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Poison (1991)
One of the most unique gay themed films out there
23 January 2011
Poison, the first theatrical film of Todd Haynes, is a grotesque, pessimistic, and extremely disturbing picture that is both celebration of misery and cruelty and a reflection of human tenderness and sexual freedom. The film interweaves three very different stories together into one narrative line. The film goes back and forth between each story, and each story is completely different from one another in theme, content, style, musical choice, genre, and tone. One story, titled 'Horror', is shot in the style of a 50s B-horror film and is about a scientist who manages to alienate the human sex drive into a vial of fluid. Unfortunately, he accidentally drinks the fluid and mutates into a blistering pile of pus and proceeds to go on an infectious rampage, spreading his disease to all he comes into contact with. Another story, titled 'Homo', is a sinister, gritty, muddy, and emotionally tender love story set in an underground prison of some kind in which two male prisoners slowly descend into an obsessive and violent S&M relationship. The story contains flashbacks to their traumatic youth. The remaining story, titled 'Hero', is shot in what appears to be a documentary format in which several members of a distraught community are interviewed about a recent bizarre tragedy involving a disturbed family. A little boy named Richard shoots his sexually abusive father and then flies out the window, and the entire incident was witnessed by his mother who considers her son to be an angel sent from God to watch over her.

Poison is a rather strangely enchanting film. One of the most enchanting things about it is that it never quite gives you any time to breathe. From frame one, the film plunges you into a world full of cruelty and chaotic confusion and you're left on your own to pretty much sort through the images. It's all rather elegantly pulled off. Haynes manages to capture a lot of the charm and the overall structure from each film medium his stories represent. With 'Hero' he manages to present that optimistic 50s family sitcom outlook gone slightly wrong found in David Lynch's Blue Velvet. He does this by using a lot of bright colors and simplistic architecture. The effect is unsettling, but it is also strangely hypnotic in it's own weird way. By using mostly mastershots and by allowing a little more time for talking heads, he's able to create a real creepy sense of foreboding fury that fits really well with the other two stories. With 'Homo', he uses a lot of low angles and close-ups. He also uses more natural lighting, at least in the scenes that aren't flashbacks. It's a much more testosterone driven story, and so the dark look really helps to highlight a lot of the sweatier, more vulnerable aspects of the bodies of these characters. This adds a much more psychological aspect of male sexuality to the film that carries over to the other two stories, making 'Hero' seem ever so slightly more perverted to the average viewer and making 'Horror' seem a lot more metaphorical and realistic in some ways. With 'Horror', we get the bleakest and most disturbing tale of the three. In order to create that classic horror movie feel, Todd Haynes uses a lot more fade-outs, more specific music cues, and noticeably melodramatic narration. He allows us to really feel sorry for this disturbed character, and that feeling of uncleanliness pervades the rest of the film as a result.

It seems to me that Haynes wanted to create this film in order to develop an intricate puzzle of how genre pictures can manipulate other genre pictures, the viewing experience of each picture, how watching one sort of theme in one picture can invisibly affect a separate viewing of another picture, and to recreate the style of multiple viewing itself. His personal reasons for making this film, however, seem to be much more complicated. Poison is what I would consider the quintessential gay picture. It has everything I love and hate about most gay themed films (the depressing endings, the perverted camera-work, the abundant strange behavior, the gratuitous sex), but it's self-awareness is so fun to watch that it rises above all the schlock and finds it's own path toward narrative freedom.

Above all, Poison is a masterpiece. Along with In a Glass Cage, If...., My Own Private Idaho, Mysterious Skin, and the films of Derek Jarman, it's one of the more challenging gay themed films that you're likely to see. Even if the subject matter disturbs you, there is still so much to digest in terms of imagery and in the wonderful music score. Even if you put aside all that, however, you still have one of the most unusual storytelling structures you will likely see for this kind of film. You can spend the entire film just studying the structure and you will learn so much about scene and theme composition. Even putting aside THAT, however, the ambition of the film is enough to admire. I find that there is way too much going on here that can simply be written off. The things I've noticed upon re-watching this film have chilled me to the bone, and watching it only makes me want to watch it again. It's one of those films that really hit the right notes with me. I will admit that the first time I watched it I couldn't quite comprehend it. It is a dizzying film in that sense, and I don't expect most viewers to digest a lot of the imagery on their first viewing. However, it's a film that I think really says a lot about human progress in terms of sex, imagination, violence, and physical desire. It's a powerful film with a lot of quiet emotion with an ending that left me feeling very polarized. Watching it once is simply not enough.

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Interesting first film for Haynes
13 January 2011
In 1988, filmmaker Todd Haynes released a short film about Karen Carpenter's anorexia-related death. The entire film is, essentially, a reenactment of the events with the people being played by Barbie and Ken dolls. The entire film was more from the perspective of Karen Carpenter and is probably one of the most sympathetic portraits of her plight in existence. Unfortunately, the Carpenter family was none too happy about the film's release and, with the addition of several uncleared music rights, was banned from distribution. Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, found it's place in film viewing from the hundreds of bootlegs currently in circulation. The film's primary appeal, nowadays, is in the fact that it's such a controversial and illegal film. With the advent of the internet and of youtube, curious viewers can now watch the film online for free without having to pay for a bootleg copy with mixed quality. I have seen the film in question several times now and I consider it a fascinating first feature from a director that would later go on to receive tremendous acclaim for several of today's modern classics.

There isn't a whole lot I want to say about the film, because part of the mystique of the film comes from viewing it. I do want to say, however, that it is as creative, disturbing, and interesting as everyone has heard. To say that it's a masterpiece of cult cinema is a bit of a stretch, but structurally the film is intelligent. It does have a rather slanted perspective. It's more about Karen Carpenter and her troubles. It paints a very fair portrait of her difficulties with fame, and as weird as it sounds you do feel really sorry and sad when watching her. The film's treatment of the rest of the characters, however, is a lot less fair. Richard Carpenter, her brother, is shown to be very fame-driven and rather selfish. Haynes, in fact, goes so far as to imply that his hesitations in revealing Karen's anorexia are out of fear of her outing him as a homosexual. Their mother is shown in an even more disturbing light. She is ignorant, small minded, loud, and stubborn, and comes across as very manipulative and controlling. However, the worst portrayal is of their father, who seems almost like a mockery of sitcom fathers of the late-50s. It's an ugly and spiteful portrayal, and to be perfectly honest if it were my family that Haynes was making a film about I would probably want to wring his neck. Putting aside the wrath of the script's treatment of the characters, however, it is only a reenactment and reinterpretation and I have seen far more mocking portrayals of famous people on several different made-for-TV movies (Man in the Mirror anyone?). I don't think that the Carpenter family should have taken Haynes so seriously, but I understand completely why they did. It's a well-known fact that Haynes, in order to properly portray Karen's weight problems, actually shaved off layers of plastic off of her Barbie doll avatar in order to graphically show her descent. In addition, he edits in footage of informal ads, television news audio, and graphic footage of holocaust victims. This is a much darker film than many would think.

If there's anything wrong with this, it's that the impact of the film is weakened on repeat viewings. Once you get past the actual visual nature of the film, the dark tone, the graphic material of the footage, and the power of the music of the Carpenters in particular, there isn't much left to really dive into. This is really sad to me, because one thing that I can say with total confidence is that the depth Todd Haynes exhibits in terms of musical storytelling, visual power, multiple centered characters and character arcs, set pieces, genre manipulation, tone distortion, atmosphere, breaking of convention, and sound editing make his films some of the most re-watchable films in existence. Still, just because Superstar doesn't hold up does not mean that it is not worth seeing. It is a must-see film. Just don't bother watching it again, because once is enough.
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It may not exactly be a good film, but I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't entertained
31 October 2010
The Human Centipede tells the disturbing story of a mad German doctor whose previous whereabouts were in the medical field in which he performed operations to separate Siamese twins. He has now gone into seclusion and has invested all of his time and energy into doing the opposite, crafting living organisms together to create a new species. Meanwhile, two American female tourists have been unfortunate enough to stumble upon his home, and now are forced to take part in his latest experiment along with a Japanese man. This experiment is to create a human centipede, with the man in the front and the two girls in the back. To do this, he must split the kneecaps of these three people, pull out the teeth of the two women one by one, and then proceed to connect them, via their gastric system, and sew their mouths to each others anuses.

Two films were released in 2010 (A Serbian Film and The Human Centipede) that were reputed to be two of the sickest and most depraved horror films of all time. After viewing both of them, one thing I can say in absolute certainty is that they are both grossly over-hyped. Neither this nor A Serbian Film, which was infamous for depicting the anal rape of a newborn baby, even come close to being as disgusting and repulsive as most have led you to believe. If I were to choose what films I find most disgusting, Pink Flamingos would still be the reigning champion. Sweet Movie, Meet the Feebles, The Worm-Eaters, Society, and especially Caligula would certainly be high up as well.

What makes The Human Centipede so gross is really the idea that has been presented and the endless atrocities that it could call for. We can picture in our heads the idea of the person in the front of the centipede defecating into the second person's throat and we can picture the idea of the person in the back vomiting into the second person's anus and we can picture the thought of that waste traveling through the bodies of these innocent people, who did nothing to deserve this great torture, until it is expelled. However, this is simply a throwback to exploitation horror films of the 70s and the 80s such as Ilsa, She Woman of the SS and Bloodsucking Freaks. This is not a film that can be taken on the same level as films such as Martyrs or In a Glass Cage, because it is not that graphic nor graphic. This is a campy, mildly gory, and funny horror film that is intended to replicate the sensation of watching a midnight movie.

Yes, the images seem repulsive in our minds, but on screen these images are very humorous. There's an already infamous scene in which the man in the front of the centipede defecates into the second woman's mouth. I'm sorry, but I couldn't take that scene seriously. I laughed. I felt bad for laughing, yes, but the expression on the girl's face is just too over-the-top. The opening scene details the doctor going after a truck driver, who stopped to take a dump in the grass, with a dart gun. The girls stumble upon a gravestone for a three-dog. The acting is so bad that even the actors have a tough time keeping a straight face all the way through. The scene in which the doctor explains his plans, via wall projection, is made ludicrous by the childish drawing of the human centipede. I mean, this is some darkly depraved comedy. If you laughed while watching The Ebola Syndrome or The Untold Story, you will laugh while watching this.

However, don't go into this thinking this is a laugh riot. In truth, there is a lot of horror here. What makes it all hold together and work is the performance of Dieter Laser, who I think plays one of the most over-the-top and stereotypical villains since Jon Voight's character in Anaconda. He is a monstrous, insane, decadent human being who shows no mercy to these girls. He basks in the pain and misery of these characters to the point where they beg for death. Laser goes all the way with his portrayal of this monster, and I loved every second of his scene chewing madness. I loved the scene where he licks the blood off the stairs. I loved the expression he made upon greeting these girls at the door. I loved this man's performance. It is just as sick and as atrocious as you are expecting.

The girls, Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie, were very funny and I had fun watching them in their portrayals of air-headed tourists who can't even bother to learn the German language before going to Germany. There's even a scene in which one of them has the most incredible luck I think I have ever seen in a horror film and gets the perfect time to escape, and then blows it! I'm glad she did too, because I really wanted to see the human centipede! Japanese actor Akihiro Kitamura also gives it his all in his performance of the only person in the centipede who can speak. I thought he was pretty funny. Overall, not a good film, but very enjoyable, scary, and funny. Please don't go into this expecting a depraved shock film about bodily horror. Go into this expecting a twisted B-movie. This is an enjoyable film if you are willing to give it a chance.
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Disgustingly brilliant
16 October 2010
Paul Morrissey's gore drenched and X rated shocker titled Flesh For Frankenstein, originally made in 3D, is a retelling of the tale of Doctor Frankenstein, only this time with an erotic black comedy twist to it. In this vile tale, Baron Frankenstein (Udo Kier, pulling off a fearlessly over-the-top performance) and his assistant Otto (Arno Jurging in another perversely and psychotically memorable performance) have occupied their time with bodily theft. Ignoring his wife who is also his own sister and their two offspring, Frankenstein plots to craft a Serbian-blooded race of zombies that he shall brainwash to do his bidding, but in order to do this he must finish his male creation in order to breed him with his female creation so that they can give birth to the race of mind-controlled and manipulative mutants. However, complicating matters is a rather sexually outgoing farmhand (once again, Joe Dallesandro) whose dreamy yet sexually repressed close friend (Srdjan Zelenovic in perhaps the most memorable and stark role) has unwittingly become a victim of the bad baron's blood-drenched fantasy.

I'm just going to say right now that I did not enjoy this film as much as Blood For Dracula. However, I will say that in terms of horror, shock, gore, intensity, insanity, black comedy, visuals, and camera-work, it is the stronger piece of filmmaking. I can't say that I enjoyed sitting through this, but damn was it an effective piece of horror! The imagery in this film is the stuff of nightmares. Unlike Blood For Dracula, Flesh For Frankenstein really gets into the ugliness of the situations that play out throughout the course of the film. Even the main actors don't look quite right. There's something simply off about their mannerisms and their physical appearance, and that includes Joe Dallesandro's character who has been blessed with a variety of sore looking zits on his buttocks. Nearly everyone in this film looks and acts genuinely insane throughout including the children, and the fact that nearly all of the characters have been killed at the end of the film should come as no surprise. I gotta say, though, that when characters die in this film they die hard and die horribly. Nobody here gets a dignified death and the resulting bloodshed is abundant and bright almost all the time. This is a very gory film. I read that Paul Morrissey was inspired by the gore in Italian horror films to make this film, but to be honest the gore in this film is more graphic and more shocking than nearly all of those early 70s horror films. To be honest, this is one of the goriest films I have ever seen in my life. I'm talking a real healthy supply of dismemberments, crushed bodies, dissections, impalings, and disembowelings. Severed hands, heads, broken bones, and guts litter the screen. Intestines are shoved in the audience's faces in one scene (literally in the 3D version). This is a messy, messy film. None of it, however, is fun to watch. All of it looks cheap and bright, yet there gets to be so much of it that it all becomes rather stomach churning. The ending of this film is such a bloodbath that it's impossible to really stomach the horrific aspects and instead you are forced to endure the improbable and the unexpected. This film just goes further and further into perverse depravity, and it it's world of decadence and sexually indiscriminate characters and acts, it becomes tremendously artistic and beautiful. The emotions in this film are played up to such a high degree that one begins to forget that these characters are murderous loonies who get off at sticking their hands into a woman's guts.

Like Blood For Dracula, Flesh For Frankenstein definitely will not appeal to everyone. In fact, even those who could appreciate the perversions of Blood For Dracula may find this nearly impossible to stomach. This type of on screen cinematic horror should be strictly reserved for open-minded viewers only. This is an artistic film and is shot much like a stage play. The music in this is so chilling, so haunting, and so emotional that it really helps bring to life the emotions of the characters. This world of whores, freaks, killers, and mutants can only be viewed in a comedic manner, and this is where the film works best. This is a hilarious film in a lot of ways. You can find the freaks on display funny or you find their mannerisms to be funny. Personally, I found the funniest aspects of the film to be the scenes in which they interacted with each other. This film builds like a situational comedy with a desire to shock in the most depraved ways possible. That's what kind of film this is. This is the kind of film that throws you off constantly in what direction it is going. It starts off somewhat tame and quirky, like a period piece gone berserk, and then descends into more hellish set-pieces before playing out with a surprisingly apocalyptic and pessimistic ending.

Despite the disgusting nature of the film that even I found more than a little offensive, I'm giving this film a high recommendation to open minded horror fans. This is a visceral experience to watch, and it doesn't surprise me that it ended up on the list of the video nasties back in the day. Watching this is like viewing a vision of hell. It's an orgy of gore and painful death. This is a good old fashioned mean-spirited and extreme horror film, and if you can stomach the over-the-top gore, guts, and body parts, it'll be one memorable horror experience for those who have never seen a horror film of this nature.
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Heat (1972)
The strongest and most well made of the Paul Morrissey trilogy, but also the least enjoyable
12 October 2010
Paul Morrissey's semi-parody of Sunset Blvd, Heat, puts Joe in the shoes on an ex-child actor. Living at a semi-resort neighboring a vulgar landlady and a crazed lesbian named Jessica(played by the amazing Andrea Feldman in a role that is just as memorable and amazing as her role in Trash), Joe hooks up with Jessica's mother Sally Todd as a means of getting back into the industry. The problem is that Todd is not as prolific or as well known as he was led to believe, and things get complicated when Jessica decides to get involved. This is Paul Morrissey's most mainstream film in his trilogy starring Joe Dallesandro as well as the more narrative-based. In addition to all this is the Oscar nominated actress Sylvia Miles playing Sally Todd in what could probably be considered the best performance of all of Paul Morrissey's films since Holly Woodlawn. This would unfortunately my least favorite of the Paul Morrissey trilogy, and I will get into why further down, but I will say right now that this is one of the best films to start with if you have an interest in this style of film.

Paul Morrissey's Heat has a certain plot-driven confidence about it that is both beneficial and detrimental. It is beneficial because this is the kind of story that needs to be told in a confident and clear manner in order for anybody to get anything out of it. It is detrimental, however, in that the flawed, improvised, and documentary-like quality of the first two films in this trilogy, here, are an overlookable flaw. Lets start with the camera work. No longer do we have as many intimate close-ups, awkward edits, and shaky, shoddy, and accidental camera-work. Instead, here, we have a lot of master shots where we see entire sets. The set pieces, here, look a lot more detailed and more purposefully and intentionally used in regards to the story and less like areas located during random scout-outs. Sylvia Miles does such an excellent and professionally mannered job here that she makes the rest of the cast look almost too amateurish as a result, and often times it really sort of takes you out of the world of the film. The crude dialogue and bizarre sex acts, at times, feel really out of place. This is not a tame film by any means, but the fact that there is an added professionalism to it makes it feel like it was intended to be. Everything is too clean and too stylized for the style of filmmaking to work.

However, Heat is still an excellent film full of life, humor, shock, and color. I think the fact that the film takes place in California instead of New York really makes this a completely different kind of idea, but done in the same style and tone as both Flesh and Trash. As I mentioned above, this is definitely the best film in the Paul Morrissey trilogy to start with. Watching it before Flesh and Trash will help you mentally evolve to the dark tone and intimacy of those, as well as help you appreciate those two more for what they are. This is redoubtably the best and most well made of the three films, but the fact that it has that differentiating quality to it makes it somewhat less fun than the previous two. Still, this is an excellent picture that contains all the Hollywood decadence, horror, confusion, romance, and sex that you could ever ask for, as well as hilarity. Check it out!
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Trash (1970)
Perhaps the best film of it's kind
4 October 2010
Paul Morrissey's follow-up to Flesh is an exploratory X-rated piece about the lives of decadent heroin junkies living in a dilapidated apartment home. This time around, Joe is living with his welfare hungry girlfriend played in an outstanding performance by famous transsexual Holly Woodlawn. Unable to get by on their minimum constraints and grotesque living conditions, the pair spend most of their time stealing from houses, dumpster diving, and drug dealing. Joe has become sexually impotent due to his addictions and is no longer able to be sexually aroused. His girlfriend, for the most part, uses him and treats him like utter garbage. The people that surround them, both rich and poor, are not getting by much better.

Out of all the films in Paul Morrissey's trilogy, as well as all of the films he has directed, this one is definitely my favorite. This is one of the best films about drug addiction that I have ever seen. After seeing this, I can see that Paul Morrissey's filmmaking style is the real deal. Never before have I seen a film about junkies that actually gets it right in every way like this film does. This film really gives a perspective feeling that these are the kinds of people you would meet on the streets of New York in a dark alley. Not only does the film really get into the lives of these people with almost no struggle, but it also allows plenty of humor and heartbreak to exist in equal measure. This is the kind of film I would prefer to see when I watch a film with this sort of subject matter. This film is shocking, it is brave, it is disturbing, it is sexually explicit, and it is as brutal and cold as they come. You get the sense that the film doesn't have any interest in humanizing drug addicts, nor does it give the feeling that it wants to demonize. It just wants to show the viewer the lowest of low in the most straight-forward, honest, and breathtaking way possible, and it's all done in the same Cinéma vérité style as Flesh was. Flesh was a tastefully made, sexually explicit film about a man whose life revolves around hustling and refusing to better himself due to fear of change. With Trash, however, there is simply nothing tasteful about this. This is a film about junkies made by junkies for junkies (as well as for the curious), and I think that it deserves to be seen simply due to the world that it shows you.

Holly Woodlawn is as disgusting, trashy, manipulative, and terrifying as you would be afraid to believe. She is simply a monster, and she shows this monstrous nature of hers in nearly every scene she is in. Even in a scene in which she masturbates with a beer bottle, she comes off as simply destructive. Oh my god how much I love her. Her character is so evilly sultry and unlike anything I've seen in terms of manipulative female characters. I love her face, especially her overbite. She just has such a uniquely twisted presence, and I cannot take my eyes off of her when she's on screen. The two best performances, however, come from two other women who both have only one scene each and who both take full advantage of the time that they are on screen. Andrea Feldman and Jane Forth. Oh my goodness, they are both so perfect in this film! Andrea Feldman's character absolutely makes no sense in the context of the storyline, and yet her character brings such an otherworldly nature to the film. The way she talks is almost hypnotic. She speaks as if she doesn't even pay attention to what she's saying. She has a slurred, slinky, slight tone that is so incredibly horrible and hilarious, and the way the character simply looks is mindbogglingly bizarre. She's this rich girl who randomly bumps into Joe and begs him for some LSD. She takes him home with her, and from there on out comes a humongous and wacky monologue that I couldn't even describe if I tried. She simply has to be seen to be believed. Jane Forth, on the other hand, with her constant improvising and her talkative and distant manner, is a true sight to behold. As soon as she starts talking, I cannot stop laughing. Never before have I seen a woman who is so bitterly sarcastic and so verbally self-absorbed. Both her and Andrea Feldman deserve some sort of accolade for their memorable performances.

Make no mistake, this is still the same sort of poorly put together piece of pitiful filmmaking that you would expect from Paul Morrissey at this time in his career. However, this is what gives Trash so much power and so much truth. Making a film as alternately powerful, trashy, ugly, raw, cheap, and dirty as this requires a certain sort of fearlessness, and I don't think that most professional filmmakers don't have the guts to really get involved in this sort of drug underworld to be able to pull it off. That's what makes this film really special, I think. It is also deeply sad. Joe Dallesandro's character is nothing like his character was in Flesh. In Flesh, we had a character who was joyous, naive, gentle-natured, sensitive, kind, and physically strong. Here, he looks tired, dehumanized, angry, ugly, bored, and just generally unhappy. He still has the same pock marks all over his body and all over his ass as he did in Flesh, but here we get the sense that it's less from naturally growing up and more from neglect. Joe Dallesandro proves, in the span of five seconds, that he is has versatile physical presence. To me, this only makes the film more real and more deserving of an audience than most, if not all, films of it's kind. Trash is a perfect title for the most perfect film of it's kind.
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Flesh (1968)
Raw, funny, moving, and rather sweet film for those who are cinematically adventurous
3 October 2010
The first film in the Paul Morrissey trilogy, Flesh, tells the story of a male hustler Joe who lives with his lesbian wife Geri. Joe also has a son, whom we see Joe feeding a muffin to very early on in the film. Geri, in the opening scenes of the film, forces Joe out onto the streets so that he can obtain money to pay for her girlfriend's abortion. The film details the various deformed, twisted, perverted, and addicted people that he is forced to deal with (and sleep with) on a daily basis. In the end, Joe is left feeling drained, warped, and vulnerable to every perversion, and the audience is forced to confront the provocative nature of what it is truly like to be comfortable and happy in one's own flesh.

This film is a revelation, and I think it's one of the best and most emotionally raw films of the 60s. It has nothing to do with the quality of the film itself, but rather the imagery it summons and the way it presents itself. This is not a good quality film for those who are just looking for a film to watch. This is the sort of film that you need to allow yourself to be emotionally invested in before you make any calls on what it is. To be frank, it's very tough to describe what the film is exactly. It's a very unorthodox film. As a matter of fact, the subject matter of the film, the camera-work, the performances, and the dialogue in this film are all very unorthodox. This film wasn't intended to exactly be viewed as a film, but rather to bring about a world that the audience can witness and get involved with in an emotional sense. I thought that, despite the crap quality, Morrissey was seriously onto something here. As a film, it obviously isn't that good, but as an exploration of sexuality and of emotional disconnection, it's a serious pleasure to watch. It is funny, unusual, sad, and incredibly sweet. It's probably the most erotic film about hustling I have seen, as well as the most tastefully innocent.

I have neglected to highlight what helps the film really come together. That is Joe Dallesandro. This man has a body unlike anything I have ever seen, and a face of completely unpardonable beauty. What makes this film so deeply frightening in a way is his naive and gentle nature, and as a result we don't feel any internal fear from looking at the images but rather a sense of helpless fear. When you watch the film it becomes more and more clear that Joe has lost whatever wisdom and whatever ideas of security he has, and yet he has changed as a man because of it. If anything it has allowed him to revert to a state of abused self-confidence that really make what happens to him over the course of the film a lot more interesting.

Joe Dallesandro is naked throughout about 80% of the film, but this obviously isn't done to titillate or to be shocking or risqué, but rather for the viewer to drop whatever preconceptions they have about seeing the male body and just accept it as part of the character's personal self doubts being put out and left in the open. The viewer no longer feels like a voyeur, and instead feels closer to the subject of the film. This is one of the least brave things that the film does, and yet when it ends it is the one thing that I thought about the most. This film likely has more male nudity in it than any other film ever made, and yet it's impossible to feel dirty or perverted as a result. Instead, we feel rather taken aback by the style and editing of the film(or the lack thereof), which is strictly amateur and impossibly inept. This is how we come into the film, and it is because of Joe Dallesandro that we leave the picture feeling that we didn't just watch what was merely a film made by a bunch of yuppies, nerds, and junkies.

Ultimately, the film is definitely not for everyone. It will be impossible for some folks to accept the fact that the film is as poor quality and as badly made as it is. It will also be impossible for many folks to appreciate the fact that someone as seemingly sweet as Joe Dallesandro is so fearless and so ready and eager to completely put himself into constant vulnerable positions, both emotionally and physically. Flesh is STRICTLY for people who have a desire to be emotionally and visually involved in a film that digs into the darker and more repulsive aspects of the streets of New York, and refuses to place any sort of judgment. Forget that the film is about a miserable man who prefers to use himself endless to further add to the desecration of the lives of the people around him and concentrate on the humorous, horrible, and varied imagery. This film doesn't have much to say, but damn does it leave you feeling raw. Very few films have this much honesty in their imagery, and even fewer of them are nonjudgmental.
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Effective and sick satire, but not exactly for everyone
6 September 2010
Series 7: The Contenders, is a very twisted black comedy about six contestants on a reality show. The premise of the reality show is that the contestants are given weapons and have to murder each other in order to win. The contestants include a mentally insane man living in a trailer park, a cancer patient, a religious nurse, a high school teenager, a middle-aged father, and (the reigning champion) a pregnant woman. The film is structured as a marathon showing and is played as a series of episodes strung together each following these contestants. The film depicts these people as normal and everyday people who are forced into this terrible situation against their will, but the real meat of the film comes in when we get to learn about the histories of some of these characters. That's the point of the film where the film grows out of being a spoof of reality shows and begins to manifest into a social commentary. The high school teenager has parents who encourage her every step of the way and help her suit up for the murders that she is about to commit. The pregnant woman has been disowned by her own mother due to past incidents. The middle-aged parent has his own troubles at home. There's a lot more going on here than at first glance. This is an angry and dark satire that really challenges some of the concepts of reality and the satire of itself.

There's a lot here that I truly admire. For starters, the performances. They are pretty awful in a way that, at times, seems cringe-worthy. However, when you take a look at reality television shows such as Survivor and The Real World, the acting in those is even worse. It's supposed to be reality, yet the people in them are not believable. That's what makes reality television such a joke, and so in a roundabout way of saying things the performances here are good because the actors are good at capturing the melodramatic mannerisms of the contestants at large. I particularly enjoyed the performance of Brooke Smith as the pregnant woman. She is ridiculously cold and cruel and monstrous, and you can really feel the bitterness that she feels. Yet her mannerisms are so sarcastic and almost pathetic. The same goes for the rest of the cast, but Smith has a visual presence to her that I've always admired. She's a terrific actress. Nobody can forget her performance as the kidnapped victim in The Silence of the Lambs. I've seen some of her television work as well and she almost always sticks out in a good way. Merritt Wever and Glenn Fitzgerald do an equally good job as the teenage girl and the cancer patient, the former being the most likable person in the cast and the latter having all of the best lines and being the most interesting of all the characters.

My favorite thing about this film, however, has to be the momentum of it. Series 7: The Contenders is almost never boring and there's always something going on. It's virtually impossible to stop watching once you've started, even if you pick up in the middle of it. I think this was done intentionally. I think a lot of televisions shows have that same kind of watchability factor, and what I appreciated the most about this film is that there were no commercials that cut into the action. The satire of the film itself is simple and clever, but even if you put all that aside, you still have one hell of a captivating film. Putting the climax of the film aside, you do get to care about almost all these characters and you don't particularly want to see any of them die really.

If you want my personal opinion on the film, I cannot say that I like it too much. I don't personally find the film itself to be very funny. I like dark humor, but I thought that this was too sick, really, to be funny. I also really don't like the ending. It felt like I was being beaten over the head by the satire. I also find that the film itself isn't exactly re-watchable. Once you know how it all ends, you really don't have any desire to ever really sit down and watch it. There are films out there that are sick and that you never really WANT to watch again, but at the same time you feel you should and can't help but feel the need to sit through it, but Series 7: The Contenders plays all of it's cards in one sitting and as a result you really don't feel any desire to absorb any of it. It's more the type of film that you just appreciate rather than like and enjoy. I can imagine a lot of horror fan and readers of Fangoria would love it to pieces or at least get a huge kick out of watching it. In my opinion, as brilliant and as clever as it is, I definitely wouldn't advise mainstream moviegoers to watch this. I thought it was a brilliantly directed film in a lot of ways, and the satire was effective, but I can't exactly recommend it. I'm glad I saw it though.
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Dated, but still worth watching for it's historical, political, and unique value
28 August 2010
The legendary film, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, was the first film specifically made for the black community, by the black community, in order to not only give the black community a hero in the cinemas but also to replicate the black experience. It became the first blaxsploitation picture as well as one of the highest grossing independent films of the 1970s. Melvin Van Peebles not only self-financed the film, but also starred in it, wrote the screenplay, and directed it. He also allowed his children to play in it, as well as many of his closest friends. It is one of the most groundbreaking films of all time. It not only helped change the shape of black cinema, but also independent filmmaking at large. It tells the troubled story of a male prostitute named Sweet Sweetback who, after witnessing police brutality against a fellow black man, beats up a police officer. Now on the run from the law, Sweetback must do what he can to avoid and evade the police, even if that means involvement from the Hell's Angels and using his "talent".

The big question is, how does the film hold up today? In my opinion, it's still an effective and powerful film in a lot of ways. However, there are some serious problems that many people will either be too distracted or too seasoned to overlook. It's frightfully shot. You can certainly tell that the filmmakers had to use cheap camera equipment because the film looks completely awful. It's one of the ugliest films I have ever seen, and a good portion of the time it's kinda hard to tell what's going on. At a lot of intervals in the film you can see gunk and sludge on the camera lens, and that can most certainly get in the way of the imagery I can imagine. However, personally I think this works to the film's advantage in a lot of ways. It helps add an element of authenticity to the subject matter. This is guerrilla filmmaking at it's best, so I can overlook the camera problems and technical difficulties. This film takes place in a landscape full of junkies, pimps, prostitutes, and other assorted street urchins. A lot of films have a purposefully grungy look and feel to them that gives many films a sense of style. The problem that many people may have here is that in this film it is not used for stylistic purposes. This is where these people lived. This was their world for this particular group of characters. It's rough, it's unpleasant, it's bizarre and it's somewhat nostalgic too. I like how the film gradually shows us more of Sweetback's world than it does of himself. I like that the film is shot in industrial landscapes and grimy alleyways. I think these kinds of settings work really well for a film with this kind of energy. What I appreciate most about this film is that it belongs in a class of it's own. It's definitely not exploitation, nor is it really trying to tell a story. There isn't any character development. There are no revelations or plot twists or surprises, save for the big big one at the very end of the film. There certainly isn't any likable characters, nor are there any characters that you feel you should hate. This film is just good guys, meaning the black community, and the bad guys, meaning white police officers. This film creates it's own landscape. Sure, the landscape may be full of crooked cops and repulsive sex, but it's a landscape that is new and that is fresh and full of energy and life and power and unique imagery. The film has a lot of radical imagery, and most of that comes when Sweetback is actually running from the man. A lot of it transcends the narrative confines of the film and actually makes a transverse turn into an alternate documentary reality that I found incredibly profound, honest, and admirable. Van Peebles obviously had a lot of ambitions for this film, and it shows. In many ways, this is a documentary. Eventually, the film even breaks the forth wall. I'm not going to spoil any surprises, but I will say that somehow this film gets it right.

When we first see Sweet Sweetback, he is only a little boy, played by Mario Van Peebles (Melvin's son), who appears hungry, dirty, tired, and starved. Soon after we, don't so much as see as much as we, witness a woman taking him into a room and having sex with him. The next time we see him, he is a man and he looks like a black cowboy, heroic and angry. When we see his eyes, however, he looks devoid of humanity, life, emotion, and the slightest hint of happiness. He is not a typical hero by any means. He's an underdog. He's a victim who fights back. He's a damaged man who is using all that remains to fight against what has destroyed his life and the lives of all of his brothers and sisters. I think that when it comes to a lot of films, we only get specific kinds of heroes. We get heroes who we could picture having in real life. To me, Sweet Sweetback is an outcast who has spent his entire life in the lowest parts of the low, and he's tired of it. I'm sure many people have felt like outcasts at one time or another, but not like Sweetback has. I think, despite what you may think of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, that this says more about independent film and black cinema than most films would have the balls to say. Even though it may not be a good film, it put a smile on my face and made me want to cheer, and that's something that I can't say about most films of this type.
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Antichrist (2009)
Lars Von Trier's Antichrist is stunning, draining, and thought-provoking.
15 August 2010
The troubles of a grieving married couple (Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg) soon grow exponentially worse when they travel out to a cabin in the woods in order for the wife to overcome her fear of nature. The fear that she has, in fact, causes her physical pain and as a result her end of the grieving process has been a lot more troublesome, coupled with the fact that she blames herself for the death of their newborn baby who accidentally kills himself in the opening of the film. The wife had taken their baby up to the same cabin prior to the accident in order to write a thesis on historical atrocities. The husband, naturally, understands that her connection with these woods is what intensifies her guilt and therefore challenges her to confront her fears. However, things start going wrong. After several grotesque warnings from their woodland surroundings and an even more terrible revelation involving the circumstances surrounding their child's death, it becomes clearer and clearer that there is a deep seated evil that lingers even deeper than the woods. Bloodshed, sexual mutilation, and terrible pain and agony ensue.

The film was met with more jeers than most films in Cannes film history, and it was even the recipient of the first ever Anti-award for it's extreme themes and images of what most people would call pure misogyny. It also won Charlotte Gainsbourg a lot of acclaim, and she received the best actress award. One thing is for sure, her performance here is about as good as any female performance I have seen this decade. Her performance has already become the stuff of legend, and I can MOST DEFINITELY see why. I can see why her performance gets hailed alongside performances such as Isabelle Huppert in the rather quietly ferocious The Piano Teacher (2001) and Isabelle Adjani in the deeply deeply disturbing Possession (1981). Here, Charlotte Gainsbourg reaches the same level of genuine bodily horror, physical exertion, fearless emotion, and breathtaking beauty. It is one of the most unpleasant female performances I've ever seen and I almost hated parts of it due to how shattering her emotional impact was. I think that's how the horror of this film works the most.

Looking at the film itself, is it a misogynist picture? Definitely. That's not to say that Lars Von Trier is a misogynist, but it's easy to see why based alone on the female character in his own The Element of Crime. Here we have Antichrist, and this film is misogynist for completely different reasons. Antichrist may be a horror film, but above all it is an exploration of misogyny and the use of misogyny as an art form above all. When looking at the film in this way, there are a lot of things that make more sense. Von Trier has some incredibly fascinating ideas about guilt and how guilt can be used as a weapon against the people who you love (or in some cases who you pretend to love), but upon deeper thought the circumstances surrounding the grotesque series of events in the last act of the film seem a lot more simple. People force themselves to believe in good and evil, the film appears to be saying, but looking at the world in such a black and white way can cloud our judgment and make things complicated when the actual explanation is a whole lot more simple.

Antichrist is a combination of both of Von Trier's styles. His stylized and visually provocative style used in The Element of Crime, Europa/Zentropa, and The Kingdom, and his raw, horrific, and personal approach used in Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark, and Dogville. Above all of that, I see Antichrist as a faerie tale in the style of the Brothers Grimm. It has the talking animal, the colorful setting, the dark tone, and the idea of something from the past coming back to bite you in the ass. When I looked at Antichrist as that, I found it to be an almost enjoyable descent into psychological madness and the destruction of togetherness amongst two beings who want nothing in life other than for one half to complete the other and likewise. It is heartbreaking, yes, but there is a lesson to be learned.

So despite personal feelings toward Von Trier's approach to the nature of evil, I found Antichrist to be an effectively scary, beautifully made little film with a lot to offer the cinematically adventurous and even more for those seeking a challenge within their own personal beliefs about misogyny in film. Above all, however, if one is to view this film they need to be able to want to be challenged and they need to be willing to be frustrated if the film is going to allow it's emotions and it's humanity shine through. I haven't talked about the sexual content of the film because I'm not even sure what to think. I will say that I do find a couple of scenes to be a little too gratuitous, but I think that it's a very creepy and very haunting little film. Is it my favorite film of Von Trier's? No way. I will say though that in terms of challenging cinema and challenging images, it succeeds in spades. I think it's a brilliant return to form in the vein of unfiltered and stylized filmmaking, and I cannot wait to see what Von Trier is planning on making with his next film.
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Srpski film (2010)
Transgressive shock cinema at it's best
15 August 2010
A Serbian Film tells the terrible story of a retired adult film actor named Milos who gets far more than he bargained for when he accepts what he is led to believe is the role of a lifetime. His intentions are valiant. He needs the money so that he can leave the troubled country of Serbia and start a new life with his wife and his young son. He accepts the job based on the intriguing premise of what film director Vukmir tells him. It's a reality based pornographic art film in which Milos is supposed to instead act off of the reality of the situations he's brought into. However, things begin to get too weird when the reality begins to incorporate some sort of strange revenge fantasy. He tells Vukmir that he's backing out of the project and has no interest in continuing. Immediately following his declining, however, his life becomes a living nightmare of extremely depraved proportions.

A Serbian Film is easily the most disturbing film I have ever seen, alongside Schindler's List(the Academy Award winning Holocaust picture) and Threads(the BBC mockumentary about Nuclear war). This is a deeply troubling film and it left me feeling a great sadness and frustration. Part of what makes this film so emotional and devastating is the heavy (and I do mean HEAVY) exposition that makes up the entire first half of the film. We see the family that Milos has and we, as the audience, cannot help but admire how far he has come. He and his family may be poverty stricken, but they have as normal a life as a family like that can have. The wife is a non-judgmental, unassuming, mostly pleasant person who is faithful to Milos and doesn't fret at the fact that his profession of choice is what he is most known for in other circles. The son is as gentle-natured as a boy like that can be and, aside from viewing one of his father's films in the opening of the film, is completely normal and healthy. Then there's the brother of Milos, whom we only meet a few times and each time he seems like a sleazy, jealous, and unpleasant man. He is also a police officer, but he seems most distracted by Milos and his wife in particular. He has an unhealthy fascination with his family. Vukmir seems most suspicious out of everyone, but doesn't seem too crazy. He seems more eccentric, but that's true of a lot of filmmakers. The film takes it's time showing all these characters as fully rounded people who all have their little personality traits and their own agendas.

As a horror film it works wonderfully due to the suspense of the picture. It has a more classical way of plot development and depicting how it all comes together. A good chunk of the film is told in hyper real flashback, and so the audience spends a good amount of time wondering what the heck is going on and fearing the worst. I like how this film shows events. I like how the film also shows perspective when it comes to what happens. I think one of the more effective parts of this film comes toward the end when it suddenly dawns on us that this story is not going to have the usual horror film ending. This film's way of depicting tragedy is really interesting, because it relies more on personal torment and frustration in order to bring the audience into the situation that Milos has undergone and is still going through. It's a tricky technique, but somehow is works. It especially works when the film finally makes it's biggest revelation, which is just terrible and deeply heartbreaking, and then the horror doesn't stop there. What works the most about all this, however, is how unabashed and how bizarre and off-the-wall the nature of reality becomes as the film progresses. Director Srdjan Spasojevic creates such a chaotic world that we get involved in, and we, the audience, are led to believe that anything horrible and depraved could happen at any moment and there will be no limits.

This film, in terms of transgressive cinema that includes films such as Ex Drummer, Irreversible, Inside, Martyrs, and Possession, A Serbian Film is one of the best of it's kind. It's also one of the most effective films I've seen in years as well as one of the scariest. It's also disheartening, frustrating, and cruel. One thing I can definitely say though is that it's not gratuitous. It's beautifully made, it's heartbreakingly tragic, it's terribly realistic, and it's one of the most effective and well made films as well as one of the most disturbing. The big question is, does it work? Yes, it works. It works a little too well, but it works. So do I fault it for working? No. I praise it. I'm glad that films like this can still be made and I'm glad that filmmakers have the balls to go all the way with their vision. Inspired by the works of Alfred Hitchcock, Brian De Palma, David Cronenberg, and William Friedkin, this is Srdjan Spasojevic's first film, and I think a lot of Hollywood horror filmmakers could learn a thing or two from him. It's the most disturbing film I've ever seen, and I don't regret watching it for even a second.
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Unhinged (1982)
A very underrated slasher film
28 June 2010
An odd combination of the weirder elements of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Psycho, Unhinged tells the shocking tale of innocent young women who, out of nowhere, are forced into a world of familial dysfunction and horrible death. Three teenage girls are on their way to a music festival, but within five minutes of the film they get into a car accident and wake up in a strange mansion. They are greeted by the owner of the house and her adult daughter at dinner. Things get weird, however, when the mother lets loose some disturbing opinions about her daughter and the men in her life and all men in general. The girls are already creeped out enough, but then things get twisted when a prowler sneaks into the house and starts spying and preying on the girls. One-by-one, the girls are butchered mercilessly, and it all leads up to a grotesque and jaw-dropping finale that will have even the most seasoned horror fans startled.

Released during the early 80s, and then shortly banned in the UK, unjustly, Unhinged is one hell of a wild slasher film. It's one of the most odd slasher films that was released in the 80s. I think that there's a lot to love about this film, despite it definitely being flawed. For starters, the setting. The film mostly takes place in a giant mansion and there is some remarkably strong atmosphere. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that you never really get to see most of the mansion. There's only a few locations that the film actually takes place in, and because of that you can really feel the eerie quality in a way that feels almost otherworldly. The combination of the mansion setting and the slasher film horror give the film a real surreal quality to it that makes it quite unique. The violence in the film is also kept to a minimum. It's how fast and how unexpected it usually happens that is more unsettling. When characters die in this film, they die quickly and in a rather blunt manner, well except for the very last death that I wouldn't dream in giving away. The performance of Janet Penner in the role of the daughter is also incredibly well mannered and remains as one of the most memorable aspects of the film. What really makes this film really work, however, is the ending. I'm not going to give away what happens, but the final ten minutes of this film are insane. They are like something out of a Hitchcock production. The ending of the film should go down in history as one of the greatest endings to a slasher film ever. I know that people will disagree with me, but I personally think that it deserves to rank right alongside the endings of Bob Clark's Black Christmas, Tod Browning's Freaks, and William Friedkin's The Exorcist as one of the strongest horror film finales of all time. I do not want to hype the ending to this film up any further though, because if I do one of two things will happen. One, you will be disappointed by it, or two, you will watch the film based just on the fact that it has a great ending. Make no mistake, it's a shocking ending, but throw away any hope of it being original. What I mean to say is that it's a very typical horror film twist ending, but done about as well as I have ever seen it get done. It's an offensive ending in a lot of ways, and it's incredibly misogynist, but it's effective and that's what matters.

Unhinged, unfortunately, also suffers from a lot of the same problems that most slasher films suffer from. The film contains gratuitous and unnecessary nudity and drug use that takes away it's chances of being taken too seriously. I am not bothered by nudity and drug use in film, but here there really is no need for it at all. It's also a very slow paced film, and that may bother people. The performances of two of the three main female characters is also shockingly bad, almost to the point where you could swear that they are taking sleeping pills. Some of the line delivery is really distractingly awful. In all honesty, this is just another 80s slasher film and it does not try to do too many new things. It does, however, succeed in incorporating elements from more classic horror films, and for that I think that Unhinged is a horror film that is worth seeing.
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The Crow (1994)
Excellent superhero film that takes every opportunity to elevate the material
19 June 2010
Based on the brutal graphic novels of James O' Barr, The Crow follows a murdered rock star named Eric Draven(Brandon Lee) who was murdered along with his fiancé, who was also brutally raped, by a pack of savage hoodlums on the night before Halloween. A year later, a crow brings Eric back to life as a kind of zombie in order for him to avenge the death of his loved one so that they can finally rest in peace. After putting on mime make-up and dressing himself in dark clothing, he goes out and exacts gruesome revenge He eventually comes across the drug lord and gang leader known as Top-Dollar, a decadent and incestuous monster of a man who will make his task of avenging the death of a loved one a lot trickier.

One thing that I can easily say about this film is that it is one of the best looking superhero films out there, if not THE best. Forget about films like Sin City, which goes all the way into basically replicating the exact look of the comic book that it is based on. There's nothing wrong with that film, but I feel that using practical effects, lighting, and skillful photography works a lot better. I feel that it looks better, it helps bring you into the world that the film takes place in a lot more smoothly, and it incites more of a sense of atmosphere. Sin City is fine, but this is more my kind of thing. The Crow makes it a point to allow the tone of this story to shine through over everything else. It is a film that is, more than anything, about loss and about death. What I find unique about it is that it takes it's time to not get into the heavy-handed nature of it all and instead allows it to be a part of the story. I found this approach to be incredibly powerful, and also somewhat unusual. Instead of showing us these characters as how they are, we are instead treated to a kind of dignified anthem of madness and chaos. The villains in this film are just as crazy and just as deranged as those in any other action comic book superhero film, but instead of giving them a bunch of cool lines and ridiculous costumes, the film gives them personality. Sure, they are recycled personalities, but what I appreciated the most about them was that the death scenes were about as cold and as brutal as they could be without being preachy. There is a lot of death and a lot of blood, but it all works surprisingly well in establishing the bleak, dark, and sinister atmosphere.

One thing that is worth noting is that this is an extremely violent film, probably the worst film I've seen or at least one of the most worst. One of the most bizarre things about this film, actually, is that it's filled with graphic, gruesome death and gore, and yet it has a sense of morality to it as well as morality based lessons about love, companionship, and doing the right thing in times of darkness. It's one of the strangest juxtapositions I've seen in film, and I'm sure that a lot of viewers probably were, or are, turned off from it for these reasons. I never let things like that bother me, however, especially if the film is a superhero film. Despite what many people say, this is an entertaining film that is full of over-the-top action, brutal fight scenes, gut-wrenching sadism, and explosive death. If you like brutal violence, this is one to check out. Brandon Lee, while he is certainly not a good actor, has plenty of charisma, and the sadistic glee he takes in dispatching his victims is quite amusing and is well-timed. He plays a character who, while not entirely interesting, is certainly very likable and quite creative. Lee's screen presence in this film is exceptional. The rest of the cast is colorful and appropriately cartoon-like. The one thing that really helps make this film work as good as it can, however, is the soundtrack. The soundtrack is filled to the brim with dirty, grimy, dark, and hard metal and industrial music from the likes of Nine Inch Nails, Stone Temple Pilots, and The Cure. It is absolutely one of the best, I repeat, THE BEST nineties film soundtracks you will ever hear. It works because this film takes place in a kind of universe that is full of disappointment and death, and that's what a lot of this music is about. It's rare to find such a perfect combination of music and mood in film, but this is one of the best examples of a nineties film that does exactly that.

Make no mistake about this review. The Crow is still an action film. However, it is an action film that takes advantage of all opportunities to elevate itself above the material and works in doing so a good amount of the time. It's one of the best films of it's genre and one of the best action films of the nineties. It's not for the squeamish, nor is it for the easily offended, but it's got a lot of beautiful cinematography, a lot of good emotion, some stunning performances from the supporting cast, a lot of high quality action, and a brilliant soundtrack. When the film doesn't work, it's not overly distracting or ridiculous. In a lot of ways, it's one of the most charming films I've seen of it's type. I think that it's a very good film and that it's worth seeing. I laughed, I cried, and I smiled a lot. If anything, it's one hell of a satisfying and savage action film.
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Bad Taste (1987)
Peter Jackson's first film is amateur and badly made, but it's definitely a lot of fun
23 May 2010
Peter Jackson is one of the most creative mainstream filmmakers working today, and I do not think that a lot of people will disagree with me here. His imagination and his earnest desire to conjure up fanatic, and sometimes insanely chaotic, images has always been strong. None of his work is lacking in energy, but perhaps his most interesting films, in my opinion, are his first four. Bad Taste is perhaps his most curiously unusual. It's obvious that he pulled this picture off with little to no money, and he's obviously talented when it comes to visuals. This relatively plot-less film is pretty much just about aliens who have taken over the earth and are eating human beings as part of an extraterrestrial fast-food relocation program. The film is pretty much just about how the few survivors do battle with the aliens and what kinds of crazy things happen in their fight. There are more colorful characters than I can even remember, but there's also a lot of bloodshed. This gory, over-the-top, tasteless film throws in everything but the kitchen sink in it's abundant display of mayhem, flesh eating, and exploding body parts. It's utterly surprising to me that this film was not released by Troma, because it'd make a perfect double feature with The Toxic Avenger. Bad Taste is insanely disgusting, but also very campy. What normally passes for undisciplined action films of the 80s has instead been given a rather retro downgrade by this film. It is reminiscent of an Ed Wood film, but obviously more self-aware. The only thing that Bad Taste lacks is a heart, but I doubt that fans of the film will really care.

Bad Taste is the kind of film that I wish to god that I could have seen when I was younger. This is a juvenile film that has no fears or limits to it's depraved content. People who have an interest in film-making will be overjoyed by this film's brilliant use of it's budget limitations. This is one of the best films a wannabe filmmaker could watch. It's creative, cheap, effective, and very satisfying. The problem with it, however, is that as a film in general it's really not all that good. I wouldn't even say that it's as good as The Toxic Avenger, though it's certainly loads better than most Troma films out there especially considering such utter tripe as Maniac Nurses Find Ecstasy and Zombie Island Massacre. The main thing that Bad Taste delivers on, above all else, is the gore. If you're looking for a revoltingly gory film, this is one of the slickest you'll find. A lot of it's humor comes from the gore as well, and it's all in as much bad taste as the title of the film implies. This film succeeds in being what it's trying to be, and Peter Jackson must be applauded for that. The film works better when you view it as a master filmmaker's student film, however, because Bad Taste does not offer much else besides gross out humor, visual effects, and good make-up. The film just is not all that memorable. None of the characters were interesting or funny and none of them had traits that made them stick out. The film looks like utter crap, shot obviously on the most passable restraints. The film does not make good enough use of it's New Zealand location shooting, though the scenery does look absolutely beautiful. The aliens all look so fake and rubber that it's almost completely embarrassing. This is a really bad film.

On the other hand, however, I can't help but feel that all of this is what makes this so appealing. In that regard, the best way to watch this film would be with a group of friends. It would likely be a lot more entertaining and would be a lot funnier in that environment. With a film like this, or The Rocky Horror Picture Show, or Clerks, or Pink Flamingos, judging it as a film is not fair. It's more about quantity than quality, and viewing it as you would any other film will simply diminish it's power. Putting all this aside, I think that there are far better films out there that are more worth watching than other people. One thing is for sure though, it is definitely one of the more disgusting films of it's kind. Peter Jackson later went on to improve his craft with films like Braindead, but the inspiration that was garnered from this film has been excellent. I'm thankful that this film went on to inspire better, more exhilarating films. Besides, just because I can't tolerate this film's stupidity doesn't mean than everyone else will be left in the dust. That's why I wish that I saw this film as a youngster. I'd at least be able to like it in the fact that it would hold a special place in my heart. As it is, however, it's more a film that is a piece of history to me.
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Fight Club (1999)
One of the most brutally honest mainstream films about mental illness that you're ever likely to see
21 May 2010
Based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club explores the darker side of mental instability in the form of a dark comedy. The film tells the rather unsettling story of an insomnia stricken man, played by Edward Norton. His life changed one day when he meets a mysterious soap maker named Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) and, after his apartment room is blown up along with all of his belongings and the little that remains of his personal life, they became inspired to co-create a seedy underground club in which men are invited to attend and to pummel on each other to their heart's content as a form of physical therapy as well as an advanced form of personal male-bonding. Things get complex when a female drifter named Marla (Helena Bonham Carter) who inadvertently gets involved in the mentally deteriorated world that these two men share. Things only get worse when Tyler decides to take the club out onto the streets and then into their homes and into the lives of more political and respected people.

As technically talented as Fincher is, what I admire most about the film is how he doesn't let the visuals tell the story. The sarcastic, bitter, angry narration of Edward Norton that plays over the events helps a lot in driving the atmosphere of the film into it's audience, but it also adds to the humor of the film. Is the film a satire? Yes. Then why the sly, cool tone, the clever dialogue, and the slick visuals? Well, to me it all seemed very forced and over-the-top. Nobody in the real world talks like these characters, and it seems pretty obvious that the film is self-aware. You can tell in the sarcastic narration. I think that people may likely forget that we're watching the story unfold from the perspective of someone who is obviously crazy. Every person in this film is crazy in one way or another. What makes the film so bizarre is the fact the thoughts of the main character make sense in the sense that they have rationale to them. The physical appearance of the main character slowly grows worse and worse while the characters around him grow more positive, more open-minded, and more like he was at the start. What makes this so funny is the fact that the methods these characters use to make themselves happier are so completely irrational and ridiculous. Not to ruin the plot, but when it comes to illegal acts of vandalism involving public property being destroyed, there comes a point where politics don't seem so important in retrospect since we live in such an interesting and advanced time in the world today.

Looking at this film ten years later, it still has just as much power as it did in 1999 or 2000 or whenever it was when people decided to start watching it. As I said before, David Fincher is a technical talent. His films often hold an incredible amount of visual energy, and Fight Club is no different. The performances are excellent. Edward Norton's performance here is one of his best, as is Helena Bonham Carter. As for Brad Pitt, he does exactly what the role requires from him and kudos to his for being such a good sport for being in this film. The music in this film works equally as well. It's very dirty, industrial, and overbearing, much like the film itself. The film just has a tremendous spirit, though I can't say that I actually enjoy watching it. It's full of blood and guts from beginning to end, it's often very ugly to look at, and the film feels a little too dirty in that way that makes you want to shower. This is also a very very homo-erotic film, not just in the fight scenes but also in the way the male characters act around and toward each other. I can't say that I'm anywhere near as infatuated with it as I was when I was in high school, where any film that tried new things seemed revolutionary and brilliant, and just as well, this film makes it very difficult to take Brad Pitt seriously in most of his other films. The fight scenes in this film are also excellently choreographed and the gore effects in these scenes are wonderfully done. The final shot of the film may, at once, be considered by some to be an amazing and rebellious shot, but I laugh just thinking about it due to another very brief image in one frame of the shot that occurs just as the credits are appearing.

So overall, Fight Club is still an entertaining film. It's funny, it's dark, and it provides a very honest depiction of mental illness that very few films have the balls to explore. The film has developed a strange cult following, reminiscent of the cult audience surrounding American Psycho. These people seem to feel that these two films contain deep philosophical messages about the nature of humanity, but they definitely don't. I don't think the characters in Fight Club should be taken completely seriously and I'm astounded that anyone even could take them seriously. It's like saying that Sonny in Dog Day Afternoon was right to rob the bank and that the police were all wrong. Both sides made mistakes and both sides learned things, but that doesn't change the finale of the film. If you're going to watch Fight Club, please don't try to watch it with an open-mind about the characters and the things that they say. Watch it knowing everything that you know now about politics, science, religion, and humanity. I'm sure that the film will have the desired effect on you.
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Sudden Death (1995)
Definitely one of the most intense action films of the 90s
20 May 2010
This time, Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a traumatized firefighter who takes his two children to a Stanley Cup game that the vice-president is attending. Unfortunately several people, including Van Damme's daughter as well as the vice-president, are taken hostage by a deranged CIA member and his team of suited up goons. Their plan is to kill one hostage each quarter if their continuously outrageous demands for absurd amounts of money are not met. If they still don't have their money by the end of the game, the arena and all of the people inside will be detonated. Van Damme ends up having to do battle with these creeps while trying to disarm the bombs. Eventually when the game nears it's end he also ends up having to do everything in his power to get the hockey game to continue.

This is easily one of the most intense and nerve-wracking Van Damme films. Obviously it's just another Die Hard-ripoff, but it has more to offer than most Die Hard-ripoffs that came out in the 90s. For starters, the villains in this are real villains. They have absolutely no qualms with killing any innocent people, and they do it about as casually and as constantly as a real bad guy should. A lot of people get killed in this film, and a good portion of the victims are innocent bystanders. Powers Boothe is actually pretty damn scary! The first third of the film has a pretty high bodycount, and the bloodshed starts off almost immediately. Sure, the villains aren't as sadistic as the villains in, say, the second Die Hard film, but I don't think that anyone is going to dispute that these bad guys are pretty bad. One thing this film does exceptionally well, however, is allow the action set-pieces to be implemented in some pretty cool ways. There's a fight scene in the kitchen involving a team mascot gone mad in which all the deadly and dangerous hazards become tools. There's a lot of really slick gore and some really shocking moments of bodily harm that make this film a lot more memorable. What really makes the film work, however, is the final act where things get down to the wire and it becomes all about survival. I won't spoil what happens, but the last few action set-pieces are spectacular in their creativity and in their energy.

Van Damme also does a fine job as usual as the hero who ends up having to do everything by himself. He shows about as much charisma as expected for the role, but since he's playing a father he remembers to keep it in check a lot of the time too. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but don't expect a lot of moments of sly little comments like you would find in Bloodsport. I don't mind so much either way, it's just that this isn't the goofy Van Damme that was in Double Impact, but it's not the hardened stonefaced loner in Hard Target. This Van Damme lies somewhere in between those, though leaning more toward the Hard Target Van Damme. As long as he isn't the loudly shrieking crucified idiot that he was in Cyborg, I don't have any problem. I think one thing that made this a little more unique is the fact that he's trying to rescue his child rather than rescue a woman who simply knows too much. This helped make the film much more simple to digest and it also gave it that little emotional kick that never hurts in a good action film.

I like my action films to be raw and gut-wrenching, and Van Damme's films usually deliver the goods. Sudden Death is definitely no exception. It's an intense and explosive film that is entertaining as hell and has plenty of good shocks. It's not a good film by any means, but if you're looking for action that is brutal, Sudden Death is easily one of the more entertaining films of the 90s, and plus there aren't a lot of films where a bad guy is killed by getting shoved into a dishwasher.
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Cyborg (1989)
One of the worst films ever made, and I don't use the term "worst film" lightly
20 May 2010
Gibson Rickenbacker(Jean-Claude Van Damme) is a loner of a man whose life has been destroyed in the post-apocalyptic 21st Century America. Then two things happen. First he has an interaction with a robotic woman who seems to have a cure for some kind of plague disease that has wiped out most of humanity. Then he meets up with a street dweller woman who decides to aid him in his quest against a group of cannibalistic troublemakers who have taken the robot woman away.

To start things off, a lot of the characters in this film seem to be named after guitars. Gibson Rickenbacker wanders around a wasteland of ugliness for a good portion of the film talking to ugly people about ugly things in an ugly way. The cinematography is... terrible. Everyone in the film looks sinfully grotesque, and that includes Van Damme, who I consider one of the most handsome action heroes of the early 90s. His character is awash with disgusting looking scars and he would probably look like a burn victim if the scars didn't look so fake. His face is coated with dust and dirt from start to finish, except in flashbacks where he looks like a stereotypical romantic hero on the cover of a romance novel.

The whole film is full of recycled and unfinished landscapes from unfinished films and it's pretty obvious that the set-designer was pretty halfhearted in his attempt to put together a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The people who shot this film obviously did not have any idea how to shoot a film. The whole film looks like a bad home movie. The characters aren't framed well at all and you don't really ever get a good look at any of the characters at any time. The fight scenes are so badly edited that it becomes frustrating to watch. There's some especially bad jump cuts near the end of the film that really will grate on the nerves of anyone. All of the characters, at one point or another, end up shrieking in the face of the audience REALLY LOUD.

It is also one of the most annoying films I've ever sat through, let alone listened to. There's a sequence where Van Damme is crucified for no particular reason, as well as a lot of other real disgusting acts of violence that come across as out of place for some reason and I'm left wondering, who was entertained by this? There's no cool moments of triumph, no good fight scenes or gore, no slick one-liners, no interesting villains, no interesting heroes, and no cool science fiction touches. It's ironic that the film's title is Cyborg, because the film doesn't exactly feature much in the way of electronic machinery. Essentially, this is basically a film in the style of Conan the Barbarian, only with some guns and a briefly appearing robot. Those are pretty much the only two things that make it in any way related to the science fiction genre. All of the dialogue in the film is pure exposition, and it's all pointless in every way. There is exactly zero chemistry between Van Damme and the opposite female lead, and their scenes together are often frightening and embarrassing.

For a late-80s action film, you'd think it would be really tough to be lacking in entertainment value, in every possible way. Enter Cyborg, which is by far one of the least entertaining films I've ever watched. Please keep in mind that I love the films of Jean-Claude Van Damme and I actually really have liked a lot of his direct-to-video work. This is definitely the worst film in his filmography.

Please do not watch this film.I urge you not to waste your time with this. I can pretty much completely guarantee you that you will not like this film. The film is 86 minutes long, but it is so horrible and utterly unwatchable at times that I can promise that it will feel at least an hour longer. By the time Van Damme leaves the village at the start of the film, before there are any fight scenes that last longer than thirty seconds, there is only an hour left of the film. It is the longest hour I have ever experienced with any film. It is so long that I struggled really hard to not fast-forward. This is one of the worst films I have ever seen.
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Bloodsport (1988)
One of the best of the genre and one of Jean-Claude Van Damme's best films
18 April 2010
Ninjutsu trained American, Frank Dux, leaves home for Hong Kong in order to be a part of the controversial Martial-Arts Tournament called the Kumite. The Kumite is a freeform, illegal, and extremely dangerous underground fighting tournament that occasionally turns deadly. Bloodsport is supposedly based on true events from the actual Frank Dux's life. Bloodsport is considered by many to be Jean-Claude Van Damme's best film as well as the film that paved the way for his international fame and cult status among martial-arts and action film fans. The fight coordinator for the film was the actual Frank Dux himself, who even allegedly took the time to put Jean-Claude Van Damme through three months worth of training in order for him to be extra prepared for the role despite the fact that Van Damme was already a championed martial-artist. Bloodsport is considered one of the biggest cult classics of the 80s.

It's no surprise to me why this film is hailed so much as a martial-arts classic. While I can't say that it is quite as spectacular as... say, for example, Enter the Dragon, I still cannot deny this film's magnificence. This really is an amazing action film. Granted, it is silly at times, but if you are looking for a raw, brutal, bloody, and intense fight film, this really is one of the best that there is. The fight scenes here are some of the tightest and most jaw dropping fight scenes of it's kind. Jean-Claude Van Damme himself is a sight to behold. His kicks and splits are simply out of this world. If you haven't seen them, you simply must. It's a necessity. I can easily say that it is easily one of his most charismatic and he does go all the way with it when the time comes. His screen presence is one of the most memorable things about this film, but just as amazing this time is Sammo Hung as Frank Dux's rivaling warrior. Hung is a real beast of a man in here, and what I was impressed by was how Van Damme was able to visually convey the same sort of power as he despite the fact that he looks smaller and skinnier than Sammo Hung. Again, it's the kicks and the splits that do it, though his body does look like it's in excellent shape. I think this helped me get even more involved in the more vicious fight scenes in the film.

The screenplay here is actually not too bad, especially considering the genre. We have some fairly decently fleshed out characters here and some very quick, but efficient, character development. A lot of these moments feel a lot more genuine that most are probably expecting, and this only helps the film feel more realistic. At times, Bloodsport felt borderline documentary-like in it's look and in it's approach to the fight scenes. The film actually has a lot of ground to cover in telling the life story of Frank Dux, and the whole film flows beautifully. The setting, the characters, and the things that happen to the characters all feel realistic enough. You feel like you are there. The look of the film only adds to it. It's grainy, yet colorful. Ugly, yet bright. Dull, yet saturated. The music in this picture is phenomenal and it adds so much to the fight scenes. Also hats off to Van Damme for not only convincing studio executives to allow him to reedit the film, but also convincing them to actually release. It may not have made any money, and Newt Arnold may be passed away, but this film will carry on both he and Van Damme's legacy.

It's not my favorite Van Damme film, believe it or not, but it is truly a masterpiece of it's genre. This film is amazing and it has everything that you want to see in a film like this. Bloodsport is entertaining from start to finish. I think what makes this one especially good is the fact that I can recommend it to anyone, even those who aren't fans of Jean-Claude Van Damme. The fight scenes are easily the best part. They are brutal and wonderfully pulled off. Van Damme gives a rather charismatic performance that only helped enhance my appreciation of this film. Bloodsport is a great film. Check it out!
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An incredibly scary film
10 April 2010
A family, starved for attention and desperate to escape their daily life of abrasive routine, decide to turn things around one year and go against the routine. The film depicts their lives in three painful years of isolation, meaningless actions, and disillusionment. The first two-thirds of the film show the loud and hectic world that they are inexplicably a part of. Everything is just a series of actions. The semi-apocalyptic sequence shows a kind of desperate forcefulness of life that never breaks though, and the claustrophobic nature comes across as frighteningly unnerving. Tarkovsky would be proud.

The Seventh Continent was the second Michael Haneke film I had seen after The Piano Teacher. While I do not think that it is as honest a film as The Piano Teacher, I do applaud the fearless dynamic of the film to be completely devoid of style and of typical film conventions in order to depict a world that grows increasingly unpredictable and harrowing. The film is very Hitchcock-like in how it slowly and quietly builds it's themes involving desolate emotions. It is a tremendously scary film, but it is scary in a way that comes off a lot stronger after the film has finished and you allow it's images to swim around in your head for a while. The loss of passion and of feeling in a human being, to my knowledge, has never been depicted in such a pessimistic way.

This is a very angry film. This is a very resentful film. This is a film that celebrates sadness and anger and I hated watching it. When the film finds time to depict humanity, it writes it off like it is useless. What makes me even more angry about the film, in a way, is how you can almost feel Haneke behind the camera feeling resentful and wanting to punish the audience for wanting to view a film with a good story and a moving and engaging plot. Haneke goes so far out of his way to provide nothing in the way of narrative power and instead opts to craft an angry and traumatizing film. What makes the film work is it's power to provide some deeply haunting imagery and some truly worthwhile substance that I couldn't help but appreciate. Two of these three characters have complete control over everything that happens and they obviously feel that what they do in the final act of the film is most beneficial. Who am I to judge their own control over their lives. What pisses me off is how simple minded they are as characters. I just feel that Haneke prefers to emphasize these problems that these characters share, and what I am bothered by was that he didn't make it less obvious.

Overall, it's not one of Haneke's best films, but for a debut theatrical picture it is about as good as one can get. What strikes me as rather unusual about this film, when compared to his other films, is how it suffers from the same major problems that pretty much all of his films have. For example, he has never been able to build any sympathy with any of his characters, at least from the films of his that I've seen, and this film is no different in that regard. The film of his that I personally think suffers the most from it is Funny Games (both versions). With his picture Cache, it only became a problem early on in the film, and in Benny's Video and Hour of the Wolf it helped add to the atmosphere while damaging the humanity of the films in question. I think that The Seventh Continent shows plenty of promise with Haneke and is extremely riveting at times, but it's easily the absolute worst place to start if you are interested in getting into his films. It will not leave you with a good impression of his work, and only after watching Funny Games and Cache (his most easily accessible films in my opinion) will you be able to catch his reoccurring themes.
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Not Moritsugu's best film, but it's one of my favorites of his.
10 April 2010
It's difficult to write a review for a Jon Moritsugu film. Mod F-ck Explosion is an easy film to examine though. One thing I have always appreciated about Jon Moritsugu's work is that, even at his most grotesque, he still manages to craft a pretty radical world. Take Mod F-ck Explosion, for example. This film has no plot to speak of, but has slight hints of thematically inclined references to West Side Story. The film takes place in a futuristic punk surface coated landscape. Most of the characters appear to be Asian and most of the characters are in gangs. We have a drifter, London, whose family life is disturbingly dysfunctional and perverted. She yearns for a leather jacket, though our purposefully badly comically dubbed biker gang will be more than happy to comply if she cooperates with them first. The film's climax is inevitable, yet it somehow comes out of nowhere at the same time. The dark tone that the film adopts can only lend itself to tragedy, and the tragic parts are where the picture comes off the strongest. This avant-garde experimental science fiction picture comes off like a combination of an early Gregg Araki picture and Liquid Sky, although the early films of Gregg Araki were inspired by Jon Moritsugu, so I guess this balances that out, although I'd say Gregg Araki went a little too over the edge in his inspiration by including footage from Moritsugu's own film Hippy Porn (1991) into his gay teenage angst satire Totally F***ed Up (1993). Regardless, if you are a newcomer to the films of Jon Moritsugu, Mod F-ck Explosion is probably not a good starting point. To be perfectly honest, I don't really know which film of his they could start with since they are all so bizarre, but Mod F-ck Explosion is definitely not the one.

One of the things that I found interesting while watching this film was the overall hilarity in the misery of everyone. Every character in this film is stoned out of their minds, but there's something genuinely hilarious about it in this film. The actors don't strain for laughs, but the director does. What is interesting is that in a way you can see the battle between choice over direction between the actors and the naturalness of the plot. This could have only been intentional, obviously, but it's one of the funnier things I've seen from a film of this type. What's more, the introductory scenes of these characters is just simply amazing, even the more insignificant characters. I think what makes it so enjoyable is that these characters hardly even change their behavior. They stay the same, and so you know that the film won't head toward any sort of ultimate betrayal mixed with soap opera trickery to pull off it's story. The film just ditches that and instead floods the screen with dingy, dark, grimy, and colorful imagery that is both ugly and over-the-top. It's satisfying to see a film like this that goes in this direction and opts for satisfying details like this rather than ditching all charismatic charm. The characters suck, and yet I love them for this reason.

Perhaps the strangest thing about this film though, at least for me, is that I found the personal plight of the London character to be strangely easy to relate to and it's for this reason that this film deserves more credit. Perhaps this says more about me personally than it does for the film, but any film that can touch me like this film does is gold in my mind. Make no mistake, not many people are going to get much out of this. The over-the-top comedy and disturbing gruesome violence are not going to be too involving for anyone expecting a serious film, but this film transcends artistic storytelling and goes far into total detached derangement that is as goofy and shocking as ever, but also is not without honesty. The film is full of life and of urban decay, and it celebrates trash film-making as what artistic freedom can sometimes represent. Obviously the film is full of itself, but how can it not be when it completely defines what ugly film-making and rebellious angst can amount to? There's just too much of the same out there for me to not love this film. I think it's probably the worst film that Moritsugu has ever done, it's also his most rebellious and his least personal. And yes there is a dream sequence set in a meat garden constructed of eight hundred pounds of rotting flesh, just like the DVD cover promises.
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Stuck (2007)
Stuart Gordon's strongest film
4 March 2010
Stuck tells the disturbing tale of two people who both become victims of extreme circumstance. A young woman (Mena Suvari) with a job at a nursing home takes various substances before accidentally committing a hit-and-run. The victim (Stephen Rea) is a homeless man who was on his way to a homeless shelter when he was struck. Fortunately, the victim survives. Unfortunately, he is stuck halfway inside of her windshield, and the situation only grows worse from there.

The plot outline has the makings of a pitch black comedy, and in truth it is. The situation gets so absurd and so gruesome that it's difficult not to chuckle. In truth, however, I found this film to easily be one of the scariest films of the decade. The situations of both of the characters is simply atrocious, and the film paints a rather raw and confronting vision of horror from the perspective of both characters. I did not really know who to feel more sorry for. Much like the 2005 picture Hard Candy, Stuck does not let us know exactly who the bad guy of this story is and never really clues us in until the last act. Simple reality tells us that neither of the characters in Stuck are bad people and that they are both simply victims of bad luck. However, it is how they react to the situation that tells us the most about their integrity and about their values and humanity. It is also how fast and how efficiently they can pull themselves out of their horrible situation that dictates the measure of a man. This film doesn't avoid these themes, and that is personally what made the film so horrifying to me. We do not know as much as we'd like to know about these characters and therefore we are shocked by their moments of inhumanity and pleased with their effort to change the situation. In addition to this, the story of this film is just so bizarre and out-of-the-ordinary that it is difficult to believe that it has happened. Sadly, it did happen in 2001 when a woman hit a homeless man with her car and he ended up stuck in her windshield. She left him there in her garage and didn't attempt to get him any sort of medical attention. That case did not have a happy ending as life usually doesn't. Stuck isn't about the horrors of life and crime. It is more about complex human nature and how warped the minds of ordinary people can become when faced with the possibility of manslaughter. It is also a film that tests the limits an audience will go to forgive a character for their extreme actions. Stuart Gordon makes special sure to go all the way when it comes to raw emotion so that we are reminded that there is a true reality to these characters. I think that, because of all this and because the film refuses to take the easy way out throughout, this is easily one of the scariest films I have seen in a while.

As for the actors, Mena Suvari and Stephen Rea are at the top of their game here. This is really nothing like any of the roles that they've ever played and it is easy to get skeptical of their abilities before viewing, but somehow they manage to pull it off. I am more used to seeing Rea playing much more darker and more evil characters who are also uniquely tragic, but here he is completely sympathetic. Mena Suvari, despite her repulsive role as a junkie in the shockfest drug film Spun, her tomboy role in the Day of the Dead remake, and her near legendary role in American Beauty, has always had more of a tendency to play lighter and less complicated characters who are often underdeveloped. This is completely the opposite of all that. Both characters are menacing and both of them have some strong emotional grounding to them thanks to the early scenes. The camera-work in this film only adds to the off-the-wall nature of the characters. There are very few master-shots throughout this picture, and I liked that for a few reasons. For starters it gave the audience less of a distanced perspective on this situation and showed the general inhumanity of the situation for what it really is. Just the early scenes alone have such a fly-on-the-wall feel to them. It's really very Hitchcock-like. The best part about the film, however, are the moments of sly circumstantial humor that makes even the quiet moments of the film have heart-stopping power.

This is a very shocking, very gory, and very scary film, and the fact that it is based on a true story really does add to it. What if this were an entirely original story? Would you believe that human beings could really be this cruel? Even if you had experienced the best and worst aspects of humanity, could you believe that the characters could do such vile things? I know that we hear about it on the news, but when was the last time you heard a story this bizarre and this absurd? There are times in life when we hear of accidents so over-the-top and so shocking that we gasp and then laugh at how insane it must have been to see or to have been a part of because we need to comfort ourselves about how bad it must have been. It's normal human behavior. This film shows us one such accident, but it doesn't cloud the reality with theatrics. This is a seriously confrontational film, and though you may laugh at parts of the film, you will not forget how rough the film is in it's depiction of pain and panic. This film is the Blood Simple of the 2000s decade.
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Fata Morgana (1971)
One of the weirdest and most perplexing art films I have ever seen
1 March 2010
Fata Morgana is, by far, one of the weirdest and most perplexing art films I have ever seen. I hesitate to call it a documentary because, while is does have elements of documentation of it's images, the images themselves are so unusual, so hallucinogenic, so unclear, that I wonder whether it was really worth telling this story just so that these images can exist. The film basically is the tale of the earth and the creation of the earth shot from the perspective of an outsider, be it alien or something otherwise indescribable, all taking place in the Sahara desert. The title of the picture relates to the illusion or reflection of images, both real and hallucinated, that people in the desert often witness. These are also known as mirages.

The film opens with a plane landing followed by the plane landing again and then again and again and again and again and again and again. With each plane landing shot, the actual architecture of both the location it is landing at and the plane itself begin to slowly dissolve into one another and grow less and less real and more and more reflective imagery. The imagery in this film only grows more intense and more unusual as the picture continues. The narration of the film tells of the creation of the universe as alarming sexual images of sand and landscape move past the camera. The shots go further and further into the desert and Herzog films whatever he sees and finds. The strangest reflections of the world are on display in the distance while Herzog meets some of the most pure and photogenic collections of outsiders that you are ever likely to see. When the Leonard Cohen soundtrack kicks in, you can be sure that you are in the world of a mad man who is in love with the universe.

I cannot say too much more about this film without ruining anything, but I will say that it is a sobering experience and there's really nothing like it. I love seeing films that are just in classes of their own. This film certainly is a good example of how Herzog loves to intermingle narrative storytelling and documentary film-making into an interchangeable form. Fata Morgana unfortunately does overstay it's welcome just a bit, but by the time it nears it's end the images will most likely be burned into your mind forever. Definitely a must-see for those who are obsessed with the nature and the origin of the universe.
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Extremely intense film
27 December 2009
Claire Denis's Trouble Every Day is a film that probably shouldn't have been made, but now it exists and it is out in the open ready to be watched. Sadly, most people who watch it will likely wish that they hadn't. It's a hopeless, deeply intense, and horrifically disturbing film that will leave most audiences pretty much polarized. It is a film that brings to mind the style of Michael Haneke and the aesthetic quality and themes of David Cronenberg. It's a jarring film, but quietly so. It is a film that should speak for itself above all because it's a difficult film to describe and to digest, and these words that I am using to describe the film cannot come close to doing it justice. It is like Blue Velvet in that it is impossible to predict what you are really in for when you sit down and watch it. There is no plot. There are actions. A mad doctor keeps his sick wife locked up in her room. She suffers from a deadly cannibalistic zombie disease. Another man has the same ailment and tries to control his urges for flesh while on his honeymoon in Paris. A young maid slowly and unwillingly becomes sucked into his situation. What can I say? This is a very troubling film.

Trouble Every Day requires a lot of patience to sit through. It is slow paced, but very purposefully so. It is minimalistic horror at it's absolute best and most stringent. Somehow, however, it manages to convey nearly every basic emotion while allowing itself to unfold with the utmost simplicity. It's one of the messiest art films that one can come across, but justifiably so. Take, for instance, the early scenes which detail the man on a plane with his wife on their way to Paris and how haunting the scene is. They kiss tenderly and passionately and it is romantic and beautiful. He goes into the bathroom and becomes frenzied, his urges becoming stronger and more prominent and the film becomes psychological in his plight. The film prior to this scene shows a man in a field discovering a devoured corpse, the blood and gore coating the long grass. The scene is handled not as horrific, however, but more eerie and stoic in it's minimal detailing. The scenes in this film unfold in a quiet and suspenseful way that does become incredibly scary. Nothing about the film is outright scary, but the lingering tension and the intensity of the situations as a whole come off all too effective. The film just exists. When you watch it, you will feel dropped into the middle of a film. There is no beginning or end to this story. The film shows a world of desperate craving, inhuman madness, and disgusting behavior.

The only problem I have with this film is it's moments in which is does try to develop the plot rather than the characters. Since there's no plot, the film's attempts to suddenly place one into the film's style come off as a complete failure. Basically the scenes I'm talking about are all the scenes in which the characters have dialogue. Vincent Gallo is a fantastic actor, but his voice is one of the most unusual voices I have ever heard. He sounds high-pitched and shrill, and it comes off incredibly bizarre given his large posterior. I don't fault his voice as being an unneeded aspect of this film, but rather the direction that his character is taken in as a fault. There should be no direction, and that's the problem with those scenes. I say the same for Beatrice Dalle's character. Thankfully her scenes come off completely monstrous and horrible, which is the way it should be. Thankfully ninety five percent of the film is about character development rather than plot development and the whole film is very haunting as a whole so it is easy to forget what is happening during these scenes and it does not become a problem, only a minor issue. I think the only people who will take more issue with this film are the people who either don't care for the subject matter or don't care for this film's style, in which case they have no reason to watch this film anyway.

Many viewers will walk away not entirely sure what they just watched. Don't dismiss the film entirely though. It will grow on you soon after you have finished it. It is not the kind of film that asks for the audience's attention. It is the kind of film that simply delivers quality suspense, gore, and romance in equal measure, but develops it all to it's most intense. It is one of the most intense films I've watched, and that is saying something. I think it is films like this that really remind me that the French are making some of the most challenging horror films. Trouble Every Day is a great horror film, but it's intense subject matter and qualities makes it more for the most brave moviegoers.

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Idioterne (1998)
Ambitious, but it doesn't work
18 December 2009
Lars Von Trier's The Idiots paints an ambitious and grotesque idea and goes all the way with it. It is a film that is as much about the audience as it is about itself, which is a rare thing in motion pictures today. The only question left is whether or not it is worth your time to watch it or not. In my opinion if you want to see a film all about horrible people doing repulsive things in order to express themselves in a distanced and disabled state then you might get something out of this film. I felt that Lars Von Trier's attempts to tackle this type of subject matter are no doubt valiant and I definitely feel that it is something that few filmmakers seem to go out of their way to avoid doing. My problem is in his choice of presenting this idea. The film follows a group of middle aged folks who decide to lose their sense of dignity and become uninhibited in virtually all of their activities.

I already have a problem with the film simply starting with the premise. The premise is based on the ideas surrounding self-expression of choice versus the exaggerated statement of attempted self-fulfillment. What bothers me is that these people don't do this simply out of convenience, rage, or insanity. Each and every one of these people do this by choice. Perhaps this was done on purpose in order to be offensive, which would be okay if the film justified itself through it's imagery and it's characters. Unfortunately, the film avoids doing that by not allowing the audience to accept the fact that these characters do not understand moral fiber and thus he betrays the own idea by not displaying his stance. In a different film I can see Lars Von Trier doing this, but what gets in the way here is the unreasonably strict Danish film law called "Dogme #95" that forces the director to purposefully betray even the most subtle form of conventional film making in order to purify the idea behind the film and the film's ability or inability to be absorbent based on it's view-ability. A good film can be made from this technique, but not a film like this with this sense of ambition and possible transgression. I think in order for a film of this caliber to work you need a sense of vision, which is what The Idiots lacks the most. It has no feeling of personality, entertainment value, scope, or creativity. The characters in it are creative in their interests behind what they are doing, but there isn't any sort of hope for any of them. They are all disgusting horrible people and you feel far too distanced from them to be able to get involved in their activities. Again, perhaps this was done intentionally, and again, it is not justified.

I think what bothers me the most about The Idiots is belittling it is to it's audience. For how weak the film is, there is some genuine emotion on display here that is undeniable. The film does try to confront a lot of these emotions in a very original way, and I really like that. However, the film also demoralizes the potential rawness of these scenes by avoiding letting in any fluidity. The film suffers from too much plot, ironically, in it's pacing and it becomes uneven and not really fulfilling as a whole when it does in small fragments. The film does not feel disjointed and it has a head on it's shoulders, and ironically that's what gets in the way the most. The film gave me a headache. It could have easily been about a bunch of people running around acting and and engaging in freakish behavior and it could have had a lot more life to it had it been that way, but instead it strives for too much and as a result delivers little. For a film that contains extended sequences of unsimulated sex, that is saying A LOT.

I can easily see many viewers getting more than I did out of the film, and I can understand that. I think my issues have a lot to do with director Lars Von Trier's presentation. Lars Von Trier is among one of the most challenging and twisted filmmakers today. His films require ambition and emotion behind the camera as well as in front of it. A lot of great films require this. However, because of the limiting factors behind the film's technique, Lars Von Trier's attempt is cut short by the film's monumental inward destruction toward convention rather than invention. The Idiots is perhaps one of the worst examples of limitation behind the camera interfering with the potential life in front of the camera. The film has the making of an independent masterpiece. The film's dialogue is improvised, the film evokes a lot of anger in it's imagery, and the final five minutes are quietly affecting. Despite what I have been saying, I do not fault Lars Von Trier for the result. Ultimately, I fault the idea of the film itself. Imagine, for a second, if this film wasn't filmed in Dogme #95. I don't think that anybody would have liked it. I think that Lars Von Trier's public film-making career would have been over. The end result, ironically, could have been far more offensive and troubling than it already is. At least with this style the film gives fans of low-budget cinema something to digest. It may not work, but at least it's very existence shows that Lars Von Trier is the real deal. I'm thankful for that.

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A blood and cum splattered road film
9 August 2009
I can't exactly say what the plot is because there isn't really much to say. The film starts off with a lot of flashes of two men performing oral sex on each other in a dark shack littered with dismembered human body parts. Then there's this gay guy named Anthony who gets beaten and tortured at the beginning of the film by a deranged mobster for somehow screwing up a mob hit. Then this one guy who kidnapped him shows up out of nowhere and then shoots the torturer and releases Anthony and then Anthony and him take turns raping this guy and taking pictures. Then the film randomly flashes forward and suddenly Anthony has a girlfriend and is living with her and her younger brother who they take turns messing with in a variety of silly and cruel ways. Suddenly the girlfriend's mom calls and tells her that her father is dead, so Anthony and her decide to drive to the funeral. Along the way they encounter a lot of weirdos, mostly prostitutes, and have a bunch of crazy sex adventures before running into the man who saved Anthony's life. Things get crazy.

Basically, if Kenneth Anger decided to co-direct a full length film with John Waters and borrowed the basic ideas of the writings of the Marquis de Sade and Gaspar Noe's style, FLIRTING WITH ANTHONY would be, more or less, the result. The result is a mixed bag. There are a lot of admirable ideas and interesting themes that the film has. The film mostly plays around with the idea of sadomasochism, but doesn't really go too far with it. There are also a lot of really campy comedy moments throughout that seem very out of place. Then again, this film doesn't really have a personal style. The whole film is completely random. The first fifteen or twenty minutes of the film are full of graphic gore, torture, rape, and shocking sex acts. Much of it is shown in extremely graphic detail, so this isn't a film for the squeamish. After all that, however, the film completely switches gears and becomes almost like a deranged road movie with a lot of campy and cheesy comedy thrown in for shock value. The last third of the film is kind of like a cross between a gay hardcore porno film and a coming-of-age movie. That's really the best way I can really describe it.

Strangely, despite the drastic differences in film genre styles, the music score in the film never changes. The whole film has a very Industrial sound to it, much like TETSUO: THE IRON MAN, ERASERHEAD, or pi. It's an angry sounding film. There are also a lot of flashing camera effects, so be warned that this is a film to be avoided if you're an epileptic. This is kind of a hard film to watch, not just because of the gore and the graphic sex, but also because of the camera. The camera movements are very jarring and they really don't ever slow down. I wouldn't normally mind this if it were for a thematic purpose or if it were a music video, but for a gay torture porn road movie like this it does start to grate on the nerves and distracts from the narrative quality of the film.

The film also lacks the necessary character development meant to keep the audience watching. This becomes a problem late in the film when the dramatic elements of the film build up and you realize that there is no reason to care about this psychotic man who used to dismember people for the mob. Pretty soon the film just dissolves into a bunch of stuff happening for no reason. There's no point, there's no plot, and there's no chemistry. The end result is more of an experimental film than anything else. For a while, the style of the film makes up for the lack of substance, but it doesn't sustain the entire running time of 88 minutes.

I do want to give the director credit. There really are a lot of cool ideas here and they do get some good treatment. The film currently has a 1.3 rating on IMDb, but I honestly don't think it is THAT bad. There are things about it that do work. Ultimately I think it has more to do with the screenplay than anything else. I think that director Christian Calson should just stick to directing for now until he takes the time to come up with a better and more fleshed out screenplay. This film does work as an experimental shock film, and if you're into that idea then I do highly recommend that you see FLIRTING WITH ANTHONY.
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