City of Evil – Sin City (2005/dir. Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller/USA)

I attempted to wrap this post up honestly in April when the first trailer for Sin City: A Dame to Kill For was released. Then I kept coming back to it at different intervals, in some way trying to intercept the little hype that might have been occurring for the sequel to Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.

I slowly discovered to my dismay that hype was minimum. Sin City came out 9 years ago in 2005, well before it was common practice to go and create a digital world resembling the dreams of a stylistic artist. That’s nothing new anymore to the film world (it wasn’t exactly brand new then either – Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was a notorious film who brought it in the American eye first and crashed and burned for it). And it was regrettably one of the only popularly appealing factors of a film that is still pretty damn good.

However, I am about to post a two-parter review for Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (partly kickstarting my video reviewing for this blog) and so I ain’t gonna go ahead and do this without going over the first film. Let’s get to it.

Sin City came out in 2005 as an adaptation of Frank Miller’s gritty, rough and tough comic series of the same name, featuring separate yarns, sometimes in the forms of limited series, one-shots and graphic novels. Miller’s comics focused on various arcs of various hard-boiled and grimy characters in the hard-boiled grimy city of Basin City. This film adaptation in particular recreates three of those arcs – The Hard Goodbye (originally titled Sin City) that follows the hulking mass of gleeful carnage that is Marv (Mickey Rourke in a comeback performance that is astoundingly perfect for him) as he hunts for the man who kills the one woman who it seems loved him, The Big Fat Kill where one wrong move on the hands of the prostitute enforcers of Old Town leads to a chess match in calculating how they can cover up their mistake and avoid a mafia powerplay and, easily the weakest of the three, That Yellow Bastard, where a jaded ex-police officer attempts to tie up the last loose end in his career.

Now to explain what really, in my mind, sets apart this film apart from all the other examples like the Star Wars prequels and such that keep using the green-screen world technique (other than budget) is that the world Sin City in itself builds actually has character. It’s not a setting so much as an entity for the film and the true defining feature of the film – that it comes from the imagination of Frank Miller. Which is the truth. It’s not really an adaptation, it’s just a straight lift from the comics for better or worse, with some fat trimming for the sake of cinematic pacing, which I’m glad Rodriguez has an eye for. Robert Rodriguez fought hard to give Miller his due directorial credit (going so far as to renounce his DGA membership – a reason we probably never saw an Oscar nomination in a year where they had a flat out noir homage montage!!!) largely because this is Miller’s story not his and, as much as I currently have a problem with Miller’s views (which I will avoid talking about in this article), it’s a pretty interesting world to indulge in.

Part of Sin City‘s basis is comics which in fact take inspiration from, well, movies. So it’s no surprise that every flourish Miller and ex-wife and collaborator Lynn Varley put forth would translate very easily on the silver screen. This is a world based on the ideals and elements of the 1940s-50s film noir universe and nearly every little detail from the cars, to the costumes, to especially the personas of the characters are shaped with the bleak nihilistic excess of the noir genre in mind to the highest extreme. It glamorizes a film movement that was intent on showing the darkness in man altogether and while at points it comes off at points as misogynistic with its depiction of women as whores (like Frank Miller’s works are consistently privy to do) and tasteless in its frontline showcasing of rape, torture, pedophilia, castration, kidnapping and cannibalism (not even going over the Nazism, incest and violent deviancy that the unadapted yarns went over), what truly appealed to me – as with most of the tales an adolescent STinG got attracted to – was that while the evil would be exaggerated to a higher and despicable level within the black-and-white horror story of crime (with occasional splashes of color that give more definition to the mentality of the moments in the film), it would counter with relatively (ie. only in terms of personality, because goddamn these fuckers take an inhuman amount of pain without even flinching) grounded heroes who aren’t good people so much as they are the only decent people.

Take for example Marv, who is one of my favorite characters in any work of fiction of all. Marv (who, it is implied by the storyline, was a virgin before the opening of The Hard Goodbye) is a very evil person. He will commit horrific acts of violence at any given moment for the smallest of things as talking shit about his coat. I get close to pants-shitting terror every time I watch this movie at the posture where he approaches one of the villains and claims the killing will not give him satisfaction “but everything up to the killing will be a gas.” And that’s the guy who’s supposed to be the hero that scares the shit out of me. He’s a barbarian in a trenchcoat, a giant monster of a person who resembles of a behemoth Frankenstein than the prizefighter he actually could become. He’s also surprisingly a man with principles – he won’t kill you unless you’ve proven to done worse (and he’ll absolutely investigate the necessity to avoid turning down a good murder), he is immensely protective of women, children and animals, he has a fondness for the church and his mother, and is consistently good-natured, either starting a friendly rapport with any random person who approaches the space considerately or cracking jokes even in the worst of times. He occurs to me sort of a samurai stuck in Mongol’s body and decided to have utilized it to the best. Above that, the guy is pretty clearly mentally and emotionally abused. He has very few friends and some are leaned towards using him more for his brute force. The rest of the world hates him, shows him no love and he is considered incredibly stupid of self-flagellating himself with this idea that he’s a fucking idiot, when he may in fact be one of the smarter (albeit pretty deficient due to his scars and damages) characters in the entire universe, almost single-handedly solving The Hard GoodbyeSilent NightJust Another Saturday Night and other yarns in his mind when others would fail. Very little of this is communicated by the heavy narration or dialogue that features in the film.

Mickey Rourke practically encompasses all of this character without even drawing attention to himself and for that it is one of my favorite performances of cinema. The fact that characters like this give more dimension to superficial storylines like the simple revenge of The Hard Goodbye gives me all the more reason to love Sin City as a movie. Though, some other works don’t really need that much and some can’t be helped.

The Big Fat Kill is easily a favorite storyline of mine (other than A Dame to Kill For) that features Miller at his most nuanced and complex in storytelling. It’s not cookie cutter “ok, this is the revenge and this is the mystery and this is the romance” writing. The plot progresses to a very interesting conflict of gangs and really, in spite of overall looking misogynistic in the looks of the female protagonists, this is one of the few storylines Miller wrote where I could see it coming of as empowering (though, since I’m a man, my consideration on this is unrevokably biased and should be taken with a grain of salt), the Old Town ladies being loudly independent, capable and ruthless (Rosario Dawson, the frontman for this motley crew, is absolutely pitch perfect in her role that I can never stop looking at her as Gail) – essentially Amazonians from Hell – although it’s kind of cut down when they resort to Dwight’s help as being THE hero of the story. In the end, I still find it to be coming from a significantly impressive storytelling place that I haven’t seen from Miller in forever, a dedication more to plot than theme when the plot itself is pretty damn interesting.

Nuance like that makes this piece of work of Miller’s a lot more enjoyable than his other works that I have less tolerance for as a comic reader, such as The Dark Knight Strikes Again300, Give Me Liberty or All-Star Batman and Robin which is less based on sending a (usually atrocious) message to the public and just based on delivering some pretty entertaining stories about jaw-locked thugs giving overarcing villains what for.

That Yellow Bastard is absolutely the weakest of the three, but it’s also, I would think, the most digestible of all the three yarns present in the film. If it had been presented entirely first (though I have no problem with the divide between pre-Hartigan’s jailing and during Hartigan’s jailing), it would pretty much set up the enitre point of these stories for better or worse – the emotional beatdown of the few good men in a city that’s rotten to the core, the politics behind the lives of people who don’t know about their strings, every single icky quality about the icky fucking people present in this story, the melodrama and everything. It just doesn’t really mesh as well, though, and it seems more to come from an overall angry place in Miller (and at this point, as most comic book readers or people familiar with Frank Miller know, his angry place is really not a very well-minded place to visit). It is just overall immensely bleak and not half as enjoyable as the other yarns.

And again, it’s a remarkably cool world to look at, made from darkness and right angles and rain and it all seems a bit too entrenched in its own filth and bleakness to not at all feel at home with it. This movie’s production design is the whole star of the movie in styles that could only come from the frazzled mind of Miller, with the coats, the nice little automobiles, the shoes, the hairstyles, the make-up and everything shaping the movie to just leaving the actors to be standees or enzymes for the rest of the mood. The music even gives a grindhouse Austin mood with its ambient razor sounds that feel like a grungey John Carpenter score (and if anybody has shown their love for the works of John Carpenter, it’s Robert Rodriguez). And if they aren’t tuned in, that’s fine, the rest of the movie picks up the slack for the most part.

Speaking of the actors, among Rosario’s fiery presence and Rourke’s somber tower of a being, the acting is usually hit or miss. In a film that largely cuts and pastes its actors alongside each other (meaning most of the actors had not met each other during filming), it is very easy to tell the good performances from the bad by who you absolutely do not think knows is talking to a person and not just a green wall. Nick Stahl, Jessica Alba, a very unfortunately sloppy Benicio Del Toro with great makeup nonetheless, a disappointing Rutger Hauer, a Michael Madsen that seems spaced-out and generic Bruce Willis all seem to fall under this suspects line-up of bad performances in the film that aren’t helped by their degree of separation from the other characters; however, Clive Owen spits out his harsh tones like it’s a second language to him, Brittany Murphy is surprisingly cynical in her very very short appearance, Elijah Wood has an otherworldly silent factor to him and Alexis Bledel and Carla Gugino do their best to interact with the story that they leave a small mark in just as much as Dawson and Rourke do.

In the end, Sin City is solely tied to its source for better or worse – all it is are moving pictures from the pages of the comic series and it will appeal or repel its audience as it is today for its content solely as opposed to 2005 when its stylization seemed a lot more fresh before Zack Snyder took it all and boosted it up to eleven. How it works is more in its sense of humor to itself, its delight in knowing its not half as serious as it thinks it is (and I find Rodriguez to be the bigger facilitator in that sense of humor as The Spirit in 2008 was more soul-sucking than soul-filled) than the works of Miller’s later years and the hefty amount of jadedness he had with the world communicated through his works like Holy Terror and The Dark Knight Strikes Again.

I wonder if there’s still a chance to get him back… even though Sin City seemed to be the median point to his descent into bitterness that people are as in tuned to the ideology he demands. Shame Frank’s gone too far…

We’ll stick around back here and enjoy the few remnants he left behind…

What the Shell – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014/dir. Jonathan Liebesman/USA)

I will always hold it against a movie that makes me think like a Cinemasins video. It puts me in a state of mind that is completely self-punishing. Film is an approximation of life, not life itself, no matter what Godard tries to tell me. So, when the logic of a movie is so banal and presented in front of me that I cannot possibly ignore it, I will hold it against that movie no matter what.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the latest movie to challenge me like that and now I will fucking own its ass. Because there is almost nothing redeemable about its content.

And the filmmakers clearly tried to redeem their film by any means necessary. So many things about this movie seem like an effort to please everybody they possibly can. William Fichtner gets shooed out of the Shredder for not being Asian, when the actor is devious enough to play the villain and not second-banana. The Turtles are no longer aliens (I don’t give a shit about their origin story as an long die-hard TMNT fan – the ooze was of alien origin to begin with) after a fan backlash. They made the title back to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (though I can’t help but note the logo’s stubborn emphasis on the words “Ninja Turtles” as if they didn’t want to give up the fight). They didn’t bother with the design of the turtles looking like the Jolly Green Giant’s Saibamen but they made a definite attempt to save the public image of the film under the (reasonably but still unfortunately) tarnished name of Michael Bay.

fucking wut

Michael Bay didn’t direct it, he was the producer. At this point, I don’t need to say that is the case. You all know that the actual director is the very unexciting name Jonathan Liebesman, whose last two films were similar CGI distraction-fests and the rest bargain bin horror/thrillers. Liebesman instead tried the Michael Bay style. A whole fucking lot. Lense flare galore, heavy over-editing and goddamned terrible lighting that goes between overexposure and a very unnecessary amount of darkness that literally divides the turtles away from the ninjas they fight or the humans we assume they interact with.

The movie’s quite unapologetic about its plotlessness, but I’ll try as best as I can sum it up: The closest we have to a protagonist to the film is April O’Neil (Megan Fox trying to put another nail in her coffin), a reporter tired of getting fluff pieces at her job that she begins pursuing the activities of the rising Foot Clan Crime Syndicate. In the middle of this she goes and captures her own eyewitness testimony to a vigilante interfering with Foot Clan activity, convincing no one. When she finally finds the identity of this now-team, she discovers them to be four teenage mutant ninjas. They’re also turtles. They’re also raised by a rat named Splinter (motion-captured by Danny Woodburn; thankfully not voice acted by the fucker but instead by Tony Shalhoub). They also are the middle of battle with a force known as Shredder (Tohoru Masamune). Shredder is himself using the technology of Eric Sachs (Fichtner in a scenery-chewing campability I previously did not know him capable of). It’s basically a sloppy load of events that are vaguely connected and slapped onto the screen to give circumstances for the Turtles to fight in a manner that doesn’t suit them.

If it sounds like I’m not into reviewing the film anymore, it’s because these guys involved with the movie weren’t into making it either. It’s a cash-in on a brand. Will Arnett and Whoopi Goldberg barely do anything in their respective roles than add to a sort of workroom sexism media bias vibe that would work if the movie was more aware of what it was presenting and wasn’t A FUCKING KID’S FLICK. Josh Appelbaum & Andre Nemec just provide a straight from The Amazing Spider-Man template for its scenes while adding unnecessary darkness. Y’know metaphorical darkness, not literal darkness like the design of the turtles’ lair and the handheld shots of bullshit battles in enclosed areas happen to be cover themselves with. And Liebesman and Fox together showed a cinematic incompetence I was not even fucking aware was capable when you try this hard. What can I say about Fox alone that hasn’t already been said and thought to have killed her career already?

To the film’s credit without trying to force myself to say nice things about it, they handled the characterizations of each turtle very well. Exceptionally well. Some might say the personas of the turtles were pushed to extremes (the usage of the thickest glasses ever created on Donatello is a bit much maybe), but I’d call the ability to differentiate between the four like that a great amount of pleasure. It definitely is a step up from the Transformers series where we literally can’t tell either robot from each other, during the action or after the fact. But it’s a small devotion to character that gets utterly drowned out in the end by completely uninvolved filmmaking.

But that’s it. The film has otherwise nothing going for it and y’know these characters belong in a film where something is given for them, because in a franchise spanning 5 movies and 24 years, it’s a shame the only movie to give them a world to live in was the animated CGI extended TV series episode from 2007 (and it wasn’t even a great movie as it was just worth watching). I mean, come on, children aren’t idiots. You can give them better stuff than this slog of a movie.

Lars von Trier’s Depression Symphony Part 3 – Nymphomaniac (2013/dir. Lars von Trier/Denmark) and Remedy Lane (artist – Pain of Salvation)



Let me tell you about Daniel Gildenlow. He is one of my favorite vocalists, the frontman for the Swedish progressive metal band Pain of Salvation (which I find poorly named… it sounds too moralistic for their work). Like myself, he comes from the school of Mike Patton – taking into account a huge stress in avant-garde stylings, range-hoarding and overall versatility in both style and genre. Which is weird when he works on a more focused project as Pain of Salvation. He is also, by most personal accounts, an immensely cheery guy – surprising given the entirety of the band’s works are entirely dark-themed sobering and generally Debbie Downer concept albums.

One such album is the 2002 work Remedy Lane. In it, Gildenlow gives a semi-autobiographical about his phase of promiscuity in Budapest and it is not a sympathetic tale so much as it is humanly crushing. It takes an overall exotic and erotic phrasings with its guitar work while the drumming lightly accents the dissonance, but a very sinister undertone pervades over the music – making appropriate the tales of miscarriage, suicide and chilling sexual ambition to a very off-putting degree.


And really, it’s sex. It’s hard to not make it erotic if you suck, like maybe Harmony Korine. But it’s also immensely personal and the themes it applies to the sex factor are not themes to take lightly. They insight fear, regret, sadness and disappointment.

Fandango” paints a picture within its rhythms and description of the “dance” that it feels like a drunken nightmare. It’s so abrupt and trippy. “Beyond the Pale”, my favorite Pain of Salvation in particular, is the biggest explosion of the emotions I’ve mentioned… Gildenlow gives off his full range – screaming, wailing, rapping and even singing lullabies within the songs as he deals with the choices he’s had to make.

It’s not an overall amazing album, it has its loose ends of tracks (I wouldn’t say you need to hear “”Undertow” or “This Heart of Mine”, but it’s still an album I hold dearly in my heart and a constant play for me.

The reason I mention it is that its self-damning attitude to sexuality had been reminded to me when I came to the main subject of this review. Hence, I use it as a segue to the third and final work in Lars von Trier’s trilogy of Depression. And lo and behold, much like the final installment in film series based on Young Adult novel series, this film has very unnervingly separated itself into two parts.

It’s not as bothersome, though, since, in all honesty, Nymphomaniac is incredibly novel as a story, sort of a modern Arabian Nights with our Scheherazade bring instead the self-consuming eye of Danish problem child of cinema von Trier through the surrogate of a woman who is in pain and knows little more than one thing: to fuck.

The film opens in usual von Trier style: With an intro including shots that seem to deliberately arrange their composition and color in the form of a modern day painting, slow moving shots in poetic fashion as we witness Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) lying on the floor in piss, blood and snow. This time around though, we don’t get the classic operatic music alongside this prologue and its displayed leitmotifs. It’s score instead by the unorthodox choice of Neue Deutsche Harte forerunners Rammstein and their song “Fuhre Mich” (the soundtrack alone is a curious thing, mixing the works of Talking Heads and Wagner, Steppenwold and Beethoven absolutely frivolously. I can’t make up my opinion on its attitude.), deliberately for its continuous repetition of the word “Nymphomaniac”. At this point, Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) a man residing in the area passes by her on the way to get some alcohol and decides to take care of her. As she rests up, Joe recounts her life up until this point, insisting it will paint her as an awful person, while Seligman listens intently and commentates. 

She’s basically taking the long way and trying to condemn herself for her sexuality much like Gildenlow tried to do so in Remedy Lane. The result is that the heavy-handed nature of both tales becomes somewhat exhausting halfway through the works. But what is more problematic is when the story is interrupted consistently by self-analysis and dissection, which is very much the case with Nymphomaniac. Seligman consistently interjects into the story, either to re-assuage Joe from her self-damning attitude or applying his intellectual considerations to the story. Seligman’s commentary is reminiscent of copies of novels with continuous annotations and notes that get in the way of the actual text. And it’s obviously deliberate on the part of the filmmakers, but it doesn’t feel half as profound when its embedded into the film itself and it doesn’t take long before Seligman becomes an annoyance. Which is why it is such a relief when, at the opening of Volume II, Joe calls Seligman out on his shit.

It’s also the point where the story takes up a very heightened feel, as the true source of Joe’s story is revealed, and we enter less from a “slice of life from Hell” eye on the Joe’s sexual appetites and more on the very unbelievable lifestyle descent she’s goes into – from a full-on family to mob ties – and perhaps to reflect upon that completely fabricated feel, the cinematography steadies itself more to the same standard as the prologue. It goes from pseudo-Dogme handheld verite feel (in obvious Lars von Trier-ian fashion, the sex scenes were shot superimposing the actors’ faces seemlessly on the bodies of porn stars… Lars has some address book I’m guessing) – the source of the film’s dungy dirty feel for its repulsiveness almost as much as Gainsbourg’s specific attitude as she recites her life – to totally balanced tone and the camera arranged on a tripod. It’s also the point where the movie completely lost me… the only saving grace is the building romantic arc between Joe and her deviant protégée P (Mia Goth) and how it is played out by its actors, even in its melodrama.

By the way, the cast is impeccable for the most part – in particular, Uma Thurman, Christian Slater and Jamie Bell all appear for only short periods in Joe’s life as respectively the wife of one of Joe’s trysts, Joe’s enlightened and doomed father and a fucking frightening sadist whose mad cruelty is hypnotizing. If I had to pick my favorite performance of those three I’d hard pressed, as they’re all worlds different than the characters I am used to them portraying and yet they’re convincing enough to make me believe they had to have dug into deeper darker caverns of who they are as people. They take command every time they are in the scene. Stacy Martin as well, who portrays Joe for the initial half of her life, is totally alluring, her presence a modern day Lulu. She’s not going to bring anything but harm to herself while, well, who could blame her? If I had to state who was the star for Volume I, it was her rather than Gainsbourg. Shia LaBeouf is a complete miscast and capable actors like Jesper Christensen, Udo Kier and Willem Dafoe don’t get much shit to do, but it’s carried enough by Martin and company that we can barely care for it.

So the film is composed capably, but attempts to come out raw in itself. It tries to feel like a porn film you really shouldn’t be watching with its self-critique, completely un-erotic, yes, but not half as condemning. Its source of rawness is not its script or its acting, its in the faults that von Trier didn’t mean to be there. It’s in us going “ugh, what the fuck is Shia LaBeouf doing there?” and in us going “what the fuck is Talking Heads?” playing for. It’s a sense of amateur work that we know von Trier to be above, but he went with it anyway. It’s probably tricky to find out whether or not he meant for it these things to just come off as half-assed, but I wouldn’t be surprised by either answer.

And it works. It’s not sexy, but it’s sex. It’s not a terrible story, but it’s off-putting storytelling. It meshes in the raw way we realized von Trier wanted. But much like Remedy Lane, we know there’s something to find out about our human impulses, how far is too far and it’s pretty shocking and eye-opening. Or maybe it’s because I come from an Islamic Conservative family that shapes my perspective, but brings my mind back to the idea of sin.

Such concludes the Depression trilogy, Lars von Trier’s complete symphony of the demons of humanity that eat at human beings… focusing on loss, impending doom and sex. Not an unorthodox selection of subjects to apply depression to for the most part, but hit or near-miss, he made them seem fresh. He gave a new lens. It’s why he’s among my favorite filmmakers. He’s not afraid to get dirty. Nor to make it nasty.

Yeah, the only NSFW image here. Because I want to be the asshole too.

Lars von Trier’s Depression Trilogy – Intermediary Post: Let’s Talk About Depression…

Late last year, I had begun a mini-project on reviewing the Depression trilogy of one of my favorite directors, the Danish troublemaking Lars von Trier. I had gone over the first two films of the trilogy – 2009’s Antichrist and 2011’s Melancholia (the links lead to their respective reviews) – and am currently re-watching the 2013 two-parter Nymphomaniac for my final post (which I’ll also be co-reviewing it with a Swedish musical concept album I find connected in dealing with human sexuality) on the project as we speak sometime this week.

But before I do, I would find it particularly tasteless to go over the project titled Depression in the wake of one of the more rippling deaths to occur in the industry just a few days ago (as well as the late great Lauren Bacall, Bogie’s brilliant wife, who passed away just yesterday), the suicide of Robin Williams. Regardless of whether or not it was indeed a suicide as announced by the Sheriff (which I only state due to currently ongoing investigation), Williams’ publicist has confirmed that Robin Williams had indeed suffered from depression at the later part of his life.

Lars von Trier’s depressionary streak led to three films that made a mark on cinema. We’ve just seen the uglier side of what comes from depression: the emotional and mental suffering of people who don’t ask for it. And von Trier could have just as easily taken his own life while going through his phase as Williams did, so I don’t want any messages coming about like “oh look at the great things that come from depression, though!” when I’m praising his films. John Bonham’s erratic yet controlled sloppiness fuelled by alcohol – also based in depression from leaving his family – may have made him my favorite drummer of all time, but by the end of the day, it still fucking murdered him, and I’d rather people don’t go through such things than have the great works of art they gave us.

Depression is not just a bad mood people go into. It is a psychiatric syndrome and people can be put through heavy psychological trauma and strain when they go through it. It comes from the smallest things – sadness or anxiety or emptiness could trigger it – and then it grows bigger and bigger and bigger. And the symptoms and problems become more physical as you begin hurting yourself – you don’t eat or you don’t sleep or you can’t concentrate.

And fuck all the famous people who do it – Cobain and Delp and Hemingway and company are certainly tragic, but this is personal. I have friends. I know people who deal with it every day. I’ve had to tend to families broken and I’m goddamn sure every last one of you who reads this knows someone who’s suffered from depression and you’ve feared for what they will go to for the end of their life.

There are many more things present in the world right now that the population should be aware of (I lean towards the situations in Gaza or Irbil or even Comcast’s stronghold on net neutrality should be more in the public eye than the FB messenger or what the hell is a Kardashian), but I do not in the slightest think it should be forgotten that depression is always a danger to the individual at any point and when it sticks, it sticks for a very long while. And it’s not as visually apparent as the rest of the scenarios I mentioned. And it’s not something tangible to put on the news as much.

It’s just a reactionary disorder that can pass by to say hi as a sad thought or become a living monster inside that only you can sense.

So, if I had the chance to talk Robin Williams, I man I don’t know at all, down from the noose or Bonzo from the bottle or anyone from anything… I’d tell them to look back on what kind of life they’re missing.

Robin Williams, for instance, left behind a lifetime of touching people with his films (I… honestly was not one of them so much. I enjoyed his movies occasionally on a superficial level, but I haven’t really taken any of his works to heart… though the fact that I expect to be torn apart for that seems to show that he has touched enough people). He also touched people personally – such as cheering his late friend Christopher Reeve up after his mid-career disabling injury or the career-wide charity he’s done with St. Jude’s or New Zealand.

He left behind a family that with a wife he was just beginning to live with and two children he claimed to give him “a great sense of wonder. Just to see them develop into these extraordinary human beings.”

He left a success beating out his cocaine addiction, something many people – not lesser to him in the slightest – unfortunately can not claim.

And then I’d hope he’d look to see that the uncertain future promises as much good as it does promise bad. That he could surely want his children grow older or his alcohol addiction subsided as he’s proven capable of doing. That he could help more lives or he could bring out more laughs.

That’s Robin Williams and that’s really fucking reaching with the things I’m trying to list to be honest and it’s all too late. If you have someone you know who suffers from depression and that would like to (or need to) talk (and if it happens to be you), you gotta do it. You gotta try to save a life however you can, even if you don’t know or think you’re doing it. Nobody deserves to suffer and everybody deserves to be happy from the get-go.

And most of all, if you are on the edge, if you feel like you can’t keep on living… Please reconsider knowing that your life is more valuable that that.

Call the Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 and they’ll be willing to at the very least chat with you and help you calm down. There’s always help wherever you go.

Alright, that’s there. Now, expect the finale of my Lars von Trier Depression trilogy posts sometime this week. Thanks.

Space Oddity

My laptop’s screen broke. ’tis why I am late on this review (it also happened to break in the middle of an exile/vacation/visiting friends week, so I was not very inclined to find a way to meet my deadline). But, now I have reason… Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comes out this week. And even though I haven’t bothered seeing it yet, any chance of diverging audiences to see something actually enjoyable and lovable rather than a Michael Bay produced movie about talking turtles who hit on Megan Fox seems necessary. So let’s go…

I know this sounds impractical. And so so dumb. But I so very much wish Guardians of the Galaxy was the first movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that came out. Prior to the Iron Man series and The Avengers and anything thing else that removes the illusion that its irreverent tone to its premise is not very fresh. I hate hate hate that it has to be an admittance to this film, because more than any other film in the very exhausted Marvel Cinematic Universe – regardless of how many Tony Snarks you throw that we love – the very absurd nature of this property plus the gung-ho (this time with a big budget) directing of splattermaster James Gunn – a directing choice that reminds me so much of Spider-Man‘s Deaditehead Sam Raimi – makes this movie the most deserving of a tone that the franchise has exploited.

This is the movie where not giving a fuck in the face of a situation where you probably should give a fuck fits most snugly. And we don’t get the joy of seeing it for the first time in this series, which is the tragedy.

Regardless, Guardians of the Galaxy is still helped out by the fact that its “fuck my self-importance” attitude is really legitimate as opposed to everything else – unlike most other films in the series, it doesn’t attempt to act as a stepping stone to an over-arcing super-film like The Avengers while also not holding its situation to a huge amount of real-world gravity like the Iron Man trilogy or Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In fact, in the spirit of an ejaculation joke Chris Pratt straight up delivers halfway through the movie (Disney wut?), the movie shoots its load early in terms of fan service… the characters that fans would really be enticed to witness in the movie will have already appeared and the movie can just go ahead and be the fun ride it actually is.

To shoot off the plot, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a raider in the far reaches of space who was abducted as a child on the night of his mother’s death, is in big trouble all around the galaxy. His latest find, a mysterious orb, has gotten him on the run from
– Genocidal space villain Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), contemporary to Avengers-teased galactic big bad Thanos (voiced by Josh Brolin), who for his intentions to destroy a neighboring planet.
– Quill’s previous employer/father figure Yondu (Michael Rooker, playing basically Merle Dixon in space, but damn he plays that note so well), who has been betrayed by Quill’s absconding of the artifact.
– Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Thanos’ adopted daughter and ally to Ronan, who intends to betray both villains.
– and bounty hunters Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (motion-captured and voiced by Vin Diesel), who for one reason or another need to cash in on Quill’s existence.
This goose chase leads Quill, Gamora, Rocket and Groot to become imprisoned quickly enough, along with vengeful and dense strongman Drax the Destroyer (Dave Baustista), before the five decide to ally together to escape the prison and decide on their next move with the orb, the galaxy hot on their trail.

I mean, that’s just trying to sum it up in detail – It is generally just a story of bandits becoming heroes in the face of universal destruction.

Another source of its fun besides its rebelliousness to universal puzzle piece playing is how the ensemble cast so very much works out – even in all of them being drawn extremely broadly as characters. It pretty much lends itself to the fact, as much as the film comes off as the lost Star Wars episode or Disney/Marvel’s Firefly, it is really Avengers in space. Characters are specifically just put into a situation just for our expectations of how they would react with one another. Guardian‘s dealing of a motley crew and its distinction of each member from one another really gives the otherwise cheesy teamwork/friendship moral which is dropped every single second of the film a better gravitas and makes it less annoying. Unlike The Avengers though, while had its million prequels to set-up its characters and the audience attachment to them, Guardians of the Galaxy has to do its own heavy lifting in this aspect and it delivers by making their characters as dully caricatured as I mentioned and then, over the course of the actual premise, giving them their true dimension.

US Culture at least (can’t say much for the world) is in the middle of a Chris Pratt moment – what with his standing out in Parks & Recreation and having been cast in the upcoming Jurassic World – and I have to say after the one-two punch of 2014 with this film and The Lego Movie, I am already sucked in. His smug Han Solo-lite is extremely familiar, making him an immediately almost-unfairly likable character. Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper get the stand-out characters, Vin Diesel being no slouch in movement and providing a visual base for Groot’s humorous facial expressions (easily the funniest moment in the whole movie involves Groot’s follow-up to having straight-up massacred an entire platoon of Ronan’s men in brutal fashion) while Cooper only provides voice to the very tensed-up creature that is Rocket Raccoon, but still gets to show off the anger and rage that he is known to harbor for himself – Rocket actually gets a surprising amount of poignancy as a character. It will be surprising if a best Visual Effects nomination is not in consideration solely for the design of Rocket and Groot.

But the most improved actor golden sticker goes to Bautista. Wrestlers being cast as actors is never an good move in my eye (my love for The Rock notwithstanding, he is a fantastic beast to watch on the screen but a good actor – I have yet to see anything beyond Pain & Gain to prove it). But Batista surprised me with both his awareness of emotional development in Drax and his one-track rage and comedic timing with Drax’s literal approach to every line of dialogue delivered to him. I had read that he took acting lessons, of his own volition, after having discovered he won the role. It really shows.

The weaker links of the ensemble is in fact the villains side of the alignment and not outright of their acting. Karen Gillan, Zoe Saldana, Djimon Hounsou and Lee Pace are all perfectly game in their devious moments as Nebula, Gamora, Korath and Ronan respectively. Pace especially surprises me; I’m not used to my favorite pie-maker showing such a dark side. And the lack of development for their respective characters does more good than harm on the side of the literally slaved drones that are Nebula and Korath – Ronan, I only need to know he hates Thanos and Xandar. And Gamora gets as much shade in her as the rest of the Guardians do.

It’s just that those characters work best in this film as foils to the comedic tendencies of Quill, Rocket, Groot and Drax. If they get moments to themselves, like Ronan and Gamora especially do, and are expected to carry a scene on their own, the very dark basis of the characters seems to belong to a different movie. It slows down the momentum overall and just doesn’t fit in with the brightly colored universe and characters. It’s like if your episode of Star Trek got intercut with something from Angel. Hopefully, by the obviously gonna happen sequel, Gamora will find her tone to fit the frequency alongside her new team of rapscallions.

Speaking of the colored universe, Gunn’s direction of production designer Charles Wood and cinematographer Ben Davis proves how much more disciplined and talented he has become as a filmmaker over the years. This holy trinity provided just enough touch of Lucas to keep us knowing exactly what the hell Gunn was thinking, but also separated enough from that trilogy to make Guardians of the Galaxy stand-out on its own. This comic book sensibility along with its blatant independence quickly pushed it to my number one spot in the Marvel films thus far and I loved every step of its junk food visual parade, with a rhythm provided by the wonderful wonderful R&B collection Quill plays in memory of his mother (I have now taken to adding “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone to my midnight stroll mix). It’s such a cultural clash made modern that reminisces of Her that I can’t help but find it fully tasteful.

I mean there’s only so many ways I can explain how pleasant the film has become that I am tempted with just throwing R&B and space opera and graphic novels into this word salad of a review and calling it a day, so I guess I might as well – James Gunn humor really incites more laughs out of me than Whedon humor, honestly, and this has been his most focused and proving piece of work so far. This genre play that Marvel has taken itself to has, for the most part, given us some really special films as the Espionage-minded Iron Man 3 and the paranoia-government-thriller Captain America: The Winter Soldier (as much as I swear to Odin that movie proves nobody involved has seen the 70s Redford works, it still amused me) and now Guardians of the Galaxy has raised the bar and made me much more interested in the work of a film company that had been slowly losing my attention.

Bring it back, Marvel.

Show Me the Wings I Must Cut – The Fly (1986/dir. David Cronenberg/USA)

One of the most truly enjoyable things about genre filmmaking is how obviously in tune with its era it almost accidentally becomes. Spy thrillers became more of a thing in times of political tension, film noir is a reaction to cynical post-WWII attitudes and one of the reasons that horror is unabashedly my favorite genre is how its sub-genres packs neatly into the timeline of America (and to some degree, maybe, the world – but doubtful).

Body Horror belongs in the 80s. You don’t hear much about body horror in 00s unless it is a big Netflix hit or The Human Centipede. You don’t hear about body horror in the 90s at all – horror movies were too busy dealing with its worst era ever. No, body horror, the concept of not being in control of your own body at all, of deteriorating, of your body doing things you don’t want it to do, of dying horribly and ghastly – that is only home in the 80s. And it’s very obvious why.

AIDS. AIDS came and scared up the entire population to the point that movies of body horror very well mirrored the terror people felt of catching a fatal disease that they know barely anything about.

So, along comes The Fly, a remake of 1958 Vincent Price science fiction horror film, with the ridiculous premise of a man turning more and more into a fly that sounds entirely too ridiculous to take seriously in any form (Indeed, Mel Brooks is one of the producers of the film and went uncredited to avoid people not taking the movie seriously).

Under the grisly direction of David Cronenberg, the movie became more relevant than its predecessor as a horror classic and a completely manic reminder of the mortality and fragility of man. It’s about the fact that we’re going to die and that we’re not prepared for that fact and every second we get closer, we get even more afraid.

How the premise goes about with that is that it introduces to us immediately after its opening credits to “absent-minded scientist” surrogate Seth Brundle (80s staple Jeff Goldblum) just as he is introducing himself to science journal journalist Ronnie Quaife (other 80s staple Geena Davis). He wastes no time trying to tell her about his current project just as the audience are being introduced to it as well, a teleporter that is having trouble working with flesh or living material.

Eventually, under a jealous rage with Ronnie’s involvement and a lot of stress with the possibility of the story coming out prematurely, Brundle makes himself the human test subject, without knowing a fly joined him in the teleportation process –- and comes out better. Way better than expected. He’s the pinnacle of human capability. He’s strong, athletic, fit, sexually charged, smarter and quicker.

And then he slowly begins to turn worse. Much worse.

This manner of having the characters immediately put into the scenario and explaining it just as they are enduring it tells something about both the script by Cronenberg & Charles Edward Progue and the editing by Ronald Sanders. One of the more unsung strengths of The Fly is how brisk it is as storytelling. It’s a surprisingly quick film, communicating everything it has to, for the most part, within 96 minutes. In fact, the movie feels like it has more excess than lack of content, largely in terms of scenes between Ronnie and her ex-boyfriend/editor with the name I refuse to believe is real Stathis Borans (played by John Getz), but I’ll get more on those scenes later. The fact that the movie is pretty short and gets everything done is not just an advantage of its pacing, but it also accelerates the various states of Brundle immensely, making his severe degeneration more and more of a liability. Aided by a very moving underscore by Howard Shore, the audience can’t even fathom how bad Brundle looks before his next appearance where he looks worse.

While the acting is itself just your standard 1980s work for the most part, Jeff Goldblum in himself really embodies the busybody, frenetic attitude of a fly before he even begins his transformation. He’s so jittery, so fast and shaky in his speech and mannerisms without even awareness of it that makes him perfect for the role of an eccentric scientist alone, let alone an eccentric scientist who begins becoming more and more stressed under the situation of what is to happen with his body. Even underneath the heavy make-up that the latter half of the movie throws onto him, it doesn’t appear to change his persona so much, but it mixes in perfectly well with what he’s becoming… his rapidfire speech, his sudden fidgets and all.

Borans as a character is another story. The movie spends too much time with his presence, usually sexually teasing or harassing Ronnie, when the only actual role he needs to fill is as the editor who just keeps wasting Brundle’s patience by threatening to publish the story before its ready. He does this kind of well, but also has an altogether too sleazy dimension to this that doesn’t make me want this to happen. I would hope not all John Getz roles are like this (I found out after the fact that he was The Social Network, but I really would not have made that connection by myself), but he’s a fucking creep. He really is.

If they really needed a love triangle between Brundle, Ronnie and Borans (the whole subplot seems too much to be added as a need to explain why the editor would be so hasty to publish the story – when that’s just a stock characteristic of editors and not really imperative to explain – rather than as anything organic to the story), I’d have rather they just used a new character introduced as the third wheel instead of Borans. It wasn’t as if they were overcrowded in leads. I only mentioned those three characters because they are literally the only characters save for some bit appearances and Ronnie, as much as Davis tries to bring more nuance and character into her, is there solely as a love interest object for Goldblum and a witness to his horror.

The other problem with Borans as a character in this fashion is that because of this, his heroics at the end of the film against Brundle (again preferred to be sent to the newly imagined character) undermines the tragedy of Brundle’s plight at the last act. As satisfying as it is to see Borans be harmed the way he is in the climax, they turned him into a hero at that moment and it ruins the film more than it can return from.

But mostly, I just would never ever ever ever trust a guy who would anybody while she grieves for her friend “Do I get to claim your body after this?”

That fucker was an irredeemable creep.

Now, the real star, the real showcase of The Fly by the end of the film is in fact the landmark storytelling done by the makeup work of Chris Walas (who is the very first credit at the end of film… and damn well deserves it) and Stephan Dupuis. It’s horrible and painful to watch what Brundle has to go through and that comes from every little missing fingernail, all the vomit, all the dirty and dried skin and pores… every little grisly detail is there for us to taken in and between that progressive deformity and the performance style of Goldblum, we get a symbiotic effects/man establishing of character that I have never seen so well done in film again save for Andy Serkis’ work.

In addition to that fact, the most insane of these effects occurring in climactic scenes of nightmare fuel… an abortion here, a pregnancy nightmare there, a frightening little vomit drop there, an inside-out baboon here and one of the darkest most sudden nihilistic endings upon the film following to a very intense display of force and uncertainty between characters, this movie does well to keep reminding the audience that these things are what happen to you as you age… you’re not living, you’re slowly dying, pal.

It’s an imperfect film, stuck in its dated 80s era, but The Fly’s still a pretty creepy little piece of work by the master of body horror Cronenberg – the dude totally got that genre to a T – that’ll make you want to take a shower after watching (if not in the middle of it). It’s hasn’t come out of the test of time perfectly fine, but it came out at least alive and looking like this.

Which is fine by me!