Blue Stars and Bluer Valentines…. – Lars von Trier’s Depression Movement Part 2

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Within the past few weeks, I had watched two more than depressing films that have a bit of a focus on personal loss of self as well as destruction of relationships. One of those movies happened to be the movie I stated was to be my next review, Lars von Trier’s 2011 Melancholia while the other was Derek Cianfrance’s 2010 requiem to connection Blue Valentine. And while the two share the mutual themes I mentioned before, the relationships that are collapsed within the films differ largely – Valentine‘s mourning is for a romantic relationship that began with the same amount of passion as the hatred it ended in and Melancholia, while the first act takes its sweet time scraping apart a very very very disastrous marriage, overall looks over the separation of a family and the spite that grows out of it.

Melancholia, which seems to have been rejected by Trier for its polished feel and more artificial romanticism as opposed to Trier’s usual starkness in his films, feels largely like a proscenium play, no less established by its separation into acts and singular environment of Tjolöholm Castle. It at first starts with cinematic imagery largely constructed in the forms of paintings and photographs deliberately communicating the leitmotifs of the film, culminating in Trier decidedly spoiling the movie so that we shift our focus on the relationship of the characters, rather than the possibility of impending destruction – a very smart storytelling move on the part of Trier. After that single work of cinematic aesthetic in the film, Melancholia moves and speaks like a stage production, rather than a larger-than-life movie. Trier tries very hard to hold onto his Dogme aesthetic with handheld camerawork and jump cuts, to fake the erratic feel of his previous movies, but Melancholia does not fall for that so easily and always has that feel of a grander scale than Trier is used to. Maybe that’s why it’s his red-headed stepchild, but regardless of his feeling towards the film, it does not hurt the movie at all. It is, in fact, a breath of fresh air for Trier to accidentally create a symphony than deliberately give us a cacophony. And it is a very pleasant surprise to find his ability in delivering that work.

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Blue Valentine, on the other hand, doesn’t try to go out of its way to feel more realistic or down-to-earth – it just is. Under Derek Cianfrance’s direction and the eye of Andrij Parekh, the movie is able to create a more intimate and less theatrical atmosphere than Trier’s 2011 work, akin to Trier’s previous films of AntichristManderlay and Dogville. It’s focus on the dissolution of relationships, not pessimistic but very downer regardless, seems Trier-esque, not giving us any reprieve from the downward spiral the characters go through.

In both circumstances, they are carried more by the performances than any discernible script involved with the story. Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s respective reactions to both their situation promising the end of the world and their reactions to each other. Dunst easily gives the best performance of her career as a severely depressed woman whose depression surprisingly grants her a perspective of rationality in the place of her uptight and panicking sister played by Gainsbourg. Together, they portray this tug-o’-war about who has the proper mindset for a life that is about to literally crash and burn all around them, even when one did the crashing and burning beforehand. The rest of the cast simply seems like background pieces to their performances, rather than actual foundations… the center stage is on the two sisters, Justine (Dunst) and Claire (Gainsbourg), and they are the only ones that matter. It is both the greatest strength and a slight flaw of the storytelling of Melancholia.

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On the other hand, Blue Valentine requires the environment to be a part of what both dissolves and strengthens the relationship between Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) – but the performances from the leads are still the biggest anchor in the film’s emotional weight. It’s just that the film’s environment supports the film, rather than just provide a backdrop. Dean and Cindy are a product of how they were raised – Dean the laidback guy who believes in love and Cindy the grounded one whose feet is flat on the floor and trying to make better of where she is. The progressively non-linear narrative of the film does not outright express the outcome of the film nor telegraph it immediately at the beginning of the film… it implies it though, making the audience balance between hope and dread for this couple’s future. In the meantime, a haunting score by indie band Grizzly Bear and the New York setting compounded with the aged look of the picture on the part of Cianfrance and Parekh, the movie reflects the attempts of the couple to retain a youthful freshness and hold on to the same sudden and fantastic feelings the two had when they first fell in love, but the doom of the relationship always sits in the future like a Sword of Damocles waiting to be dropped. The same fireworks at the end of the film, beautifully lit and remaining even throughout the credits, that symbolize celebration and hope could explosively represent the remnants of what probably won’t remain whole ever again.

Overall, the two films I saw practically back-to-back and I found a connection with both films of a relationship that desperately wanted to hold on and wasn’t going down without a fight, but by the end of it, had to accept fate.

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To remain with Melancholia, which continues my review on Trier’s Depression Trilogy. Melancholia portrays depression in a better light than Antichrist, which portrayed depression as a means for either coldness and disassociation or for ferocity and viciousness in a violent hysteria. But the depressed presence in Melancholia, which not being a bucket of sunshine, did not really choose to let herself go down kicking and screaming but instead seemed to portray such a catastrophe was an escape from her own mental state.

It’s interesting, because such a shift makes the trilogy at this point less an autobiographical self-indulgence in order to let go of Trier’s depression at the time and more as a study of manners for the situation of being depressed. Does this make Trier similar to his creation of Dafoe’s character in Antichrist, putting the depressed under a microscope?

I would argue not, he’s probably at this point intending to figure out how he got to where he was emotionally and mentally and wants to approach it from all angles, dark and light.

In addition, both Melancholia and Blue Valentine are overall depressing but beautiful films and I have to recommend them for all who can take the emotional drainage they demand in exchange for such beauty.

The third movie in Trier’s Depression Trilogy, Nymphomaniac, is slated for release this Christmas. After a serious of provocative character posters and teasers with short snippets of some chapters of the film, Trier’s company finally released a trailer for the film that, carrying a lot of NSFW imagery (including a short flash of a vagina), got taken down by YouTube, just as one would expect from a trailer for a Trier film titled Nymphomaniac of all fucking things. My favorite moment of the trailer is Stellan Skarsgård’s character giving a smirk and Gainsbourg’s character reacting stating “It’s nothing to smile about.” It definitely gives me an idea of what the movie might be about and what it will have to say. The frankness and anti-eroticism that the film will probably portray its graphic sex scenes in will maybe deliver on that feeling of distrust and certainty of being taken advantage of.

But the moment the movie is released, you can bet I’ll be reviewing it. In the meantime, thank you for reading.

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FLASHBACK: An American Werewolf in London (Landis, 1981)

It’s so different from the rest of John Landis’ classic comedy work, and yet many could argue that, despite such an uneasy shift, it might be his greatest work. At the same time, despite its reputation as an early form of the horror-comedy genre, inspiring such other pictures as Shaun of the Dead (Wright, 2004) and Scream (1996), Landis himself argues that the movie is never meant to be comedic and is a straightaway horror. I don’t necessarily agree to both (I leave that best Landis title toThe Blues Brothers) but I can definitely say that, so far that I’ve seen, An American Werewolf in London is the blackest and most tragic of the black comedies I’ve ever seen.

I have just seen the movie for the first time last month after buying it. It’s not usual for me to buy a movie before seeing it (I don’t want to waste my money), but it was cheap and I was certain I’d get my money’s worth. I’ve got that much and more.

Quite possibly the funniest tagline I’ve seen

The story follows, as the title suggests, two Americans who are backpacking across England. After moments of fish-out-of-water status of the most dreadful kind, the two young men are attacked by a werewolf who is promptly killed after the attack. Unfortunately, one of them (Griffin Dunne) does not survive the attack. The other (David Naughton), in a worse state, is having his Dunne’s character’s ghost appear to him to warn him of the werewolf curse. Naughton’s character at first tries to dismiss these as delusions and nightmares, but soon finds out these nightmares are very real…

This is great, ain’t it? Just two best friends, cursed as walking dead.

Not too much of the humor comes from the curse of being a werewolf. I mean, there are some shocks that elicit laughs, like a very gruesome decapitation and a vividly graphic and bloody family massacre that, if it were the only scene in the movie with violence and no language or nudity were in the picture, would still get the movie it’s R-rating. But those laughs are from a discomfort, a genuine reaction that tells you ‘Oh this is where the horror really starts.’ The laughs are from Griffin Dunne’s character reacting, the quirky situations Naughton’s character discovers after his rampage, he steals a balloon from a toddler and the only things the lad has to say for it is ‘That naked American man stole my balloons.’

That’s like a WTF? I don’t mean to tell you about your own movie, Landis, but this is definite comedy. One could justify it by explaining that Landis was only 19 when he wrote the script. Well, that’s certainly a point, there’s an adolescent streak in the movie, namely along Jenny Agutter’s character. She’d certainly fail the Bechdel Test. She not only talks about how many lovers she’s had, which is a surprising amount, but she immediately has sex with Naughton’s character. Adolescent script, I tell ya.
 
And yet there’s some factor about the movie that doesn’t allow us to fully enjoy the humor. Keeps that laugh stuck in our throats. It’s the fact that David Naughton’s character is doomed, no matter what. While most allegorical products of the werewolf story are abandoned in this picture, he has a sword of Damocles hanging above him. I have no qualms about explaining the ending later on, not just because there’s more to the movie than its plot, but because the idea is that once he gets bit, his life is over, there is no way he’s coming back from it and it’s not just sad, it’s absolutely dreadful. To watch this movie knowing he’s going to die sooner or later is to have the full effect the movie had on me. And that’s not even feeling bad from the gory scenarios, like the couple being ravaged or the final rampage in Piccadilly Circus.
 
But on the bright side, he can always come back as a vampire! Vampires are cool, right?
We got out of that Twilight/Anne Rice phase, right? Right?
As a genre picture though, and a script that Landis wrote so early in his life, it has some flaws. David Naughton’s character, I haven’t even remembered his name. I have the movie and I’m not even bothering to check. It’s because he was a bad actor. Overall, the acting was not that good in the movie, but Naughton is most notable is that he had some hits and misses. The scenes of fright and horror were the hits, everything else is pretty much a miss. My favorite scene is where Naughton’s character is approached by the ghosts of Griffin’s character (who at this point has decayed to outright human jerky) and the victims Naughton has killed so far in a porno theater. But Naughton doesn’t really carry this scene so much as Dunne (who isn’t even physically in the scene, it’s a corpse puppet voiced by him) and the victims. It could be better, but it is what it is. 
 
Dunne’s character is a unique one. He’s a down-to-earth dead guy. He’s only been dead a couple of days and he’s so casual about it. It’s not that he doesn’t make a big deal about it. It’s that it’s now who he is, so he’s going to roll with it but he’s still going to have that dry personality he had in the ten to fifteen minutes of the movie he was alive.
 
 
Now, the ending. The ending is really a tragedy in itself. The movie doesn’t have any closure for the creature, it doesn’t have any chance to say good bye. It just ends. Naughton is shot and killed and that’s it, go on to the credits with the happy music ‘Blue Moon’ (By the way, the soundtrack is just to die for). And the thing is that you feel cheated but it just fits with the movie. You saw this horrible thing happening to the lead a million miles away and yet you still needed that shock, that sadness to happen, so instead of giving you a sort of epilogue or scene to let the mood die down, the movie just decides ‘Fuck closure, we gotta better things to do, like listen to the Marcels.
 
On a very final point, I want to mention that this movie is also a horror movie landmark for being the first movie ever to win the Oscar for Best Make-Up. And my, what make-up it is by horror movie legend Rick Baker, up there with Tom Savini’s work. In case you readers have not noticed I did not include any clips or photographs of the movie’s titular beast for two reasons, 1) The transformation scene – if you have a chance to see the movie without anybody ever telling you about this scene, do it. It’s going to come as a shocker, you’re not going to see it coming and, even for this day and age, it is a scarcely gory scene and yet to hard to watch and incredibly well-done.You will not just actually see this person turn into a werewolf in light (unlike most shadowy transformations), you will feel his pain and it’s awful. It’s probably the best work Rick Baker has ever done.
2) The monster itself is distinct and realistic that I think it should also come as a surprise to the viewer the way that, say, the appearance of the Transformers or Freddy Krueger came out. It’s a work of movie art and should be admired as such, in the context of the movie.
 
All said and done, I give the movie a 7.5 out of 10. It has a classic sense, something that will resonate in you, but it’s not a perfect picture.
 
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The making of horror movie history right here.
One more thing: The phrase in London is more than just a title. This movie really is a picture belonging to England, no matter how American it feels. The locations, the supporting characters, the atmosphere is one that is uncannily British, despite being an American director and writer and I find that a perfect accomplishment for John Landis. If I ever have a chance to go to London, I will be searching everywhere for the locations of the movie: namely Piccadilly Circus, the porno theater, the tunnel train station… They’re all locations that will forever be ingrained in the legacy of this movie.
 
Is it really a wonder with the work of this picture why Landis went on to create one of the best music videos ever?

FLASHBACK: The Shuttered Wit of the Director’s Mind

We like to quote individuals when they say great things. Speech encourages ideals, movements, discussion and thought. When the speech carries something of depth that can reach the heart and minds of many, that is a gift… That is something universal that has the 

As such, we quote scientists, philosophers, authors, actors, playwrights, religious figures, civil rights icons, activists, humanitarians and even fictional characters. We make sure their truth, their ideals live on beyond the person themselves. And we choose people who seem to have a connection through their role in society to the human condition. I would say the only people we quote that we should be more wary of how we perceive their words are politicians… for very obvious reasons.

So why is it that we don’t see enough filmmakers being quoted? Not only do the finest them find a connection to the subconscious and conscious plane of human existence, they mean to portray those planes in their own eyes. Their vision says more than many words could.

David and I have a wall of quotes on our respective facebooks which we dedicate to the quotes of people we encounter – friends, family, acquaintances, enemies, co-workers, students, teachers, pastors, Imams, etc. – and we post what we hear out for others to reflect on… since the ordinary man is just as capable of saying brilliant or funny things as the scientist or the civil rights activist… for, in a sense, we all are ordinary men…

I’ve decided to look in and re-read some of my favorite quotes from some of my favorite directors and put them on here. I chose quotes that largely apply outside of cinema, though many of the quotes do seem to reflect what the filmmakers say in their own movies, and certainly a good portion of them hint at or imply filmmaking techniques but apply to life as it is too…

I would some of you readers could be just as moved by these words as the words of a President.

“What chess teaches you is that you must sit there calmly and think about whether it’s really a good idea and whether there are other, better ideas.”

“The great nations have always acted like gangsters, and the small nations like prostitutes.”


“A satirist is someone who has a very skeptical view of human nature, but who still has the optimism to make some sort of a joke out of it. However brutal that joke might be.”


“I don’t like doing interviews. There is always the problem of being misquoted or, what’s even worse, of being quoted exactly.”


“The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning.”


“It’s a mistake to confuse pity with love.”


“It’s crazy how you can get yourself in a mess sometimes and not even be able to think about it with any sense and yet not be able to think about anything else.”


“If you can talk brilliantly about a problem, it can create the consoling illusion that it has been mastered.”


“You’re an idealist, and I pity you as I would the village idiot.”


“When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man.”


“The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death — however mutable man may be able to make them — our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”

-Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey)

“I remain just one thing, and one thing only — and that is a clown. It places me on a far higher plane than any politician.”

“I am an individual and a believer in liberty. That is all the politics I have.”


“I believe that faith is a precursor of all our ideas. Without faith, there never could have evolved hypothesis, theory, science or mathematics. I believe that faith is an extension of the mind. It is the key that negates the impossible. To deny faith is to refute oneself and the spirit that generates all our creative forces. My faith is in the unknown, in all that we do not understand by reason; I believe that what is beyond our comprehension is a simple fact in other dimensions, and that in the realm of the unknown there is an infinite power for good.”


-Charles Chaplin (The Gold Rush)

 

“Why pay a dollar for a bookmark? Why not use the dollar for a bookmark?”

“There is something about killing people at close range that is excruciating. It’s bound to try a man’s soul.”


“I love my kids as individuals, not as a herd, and I do have a herd of children: I have seven kids.”

-Steven Spielberg (Jaws)

“We’re all like detectives in life. There’s something at the end of the trail that we’re all looking for.”

“The ideas dictate everything, you have to be true to that or you’re dead.”


“Absurdity is what I like most in life, and there’s humor in struggling in ignorance.”

-David Lynch (Mulholland Dr.)

“Human beings are unable to be honest with themselves about themselves. They cannot talk about themselves without embellishing.”

“Egoism is a sin the human being carries with him from birth; it is the most difficult to redeem.”

-Akira Kurosawa (Throne of Blood)

“One should make one’s own “notes” because there is no one way to do anything. If anyone tells you there is only one way, their way, get as far away from them as possible, both physically and philosophically.”

-Jim Jarmusch (Dead Man)


“If one devalues rationality, the world tends to fall apart.”

“Far be it from me to force anyone into either chess or dressage, but if you choose to do so yourself, in my opinion there is only one way: follow the rules.”

“I’m happy that I’m alive. I feel like someone coming back from Vietnam, you know; I’m sure that later on I’ll start killing people in a square somewhere, but right now, I just feel happy to be alive.”

-Lars von Trier (Dogville)

“Is someone different at age 18 or 60? I believe one stays the same.”

“It seems like everything that we see perceived in the brain before we actually use our own eyes, that everything we see is coming through computers or machines and then is being input in our brain cells. So that really worries me.”

-Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbour Totoro)

 
 
“There’s no such thing as simple. Simple is hard.”

“Alcohol decimated the working class and so many people.”

“Food tells you everything about the way people live and who they are.”

“It seems to me that any sensible person must see that violence does not change the world and if it does, then only temporarily.”

“You make a deal. You figure out how much sin you can live with.”

“There are two kinds of power you have to fight. The first is the money, and that’s just our system. The other is the people close around you, knowing when to accept their criticism, knowing when to say no.”

-Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver)

“The truth is that there is no terror untempered by some great moral idea.”

-Jean-Luc Godard (Band of Outsiders)

“Experience is what you get while looking for something else.”

“The young watch television twenty-four hours a day, they don’t read and they rarely listen. This incessant bombardment of images has developed a hypertrophied eye condition that’s turning them into a race of mutants.”


“I think television has betrayed the meaning of democratic speech, adding visual chaos to the confusion of voices. What role does silence have in all this noise?”


“Money is everywhere but so is poetry. What we lack are the poets.”

-Federico Fellini (Nights of Cabiria)

“I think people talk too much; that’s the truth of the matter. I do. I don’t believe in words. People use too many words and usually wrongly. I am sure that in the distant future people will talk much less and in a more essential way. If people talk a lot less, they will be happier. Don’t ask me why.”

-Michelangelo Antonioni (Blow-up)

“You have to really be courageous about your instincts and your ideas. Otherwise you’ll just knuckle under, and things that might have been memorable will be lost.”

“Anything you build on a large scale or with intense passion invites chaos.”


“It takes no imagination to live within your means.”


“I was never sloppy with other people’s money. Only my own. Because I figure, well, you can be.”

-Francis Ford Coppola (Bram Stoker’s Dracula)

“It has been my observation that parents kill more dreams than anybody.”

“Everything I do is always scrutinised. But that’s all I’ll say about that.”


“I think that every minority in the United States of America knows everything about the dominant culture. From the time you can think, you are bombarded with images from TV, film, magazines, newspapers.”


“Culture is for everybody.”

-Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing)

 

“I am not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

“The talent for being happy is appreciating and liking what you have, instead of what you don’t have.”


“Tradition is the illusion of permanance.”


-Woody Allen (Annie Hall)

“Trust your own instinct. Your mistakes might as well be your own, instead of someone else’s.”

“If you’re going to tell people the truth, be funny or they’ll kill you.”


“You have to have a dream so you can get up in the morning.”


“If there’s anything I hate more than not being taken seriously, it’s being taken too seriously.”

-Billy Wilder (Ace in the Hole)

“We have too many intellectuals who are afraid to use the pistol of common sense.”

“Being a hooker does not mean being evil. The same with a pick-pocket, or even a thief. You do what you do out of necessity.”

-Samuel Fuller (Shock Corridor)

“How do I respond to criticism? Critically. I listen to all criticism critically.”

“I’ll rebel against powers and principalities, all the time. Always, I will.”

“You have to be a brat in order to carve out your parameters, and you have to be a monster to anyone who gets in your way. But sometimes it’s difficult to know when that’s necessary and when you’re just being a baby, throwing your rattle from the cage.”

-Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia)

“I never reflect or convey that which I have not experienced myself.”

“In order to be universal, you have to be rooted in your own culture.”

“I’ve often noticed that we are not able to look at what we have in front of us, unless it’s inside a frame.”

-Abbas Kiarostami (Taste of Cherry)

“The most ordinary word, when put into place, suddenly acquires brilliance. That is the brilliance with which your images must shine.”

“Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.”
 
“When you do not know what you are doing and what you are doing is the best – that is inspiration.”

-Robert Bresson (Au Hasard Balthazar)

“If you take a loud pride in anything, people will rightly shoot you down.” 

“Come a crisis, we want other people.”

Danny Boyle (Trainspotting)

FLASHBACK: Two Movies I Really Tried to Like That I Couldn’t.

Author’s Note, July 2017: Remind me in a bit once I’m done writing about Raimi’s trilogy and the new Spider-Man Homecoming to actually write a REAL review for The Amazing Spider-Man, because while my feelings haven’t changed much on the movie… man, reading 20-year-old me’s writing is fucking awful. I sound like an idiot. And 2400 words?! What the fuck am I, Charles Dickens here?

In 2012, I didn’t really have many movies I was looking forward to. I had taken to watching more classics and oldies than looking out for any coming attractions. I was surprised to realize that Ben Affleck and Paul Thomas Anderson came out with new movies, though I jumped on them immediately. I was not excited about The Avengers as such a concept of a film sounded unwieldy (though I was pleasantly surprised upon seeing the movie) and The Dark Knight Rises as I knew the movie would not be worth the hype that occurs. In fact, the upcoming Spider-Man reboot was the only movie I had expectations for. I thought it was way too soon to do a movie on the Osama bin Laden search, despite being under the direction of Kathryn Bigelow. And although I had been following Rian Johnson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s next collaboration after BrickLooper was not a movie that I was going to rush to see if I had no time.

The only three movies I was legitimately anticipating were two movies whose pre-production and production I had been following out of rabid fandom: Prometheus (out of my rabid fandom for Alien), Django Unchained (out of my Tarantino fandom) and a movie I had been surprised to find was being made… John Dies at the End.

My expectations to John Dies at the End were foolish. I won’t say it was a bad movie, but Don Coscarelli, a director whose made movies I have undying love for like PhantasmBubba Ho-Tep and Incident On and Off a Mountain Road, is a guy who can only make movies that are good enough. Not great, not fantastic, but good enough to pass off the story and maybe have a bit of style and humor to it. It’s a result that probably has to do with unwieldy yet ambitious production and budget problems. Coscarelli is probably at best a more independent Terry Gilliam without the reputation.

It may work for the other films, but when reading the original book by David Wong, John Dies at the End is a tale that requires larger than life, fantastic elements. It’s a tale about two guys basically finding a gateway to a darker world through a drug. You cannot just half-ass that. The Coscarelli humor is somewhat adequate, but it’s not the humor of the book – the absurdity, the banality, the true invincibility of the titular character’s jackassery. At the same time, it has to be legitimately frightening. It’s part of the atmosphere. It can’t be hallucinatory, because the things David and John encounter are real. The threat is real, not in the mind.

And the bigger thing is just that the story is more serial-esque but with an arc. If anything, it fits more as a TV series, but how do you really pitch such a series?
Very small changes are forgivable, a dog who is the central character of the story has been changed in sex and renamed to a punny ‘Bark Lee’. A significant battle in the Luxor casino at Las Vegas has been removed – disappointing but understandable because of budget.

Other changes are pretty hurtful… They take out a huge twist in the story that defines the book, they made the lead female character Amy more of a love interest than anything else and there ARE NO CHAIR JOKES!!!! None!!!

These are not story changes that Coscarelli should take all the blame for himself, but David Wong as well, who has taken responsibility and explained why he insisted on the changes from book to movie. I’m only having a problem with it due to my attachment to the book to be honest.

As a strength to the movie, even though they had less time to flesh out the lead characters of David and John, the actors who played them really understood who they were. I didn’t feel like I was watching an attempt at recreating David and John, I felt like I was actually watching David and John.

My advice to those interested: Watch the movie and then read the book if you liked the movie. You won’t be as disappointed with the movie as I was if you read the book after the fact and it will really fill in the details for a lot of other things that had to be shortened for movie’s length.

Now get ready, because a rant is about to ensue…

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The Amazing Spider-Man on the other hand, I was initially disappointed. I was intrigued by the idea of a new Spider-Man film and was intent on seeing it. When I first saw it, I thought it was whatever, but not a terrible movie. But the reviews came in, lower than the first two Spider-Man films, but higher than the terrible Spider-Man 3. And all my friends were seeming to like it. And then, they started saying the movie was better than Raimi’s trilogy – they started claiming Raimi’s trilogy always sucked. Nevermind the sudden internet about-face, I thought there was nothing spectacularly good or bad about the Amazing Spider-Man. But I figured, I’d give it another shot… I’d see if I could catch what I was supposed to be missing and they were catching.


The Amazing Spider-Man is not just an overhyped movie, it’s a very bad movie. There’s in actuality, after watching it again and again, nothing whatsoever of cinematic merit in it. My attempt to watch it again to find the good in it backfired. I only found more bad.

I’ve had times when I went against the public opinion to not like a popular movie… I was not a fan of CrashTransformers (albeit the 2nd and 3rd movies were bad and everyone knew it) or a good portion of Tim Burton’s work (though I have lightened up on him)… But I understood there was at least some merit in these films that allowed for their legacy, even The Dark Knight RisesThe Amazing Spider-Man does not have that. At all. It does not have anything of quality in it. There has never been another time I was so certain people were eating up shit since The Walking Dead TV series started and everybody claimed it was the best show ever made.

So, let me start with the obvious…
1) The most underdeveloped romantic story I’ve seen in films. I haven’t seen From Justin to Kelly or Gigli yet, and I have no intention to, so I’ll be fair and not say it’s THE most underdeveloped romance in all films but giggling and staring at each other does not constitute chemistry.
2) Peter Parker is a brooder all around the movie. Before Uncle Ben even dies, he’s brooding like a punk. People all around me say that this is the Spider-Man they’ve been waiting for, but that’s not Spider-Man. They say Spider-Man has to be an asshole, Spider-Man has to make jokes…

Look, Spider-Man is not Spider-Man because he makes jokes. If you get mad, Raimi’s Spider-Man didn’t make jokes, you may as well be mad at Christopher Nolan’s Batman because he didn’t do that Dracula thing he always does with his cape…

 

Pictured: That Dracula Thing… I can English!

You know what makes Spider-Man Spider-Man? The fact that he’s not an asshole. The fact that he legitimately means well everytime. He’s human with faults, but Uncle Ben taught him to be a better person and his death spurs him into taking on hefty responsibility in life. He doesn’t love his life, but he doesn’t brood 24/7. A gritty Spider-Man would not work, just as a gritty Fantastic Four does not work. Peter Parker’s a legitimately good guy who wants to do the right thing.
Anybody who claim Spider-Man is an asshole or his only defining feature in persona is his smartassery (which is done to offset the weight he feels put under)… These people don’t know what they’re talking about at all.

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, in my opinion, are better actors that Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst… But man, Andrew Garfield’s acting in this film, he made me want to punch Peter. Every damn time… they barely glance over his scientific knowledge and they make him look like a modern Edward Cullen.

3. The story was rushed. The origin was rushed, Flash Thompson was inconsistent in his treatment of Peter, the chase for Ben’s killer went nowhere, the romance was rushed… and when they killed Captain Stacy, I just went ‘Wow, that already happened?’… Then, I look at who wrote the script and I figure out why… James Vanderbilt: his portfolio does not seem to understand development or pacing. Zodiac is the one credit that actually seemed satisfactory. Alvin Sargent wrote all Spider-Man scripts… that’s fine whatever, but he made mistakes too. And Steve Kloves wrote the Harry Potter films… which I despise with a passion for their lack of understanding how to properly adapt works of literature into cinema (Granted, I really really love the books, like anybody who grew up reading them, and I have a warm reception towards the movie of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – So, I’m not anti-Harry Potter at all).

The Amazing Spider-Man could’ve went into places Raimi never went to, it could’ve brought new life to the comic book film, but instead it played out as a lifeless script treatment of a high school drama.

The biggest gripe I have is with what The Amazing Spider-Man claimed they were bringing to the table turned out to be absolutely empty promises. Norman Osborn’s disappearance was laughably obvious by the sudden showcase of the shadowy bust they had in the OsCorp tour.

Are you fucking kidding me? Is that a whole obnoxious ‘I’m gonna deliberately not show you the face because I want to be incredibly mysterious as a picture’ instead of being unassuming about the whole deal and letting the ambiguity flow naturally?

Curt Conners’ transformation into the Lizard was actually a well-treated part of the story, particularly with his being ridden on by Irfan Khan’s character, but then his whole plan to flood the city with that mutation cloud was once again, worse than the more cliche comic book villain schemes I’ve seen since I was a child… At least the Green Goblin, despite a bad design, had a personal vendetta with everyone he targeted.
The worst part, the biggest crime, was the sudden focus on the parents. There’s three reasons why it was absolutely appalling to use.

1) They don’t say anything about his parents. They act like they’re a big part of the story, but by the end of the movie, nothing is known about them except Richard worked for OsCorp with Connors. Nothing jaw-dropping out of that. Then they make the mid-credit scene in prison to laugh at us, teasing like they have more to say… when there was nothing said to begin with. By the end of the movie, I polled all of my friends who loved The Amazing Spider-Man (ie. Everyone who saw it for some reason – including my brother who I saw it with) to name the parents of Peter Parker. Half of them were able to name Richard as the father, nobody except one guy could name Mary as the mother.

2) It doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t. Richard and Mary Parker left Peter’s life and they never returned and it never affected Peter in the comics (it had weight in the Ultimate Spider-Man universe, but never so severe). For all intents and purposes, Ben and May Parker are Peter’s parental figures. They were the ones who shaped Peter into the man he became, not his parents… which leads me to the third reason.

American Gothic… it is not.

3) They downplayed Ben and May’s role at this point. Their importance to Peter’s life was absolutely nullified. Instead of feeling the pull I felt when I saw Ben die in 2002’s Spider-Man, I instead thought ‘Huh, they shot him already?’ in 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man.

It was an bloodless picture that thought just from its existence it was going to change the Spider-Man game the way Batman Begins did to the Batman game and instead, it came off as movie that was all the bad parts of the Ultimate universe and the Harry Potter stories. It was created only to make money and retain the Spider-Man copyright for Sony Pictures and everybody fell for it and ate it up. It’s very insulting to the intelligence of the audience because it’s obvious they half-assed this movie.

At this point, it goes far beyond I just don’t like The Amazing Spider-Man. It goes far beyond Raimi’s Spider-Man 1 and 2 being my favorite movies. I’m trying to avoid comparison.
I’m making a certainly childish move to a degree, but one I feel completely justified in… The Amazing Spider-Man was a bad movie. A very bad movie. It has it’s hype phenomenon going for it, solely because it’s the new version… Everybody’s going to eat it up because they like teenage angst and think it equals cinematic emotion. I’m that guy trying to explain that Soylent Green is people and whatever… I’ll be the pariah, but everybody’s wrong if they say there’s something of quality in The Amazing Spider-Man.
I will forever fight this until it dies down.
It’s not like you can say The Amazing Spider-Man was more accurate to the comics – that’s not the case. In fact, it goes a lot backwards in comic book accuracy than forwards or makes the same leaps that Spider-Man made. The only accuracy added was the web-slinging device. That’s one item of accurate delivery and even then, Parker steals it in TAS as opposed to building it.
You certainly can’t say it’s because it’s the Untold Story. It wasn’t. It wasn’t everything told in Spider-Man as an origin.

At least John Dies at the End was funny.

Wait, no, The Amazing Spider-Man was better because 3D!

EDIT: So, I just read that the sequel to The Amazing Spider-Man will feature Jamie Foxx as Electro and possibly Paul Giamatti as Rhino. DEAR ODIN, this series fucking reeks of stunt casting – Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Denis Leary, C. Thomas Howell, Irfan Khan, Rhys Ifans and now this… this is only done to use big-name stars without respect for character.

Okay, I’m done now, I promise.

Antichrist (2009/dir. Lars von Trier/Denmark) – Trier’s Depression Symphony Part 1

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Before beginning this review, it would probably be best to start talking about Lars von Trier for a bit.

Lars von Trier is some kind of professional provocateur. If you don’t know the name for his acclaimed filmmaking output, you know him for how well he steps on the toes of the bourgeois cinema that he himself may very well be a member of. He has made a documentary out of his harassment of one of his inspirations (though it seems to have occurred on good terms between the two of them), had an animal killed for the shooting of one of his films (an act which, while I hold his artistic ability at high esteem, I do not agree with one bit), dealt with some more standoffish critics in joking but less than humble manner and as his crowning jewel of controversy outside of cinema, he had earned the first ‘persona non grata’ status at Cannes Film Festival after making a lot of facetious but poor Nazi jokes in the Cannes 2011 Melancholia Panel, after spending a full career as essentially the festival’s favorite son. Trier is probably accustomed to being a lightning rod for public scrutiny.

On the other hand, his movies prior to Antichrist are for the most part revered in technique while dividing critics in subject matter. He was a pioneer in the Dogme ’95 movement and is stylistically distinguishable in his naturalistic avant-garde manner in shooting yet remains exhaustive in his communication of themes and methods to capture the “real world” on the camera. In addition, his actors find him irritating in his treatment of them – As opposed to the relationships we get out of many famous director/actor duos, he very rarely gets actors to return for other projects. John C. Reilly walked out of Manderlay over the afore-mentioned animal killing, Stellan Skarsgård had to lie to Paul Bettany to have him get on-set of Dogville, James Caan was ashamed to have worked on Dogville which he thought was anti-American and Björk outright called him a misogynist.

The claims of misogyny against Trier as a director interest me in consideration of the fact that in nearly all of Trier’s films, the female actress has more critical praise than any other factor of the film. I’ve seen Emily Watson, Nicole Kidman, Björk, Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg all earn universal acclaim for their performances in his film as opposed to Stellan Skarsgård, Paul Bettany, David Morse, Kiefer Sutherland or Willem Dafoe. This doesn’t necessarily refute the idea – In fact, he may get such performances through cruel methods – but the fact that the focus is on the female protagonists and more often than not, our sympathies lie in the female leads of his movie make an interesting response to his considerable negative reception from female perspective.

Indeed, I approached Antichrist with having heard that it is misogynist and damning towards women in terms of its content and that the Cannes Film Festival awarded the film an “anti-award” for this reason.

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The movie’s story reminisces of the isolation and gender separation of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, though with less subtlety. A married couple (the previously mentioned Dafoe and Gainsbourg) has recently lost their infant son in a manner that made me reflect on Eric Clapton’s tragic song “Tears in Heaven”. Dafoe’s character happens to be a psychiatrist and takes it upon himself, in an ill-advised manner, to ease Gainsbourg’s character’s suffering through the aftermath of the son’s death. The experiments they go through eventually lead them to plan a stay in a cabin that She had once spent time in with her son. The resulting retreat turns into an ambush of feral instincts considered natural by She, who is the perpetrator.

The movie is regarded by Trier as his failure to create a horror movie, but I’d argue it to be one of if not the purest horror films I’ve ever seen. Antichrist‘s cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle somehow is able to cross the thin line between handheld jump cuts that make us involved in the atmosphere and precise methodical handling of mise en scene to keep the movie from seeming incredibly amateurish. The structure of the film provides an even arc in its story, even if

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could easily apply to its notorious third act. The first act of the film is unnerved by the very intense performance of Gainsbourg, a larger-than-life hysteria that is controlled enough to not come off as cartoonish and instead is slowly but surely threatening. It’s amazing she doesn’t burn out on her screams in the darkness of her bed alone…

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Then we approached with the second act of the film, which dedicates itself to establishing an invisible yet supernatural and sinister atmosphere while dropping in little omens of terror every so often… Gainsbourg left room in her character to become more and more unhinged, even in her initial unpredictability (an effort only matched by few actors, Jack Nicholson in The Shining).

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In the second act, we begin to foresee the horrifying fate that is spelled out for this couple in their solitude. But the third act is where it all gets messy for them, without saying what happens (assuming you haven’t already seen the movie, 4 years after its release, or assuming you don’t want to be reminded of the very graphic and unsettling violence that occurs). However, until the very climax of the film’s simmering and escalating hostility, the majority of violence is performed towards Dafoe’s He by Gainsbourg’s She. The performance of He is the only complete constant in the film – disassociated, cold and exploitive of She’s woes and swings.

As a result of portraying She as a self-loathing and murderous character (she expresses contempt and speculation for her gender as responsible for all the world’s woes), the movie’s content is considered misogynistic, alongside consideration of a credit for a misogyny expert on the set of the film (Heidi Laura may either be proud or ashamed of her work on the movie, depending on her stance of the final cut). But I’d argue that, in spite of some points of views of the movie being more popular than others, He is the more evil character between the two. Save for the funeral, he immediately shrugs off the death of his son and gets to putting his suffering wife under a microscope for his scholarly needs. It may just be my own interpretation, but I felt more sympathy for She, who seems to represent more the pressures that a male-dominated society push onto women and the occasional persecution of women as responsible for their aggressors, both presently and past form (Dafoe is astonished to find the results of his attempts come to bite him in the butt).

In a major amount, She’s self-misogyny and belief in women inherently being evil reminds me heavily of Hari Rhodes’ performance as Trent in Samuel Fuller’s Shock Corridor, a black man who, in the pressure of his racist environment believes himself to belong most to the Ku Klux Klan than to his own identity as a black man.

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Indeed, this is a layer of the movie carried through the control of Trier,  largely Gainsbourg and Dafoe, but in addition, the performances are also extremely differentiated in their reaction to portray two separate sides of the same coin: the ways people go through tragedy and depression. The movie, and Trier’s following two others Melancholia (which will be my next review soon – as I look to cover Trier’s entire Depression trilogy) and the upcoming Nymphomaniac, are based on Trier’s depression period in 2007 and inspired by his feelings from these moments of severe depression – one of many symptoms Trier suffers from as a peculiar human being, as insensitive that this might sound. Much of the inhumane horror comes form a dementia that is obtained through the grief of these characters and it is always acknowledged that they have lost someone dear to them and that it drives them.

Is the movie pretentious as many claim it to be? I don’t doubt it at all. Despite its rawer look in cinematography and intensity, it has the air of a work of art that demands to be put on a pedestal before it stands the test of time – especially with a memorable opening that, with its marriage of aria and high definition black and white photography, would be so perfect… if its content was not so wrong. However, the movie may also be the most personal of Trier, forcing him to look at the separations of society from the mind of one who is not thinking straight and consider its validity to the general world. And it’s a good movie as a result, as polarizing as it is, even if I don’t intent to watch it again unless I need to and even when it acts more important than it is.

It’s not Trier has nothing to say; quite the contrary, he has something to say with this film. The problem is that so many people may not want to hear it.

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FLASHBACK: The Trial of Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee Presiding, in charge of Django

I got into an argument on Facebook about a film, this one about the previously reviewed Django Unchained. A guy who I acted and worked for in a short film named Daniel Pida had voiced his dislike for Spike Lee, and, given the recent release of the film, I assumed the starter pistol was Lee’s criticism of Tarantino’s films – of which I actually do find merit in, possibly the only piece of publicity-seeking Lee I find actual merit in.
So, I decided to give out a rebuttal and the resulting argument, I actually found interesting to post on this…
I don’t think I’ll be making a huge habit out of posting facebook conversations frequently, but it’ll happen now and then from time to time…
 
Anyway, here’s hoping one enjoys. I repeat some things I already stated in my review and what not, but I’m sure there’s something to be found in this conversation of enlightening value…
When the short film I had cameo-ed shortly in by Daniel, Last Soliloquoy, is posted on YouTube (if he decides to do so), I’ll be sure to post it here just to showcase what Mr. Pida is capable of…
 
Sheckin’ it out now… (funk soul rubber)