“How merrily the formerly weird laugh away their tragic history to be lured into events whose significance they do not truly understand by people they hope to befriend, seduce, enchant but who actually despise them and their otherness and wish to extinguish it.”


“By the way, this was not a movie about vampires, as in personifications of an infantile and perverse sexuality-often repressed, a complicated metaphor for the desire for immortality and the existence of death, the hatred and love entwined in those things, how there is sadism in the heart of that desire and a yearning to posses and articulate it, virginity, innocence, capes, and guilt. They were, like, just monsters. Which I, for one, don’t really consider to be vampires at all. These things are important.”  


St. Elmo’s Fire
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Written by Joel Schumacher and Carl Kurlander
Starring Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, etc.
110 minutes, Columbia Pictures, 1985.


Here’s a shit-show where everyone is loathsome, young, priveliged, and without any entertaining qualities. This is a significant movie for the way it is shoddily chopped together from lazy cinematography, rife with plot elements that are unpredictable because they are so completely out-of-place and unreasonable, supporting characters whom are introduced clumsily and then abandoned without any real reason except to advance a zany plot idea, and starring loathsome actors whose impressions feel like they left MDMA-sized holes in your brain. I think St. Elmo’s Fire refers to the rapidly spreading rash they all contract from sleeping with each other.

Today’s film equivalent, the canon of Sofia Coppola or the CV of Michael Cera, is considered brilliant (by the idiocracy) because such films frame this substance-less or meandering, melancholy-lite narrative within a well-produced project. As an early progenitor of this style, St. Elmo’s Fire seems to have no redeeming qualities, much like earlier flick, The Big Chill.

The Big Chill is worth mentioning because it was the first stupid, nostalgic, commercially-successful friendship movie I can think of that has no real resonance for anyone except people who are similarly vanilla flavored. The first “those were the days/we were young/fondness for youth” types of things. I agree, there is something ephemeral and seemingly magically touching about getting old. Kind of like how good techno or house music has an endearing melancholy to it (because it makes you think of casual sex!). But these movies really can’t capture that at all. They end up looking like a re-enactment of someone else’s lame Facebook photos.

There is a supreme irony to the nostalgia flavor in these movies, given how self-centered the characters are: to celebrate their nostalgia goes beyond distaste. St. Elmo’s Fire is a very similar movie to The Big Chill, simply made about 10 years later, and geared toward an accelerated, more saturated commercial market (I have no facts to back this up but it sounds good to me!). If you made the same movie today it would just be a Youtube video of your Facebook photo albums, with pop music that has been ravaged by the merciless audio-mastering standards of the modern audio industry.

Part of the reason common movies CULTURE suck(s) so much now is ‘coz it’s ALL nostalgia. It’s all hipster-consumerism (which looks like it could be an anagram for hippie-communism, right?! but naw…). People fondly remember shit they liked when they were younger, which amounted to things. People no longer yearn for their homeland in the same way as people in classic stories, because in ages past there wasn’t the same intense commercialism driving everyone’s memories. If you think about it, that is a business’ grand slam: to embed itself into your fond emotional memories. Hence we have a generation of boring businessmen and women stuffing the pop culture of the 60s/70s/80s/90s down our throats because they are nostalgic for it or can find emotionally needy customers who are.

By the way, this movie is supposed to take place in Georgetown (Washington, DC) but it is worth noting that there are no significant shots indicating this is in fact the city they are in. I would actually wager they filmed this in Boston or Philadelphia or some such place. And also, Rob Lowe is an intolerable little shit.

A Serious Man
Directed/Produced/Written by Joel & Ethan Coen.
Starring Michael Stuhlbarg, Fred Melamed, Richard Kind, Sari Lennick, etc.
109 minutes, Relativity/Studio Canal, 2009.


So the Coen brothers are essentially absurdist filmmakers. Their narratives, even when cleanly concluded, never have the closure or satisfaction of fairy-tales. Life is a puzzle; those who survive in their limited happiness do so within a sort of obliviousness. A Serious Man is a look at what happens when the obliviousness crumbles, and one is vulnerable to the way things really are. There is no true compassion in one’s community and no answers (or end) to the hardships that face us.

A Serious Man is basically the story of Job from the Old Testament. Suffer, suffer, then suffer some more. The story questions God a lot, which is in contrast to the original story; but maybe acknowledging God’s existence at all is the modern equivalent — especially in the face of calamity.

But what I want to know is, why the questions poised to God? Not because they won’t be answered, but because they are still not very serious questions. Questions to any God at all are still an attempt to absolve personal responsibility, not for one’s own well-being or lack thereof, but for one’s spiritual existence. If there is any God with a personality, this God is just as infallible as any individual personality would be (no shit, right?). These kinds of questions, which Woody Allen and Ingmar Bergman loved to toss around, sound like the bleating of sheep. It is an attempt to kindle camaraderie amongst the un-mystically inclined intelligentsia, who secretly wish to believe they have that spark. I suppose there is some sort of term for this brand of irony, where an artist or entertainer’s very patrons make up the subjects of their satire.

What we learn from the movie, is that there are no answers to these questions, but suffering is an infinite resource. Furthermore, when asking them the hard questions, people just want you to fuck off. They won’t tell you straight-up that there are no answers, they will just find your presence repellent, a dead weight. The answer: please take your time to smell the flowers.

Anyway, this is one of the most grim movies that exists, but is still really heavy on the heartstrings. The Coen bros are the true modern heirs of the absurdist/existentialist theater. Aronofsky is a shadow of these guys, if only evidenced by the multitude of humorous, horrifying and endearing qualities almost every Coen bros. movie has by comparison. But it all remains in a very empirical setting, much like Woody Allen.

It’s very… athiestic.

Meet Joe Black
Directed by Martin Brest
Written by Ron Osborn, Jeff Reno, Kevin Wade, Bo Goldman (and based on like 4 other things).
Starring Brad Pitt, Claire Forlani, Anthony Hopkins.
181 minutes, Universal Pictures, 1998.
Meet Joe Black runs a reasonably innovative box-office game-plan. It’s a sappy romance, veiled in a macabre tale about Death (the Grim Reaper type), who falls in love with a rich man’s daughter after somehow switching into the body of a young hunk he’s supposed to nab for expiration. It’s very much like Freaky Friday or the Prince and the Pauper, but with a boatload of romantic lies thrown in to balance out what would otherwise be hilarious hi-jinks (so it’s kind of like Titanic I guess?).
In this long-ass story, Death can only be shown the beauty that life has to offer via a rich man’s assets: his wealth, property, power and voluptuous daughter. I must say, these morsels do present quite a convincing case; life is certainly hard to relinquish when all you have (been given) are riches, fine delicassies and sexual prowess. For hot rich babes (or Brad Pitt), dying or getting old will probably suck.
Meanwhile, for the rest of us sipping on the cold gruel of an average existence, something about this song and dance has a fishy aftertaste. Perhaps life’s deepest beauty actually IS found in exotic parties and a businessman’s fortune — I don’t have a clue. But I do have to ask: what mountain of human suffering must be traversed in order to enjoy such a thing at the expense of others? And given the unbelievable, innumerable tiers of hardcore brutal suffering available out there in the cosmic garden, what are the odds that your ticket in the human lottery will yield such a lucky fortune?
I’ll answer for you: not bloody likely. But I do like that here they’re selling the rich-kid-wildcard draw to Death as just your average, run-of-the-mill Human Experience 101. Life is a party, bro! Quite being so negative and join the orgy! I guess what’s really going on here is some cosmic scam artist is tricking Death into taking human form — and thus the same stupid samsaric trap as the rest of us. Pretty deep stuff actually.

Weekend at Bernie’s
Directed by Ted Kotcheff
Written by Robert Klane
Starring Andrew McCarthy, Jonathan Silverman, Catherine Mary Stewart, Terry Kiser
97 minutes, 20th Century Fox, 1989.


An artistic vehicle can’t help being some kind of commentary on something. For dontcha know, All Art is Propaganda, “the fool sees not the same tree the wise man sees”, and everything is just an argument for its own existence.

It’s shallow and gaudy at first glance — rife with tacky dark-comedy, but Weekend at Bernie‘s has some narrative tricks to tell. The title character of Bernie is/was the millionaire scumbag “Eighties’ guy” with tons of friends and money — shallow jerkoff in a jumpsuit at the beach. When Bernie dies, nobody around him even notices, except his underlings visiting for the weekend. Bernie is one of the main events at the beach town; people are attracted to him like flies on carrion. And right away you see his sycophants are so caught up in their own narcissism and shallow pursuits that they can’t afford to actually give a flying fuck about Bernie as a person, dead or alive. They don’t actually interact with Bernie at all. Everyone hangs out with Bernie exclusively for the luxury and status that his social-financial assets afford, and there is no interaction with Bernie, the tangible breathing (or not) human being.

Hmm, Bernie the tangible human being. It doesn’t sway people because it precisely isn’t tangible (even though people are… physical things?). Personalities and artistic endeavors sway people emotionally based on taste, but status, money, convenience, sexual allure, power — these things guarantee a modicum of attention and company: the oarsmen for the armada of the ego. The problem with status-based manipulation is that it is not actually deep enough to effectively sway people of quality, and those it does sway, it does so only temporarily, for their allegiance must always change to sample many flavors.

That’s the game of high society (and maybe all social groups) but it’s goofy here because it’s proven via such blatant means. Plainly shown, this is who Bernie is — or was, and who we construct from the variety of tongue-in-cheek engagements that take place with his corpse. He’s not really dead, or at least not any more than the people he keeps company with, because he’s just as active post-mortem as before. To be alive and aware requires emotional introspection and reflection; the people who cannot process things are the ones who cannot see a difference in Bernie — dead or alive. A person and their legacy are the projected constructs of other people. Status is an illusory social belief granted to those who define it.

There’s never anything particularly fuzzy or friendly about Weekend at Bernie’s and that’s what seems so ’80s about it. Part of the honesty of movies like Conan, Blade Runner, Willow, The Thing, Legend and a slew of other dark atmospheric ’80s fantasy films was they seemed to give an honest representation of depravity within a slew of seriously bold artistic choices and stylistic creations. Here whole thing feels like a very authentic emulation of shallowness, the bright colors, energy, and seeming innocence of the dorky protagonists. The difference is that the shallowness does not feel contrived, negative or soulless, whereas the same film today is so engendered with investment potential it becomes purposeless.
@ Wikipedia
@ IMDb

Enemy Mine
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
Written by Edward Khmara; story by Barry Longyear
Starring Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett, Jr.
108 minutes, 20th Century Fox, 1985.


Lo and behold — before there was Avatar, there was Enemy Mine! Another sci-fi movie with stupidly up-front PC messages about the holiness and wisdom of the simple life, the dumb prejudices of ethnocentrism, the malleability of belief given an individual’s social context, the horrible guilt of (predominantly white) colonialism, the importance of friendship in times of hardship, and so it goes. A worthy spectacle, but perhaps no modern treat for the masses — it doesn’t make them feel like precious little cyber-gemstones. It isn’t a lazy popcorn fest, but a substantial “B-movie”, with some ironic but endearing qualities.

Is the irony present here intentional? Probably not. It’s a distinctly mid-80s film, with references to classic sci-fi (gauche painting backgrounds and foam meteorite landscapes) and floats an over-the-top PC social message, not-so-subtly hidden, a few years before it was edgy and hip to do so. The Dracs are a stand-in for the various peoples European colonialists have exploited over the years.

The Dracs are a more interesting group than the blue freaks of Avatar. And unlike the obsessive idealized moral purity of Avatar‘s blue losers vs. the one-sided affair of black-hearted capitalism and machines (why does Cameron claim to side with the blue people if he’s very obviously an ambassador of the technology lovers?), the Dracs and the humans in Enemy Mine are subject to the typical territorial/resource squabble of all warring peoples and ethnic groups, with their shared wrongs and misperceived intentions.

The problem with Avatar‘s creatures is that they were too obvious and the played-out fantasy of the turncoat-white-guy shagging foreign babes was far too gag-inducing. I mean, if the dude couldn’t fuck the blue girl, was he still going to convert? That’s the most important question that the movie failed to address properly — except when the toy villain military honcho (pretty realistic despite fakeness) said Jake Sully converted because he got a piece of tail. Avatar replaced the visual sexual love interest with one engaged by our intentionally gradual acclimation to the blue raspberry people (we don’t know anything about the backgrounds of the people in the contracting companies, military, etc.), the sexual ties of which we still were supposed to identify with, and thus love the blue people for. It’s the crowd-shaker, the cheap-shot at the heart of the masses.

But fuck that! Enemy Mine is about a more vivid, real kind of love, absent of any blatant sexual love interest, presented more clumsily (thus more realistically), and hence talks about more profound stuff. Cultures are exchanged; world-views are seen to be inconsequential. It’s a desert-island tale that deals with universal issues  — from a cosmic perspective. And it actually has some unnecessary gory action scenes, giving it several extra points. The funny thing is that, also qualitatively similarly to Avatar, Enemy Mine has a really boring shitty script — laughably terrible. But it’s as if the script is hiding and conveying the ethos of the tale, whereas in Avatar the script is not hiding anything, it’s just a default — like hypertext mark-up. Both scripts are somewhat lazy stand-ins for the interactions on-screen, but one movie has no interactions to actually transmit, rendering the dialog to be pure podium puke, much as what you’d find miserably attempts to pass for dialog in Ayn Rand novels.

But even if it’s unintentionally badly written, Enemy Mine has homage and nostalgia going for it — as well as some outstanding alien costume design (the centerpiece of the film, really). Classic sci-fi films, B-movies of the mid-20th century were poorly written, acted and presented, and then vividly otherized alien species — the inverse of the zombie commentaries of Romero. Later Star Trek toyed with these ideas, and attempted to inculcate the audience into empathy for disgusting foreign species or beings, and then it was Mystery Science Theater 3000 which reinvigorated and enshrined in our hearts the crappy films of the of ’50s (Gen X’ers breakin’ on baby-boomers). Enemy Mine pre-dates MST3K‘s attitude slightly, and actually fits into its two interactive camps: light-heartedly admiring, acknowledging and then mocking crappy sci-fi (and outdated, oblivious Americana) and yet also maintaining a tradition of unintentional irony.

One more thing: like Avatar, Enemy Mine goes on for too long and also ends in a stupid fight sequence that is unrealistic and probably unintentionally symbolic rather than tangibly violent.  Some things in the movie are poorly thought out and some of the human characters are one-dimensional later in the tale (and the white humans seem to have a lot of guilt here too). But who cares? The movie got soul. Avatar, on the other hand, was incredibly limited in subtlety and vision despite its size, the cost and amount of 3-D visual technology on display — all as if to announce that our imaginations are exponentially for sale and that film as a medium is about to sleep with the fishes.

@ Amazon
@ IMDb

Directed and written by James Cameron
Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, etc.
2009, 20th Century Fox, 162 minutes.


The same storytelling plots and archetypes have been used and expanded upon for thousands of years. But does it matter that every story has been told or written if the current generation has never bothered to hear or read them? The narrative cliches here are common to the legacy of storytelling and Hollywood film structure, and furthermore are delivered without any subtlety whatsoever. Yet the narrative cliches are not as typically distracting or draining simply because the medium they’re being presented in is being dramatically altered visually. The awkward cliches are rendered painless by the visual narcotics, which gleam with an illusion almost strong enough to engage audience interaction and inviting questions about the evolution of media technology. Just as the play is an expansion upon the epic, the printed novel an expansion upon the play, the mainstream film an evolution of the novel, and video games are an expansion of the film medium, with this movie screening (let’s call it “movie +”) we have interactive suggestions of transhuman experience and real avatar generation (virtual reality).

James Cameron does not seem to have anything intentionally sophisticated to say. Most of Cameron’s directorial work amounts to family action-adventure, with 1-D caricature villains and cutting-edge high-budget visual effects. It worked best in Aliens, but became more obvious with each subsequent outing that he was the poor man’s Ridley Scott. Here Avatar‘s social commentaries are so overt and blatant they honestly can do no more than charm the reasonably mature viewer. Real-life 1-D people may find the movie and characters offensive (and so they are, if perceived as a literal reflection of real 3-D modern society) but the charm actually makes the message more resonant, in the same sense that the unintentional irony or camp of B-movie action creates a kind of interactive relationship with the audience. It’s an interesting effect in conjunction with the 3-D glasses and the impressive visuals.

So the layering is such that we have cutting edge special effects — effective enough to render human actors (avatars) unnecessary, replacing our human lead roles with computer computer effects, right in front of our eyes. It’s actually a subtle avatar transformation for us too, acclimating us to the concept of non-humanoid protagonists whom we emotionally will relate to (indeed, the female love interest is an alien with a tail, and save for the real human being Michelle Rodriguez there is an admirable lack of female eye-candy for a PG-13 blockbuster). On top of that, the optimum screening presentation uses 3-D goggles. As far as I can tell, this is unprecedented in a full-length mainstream blockbuster (Spy Kids 3-D and My Bloody Valentine, while cool, weren’t as successful nor optimized for the medium), part of a prop for the movie industry that is currently faltering due to modern networking technology and P2P networks, streaming HD media and high-quality home theaters.

Traditional science fiction, as I’ve said before, seems almost obsolete (both irrelevant and surpassed), but we do not pursue the space technology (or just don’t have the resources. See: global warming, oil prices, military spending, the war on drugs, etc.) that is the apple of our fictional eye. Instead, as my friend pointed out, the developed world has a common modern technology rich in data-mining and digital networking fueled by a mass-consumer market society, one thriving by selling people new stories about themselves. The emotional selling-point of mass-marketing new technology is that it gives the consumer a false, concrete sense of sophistication; an alluring impression of being able to buy class. But gadgetry is in fact, mostly junk.

Anyway, without the mindgames of the whole avatar/3-D/technology situation, you have an amalgamation of the following plots and films, most of which involve the traveling young Caucasian male undergoing an identity crisis:

Day of the Dead is worth mentioning because I haven’t seen anyone else draw the connection. It discusses the same direct “science vs. military” attitudes (liberal vs. conservative, pacifist vs. aggressor) within a cavernous human outpost surrounded by zombies, by way of anthropologists who want to study the same subjects the soldiers want to destroy. And like Avatar, it beholds a special effects spectacle above and beyond any of its contemporaries (Day of the Dead is still unique in this sense, using supremely fine make-up effects and being supremely R+ gorey). But Day of the Dead was done on a budget absolutely microscopic compared to the average Hollywood movie, let alone Avatar, the 2009 movie industry’s Chinese Democracy.

So actually a stupid movie, but kind of interesting, if not intentionally so, because it seeks to sell a complete visceral visual experience, but is still just 3-D CG (demi-god VR status). But it’s really gorgeous and (ironically?) features humans with alien avatars, which are CG creatures, thereby pointing out incidentally that CG effects are our avatars. Then the movie was so loaded with cliches but presented them so casually that you didn’t really focus on them — they just flowed naturally. And it occurred to me that narrative cliches almost don’t matter, if they take place in a new medium. The audience was tricked into being receptive to the experience before it even started and lost their critical assessment of the dialog, story, etc. which would be pig-slop on a tiny, non-3D screening.

*sigh* I know, sorry, this review was so obvious and unnecessary, but after watching the movie I felt compelled to practice my humanoid writing skills. Now I’m going to go watch some humanoid porn, just to make sure I am, uh… attracted to the right species and then smoke some weed cigarettes, to make sure I’m still a part of the beautiful conglomerate circle of consumer life.

@ IMDb

Directed and written by Lars Von Trier
Starring Willem Defoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg
2009, Zentropa, 104 minutes


Lars Von Trier puts on his Haneke-helmet, and winks at Ingmar Bergman’s Vargtimmen and Persona in the rear-view mirror, giving his own charming little nightmare production a critical spin on modern western psychology as religion (plus how people, mostly males, continually fuck up the earth in trying to understand it when there’s nothing to understand).

I have to admire that the movie was able to take something graphically sexual, and remove it from being sexually intoxicating or in any way erotic or enticing. Furthermore it did so via building up the sexual tension and increasing the power of sexuality on the main characters. The theater I went to was an indie, liberal theater in a city known for its liberal social scenes, and yet even this place came with a warning that tickets were not going to be refunded because viewers were offended by the pornographic imagery therein.

The sexual intimacy in the beginning is portrayed as a poetic, romantic act — a beautiful affair of the sensual world, the animal kingdom’s complimentary embrace to the tranquil snowy paradise taking place outside. But the couple’s sexual encounters become progressively more animated, vivid, tangible, strange and finally disgusting. However, the passion itself is expansive, as emotional heights and tension improve the dynamic of the sexual act, and make it more powerful, until it is likened to an occult force of exaggerated natural drives.

The path of love is fraught with negative emotions and the error of mainstream, puritanical religious thinking is to assume that sex is bad because it suggests sex — which is exciting and dangerous, when the error is actually that sex is questionable because people see it as something beautiful to begin with. Nature’s laws are raw and callous and sexual desire is the beast of burden.

Although Eve was created out of Adam’s limb in the western biblical creation story, is that an idealized male narrative, absolved of responsibility? The Antichrist figure — the intentional weaver of illusion who brings stark malicious truths, exposes that man specifically creates woman as a vessel for his desire. Woman is the Victorian “angel in the house”, a symbol for male romantic illusions of linear purpose, which are nothing but a self-made path through existence. But as a charming CGI fox sez* 2 Dafoe, da antichrist in question: Chaos reigns! Linear desire is somehow illogical! And true dat, fox, for what could be more bullshit than the belief that some kind of male-imposed illusory narrative can overwhelm the eye of the tempest? Existence is a black hole, brah!

And this is all a good time to be had in the theater! In the modern urban garden of eden where man and woman are being reborn into new social roles (being pulled together, inverted, combined) what is sacred and inspires awe? Lush, gorgeous aesthetics and depictions of idealized domestic retreat (think resort advertisements and New Agers — the whole movie is set in a deceivingly romantic getaway, which as is the traditional horror motif, quickly becomes dangerously isolated for all its rustic splendor), sexual intercourse and offspring, and Freudian-Jungian psychology. Freudian psychology is properly expressed to be dead, quite literally, in the film, and the rest plays out to the Jungian stereotypes, a la the visions of divine messengers and the breathing visualization/hypnosis exercises Dafoe keeps tossing out to his beloved (Jung is still pretty hip, or so I’ve heard from my crazy friends who have psychiatrists that double as meditation teachers). I should also add that the couple from the movie kept me thinking of how relevant the whole deal was to the yuppie/yoga types I see everywhere near the theater in my city, who are getting ready to raise a family with a partner.

Ah, raising a family! In some ways, isn’t it a malicious act — an abuse of power — to have a child? To have a little being to mold to your whim (to say nothing of the impending environmental calamity or social decay taking place in the world). And that’s the symbolism I saw in that opening scene before it was put in context to the rest of the film: the self-absorbed pleasures of parents who create offspring to fulfill a personal need that is bequeathed to their child, as it climbs through pain, grief and despair to fling open the doors to the world, which is revealed to be a beautiful but cold, callous place, where you’ll likely fall before you fly. Death comes from life.

But hey, we haven’t even talked about The Road yet. Oh boy oh boy ohboyohboyohboy….


In other news… Ann Hornaday reviewed this one and tried to set it straight for us in The Washington Post: “Von Trier fails to elevate torture porn”

“A horror film tricked out in the trappings of psycho-sexual dynamics and exegetical musings, this latest provocation from Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier qualifies as torture porn for art-house fans.”

Exegeminal what-now? *drool* Durr…. I like movies!

Hornaday’s review may be readable and way less insane in-depth, but her description sounds lazy or inaccurate to me. With regards to the above quote: that’s sort of what Haneke did with his Funny Games remake a couple years back, mocking the viewer in the classic Clockwork fashion and also deliberately emulating the actual sad state of modern Hollywood “horror” flicks; an industry that now relies on shitty horror/action remakes by music video directors, and torture porn scripted by video store clerks. Pop culture totalitarianism: you give the companies the power to enslave you.

While calling it “torture porn for art-house fans” might describe the tale’s aesthetic quality to the layman (it is gorgeous, has a lot of brilliantly crafted haunting scenes taken from the landscape and various abstract tricks — and there is hard-to-watch brutality at certain segments) but is actually an incorrect assessment. What Hornaday diagnoses as torture porn has always been a staple of art-house or cult fans, but as a separate genre entirely. Torture porn actually refers to lucrative mainstream perversions of cult and art-house cinema, like giallo or sexploitation films. Torture porn doesn’t actually have an artistic foundation; it is mired in more nihilistic sexual catharsis than sexual repulsion (and making ze moneys!). The fundamental aspect of Von Trier’s film is how it subverts that — it builds up the sexual elements and tension until sex becomes disgusting and is identified as the causal drive of the brutality in question. Putting Hanneke and Von Trier (and hell, even Argento) in the same camp as Roth and Tarantino is the same thing as mistaking love for lust, or integrity and substance for the medium they manifest through. They have similar aesthetic manifestations, but they ain’t the same.

@ IMDb


* I couldn’t help but laugh at that scene, not because of its over-emphasis, but because I simultaneously heard the Gecko muse that “greed is good” a la Wall Street. I can’t wait for Wall Street 2! Sike.

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
Directed & Written by Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg
Starring: John Cho, Kal Penn,
Rob Corddry, Neil Patrick Harris
2008, Warner Bros./New Line/Mandate, 102/107 minutes.


Harold and Kumar isn’t brilliant artistic comedy, but it is pretty up-to-date on how it engages in conventional social stereotypes and subverts them to good comic effect. Occasionally basic character elements lag, such as the retarded government official or the villainous white alpha-male with connections. They rely on the typical absurd comic exaggeration (which, par example (yes par example) Rob Corddry is certainly apt for in his role) which normally would work, but the villain character and presentation is often too tired and/or stale to engage anyone but really young or naive stoners viewers. The weed-smoking jokes do work (especially in the beginning) but the whole Amsterdam spiel is played and strangely outdated compared to the rest of the script’s social references.

Where the film shines is in how it flips slapstick/screwball movie cliches to surprise the audience and plays Harold and Kumar’s respectively pathetic romantic fantasies against each other. Some of the scenes are very impressive. But being Hollywood and the world of romantic-comedy (as opposed to tragi-comedy) the story stays in the fantasy realm and never ventures forth into the Beckett-like territory it could have accessed. There’s not too much to spoil, but the real failure of the film is that it did nothing original with the way the plot played itself out in the second act. The original film did this too, but under an appreciable absurd premise of trying to make it to a fast-food joint in the midst of a weekend late-night weed blaze. This time around, since the conditions of the story are already so spectacularly lofty, exaggerated and dumb, the smooth resolution of loose ends is a let-down. I was expecting a clever Wayne’s World or Blazing Saddles sort of twist, with a wink at the audience. Instead we get the exact last 10 minutes of Deuce Bigalowe 2.

Good stuff, even if it is only an aesthetic/social update of Cheech & Chong, Bill & Ted, and other clever stoner duos, for a new commercially viable generation. And they’re making another one, too. Yay!

@ Amazon

@ IMDb

Made in Britain
Directed by Alan Clarke
Written by David Leland
Starring Tim Roth, Christopher Fulford, David Baldwin, etc.
1982, Blue Underground (?), 76 minutes.


A Roth Co. original!Time to flip the script we’re using to investigate the repressed-male-violent-fantasy genre! This time it’s not martial arts fantasy, but working-class docudrama: ultra-gritty-realism and tangible fear instead of dangerously idealized narrative perspective and interactive irony. This one’s a docu-style short, made-for-TV film from the ’80s directed by the late, cult-acclaimed British director, Alan Clarke.

Tim Roth’s first starring role is a solid one. He gives a preview of the pivotal role Gary Oldman would soon after realize (maybe with a “romantic” twist a la John Osborne?), in the later Alan Clarke project, The Firm: the intelligent, emotionally damaged anti-social young man of Thatcher England. Roth’s Trevor is a skinhead, but his actions of themselves do not necessarily betray this. Without Trevor’s Swastika tattoo and a shaved head, he’d be any explosive anarchist or aggressively active punk.

The highlight and centerpiece of the story is the beginning of the second act where a corrections officer summarizes in visual detail on a blackboard, the way Britain”s legal and educational system functions, and by contrast the various life choices Trevor has made. The scene acts to fill in Trevor’s background — why he is locked up in a halfway-house without a job or school or family at 16 years of age. It becomes apparent that Trevor (and all like him) float around the system in a circular fashion, a kind of criminal water cycle, in which each step of the way becomes more pronounced until he is imprisoned, expired or helpless. Because they will not change to meet the system’s criteria.

But his cyclical position in society’s shadow also corresponds to his emotional state. A narcissist on the border of sociopathy, with serious anger issues, every minor disturbance to Trevor’s waking state becomes an emotional wave he has to justify through anti-social behavior. He actually cannot see the perspective of others because as soon as he hears their views, he becomes angry, and his anger is merely an ongoing fuel with which he rationalizes his behavior. His anger is the ultimate justifier and the only thing that is true, in a world he deems to be full of “fake wankers”.

To proclaim the world is fake is an honest, intuitively “true” statement, and therein lies the misery of entertaining it. The world IS fake. The fakeness and shallowness of it all, our compromises of integrity or morals — they’re a convenience to grease the wheels of society so that our basic needs and passions may be met. Society is a group compromise, a group effort — the ultimate corporate team. Meanwhile, noticing that everyone is a liar and is shallow or fake or whatever is also misery-inducing because it’s the incorrect assumption of taking everything to be tangibly REAL, when our sense organs provide only reflections of the physical world, and our personal beliefs themselves are malleable conveniences.

Likewise, Trevor’s position as a skinhead is a convenience more than it is a branding of any belief system. He uses the skinhead image as a platform for his explosive, aversive attitude. He cannot maintain any party-line agenda because his only goal is to reject authority or hierarchy beyond himself. Much is made of Trevor’s intelligence, how his test scores show that he is bright and smart — gifts he has used merely for methodical moments of destructive nihilism or anarchy. Much sensation is often made in media of the brilliant criminal — the brilliant deviant with no moral compass. But intelligence itself is not some human virtue. Like science, it can be pointed towards whatever human desire and reason yearns to explore, including negative ambitions.

Society’s conundrum in dealing with Trevor is played out through the voices of the two halfway-house personnel who try to reason with him. One wants to ship him off to be locked up in a mental institution until his court date, the other wants to coddle him and hope he finds something pleasurable to point his life towards — a hobby or interest. But the system is incapable of changing such people, who indeed are identified by their strong aversion to authority. And Clarke pieces rarely have a neatly conclusive narrative, or if they do, they intentionally don’t have any moral answers. Moral answers come from within the structure of the system, which Trevor rebels against.

There are some production qualities typical of Clarke’s works. There is no music except briefly during credits, and what music is provided is merely there to provide caustic augmentation for the nature of the story. The camera work is mainly subject to the isometric, over-the-shoulder approach found in The Firm and Elephant. In general the camera is a stand-in for us, the observer. The visual orientation works to make us a part of the story, forced to follow Trevor around and accomodate, witness or participate in his behavior. This is because Trevor is one of us (both symbolically and literally), as a member of our social networks, and as a purer arbiter of our darker moments.

It’s too bad Alan Clarke never got a chance to do more movies, but his small body of work is unique. He had a knack for making very moving, gripping portraits of dangerous, fringe, anti-social demographics. But then who is the audience? Using the charisma found in great talents like Tim Roth and Gary Oldman in casting these roles is, in a way, almost emotionally suspect. So at the end of the day, we have another glorification of society’s gutter and the path it takes to get there. But it’s a pretty honest one and even endearing at times.

@ Amazon
@ IMDb