quality to it if one is willing to look hard enough and be open enough to it. Probably to a fault, and I'll be honest I don't meet a lot of people who feel the same way. So I'll own my weirdness and idealism where that's concerned. HOWEVER, great point about calling something "pretentious" being the same as calling it "shit." I'm definitely guilty of the former.

I thought the Ted Trailer was amusing, but don't really have any interest in seeing it. I probably wouldn't hate on it, regardless :).

Looks like I'm out of time for the meat of my post. But here is Jeff's quote that got me all riled up.

"What I specifically meant in terms of Transformers is that I feel that the people behind that didn't care about making a good product, they just cared about all the bank they would get from it. To me, that's evil and corrupt. You're purposefully manipulating people for your own gains."

So now, Transformers is not only "shit," it's "evil and corrupt"? Do you remember that Spielberg was the executive producer? Go to YouTube and look up any making of video for Transformers. You'll find a lot of people talking about the film who are genuinely excited about what they are working on and excited about sharing it with an audience. I'll admit that Michael Bay does come across a bit cocky; I don't think I'd want to work for him, but he knows what he's doing and puts his expertise to work, or he wouldn't keep getting hired. Nobody will put up with a jerk who doesn't know what he's doing. Sure, they want to make money, but I don't think that's all they want. And let's not forget about all the cameramen and animators and set designers and choreographers who are thrilled to have an opportunity to work on such a high profile film, because they do what they do in their careers because they love it and love film and want to be able to do it more. And about all the jobs that a movie like Transformers creates.

If I had $147 million, I couldn't make Transformers. Could you?

It's not like I love the movie, but I feel that everything deserves its due. And Transfomers deserves respect, if not for its plot or acting, at least its technical achievement.

Okay, that's all for now. Commence with tearing apart my arguments, everyone. Also, I'm not proofreading this.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Jeff is Entitled to His Opinion

I'm not calling you on criticizing Transformers; I'm calling you on using the same tactics that people who don't understand or appreciate things like modern art or philosophy or foreign films use to do so, especially when you're clearly an intelligent young man and can articulate much more effectively than by calling something "shit." My opinion is that if something is not to my taste or if I simply don't like it, that's one thing, but to relegate it to the trash bin simply because I personally can't see the value in it indicates a lack of balanced perspective on my part. "I was so bored by Transformers that I was staring at the walls of the theater" says a lot more to me than "Transformers is shit." And I respect a statement like the former much more. But that's just my opinion :).

Transformers is certainly not above reproach. Your comments about "appealing to populism" and "defending the extremely wealthy" are valid, except that's not exactly my intent. My intent is to validate the opinions and tastes of the many people who liked Transformers. They're not idiots or shit-lovers; they just are looking for something different in a moviegoing experience. I think that should be okay, relatively speaking.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm pretty sure that blockbuster films are socially, environmentally and economically irresponsible on a global level. But I can't seem to stop getting excited by the prospect of watching giant robots beat the crap out of each other.

You didn't think I was referring to you with the no personality comment, did you? I'm not that subtle, to be honest.

My bad for the ignorant statement about your experience with horror films. I don't think I'm confusing you with Chris, I just associate you so strongly with old movies and loving them almost unequivocally (I said "almost") and then conversely holding the newer stuff you see (particularly what's mainstream) to what seems like much higher standards. In that regard, I confess I think of you like I used to think of John (though when he said he got tired of watching old movies at that festival he went to, I think my opinion changed somewhat). You don't write about watching horror movies nearly as much as Brandon and I (and Adrienne, even) do, so I know less about your experience with them. On a side note, speaking of you and old movies, where on earth do you get what you watch from? And how do you even know what to watch? I am astounded by the number of films from the 1930-1965 or so that you've seen.

For the record, I don't consider "you don't like it so you must not understand it" to be a valid argument. But I do consider "you have a limited experience with it so you don't understand it" to be completely valid. I was just uneducated about your experience with horror films. I don't think you don't understand Transformers or even its appeal; there's not much to understand there. I just don't think it's fair to dismiss anything out of hand. I think you can learn something or find something to appreciate in just about anything or anyone, if you're willing to tale the time to do so. If you (or anyone) isn't, it's on you (and me) to take responsibility for not wanting to put the effort into trying to like something.

I keep wondering if my dislike for Breathless or Lonely Are the Brave might be cited in light of all my arguments, so let me put both potential criticisms to rest. Lonely Are the Brave is a good film; I just had an emotional response to it and didn't want it to end the way it did. As for Godard, I don't like his films because I absolutely don't understand them. Plain and simple :).

I'm glad my comment about you and John liking not liking films got such a good response. I'm learning that if I want film club to comment on my posts, I have to insult someone. All in good fun. But you and John do seem to dislike a fairly decent amount of films, at least relative to someone like me, and I can't figure out how to account for it. And it's not, as John says, because I've got shit in my eyes.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

In Defense of JDB

The funny thing is that I'll lay out my reasons for liking Julien Donkey-Boy and John will smite me for liking it for the wrong reasons. Let's see.

It's weird that I see it as a hopeful film. Not necessarily hopeful in the sense of its characters and their situations, but hopeful in that it's perhaps the most dirty and honest portrayal of mental illness I've ever seen in a film. Unlike his other films (and I've only seen Kids and Gummo), which seem to have a measure of detachment to them, JDB seems more personal. Indeed, he dedicates it to a relative of his with schizophrenia. You get the sense that as broken as they are, Korine loves these characters, even the nasty Dad. But he especially loves Julien. The scene where Julien's in the basement ranting into the mirror is particularly powerful. If Korine were just doing that for shock value, he wouldn't need to let it go on for so long. But he wants us to see Julien as he really is, apart from his family, apart from his world. Just him and the mirror and his illness, raw and laid bare. Not only does Korine honor Julien by showing him to us in all his broken glory, he also challenges the audience to dismiss their stereotypes of people with mental illness and to love them as they are. This is no Beautiful Mind. This is mud and pus and hose water and incest and the reality for so many people with mental illness. Why is this hopeful? Because we become aware. And awareness can lead to recognition and recognition to action. Maybe Korine didn't intend for all this with this film. But if he didn't consciously, then the film has taken on a life and message of his own. Either way, there are few directors who could so successfully portray mental illness without seeming preachy or sensational.

In Defense of Following

It's funny, isn't it, that the thing that draws me to the film is the psychology of the main character, while that is the very thing that others feel is lacking in the film. Adrienne says that I project my own ideas onto films, often seeing what isn't there. I can't deny that it happens; I consider myself to be a pretty empathetic person, so it's not typically difficult for me to put myself into a protagonist's shoes. I might be doing that here as well.

I'm thinking of the scene where the guy brings Cobb into his apartment and then watches helplessly and defensively while Cobb pretty much invalidates his whole existence. Insult is added to injury when we later find out that Cobb knew it was his apartment. That scene made me cringe; I felt bad for the guy and it seemed tragic to me that he got caught up in the whole scenario because, essentially, of his lack of social skills and discernment. The guy's not a bad guy, he got with the wrong crowd and didn't have the self-awareness to get himself out in time. He doesn't deserve to go to jail for someone else's crime. He's even barely responsible, in my opinion, for the murder he committed because he was so under Cobb's influence. He's not relatable perhaps because he's barely a person. But this is not necessarily because of poor character development; this is because that is his personailty. And there are people out there without personalities. And I feel sorry for them.

In Defense of The Avengers

So, really, guys, are you all just totally above something being cool for the sake of its special effects and fun action sequences? I haven't written about The Avengers so far because it's just been a comment here, a comment there. But all of them are amounting to "meh" and the cumulative effect is getting to me. MEH? How can you say "meh" to Thor's hammer striking Captain America's shield and the ear-shattering gong that results? How many times have comics fans wondered what that would sound like if it ever happened in real life? Amazing! How can you say "meh" to the Hulk ripping apart an alien ship, hopping in mid-air from ship to ship to building, wreaking havoc all along the way? How can you say "meh" to Iron Man in the propeller of the Heli-Carrier (the Heli-carrier! In glorious CGI for the first time in a film ever! Awesome!) spinning faster and faster and is he going to get out in time? Did any of you read superhero comics as a kid (I'm pretty sure you did, John, but you were probably cynical about them even then)? Maybe none of you even has any business watching a film like this, or any superhero film for that matter. I LOVED the Avengers and if not for my surgery, might well have gone to the theater to watch it a second time. Whedon does a great job with the dialogue (anyone read any of his work on Astonishing X-Men? Runaways? No?) and has a great sense for the characters, especially when the interact with each other. You get a clear sense that these characters are from different worlds and what they have to overcome to be able to work together to save the world. I read comics because they're fun and I like the characters and the action and the suspense and The Avengers captured that kind of comics reading experience really well. There's not supposed to be gritty realism and grey morality in this kind of movie. It's all bright colors and sacrifice and heroism and saving the world (a modern day western, John?) and Avengers gets all of that right. Bring on the sequel! And you chuckleheads can all stay home. Sheesh. "Meh." Seriously.

Oh, while I'm ranting, why is it okay to hate on films like Transformers? They're fun, they're exciting, they get your adrenaline going, they let you escape your boring existence for a little while. Why is that so wrong? [Okay, I'll admit that I do have some issues on a global responsibility level with the amount of money that goes into making a film like that, but even a modest art film that spends a few million bucks on a picture is still spending money that could feed a hella lot of people. But that's a total digression and I try not to think of it too much. Sigh.] Nevertheless, to call them "shit" when loads of experienced people have worked really hard on sets and designs and costumes and choreography for many months and even years seems to be disrespectful and unfair at the very least. A lot goes into those films and they make a load of money. These people are the best at what they do, even if it's not to my taste. And, yes, I'm still dwelling on those offhanded comments, Jeff. Sorry :P.

I'm gonna get lambasted for this post, I just know it. I love you guys :).

And Inception is freaking brilliant. Possibly Nolan's best creative original endeavor. So there.

Curse of the Cat People

Jeff, my Flixster reviews are often throwaway, depending on how much time I have to write about it. I actually think I might like Curse of the Cat People better than its forbear, mostly die to the little girl. She is such a strange character, living in her weird fantasy world. To some degree, I think I can relate my own childhood to hers. But for a sequel, it's not so impressive, if you're looking for more of the story after the first.

The Poetics of GLASSES

I think my viewing glasses theory fits in very well with Bachelard's Poetics of Space, don't you, Jeff? And I've never even heard of the guy! I love Brandon for championing that analogy, by the way. I feel proud every time he brings it up.

I wonder if my insistence on ignorance when it comes to film is a part of why it so much easier to enjoy it than those of you who read up on reviews before watching. Even after a film, it's more uncommon for me to look up what other people have said about it. Typically if I look something up, it's after some kind of "based on a true story" film to see where the movie differs from reality. Even so, I find that I have preconceived notions going into films that keep me from enjoying them. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is a good example. Genre plus director plus actors plus particular setting all made me think it was going to be a great film, and it was a travesty. I set myself up to be disappointed is what it amounts to. But I think maybe some people enjoy not liking movies (John, Jeff?) and feeling superior to them, so they try to facilitate that whenever possible (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). So I feel pretty determined most of the time to go in ignorant to a film. It's why I like things like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes so much. I can get a sense for how the film has been received without needing to know anything about it beforehand.

I LOVED Sara Paxton in The Innkeepers. She felt like such a real person in a way that seems rare in films. Either she's a tremendous actress or that's exactly what she's like in real life. I was really sad when she [SPOILER] dies [END SPOILER] at the end because I liked her so much. I disagree about the payoff. I thought it was fantastic. And I loved how the audience is left with the question of the degree to which the horror was her own making. All of your other observations, though, about the use of space and quiet interludes, etc. were spot on.

Once Again, in Defense of Horror

You wrote, Chris, about horror's overeliance on blood and sex. I would say that the slasher film is easily the loudest sibling of the horror family, and so it brings down judgment on the whole genre because its antics. I personally like slasher films, but Brandon, being as big a horror fan as I am, tends to not like them as well. There is so much more to the horror genre than the slasher. Don't forget that films like The Innkeepers or The Others, neither of which has sex OR blood, are horror films through and through. Even Picnic at Hanging Rock, which is a horror film at its core, is rated PG, for criminy's sake.


So sorry to leave you hanging there for so long, Brandon. Of course I've got your back, brother! And I'm responding still having only read through about May 18. I'm slowly trying to catch up, and hoping that my late entries into these discussions will still garner some comments.

Yes, it's true that certain movies get trounced for their formulas while others are allowed to slide by. I'd argue that films with more mainstream appeal--comedies, romance, drama, action to a degree--are given more leeway because, well, more people get into the formula. But sci-fi and horror film fans are a smaller (and more dedicated) audience (do they have rom-com cons?) and therefore those films and their fans become easier targets. Not to mention the fact that lovers of these genres also recognize and relish the formulas their beloved movies often follow. Galaxy Quest was a really fun film that lovingly poked fun at Trekkies and it was successful (in my estimation) because of how it integrated the world of the sci-fi film with the world of the sci-fi film fan. I only mention that because we've already discussed a few horror films that take similar approaches in how they play with the traditional formulas (though GQ is unique in the way in incorporates its fans into the plot): Cabin Fever, Cabin in the Woods, Tucker and Dale, etc. Hostel does some of the same thing, but it's ultimately a much more serious film, gangs of street urchins notwithstanding.

So here's why Hostel is not just another formulaic horror film and why it stands out. First of all, all the main characters are men. Men get duped, men get tortured, men get killed. Yes, there are a few female characters involved (so we can see that the organization doesn't only purchase men) but our attentions are focused on these young-men-as-meat. This is partly why I've put off for so long watching the sequel. I thinking making the protagonists female strips the film of one of its most powerful breaks from formula--it portrays men as victims. Now lets look at our two heroes, Josh and Paxton. Paxton is your typical womanizing college frat boy, while Josh is the sensitive virgin. Watching the film, we totally expect that Josh is going to be the one to survive, because, well, the virgin always survives (this is why it's funny when Cabin in the Woods plays around so much with the trope). But, no, Josh is dispatched pretty handily. So now we have Paxton left--to some degree it makes perfect sense that he would survive: he is more experienced and worldly than his friend and has the guts it takes to get himself out of there. But he also resorts to a lot of running and hiding, and fights not to overpower but to escape. This behavior is so very typical of female characters in horror films and it is refreshing and interesting to see a man in that role. He does rescue another character, and exact revenge on one of his butchers, redeeming his manliness somewhat, but in light of both the universality of Elite Hunting and the fact that his rescuee throws herself in front of a train, both acts are ultimately rendered futile. Paxton also loses a couple of fingers. In horror films, often the characters get out completely intact or they don't get out at all. It's unsettling to see a character survive a horror film maimed, and you don't see it often. It hits a little too close to home. We can be relieved because Paxton survives, but he has lost something permanently in a physical sense. [I'm thinking right now of Rick Grimes in the Walking Dead comics and how it's a testament to Kirkman's writing that he dared to cause his main character so early in the series to lose his hand, forcing himself to constantly write around it. Though he has admitted that he might not do the same thing, given the chance again.] It's possible that humans fear being disabled more than dying (I know I do), so to allow that to happen to a character in a horror film disrupts the roller coaster ride to an extent. Finally, on top of all the other breaks from the formula, you have, as Brandon points out, this notion of an organization that is so much bigger than a solitary psycho on the loose. Here's where Roth is making a serious commentary on the darkness of humanity. We're not dealing with a solitary crazy mental ward escapee, we're dealing with horror on an organized, global, and institutional level. So, no matter where Paxton goes, it fair to say that the horror he escaped from will still exist around him. And he'll have to live with the knowledge on a daily basis.

No offense, Jeff, but I chalk up your inability to see these distinctions to your lack of experience with the genre. Granted, a lack of desire for familiarity with the genre doesn't help either, but relegating films  for which you don't understand the appeal to "shit" may be a little harsh. I liked Transformers 1 and 3 (the second one was kinda crappy), if only because watching CGI robots duke it out is really cool to me. I won't say they're great movies but they deserve their audiences as much as your 1930's films or your highfalutin' artsy foreign films.

A word about Funny Games--the main difference between Funny Games and a film like Hostel is that FG focuses on the villains, while Hostel (and most horror films) focuses on the victims. In FG, we're essentially experiencing the horror through the bad guys' eyes (though we don't realize it at first), and it's a testament to Haneke's skill that he is able to do that effectively enough that we can see the satire and cynicism in their behavior. We're detached enough from this poor family's horror that we can be interested in the torturer's actions and in trying to figure out what could possibly be motivating them. They would make perfect candidates for A Clockwork Orange's government rehabilitation program, don't you think? Am I the only one who sees a striking correlation between these two films? The household rape scene in ACO seems to be cut from the same cloth as FG's feature-length sequence. It makes me wonder if it was all Haneke could do to keep his boys from belting out "Singin' in the Rain."

Following (from quite a distance)

I've now caught up with your blogs through about mid-May, and here's what I have to say so far. I loved Cabin Fever; I enjoyed and appreciated Hostel. There was not only a nice structure to the film; it also played around with horror tropes in some unique ways, clearly building on what Roth started in CF. I'm disappointed he hasn't done anything really noteworthy since. I think he's a talented and knowledgable director who has a wonderful tongue-in-cheek mentality that's great for horror.

I had seen Following before but forgot all about it until maybe halfway through. I like the ending a lot, because both times I found myself in the shoes of the protagonist and I love that feeling in a film of having the rug pulled out from under you. I like trying to figure out if here's any way out of his mess, and I like thinking about how he got pulled into the whole mess and whether or not he could have avoided it. The protagonist is an interesting character and I find myself wondering about him and who he is, and what's going on with him psychologically that he was able so easily to be pulled from being so passive to being so active and involved in his criminal behavior. And that he was able to be duped so easily. He makes me think that I should be vigilant and deliberate in determining for myself what lines I can and cannot cross and not wait for the pressure to be on in order to decide what's right or wrong for me. The protagonist of Following was so desperate for human connection that he used poor judgement and got himself in a fine mess. And see how Nolan, from Following to Memento to Batman is so very interested in these detached characters who long for connection but because of their self delusions end up going about getting it in all the wrong ways.

Batman is mentally ill. We all know that, right?