Monday, January 12, 2009

2008 part 7...

Ugh, even though I have plenty of good films left to watch (and probably more than plenty bad ones), getting through the films of 2008 (and granted, not all of them, but at least 100) is kind of a grind. Movies are weird, man. A few are good, most are bad, a surprising amount really defy description. Not that it's easy to make a movie, or to get someone to watch it once it's made, but comparatively speaking now, you can shoot on DV or HD, both of which are theoretically more cost effective than film, you can edit at home on your computer, and there are broader means of distribution- granted fewer theatres, fewer video stores, but relatively wide distribution available on DVD and over the internet, and of course tons of film festivals...it's probably easier now than ever just to put more or less anything in the motion picture format and have someone look at it.

Anyway, fuck it. My movie viewing will be slower somewhat over the next week because I'll be getting ready for my band, chernobyl skul!'s first show this Friday, 12:30 am at the Cake Shop on Ludlow Street. It's free, so if you're in New York and wanna see a fun show, come check us out. For this show, we're a pretty minimal two-piece, with my bandmate singing and playing guitar and yrs. truly playing noise on a keyboard-guitar, plus both of us sharing duties on the Moog. There'll (hopefully) be a new video projection that I'm putting together for the show, and we have a dancer who's going to go-go while we play. It should be fun, noisy and did I mention it's free?

Anyway, here's the latest batch of films from 2008:

1. The Rocker- There are a handful of good performances (Rainn Wilson, Emma Stone, Jeff Garlin) in this comedy about a has-been hair metal drummer who joins his nephew's high school pop band, but as a comedy, it's just not very funny and the tone is inconsistent, fluctuating between cartoonish slapstick, more realistic verbal humor and sappy sentimentality. Seriously, you've got the guy from "the Office," a guy from "Curb Your Enthusiasm," the girl from "Superbad," Christina Applegate, Will Arnett, Jane Lynch...was it really THAT difficult to get some jokes into this film? Kinda lame...

2. Killer Pad- Also lame, this horror-comedy is just very, very...lame. As is often the case with horror-comedy, it's neither horrifying nor particularly funny. Oh, and the guy from the Tracy Ullman Show who didn't do the voice of one of the Simpsons is on it. Imagine being that guy. I mean, he's a pretty decent actor and I'm sure he's done alright, but his castmates all did voices on this little cartoon segment and now they're all millionaires, and he's stuck in "Killer Pad." So maybe he's isn't doing that alright after all. Anyway, there's absolutely no reason for anyone ever to watch this movie. It's not the worst thing ever made, it just isn't anything...

3. Wicked Lake- So, you're watching like "I Spit on Your Grave" or "Last House on Your Left," and you say to yourself, yeah, all this rape and murder is pretty fucked up, but I wish this movie was more erotic...Well, you're probably a serial killer, but in today's ultra-inclusive popular culture, we now have softcore erotica pretty much specifically designed for serial killers, and it's called "Wicked Lake." Torture porn with a fair amount of soft-focus T&A thrown in, and, y'know what? It doesn't work. Or maybe I'm not just a serial killer. But this is basically a porno movie with extra brutality and without explicit sex. So, yeah, if you're watching some porn, and you say to yourself, yeah, I wish this had less sex and more violence, you're probably a serial killer, and you might like "Wicked Lake." What's most disturbing about this film is that reasonably legitimate and extremely appealing performers Angela Bettis (star of "May," director of "Roman," I think the guy who edited this is her husband) and Tim Thomerson ("Near Dark," "Trancers" and various films of various sizes) appear, however briefly. Generally speaking, these are two actors who bring at least something a little enjoyable to the films they're in, but even here they're dwarfed by the overwhelming ineptitude of the whole proceedings. So, yeah, softcore torture porn for serial killers, all others need not apply. And seriously, that's not a backhanded compliment, I really think the people who enjoy this movie are people who secretly, or maybe not secretly, fantasize and killing and torturing women. So, y'know, serial killers and stock brokers.

4. Hellboy 2- So, it kind of turns out that, at least in terms of his bigger budgeted pictures, Guillermo Del Toro is kind of a one trick pony. Some fairy tale stuff, an overreliance on digital effects, a decent level of cleverness, but, really, this isn't that much different than the original Hellboy film and it certainly isn't any better. Actually, for a thrill-a-minute action movie, it's pretty bland. For a movie where the star is a wisecracking demon from hell who fights supernatural evil with a fish man and a firestarter, it's extremely bland. And there's basically only one joke, which is Hellboy being all gruff and stuff and mumbling something vaguely badass under his breath as he takes on some seemingly insurmountable task. Ok, two jokes, because then sometimes he'll also do something uncharacteristically sweet. I think the whole supertough sarcastic badass with a heart of gold thing is kind of played out. At least, the Hellboy thing is definitely played out.

5. The Babysitters- Alright, here's a film that's somewhat provocative and compelling, and maybe has a thing or two to say. Shirley (Katherine Waterston, daughter of Sam [heh], and a good actress) is a high school senior who takes a babysitting job for couple John Leguizamo and Cynthia Nixon. She starts an affair with Leguizamo, for which he's more or less paying her, since he's paying her for babysitting anyway, and throws in extra cash for the sex. So, yeah, she realizes she's prostituting herself, and instead of breaking it off, she expands the business, recruiting her high school friends as babysitter/prostitutes. If it sounds lurid, it is, very much so, in a reasonably gutsy way, though not necessarily exploitative, just somewhat, I dunno, maybe raunchy isn't quite the right word, but the central setpiece is a long, drug fueled weekend getaway with the girls and the men in a cabin, just all high and sweaty and sad and desperate, some of them enjoying themselves, some of them definitely not, jealousies flare, harsh truths brought to light, there's a near-rape (so much rape in movies these days, what up with that?)...In some ways, this reminded of a Cassavetes film, but maybe crossed with a 1970s drive-in movie (I'm sure there's at least one about prostitute babysitters), in its' general rawness, the depth of some of the performances, and the moments, in both sex and violence, as well as general social abberance (a scene with Waterston, Leguizamo and another girl trash the high school is particularly affecting), of frenetic abandon. And it's got some brains too, being something of an indictment of the late capitalist mentality, and certainly in recognizing shades of gray in regards to money, sex, morality etc. Writer/director David Ross also wrote Lucky McKee's "The Woods."

6. Savage Grace- Another film dealing with moral gray areas, this is director Tom Kalin's first feature in more than 15 years. When his "Swoon," a semi-experimental take on the Leopold and Loeb murder case (also the subject of the book/film "Compulsion") came out in 1992, it seemed like Kalin was an adventurous, provocative (am I using that word too much) if not totally accessible voice in independent film, but he never really took off in the same way that some of his contemporaries did (Swoon was an early production of James Schamus and Christine Vachon, and Todd Haynes appeared in it briefly). In some ways, the fate of Tom Kalin is the fate of independent film, insomuch as he showed some promise in the early 1990s but, with "Savage Grace," has become something, while more polished and prestigious, somewhat listless and not entirely interesting. "Savage Grace" certainly has some exploitable elements, incest and murder (as well as the idle rich being all like decadent and stuff), but the film itself is as emotionally distant as its' subjects, wife of Bakelite heir Barbara Baekland (Julianne Moore) and her manic, sexually damaged son Tony (Eddie Redmayne). Barbara already has to contend with an emotionally unavailable husband, whom she drives even further away with infidelity and incessant social-climbing, really almost to the point of insanity. Her attention, such as she's able to focus on anyone other then herself, is directed towards son Tony, who discovers his homosexuality after father runs off with his first serious girlfriend, but still, y'know, fucks his mother, whom he eventually also murders in a moment of paranoid delusion (this is all based on a true story, Tony went on to jail, then got out and killed his grandmother, went to jail again, and killed himself). This is a difficult film, insomuch as it's intellectually very rich, but cinematically it's somewhat dry, as I said listless, as bored with life seemingly as its' protagonists. So, on the one hand, yeah, it's pretty fascinating, and on the other hand, it's kind of dull. So, yeah, I was deeply engaged and bored all at the same time, which is certainly a complex set of emotions, so I guess "Savage Grace" is pretty worthwhile, but I'd like it more if it were a bit more engaged with, like, itself...

7. Roman Polanski- Wanted and Desired- Here's another film dealing with moral ambiguity and sex, a documentary on the statutory rape case of filmmaker Roman Polanski in 1977. It's pretty fascinating. Polanski was certainly, is certainly, a damaged soul, a survivor of the Holocaust who found success in filmmaking in Europe then the
hollywood and a brief moment of love and happiness with Sharon Tate before her murder at the hands of the Manson cult. Polanski's career as a filmmaker weathered on, he'd already done such incredible films as "Knife in the Water, "Cul-De-Sac," "Repulsion," "The Fearless Vampire Killers" and "Rosemary's Baby," and went on to "Chinatown," "the Tenant" and "Tess" before fleeing the United States to escape the circus his trial became. Of course, it's difficult to defend Polanski getting down with a 13-year-old, but given his troubled background, it's difficult to paint a picture of him as entirely a villain either. Even his victim, who is interviewed here (I believe the first time she's really spoken out about the event), seems to have mostly moved on. So it's a pretty complex and fascinating story, one with no real moral conclusion, and the fucked up details of the fame hungry judge's not totally kosher dealing on the trial (first, going easy on Polanski because of his fame and Hollywood ties, then turning it around because of public pressure and attempting to go back on the initial ruling for a harsher sentence) are totally compelling. I think it got some theatrical play but this is basically a made-for-HBO doc and it feels like one, that doesn't make any worse for watching, it's a strong made-for-cable telling of a complicated and troubling event. Meanwhile, I'm still on the hunt for the bizarre-looking unofficial Polanski biopic which I think played for like a split second somewhere in the city last year...

8. Goth Cruise- On the absolute flipside of "Wanted and Desired" is this doc, about a bunch of goths on a cruise ship. If you didn't go to junior high, high school or college within the past 30 or so years and don't know what a goth is, you might be interested in 90-minutes worth of adult goths trying to explain it, but probably not. In fact, I don't think there's anybody in the world who would find a bunch of black-clad doofuses talking about how weird and different they are that interesting, except maybe, y'know, the people who are actually in the movie, and even then I doubt they'd want to watch it more than once. And yet it wound up on TV. So, y'know, fuck you, TV.

9. Mum and Dad- Seeing a good horror movie like "Mum and Dad," from the UK, reminds one of what's missing from most current horror films- the horror. "Mum and Dad," written and directed by Steven Sheil, takes a genuinely horrifying situation that isn't necessarily out-of-touch with contemporary horror, someone not in control of their own situation, in captivity, surrounded by threatening people, but it seems to somehow get at the actual horror of the situation, a result, I would suspect, of that rare cinematic animal- good filmmaking. A young Polish airport worker in England, with no family and no particular ties to anyone, is taken under the wing of a seemingly nice but somewhat troubled young female co-worker and her slightly retarded brother, who lure the girl to their house where she is more or less immediately kidnapped by the duo's psychotic Mum and Dad, held captive and forced the participate in the various icky dealing of this thieving, serial killing, possibly cannibalising family, who have another disabled daughter confined to quarters, another unpleasant element in an entirely uncomfortable landscape of dysfunction and brutality. Olga Fedori, as the Polish girl, makes an interesting heroine, she plays it pretty close to the vest, at times seeming like she's going along with her new surrogate family, at times fighting back pretty fiercely. Her ultimate vengeance is brutal, indeed, "Mum and Dad" is a brutal film. It isn't especially clever and certainly isn't precious, but rather dirty and disturbing and genuinely effective, moreso even than the other recent English horror film I liked "Eden Lake," and much moreso than the comparatively overrated "Donkey Punch." Horror, man. Fuck yeah.

10. Storm Warning- More brutal survival horror, this time from Australia. The problem with this film isn't anything in the movie itself, it's actually pretty good, reasonably effective, not necessarily scary, but compelling, harsh, y'know, a horror movie. The problem is we've seen this exact same movie a billion times before. It's similar to "Eden Lake," or the Aussie film "Wolf Creek" from a few years back, or any number of American films, a young couple goes out on vacation, hits some bad weather out on their boat and winds up in the hands of some backwoods crazies (in this case, pot farmers, but really scary, gun toting, rape hungry pot farmers, not the nice hippie kind) who brutalize them until the couple starts brutalizing back. Like I said, it's a reasonably well-done and engaging film, but it's also nothing new, so, like, you could watch it, or you couldn't, and it kind of wouldn't matter. But, y'know, you might as well watch it, because it's alright.

That's it for now. Ten more when I watch them. And if you're in New York, come out to the Cake Shop on Friday, it should be kind of fun...

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