“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.”  



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.

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

A pretty good write-up of Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds at Taki’s Mag:

“Put another way, if one were to imagine the ultimate anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi propaganda film about how the Second World War was marked by distinguished German officers being terrorized by a band of Jewish maniacs, would it look much different than Inglourious Basterds?”
–Richard Spencer in Holocaust Revisionism

As a friend pointed out, by branding this whole genre of snuff-action-horror its own genre (“torture porn”), Tarantino, Eli Roth and co. are being intentionally subversive  and manipulative, guaranteeing their films a critical legitimacy that is undeserved (ironic hate speech is beyond criticism!). The popularity of their flicks signal a worrisome trend on the cultural and ethical Richter scale, while simultaneously delivering what is a necessary cathartic experience for the mainstream movie-going public (pop culture) at the present time.

Tarantino’s movies were once clever dialog and characters, spliced with catchy tunes and lesser-known pop and film references. Everything he’s done in this century, “following the box-office failure of Jackie Brown, his sole effort at non-ultra-violence,” have been 90+ minute elaborations of the cop/ear torture scene from Reservoir Dogs, or the “gimp” scene from Pulp Fiction. How Clockwork Orange lolz.

Friday the 13th: TGIF amirite?

September 13, 2009


Friday the 13th
Directed by Marcus Nispel
Written by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift
Starring Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Aaron Yoo, Travis Van Winkle, etc.
2009, Platinum Dunes/New Line Cinema, 97 minutes.



where's Ice Cube?

It’s been years since I last saw a movie in this franchise, but I still find the sad, sinister character of Jason Vorhees and what he represents to be interesting. Like in Halloween, the classic slasher flick slinging messages of male sexual repression, Jason’s violent expressions ring of cathartic urges, and immediately befall all characters partaking of lustful behavior. The original 1980 Friday the 13th took place at the fictional Camp Crystal Lake, and the aesthetic, not unlike a summer camp experience, was grimy and budget. Camp counselors are a good symbolic target for a distressed social pariah’s rage, as American summer camp is well-known in the states as the place where all teens (nerds and jocks alike) get a good piece of tail for the first time. Jason’s onslaught is the cumulative rage of all outcasts who share his ostracized position of being without a partner to swap mucus-membranes for the summer (or a lifetime).

This rendition (directed by Marcus Nispel, who did the 2003 remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre) is a reinterpretation of certain elements of the slasher franchise, but is set in present day (it isn’t a throwback period piece like several recent horror remakes). Portions of Jason’s background are explored — just enough to make the audience feel slight twinges of sympathy. Interestingly enough, marijuana, as a blatant symbol of the repressed elements of modern American society, is featured heavily as a set-piece within the storyline. There’s fresh crop of illegal pot growing right in Jason’s backyard, which attracts a lot of spoiled yuppie/college types to his macabre corner of the woods. It is amusing here that the ultimate catatonic psychopath lives on a weed grove and then carves up numerous party animals trying to get high. Weed is for thieving nihilists who deserve to be killed!… or something (uh, also, horror fans are often potheads, right?).

21st century Hollywood cliches here are played so hard, they become humorously self-deprecating (the nerdy Asian kid who can’t get girls; the cool, aloof, athletic black guy; the bullying, blonde, spoiled, rich asshole). In that sense it’s treating the cliches of the genre as bare-bones as possible within the ultra-crisp, high-budget framing of this remake. It’s not impressive as cinema goes, but the archetypes of the genre are still entertaining when played correctly.

As I alluded to before, the character of Jason still makes me think of the increasing number of sexually frustrated, economically powerless males that exist in the world today, and how the powerful try to sweep them under the greater social rug instead of embracing their issues, thus socially alienating them absolutely. But in trying to cut off this “problem” that lazily, it comes back again and again, because it’s part-and-parcel to the irresponsible, over-privileged behaviors that spurned it in the first place. And like unresolved problems tend to do, Jason comes back to haunt later generations.

But none of this is new to the horror/slasher genre, and it isn’t very important to anyone watching this on a lazy evening. It’s gory, with some real nasty deaths, and the introduction piece is done in a tasteful manner, foreshadowing while also riding on the prior established monotony of the Friday movies. The settings have a touch of that grimy, greenish-brown “Hostel” vibe to it — which I could do without, but the pacing is tight, the film is crisp and the characters are hollow, shallow and pretty. It’s also pleasantly devoid of direct one-liners, though there are a lot of hilarious moments that don’t require heavy cynicism on the viewer’s behalf. The movie is not original by any stretch, but it has a very quiet sense of humor that actually makes the darker, lonelier portions of the movie resonate a little more, without devolving into Tarantino/Roth-style douchey camp.

And this one’s actually a product of the Michael Bay universe of magic and wonder! Now if he would only get around to making a Super Mario Bros. movie, I’d get off his megalomaniacal case.



@ Amazon
@ IMDb

Time of the Wolf/Le temps du loup
Directed & Written by Michael Haneke
Starring Isabelle Huppert
2003, Bavaria Film, 113 minutes.

AM WOLF. R HUNGRY!!Of the handful of Micheal Haneke flicks I've seen, Time of the World stands out with the most tangible message. The communication is straightforward without compromising Haneke’s directorial style and it does not emphasize the voyeuristic element of some of his recent stuff, like Cache and Funny Games, yet like those remains mostly a character-based tale.

The film follows a family through an apocalyptic disaster scenario but ignores the specific details and cause of the disaster/crisis/environmental event itself and instead explores the desperate, impoverished social interactions of the formerly upper-middle-class. It’s the atypical disaster movie, where instead of indicating a message through the variables of a typical horror story (i.e. the social commentaries of George Romero via zombies, or the horror westerns of John Carpenter set in man-made wastelands), the film-makers have chosen to focus upon the narrative of a single family struggling emotionally versus the off-screen calamity. On the surface the themes may seem cliche, man is his own worst enemy, etc. but it really presents in a refreshing method.

In the DVD interviews with director Haneke and lead actress Isabelle Huppert, they discuss respectively, the role of communication and self-exposure in modern society. Society, Haneke says, functions based upon communication — a lack of communication is terrorism. This is a theme of a great deal of his movies, where individuals destroy themselves or become catatonic and estranged from their inability to intimately share or bond with others , especially amongst the cloistered wealthy Euro-American elite.

Huppert (who is pretty hot for her age and on-screen most of the time and is in a lot of depressing European movies, including other ones by Michael Haneke which may or may not be about affairs, and thereby critically acclaimed in France) points out that the film is also about social nakedness. Everyone is the same in a crisis (especially at the end of the world) and is without the usual space and solitude that allows us to nurture outward social masks and private indulgences (illusions and self-woven narratives) of character. In crisis or apocalypse, we are all exposed to one another — forced into a brutally honest community, where justice is simply group survival (as per usual, hahaha!) and who bands together the best. Specifically she says there is nothing to hide at the end of the world, and from there we can start over.

And for a high-strung technophobe/polemic like me, that implies a lot of interesting things about the reach of the internet and the way we freely share our interior, guarded personalities on public forums and webpages, which are created for all to see because they are made in a solitary environment where we do not see the community react to them personally. This is an maybe an outlying connection within the film given the role of the formerly detached urban elite, and disaster as the great equalizer. People willfully expose themselves to others, but these personal interactions in “meatspace” are too invested in emotional control and willpower to allow us to express our true feelings (uh, or something…). What we can write is not what we can say, etc.

Although Haneke’s films are often very brutal and have their blunt moments, I don’t think they’re necessarily negative or pessimistic. Their narratives often use cinematic conventions that are slightly too abstract for the casual move-goer (and yet there’s somehow a large fan-base for David Lynch…), such as with his voyeuristic elements or seemingly pointless drawn-out still shots. But Hanneke’s rewarding moments are when he manages to capture succinct illusions which seem very real, not pandering idealism like most films. Which is really what you’d want in an artistic vision — total fascism! And never mind the rarity of this in cinema, where making movies is a job before it’s any artistic venture.

Also — good somber visuals (it’s Austria) and he doesn’t cheat and use music for every freakin’ scene, unlike almost any other celebrated, working director.

@ Amazon
@ IMDb