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|21 reviews in total|
A good friend of mine, when faced with his own mortality, once said,
"To face the infinite requires profound sobriety, endless patience, and
guts of steel." The same conditions must be met when facing FRANKLIN: A
SYMPHONY OF PAIN, an unsettling cinematic masterpiece that one does not
so much watch as endure. Directed by Jeremy Westrate, who also co-
wrote the script with Richard R. Anasky and Sean Donohue, FRANKLIN
takes the audience past the Ninth Circle of the Abyss, bludgeoning the
consciousness until one is forced to read cinema as if learning a new
language. High praise but also solemn caveat--FRANKLIN is not for the
silly and the ignorant. You will need a robust digestion and an even
more robust spirit.
FRANKLIN follows the nightmare of its titular character (Nikolas Franklin), who in the film's opening reel is accosted in a public restroom by a pair of masked thugs. After being rendered unconscious, Franklin awakens bound and bleeding as a trio of "handlers"--two men and one women--torment and torture him, culminating in Franklin being sodomized with a jagged wooden implement. After a failed escape attempt Franklin awakens in a dumpster, seemingly free from his captors but the nightmare has only just begun. What ensues is Franklin's own series of unfortunate events as he wanders through a concatenation of fresh hells with seemingly no end in sight. Interspersed throughout this journey is a meta-narrative in which Franklin recounts his nightmare to the bullish Father Hyde Pearcy (Greg G. Freeman), who may have ulterior motives for walking Franklin through this "therapy."
FRANKLIN is not an easy experience. The barrage of tortures is as horrifying as anything you'll see in Japan's infamous GUINEA PIG series. The disjointed narrative and relentless shift in style are difficult to follow (I was reminded of Stone's NATURAL BORN KILLERS). The crazed retro cinematography, incessantly textured with psychedelic overlays reminiscent of Bran Ferren's paint splatter light show in ALTERED STATES, is distracting and almost seizure- inducing. Yet despite being difficult to watch, the film is nevertheless quite watchable. Its nonlinearity, while frustrating, is perhaps its saving grace: by never allowing us to fully sympathize with Franklin we never get too close to the nightmare and are instead forced to decode the troublesome narrative.
Deep into this landscape, it becomes apparent what we are witnessing is Franklin's torture-induced dream. Layer by layer, Franklin's identity is flayed before the viewer's eyes. Sodomy is an affront to his masculinity (a theme explored in Boorman's DELIVERANCE). After his alleged "escape," thugs destroy his driver's license (his identity) and a photo of his wife (the feminine energy, which "civilizes" man according to John Ford's westerns). Franklin's face, man's discernibly "human" feature, is disfigured with acid. He loses one of his eyes, the "window to the soul." He projects cultural influences onto his memories, establishing one particularly traumatic experience as a 1960s black-and-white sitcom (another NBK homage). He revises episodes in his head so that we, the audience, witness them multiple times with different outcomes. Just when we think we have a handle on his story, our perspective shifts, following the misadventures of the bizarre masked "handlers" who plague him.
There are hints of a method to this madness, and we begin to suspect that Father Hyde Pearcy is the architect of Franklin's suffering, a point further clarified by the film's "Prologue," which occurs at the end of the film. A post-credit quote makes vague reference to the CIA's Project MKUltra in which test subjects were subjected to psychedelics and torture to "promote illogical thinking and impulsiveness" (a droning computerized voice of the film's many hallucinogenic sequences further alludes to this). Even if you're unfamiliar with MKUltra (as I was), the film can still be appreciated on its own terms (much the same way one can appreciate PINK FLOYD THE WALL without knowing anything about Roger Waters or Syd Barrett). I was reminded of the internet urban myth that suggests victims of torture often recreate a seemingly "normal" alternate reality to escape their anguish suggesting that the reality you currently experience could be a torture-induced dream (creepy stuff).
If this is indeed the case, then FRANKLIN takes us on a journey through those realities, and it does so with great aplomb. The script is a messy mosaic of horrors that manages to create a unified whole like Seurat's pixilated dots. Westrate's direction of this material is assured, and actor Nikolas Franklin, taking on a role usually relegated to women in torture porn, delivers one of the most fearless performances I have seen in a while (think Helen Buday in ALEXANDRIA'S PROJECT or Monica Bellucci in IRREVERSIBLE).
If it seems I am referencing too many other well-known films, it's because thematically FRANKLIN is something of a pastiche. As a work of art, it has an odd self-awareness, personified in the character of Fernando (Angel Martin), a grinning hippie who often appears with camera in hand, videotaping the torture. It is during these scenes that the point of view will often shift the most, at times putting us inside Fernando's camera, making us complicit with Franklin's tormentors (okay, okay, I'll eschew the reference to the opera glasses in SALÓ). This allows the film's reality to constantly be destroyed and reborn, to write its own rules. Late in the film, when Father Hyde bellows "I'm the one who controls what goes on in your reality!" the film shifts to a series of surrealistic moving snapshots (Franklin's fading memories?), each separate from the other by the scratchy static of a TV changing channels. Could television, what Harlan Ellison calls the "glass teat," be our own "handler" controlling our minds?
A young girl named Megan discovers she is pregnant and desires an
abortion. The doctor asks her to take the weekend to think it over, and
Megan finds herself alone in a large and isolated house with her own
demons ... and perhaps something else.
Like most of Rob Kreh's short horror films, "Knicker Knockers" starts with an idea or theme but then chooses to turn its attention to traditional horror movie scares. This is not necessarily a bad thing. In Megan's terrifying ordeal as the shadowing "knicker knockers" tap at her door and ask to be let in (speaking in reverberating, monstrous voices), there are some genuine chills to be had by all. If I have a complaint, it's that not enough is known about Megan for us to really care about her (we learn next to nothing about the father of her child), and her ultimate fate, which comes about as a result of her final choices (key word), seems to contradict Kreh's actual message.
Still, these are issues that came to mind after the fact. In the moment of watching this 15-minute short I was compelled by the premise and duly impressed by Kreh's use of shadow and sound. Creepy, creepy stuff.
Those three words alone summarize the heroic spirit in all of us, and
that is what this movie is really about. Those of you who have seen the
film know what I am talking about. Those of you who have not, for God's
sake, go buy it and see if the moment when Gerry Black speaks those
three words don't move you to tears. In so many ways, those words are a
precursor to the words of real life heroes when on the darkest of days
the bravest among us demonstrated their American spirit with the words,
Yes, this is a great John Ritter movie, but as the other famous line in the movie declares, "It does not matter who it is." Watch it! And believe!
What crack-addicted movie god convinced today's pretentious crowd of
indie directors that the rest of the world give's a tinker's cuspidus
about the sexual problems of four unlikeable people. This is
essentially "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" for the 21st Century
angst-ridden indie generation. Gone are the days of sexually
experimental couples wallowing in the zeitgeist of 60s counterculture.
Today's philandering couples are so racked with guilt that it takes
them about five minutes to deliver a four-word line. At least one
person in the bunch has to be an unpublished writer who stares at his
screen unable to breathe life onto the blank page. The other three sort
of tap-dance around the issues ... well, it's not really a tap-dance,
more like a slow, foot-dragging funeral dirge as performed by
intoxicated box turtles.
Two of the unwritten rules of screen writing ought to become WRITTEN rules in the WGA laws, punishable by dismemberment. Said two rules are: (1) The audience needs to LIKE one of the characters, and (2) NO ONE CARES ABOUT THE WRITER'S DYSFUNCTIONAL SEX LIFE! Beyond that, it is all fair game.
This film is certainly unique. It creates a dark and haunting atmosphere
against a rural town in the 1950s. It keeps sneaking so many weird and
unsettling images into its narrative that by the time the really weird stuff
starts you're totally accepting of it. The film opens with a group of cruel
boys inflating a hapless frog and then exploding it in the face of a woman,
spattering her with blood and frog entrails. That sets the
I was not in the right frame of mind for this. But I cannot utterly dismiss it either. I was taken by the filmmaker's vision, and I had to appreciate his imaginative approach to narrative. But I was expecting the violence to be a little more stylized--actually, it's quite bleak and nihilistic. This film belongs in a pantheon of indigestible films like SALO, brilliant movies to be sure, but hardly the kind of stories to tuck you in at night. This is a compliment, by the way, as SALO is one of my favorite films.
I put a single adjective to describe my reaction to the film, but looking at
the word in print it does not do the film justice. In short, this was one
of the most emotional experiences I have ever had in the theater. Christ's
Passion is intense, gut-wrenching, angst-ridden and agonizing, yet
throughout the narrative the immeasurable Love of God is ever so
But divorce ourselves from the spiritual message a moment. Is it a good film? It is certainly well-made. Yes, Gibson did his homework regarding the Gospels, but there are numerous elements from the Elizabethan Passion Plays that are not explicitly described in the Bible (for instance, the Roman guard dislocating Christ's shoulder so His palm would align with a peg-hole on the crossbeam). There are also numerous images taken from the great Renaissance paintings and sculptures of Christ, many of them universally recognizable, some requiring a little homework. As far as films go, this one is powerful and visually stunning. As far as films about Christ go, it's much more.
I realized during certain scenes that had I been ignorant of the Gospels and of Christ's Love, I might have found some of the violence bordering on exploitation. But as a Believer, I was more moved than offended by the brutality. For those who think this movie is too much--that the violence is too graphic--perhaps your heart is not in the right place. This much brutality is only exploitative when taken out of context. If the acts of violence in this film were going on in one of the countless Nazi Love Camp movies from the 70s, then you'd have a beef.
But in the context of Christ's Passion, can it ever be too much?
"When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth," like its predecessor "One Million Years
B.C." was one of those great movies when I was a kid that helped ease my
transition from comic-book-reading, baseball-card-collecting dinosaur geek
to comic-book-reading, baseball-card-collecting chick freak. I was seven
when it was released, and I still remember the TV airwaves saturated with
advertising. I whined and screamed and begged my brother to take me, and he
did. Great part was, we caught this flick as part of a double-feature with
Harryhausen's "Valley of Gwangi." Eat your heart out, stop-motion animation
Perhaps because of the great childhood experiences surrounding this movie, there's a kid-voice in my head that still sees it as near-flawless cinema. But in all honesty, it's just G-rated exploitation in the purest sense of the word. The dinosaurs in the movie promos draw the young boys in, and once their behinds are in the seats they slowly become less cognizant of the prehistoric beasts and more cognizant of the way Victoria Vetri's cave tunic gives her breasts that extra lift or the way her legs seem to be constantly shimmering with sweat. Even at seven I noticed this, which is why "Dinosaurs" provided a great transition into puberty for me half a decade before it actually hit. A lot of fun, this, but don't mistake it for art. Watch it for the beasts and the (scantily clad but not naked) boobs, toss in a bag of microwave popcorn and a few beers. It may be G-rated but it's still kind'a fun.
What saddens me about contemporary cinema is the way it has become so high
tech that appreciation for the craft of Ray Harryhausen is all but lost on
today's generation. Many young people watch this today and say the
look flat or cheap. I dunno. I guess because I wasn't weaned on the
20-cuts-a-second editing style of MTV, I can still look at Harryhausen's
effects and stand in awe. Rent the DVD for "Gwangi," watch the short
documentary about how Harryhausen put the Tyrannosaurus roping sequence,
maybe you'll be in awe too. The thing I like about stop-motion animation
the surreal quality of its motion and the amount of work required to bring
it to life. As fans, we know that these are models, manipulated
painstakingly by hand, and when I was a kid the idea of some guy doing
for a living was amazing. It was like playing with toys,
I don't object to CGI today, but I must admit that because of the advances in the watching habits of young people, I find the multiple-cut editing style a bit obnoxious. With CGI, you over-edit because you can, because linear computer editing systems like Avid and Final Cut afford you that luxury (I'm still lost during sequences of EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN because my eye can't follow fast enough). I prefer the slightly more static but nevertheless watchable action sequences of "Gwangi," which I can view again and again with awe.
I'll grant you, as a whole "Gwangi" has flaws. The overdubbing of Gila Golan is annoying. The direction of the actors and the camera is melodramatic. We have to wait 45 minutes into the film before we get any quality dinosaur action (but to the film's credit, the last 50 minutes are a rollercoaster ride). The problem with the script is that someone felt they had to actually write one, someone unfamiliar with the conventions of the genre, someone who didn't realize that less dialogue, characterization and plot development (all shoddy, by the way) and more dinosaur action was what was demanded by the target audience. The nice thing about the DVD, however, is you can skip all that stuff. Go on, be a kid, and fast-forward to the Forbidden Valley scenes. If you have any appreciation for the pre-CGI pioneers of special effects (without Harryhausen, there could be no Phil Tippett on THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK), you will love this.
***** out of 5 for the dinosaurs; ** out of 5 for the rest of the movie
First, let's get the whole "intense" argument out of the way. Yes, this
movie was intense but not because of any miracle of storytelling.
Basically, it seemed as if the writers opened up their Fodor's Guide To
Disturbing Plot Elements and ran down the checklist. Child molestation ...
check! Cruelty to animals ... check! Baby-killing ... check! Prison
rape... check! Living life as an amputee ... check! Having a psycho take
an aluminum bat and go yard with your skull ... check!
Intense subject matter does not a great story make. The basic premise of this film is that Evan (Ashton Kutcher) thinks he can go back in time and make the lives of those he loves better by eliminating one or more of the aforementioned miserable life experiences. Of course, every time he goes back, he throws the space-time continuum out of flux, thereby creating a ripple effect of alternate miserable life experiences and making things worse for himself. Not a bad premise--who among us has not wished for this power?--but the story exposes itself as a sham by the second act.
Case in point. Evan goes back to being seven years old, and averts a lifetime of child molestation for his friend Kayleigh (Amy Smart) just by getting in her abusive father's face. Do these writers know anything about abusers? Do they really think an alcoholic abuser would back down from a mouthy child, do a 180 and transform from a pedophilic creep to a loving father? But no, this one act is the difference between Kayleigh become a suicidal basket case and her evolving into a lovely, balanced college girl. Thank God one child was tough enough to say, "Leave us alone," and one pedophile was rational enough to stop. It don't happen that way, folks, and anyone who's been molested will say as much.
Trouble is, this one act may alter Evan's adult reality, but it still leaves a lot of other events in his history (events that by virtue of the butterfly effect should have been changed) unchanged. If his one act stops the child molestation, would the other events in his life--the murder of his dog and the death of the baby--also be different?
The biggest problem with the movie, though, is the utter irresponsibility of it all. During the first act, when we get to see all of the horrors of Evan's existence, the film works itself out like a piece of shock exploitation. You can almost see the writers yucking it up over scotch and soda by their word processor saying, "And then let's have Tommy put a dog in a sack and set it on fire! Boy, that'll freak people out!"
Okay, if this had been exploitation along the lines of "Ilsa" or "Salo," maybe this crap is appropriate. But this is a mainstream Hollywood movie, starring Kelso from "That's 70s Show," being touted by the blurbs on the TV ads as a "rollicking, high-speed, suspenseful rollercoaster ride"! This movie pushes the envelope, brings up some disturbing images that will traumatize those who have, unlike the writers, really experienced such horrors ... then it tries to wrap it all up with neat little answers.
Rated PG for Pure Garbage.
I've read several comments by people under the age of 30 who trash on this
film, call it crap, and characterize us fans as vapid, thorazine-addled
retards. Whatever makes you happy, folks! If trashing on a film that was
seminal in the annals of low-budget cinematic resourcefulness makes you
special then I'm happy for you.
There is a reason we love this film. The script is clever, a veritable mosaic of silly twists and throwaway jokes so layered that it takes multiple viewings to keep up with it all (favorite line: "It's not my ******* planet, Monkey Boy!"). And the direction and approach is equally exciting: rather than annoy us with underfinanced special effects that pretend to be Lucasfilm quality, the director revels in his low budget, using conk shells as models for space ships and populating alien ship interiors with tubes, pipes, rods and duct tape. The aliens come off as resourceful-albeit-goofy packrats, bumbling about and managing to stay just a few steps ahead of Buckaroo until the very end.
For many of us over 30, this film was something special. We caught it at midnight movie houses and relished in the warm presence of a movie made by people who shared our dark, twisted senses of humor. In college, it was a regular rental; we held Bonzai parties, dressed as characters, turned it into our private video Rocky Horror. No, it's not Citizen Kane ... but what do you want from a movie called Buckaroo Bonzai?
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