The Sagas of a Sponge

In 1996, Stephen Hillenburg, after the cancellation of his tv series Rocko’s Modern Life, came up to MTV Networks with the craziest damned idea for a tv series involving a talking sponge who, in spite of the constant implication of him being an adult, is still able to retain the personality and all the wonder and immaturity of a child. To add to that, he had the fascinatingly nasally voice actor Tom Kenny to play the high-voiced sponge man-child and gave birth to a voice whose annoyance would never be matched (the closest we have to the vibrato shriek emanating from Tom Hulce’s throat in Amadeus).

I don’t know what coke the executives were snorting when they okayed this (or really Rocko’s Modern Life for that matter, but I think it should be fair to say that while I did watch that show as a child… I currently remember not a single scene from it) but it turned out to be a worthy gambit because SpongeBob SquarePants was released 3 years later in 1999 and became the biggest phenomenon Nickelodeon has produced yet. Among the many products it ended up spawning in its still ongoing run were two theatrical films as a matter of fact, one in 2004 under the name The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie and the other The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, which came out in February of 2015. The reason I intend to review both at the same time is because of the simple reason that, in spite of a difference in plot (save for use of the Krusty Krab formula – a recipe for bugger patties – as a MacGuffin; also a recurring motif in the television series), the two movies are essentially cut from the same cloth.

 

But there is one out-of-the-film factor I feel is worth pointing out and it regards the tv series a lot more heavily than anything else in either movie. Which is that the releases of the two movies marked checkpoints in the involvement of Hillenburg, credited by fans as the biggest reason for SpongeBob’s success as both a work of comedy and children’s entertainment (an acclaim I would personally attach to that show as well. And while it’s impossible to ignore that I was in the target audience of that show when it premiered, it’s also impossible to ignore that I am frankly immune to nostalgia and find myself hating most of the stuff I watched as a child – recall Van Helsing was my FAVORITE movie… Van Helsing! That piece of shit – so… I don’t think it’s suddenly returned to me in the form of a show that I think people COULD regard as frankly difficult). The story is that Hillenburg had made the movie with the intention of becoming a series finale for the show (which frankly the movie hadn’t felt like, but the show was completely episodic in nature with absolutely no dedication to an arc). He thought the show had lived out its favor and when Nickelodeon said “lol no bro”, Hillenburg said they would have to continue the show without him and left.

The common consensus is that SpongeBob SquarePants has lost all of its great humor when Hillenburg decided to walk out.

 

At with the release of The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, it seems that Hillenburg has returned to the series (though it has still been undisclosed as to which role he’d be playing) and that he had the largest role alongside current showrunner Paul Tibbitt (whom Hillenburg personally picked to replace him when he left) in writing the story to The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water. Which means it’s pretty much set to be the same sort of humor and storytelling.

But first, let’s look over the respective synopsis of each film…

In SpongeBob SquarePants, one of the central conflicts is that between Plankton (Mr. Lawrence… no shit, that’s the credit), owner of the failing Chum Bucket, and Mr. Krabs (an unrecognizable voice performance by usually scary badass Clancy Brown), SpongeBob’s boss and owner of the highly successful Krusty Krab where SpongeBob is a fry cook.

The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie has that conflict come into play when Plankton becomes so supervillain deranged in his pursuits (which he constantly is) that he decides to steal the crown of King Neptune (Jeffrey Tambor), deity of the sea, and frame Mr. Krabs for it so that he can be too busy being lynched to prevent Plankton from stealing the Krabby Patty formula. SpongeBob and his best friend Patrick Star (Bill Fagerbakke) are convinced of Mr. Krabs’ innocence and set out on an adventure to retrieve the crown, while receiving some help from Neptune’s daughter Mindy (Scarlett Johansson). In the meantime, Plankton’s newfound success allows him to take his ambitions much further than fast food domination…

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (ok, typing that whole title to distinguish it from the first film is becoming a pain, so I’m just going to refer to it by its surtitle) is advertised in two forms: 3D (which I, being a huge 3D fanatic, unfortunately was unable to see in… I work late and missed the last 3D screening) and, more dishonestly, as a movie in which SpongeBob and friends take a CGI form in the live-action world. Like 95% of advertising was based on that fact. Which ends up taking, maybe, 10% overall of the film.

What is true about Sponge Out of Water is that it happens to be a little bit of a reversal. Antonio Banderas is the only star name this time as opposed to the previous film (though of course, I’m not sure Tambor and Johansson were as BIG back in ’04 than they are now…), this time we see his face, and he stars as a pirate named Burgerbeard who steals the Krabby Patty formula. Apparently, this formula is so damned important – as the series constantly hinted at – that its disappearance from the town of Bikini Bottom has completed shredded the line between order and chaos for its citizens and all of that blame lies on Plankton.

SpongeBob, being the only other person in the room when Plankton was about to steal the formula, believes Plankton’s claim that the formula literally disappeared into thin air and so teams up with Plankton to find that formula and bring justice back to Bikini Bottom, all while trying to reform Plankton’s maniacal and evil ways to find friendship (which was the subject of another classic SpongeBob episode that ended heartbreakingly).

And so, now that we laid out what the two separate movies are about, how about we talk about HOW they are about those things? Namely in their humor.

The return of Hillenburg and Tibbett as a team together heavily brings back all of the weird, avant-garde, insane humor that the show itself became popular for back when it premiered (and I’ll take that plunge in saying that I feel a lot of shows – particularly on Adult Swim – owe SpongeBob credit in inspiring that sense of humor in popular television animation… even if SpongeBob had to restrain itself). It’s genre-bending, it’s random, it doesn’t owe ties to anyone… And as a result, there’s a lot that works and a lot that doesn’t, but the batting average is enough to make me enjoy myself in the theater for the hour and a half I spent for each movie.

The real difference that distinguishes each movie is how much of the film is dedicated to its narrative and tying its story up. The Spongebob Squarepants Movie is a narrative film first and a platform for some hilarious jokes second and so it doesn’t really outstay its welcome or overstretch itself beyond the fitting 87 minutes that it is. But somehow, Sponge Out of Water feels less epic towards its primary storyline and more dedicated to acting as an extended episode of SpongeBob and by the end of the film, I think its safe to say people will be exhausted. Like honestly tired and wanting to do something else. It’s fun enough that it will more likely be around the finale of the film (for me, it was when they got to the live-action CGI stuff… perhaps because ALL of it is in the trailers), but stuff seems thrown in solely to keep the running time above an hour. Hell, there’s a Douglas Adams-esque middle of the film that doesn’t feel like it outright belongs, and a final singalong that turns into an Epic Rap Battle of History that just outright irks me. Still, it’s a fun movie.

What I do give Sponge Out of Water over The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is its ambition as an animation project. The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie’s 2D animation is honestly superior to me, with more acknowledgment of shadows and fluid movements, the cinematic type of work you’d expect from a release that I’m guessing Sponge Out of Water didn’t have time to work too much on, but you obviously can’t dismiss the fact that Sponge Out of Water is a versatile juggle between more animation styles than I can recall having recently seen in a animation picture yet. Not just the obvious 2D – CGI separation, but there’s a fucking Claymation Dolphin character, there’s animation of space and of a prism-like environment with reflections and everything, a throwback to the pirate portrait in the opening theme song of SpongeBob and hell, even the ERB has something new to toss towards the full plate of animation work that Sponge Out of Water wants to mess around with.

Obviously, I’d expect you’re not going to have as much enthusiasm for this film if you’re not as initiated into the franchise as I was, but ignoring the friends of mine who had no clue what SpongeBob was while watching with me and still loving it, I had a nearly decade-long sabbatical from that show and still felt like not much was missing from the two movies to make them fun little night watch. They’re silly, they’re wacky, they’re manic, and they refuse to let up on any of those things and sometimes I’d say you shouldn’t need to distill something to make it easier to swallow.

Advertisements

Ten Short Segments About SpongeBob Squarepants

In the Nein reviews, I have two films left to go over (and there’s another 2015 release I caught that I’m hoping to toss a review for this week). One of them is The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water and the other is Predestination. Honestly, I feel I want to take another look at Predestination before I say anything other than OH MY FUCK, SARAH SNOOK IS THE BOMB DIGGITY, so it should be obvious that my next review tonight will be The SpongeBob Movie.

Before I do, I just obviously address something. The SpongeBob Movie, like its 2004 theatrical predecessor, is obviously a film that is created with the target of the previous audience members of the hit television series since it premiered on Nickelodeon in 1999. I having been either 6 or 7 when the show premiered and struggling to enter the maelstrom of American youth culture am totally one of those people who watched the show.

And moreso, I loved what I saw. At least until I stopped watching around the middle of the 00s (the common consensus is that the series has lost its irreverent wacky yet endearing touch by that point anyway). But since I look back on the series, I figure not everybody is a fan of SpongeBob like I am and so, if I may, I would like to plant a recommendation in the form of my top ten favorite SpongeBob Squarepants segments (there is usually two per episode). A bit of pre-review viewing for the folks.

10. Frankendoodle – Because now when I go crazy I make the same noises as Frankendoodle.

9. Dying for Pie – Because ideas like pirates selling bomb pies make me want what the writers were smoking.

8. Sailor Mouth – It’s not a surprise that one of my favorites would be the one that deals with *dolphin noise*ing cursing.

7. Mid-Life Crustacean – It’s totally that I’m feeling it.

6. Pizza Delivery – It’s the pizza for you and me.

5. Band Geeks – Any episode with Squilliam means some fantastic shit is happening, but this is situational humor of the most flexible kind.

4. Squilliam Returns – Like I said… Squilliam means good shit coming.

3. Chocolate with Nuts – Odds are you’ve already heard about this but let me remind you.

2. Idiot Box – This is honestly among the more fantastic episodes for how earnest and light-hearted Spongebob can prove to be. Encouraging youth, frivolity, and IMAAAAGINATION! (another episode I didn’t have room to add, but would suggest is Bubblestand for the same reason)

1. Graveyard Shift – Yeah, ok, it’s how obviously spooky it is, but most of all, it is the final gag that makes me think it’s the best thing ever.

Alright, GET TO IT. See you tonight.

DUFF Man says “That’s a Mug You Wanna Chug”

I am hardly a fan of high school comedies and I have never watched a high school drama I liked. Let’s lay that flat out there. It may be partly because I hated my high school experience, it may be because I just don’t like the juvenile attempts at unconvincingly acting grown-up (which also happens to be the same reason I hate Chloe Grace Moretz), it might be because I can catch when the obviously adult writer or director is trying really hard to be hip and with the youth of these days, but it’s most probably a combination of all of these factors. Hell, my back-then-in-High School enthusiasm for Buffy the Vampire Slayer is beginning to severely wane (though thankfully Veronica Mars will never die out of my heart).

I am completely willing to accept that, already at the age of 22, I’ve become a bitter old geezer, but the point is high school movies aren’t my bag.

But when it comes to comedies, every once in a while I come across one that I can actually admire in its intelligence and treatment of teenage life without being condescending nor betraying the fact that, nine times out of ten, teenagers are shitheads. I’ve never seen a PERFECT high school comedy (though Election, Clueless and Mean Girls come to mind as the closest the genres have come to a masterpiece), but once in a while an impressive one makes me happy I took a little under two hours to catch it in theaters and this year it is The DUFF.

What is the DUFF, however, as the title begs you to ask. It’s a term used by, as I proclaimed, shitheads to shorthand the idea of the Designated Ugly Fat Friend. While the film tries to cover its ass with the excuse that the DUFF is “the most approachable grounded woman who acts a gatekeeper to his/her hot friends”, not necessarily needing to be ugly or fat, the movie has our central DUFF character played by Mae Whitman, who comes off as neither fat or ugly and everything I just typed down in that previous paragraph makes me hope to hell that term isn’t existent in the current high school atmosphere and that it was an invention of the film itself. I serve kind of two masters in reminding myself of that term within the film, and they are both cruel and sickening in my mind – Either Hollywood still can’t deal with even casting a woman who isn’t skinny when the role asks for it, or they actually think that Mae Whitman’s size or unconventional beauty is worth consideration of being fat or ugly. Fuck the world.

But that’s beside the point of the film, for when such a subject is the focus of the film, it can’t possibly make its morals more apparently altruistic like forsaking physical appearance standards, accepting inner beauty, and being happy with yourself without coming off as immensely reprehensible. And of course, the movie goes many strides out of its way to exonerate itself with a preachy third act, like most other high school flicks, and an attempt to pretend it knows what’s hip with the hip kids these days with their internet thingamajigs, again like most other high school flicks, but these are all faults inherent in the genre itself that the movie is able to carry itself beyond enough to not come off as a chore for me to watch until very late in its plot.

Anyway, the plot continues beyond just Bianca Piper (Whitman) discovering the term and how it applies to her due to her friendship to more attractive girls Casey (Bianca A. Santos) and Jess (Skyler Samuels) and deciding to use her next-door neighbor Wesley Rush (Robbie Amell) to craft her out to be more attractive and less DUFF-ish. This unfortunately also causes Bianca to be put under the spiteful target of Madison (Bella Thorne), Wesley’s on-off girlfriend who is all those cartoonish “evil bitch” stereotypes you recall seeing on MTV or whatever, and it doesn’t help matters that while Wesley is helping Bianca so that he can pass his classes, you can literally count the seconds before it’s very obvious Wesley has a crush on Bianca.

And well, from there on, you can imagine where the story goes, like a modern-day Pretty in Pink, or She’s All That, or Not Another Teen Movie, or… oh fuck, this plot has been redone a million times, hasn’t it? Well, the jig’s up. The DUFF is nothing really new. It’s not all that challenging. Hell, it’s actually pretty paint-by-numbers, but that’s all ok and fine because of how the film is written in a manner that acknowledges how the audience probably knows where this is going and lets the characters react appropriately to their revelations without treating it as a surprise to us. So good on that.

The other major factor that kept me into the movie was the cast in general. Ken Jeong, Romany Malco, and Allison Janney obviously give some humorous adult presence, but Whitman and Amell have enough chemistry together that we’re rooting for them most of the way through. Whitman alone though shines all throughout the picture with keeping Bianca’s morose “do I really have to go to school” attitude while injecting energy that is anything but negative within the picture.

There’s a couple of visual flourishes that hit and some that miss, but between a smart and witty script and a set of game performances The DUFF really left me, expecting to walk out hating the friend who suggested the film, with a pretty decent sized smile on my face. Not bad for a February release.

Don’t Think About Sex

I do have an awareness of how behind I am on both the Nein reviews and Lynch. I apologize, I was in the middle of some turbulent workload – including my latest short film’s post-production process coming to an end and another application for Cannes’ Short Film Corner. I have three more reviews for Nein and the next two should be posted both tonight while Lynch is only on its hold because I decided to read Dune (which I completed now for the fourth time) once more before I re-watched the movie) and because I’m growing my hair out for another part of the appreciation. Expect it soon.

Anyway, now that I have your attention with that title, there’s a big reason I used such a sensationalist title. I’ll let you in on what that reason is after I lay out what that the plot of the latest wide release picture It Follows is and set you up. For you see, It Follows has a reputation that precedes it. A very positive one, after its premiere at Cannes last year to huge acclaim before going on a good-willed festival circuit and residing on a two-city release with the intention of a VOD release immediately after. Of course, that release ended up scrapped at the last minute because the amount of money It Follows was making for a two-city release was TOO DAMN HIGH and so the good folks at The Weinstein Company decided to give the movie a wide release across the country.

Such prestige and hype coming before the film (and by the way, that hype is earned, I’m happy to say) leads to a lot of people talking about the movie before even seeing it with people who have seen it and so know more. And so word of mouth has already passed around like an STD that It Follows is about a young girl named Jay (kiteboarder Maika Monroe) who is getting into her date Hugh (Jake Weary) enough for them to take the next step of sexual intercourse. Almost immediately after, Hugh forces Jay to listen to the curse that he has unfortunately passed on to her when they had sex…

An entity will now follow her at a walking pace until one of two things happen. The entity will either reach her and kill her then move on to the previous person with the curse, or Jay can pass it down to someone else by having sex with him or her, who could then pass it down as well. The entity will only be seen by those who have held the curse – whether they currently hold it or not – and will appear to the victims in the form of any man or woman in the their lives (full frontal nudity galore from both sexes, which got really uncomfortable after a while, especially when two of those representations were supposedly one character’s mother and another’s father).

And so we get back to the title of this post which, in addition to being some dumb tongue-in-cheek riff of “don’t think of elephants”, is actually pretty much my take on the film. Everybody, myself included (hell, the first thing that popped in my mind was Charles Burns’ Black Hole series), apparently made the pre-emptive decision that this movie is going to be a metaphor for STDs. I think it’s definitely a reading, though I don’t think it’s THE reading of the film. After watching the film, spending a few minutes talking it over with some friends, I’m not so quick on that association. Besides the fact that writer-director David Robert Mitchell has claimed “It” is not an STD, the main thing that doesn’t mesh that idea for me is that the concept of a disease would either be more apparent in the physical well-being of a person (and for a woman who avoids sleep and runs around, Jay doesn’t break much of a sweat) or the continual spread of the curse to everyone around Jay.

The movie doesn’t even give away that there are a lot of people around Jay. Certainly a world, that world being Detroit (which is wonderfully shot by Mike Gioulakis in that wide-angle lo-fi blue and green that gives that nostalgic tone), but the only real characters around Jay seem to be grounded to an inner circle – her friend Yara (Olivia Luccardi), the painfully-obviously-crushing-on-her Paul (Keir Gilchrist), her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe), and her neighbor Greg (Daniel Zovatto) are the only real inhabitants of this story and, save for possibly Greg, Jay and her friends are all in that youthful coming-of-age area of 17-21 (Jay is in early college, the rest we are to believe are on the verge of leaving high school). I think their youth is a lot more important to think about than the presence of sex in the film, though that too matters. It’s also kind of a great +1 point for me that the movie is able to present both the concept of teenage sexuality without actually feeling prudish about it, while the script is not generous to the characters that aren’t Jay, Hugh, or Greg, leading to some pretty intelligent acting by Luccardi, Sepe, & Gilchrist to get away long enough with not really being given writing that grants them much personality.

Anyway, from there on, it is basically a continuance of tension and terror all throughout that impressively refrains from setting itself up as a horror scenario too much. This setting being Detroit again, haunted houses don’t register to us as much as just foreclosed and condemned backdrop and the writing uses that backdrop for some very subtle chilliness in a manner that fellow Detroit-shot 2014 Cannes premiere Lost River failed to do (instead having gone for overt chilliness). Subtlety is a lot more key to It Follows as a scare tactic than most people would give credit for – after its still-engaging rig scene where Hugh forces Jay to sit still while he explains the terms of the curse to her followed by making her witness “It” for the first time, there is pretty much barely any underlit scenes, I count two jump scares (one which seems more like a source of comedy than actually bringing any tension to the film), and a sparseness of other obnoxious (though sometimes effective horror cliches). The movie gets the audience’s blood pumping just by having background figures going the same direction as our characters than it does by a chase sequence and expects us to feel as involved enough with Jay’s circle of friends that it’s less a fear of seeing some icky gorefest (which the movie most certainly is not) than it is a fear of any of these characters getting hurt.

Of course, not all things about this movie are subtle. A lot of praise has been handed to the score of the film by Disasterpeace and I have to hand it to him, it sounds fantastic on its own ground. It’s very cool stuff that I intend to purchase and immediately shove into my IPhone, like my recent binge on retro-techno artists Dance with the Dead and Perturbator, obviously stealing whatever the hell it feels like from the legendary score work of horror icon John Carpenter, but becoming effective enough as an atmospheric tool that we allow it.

When it fits.

The problem I have with Disasterpeace’s work as a score rather than as a musical work is that there are many points when the movie trusts the audience enough not to have used it in frightening scenes that I’m a bit spoiled, but there are also scenes where its outright unwelcome. The score is so sudden and alarming that it obviously doesn’t give itself air space to build up, so when a scene is building tension and then suddenly we hear Disasterpeace’s urgent blasts, it’s not at all as hypnotic like Mica Levi’s work for Under the Skin. It feels like a cold bucket of water after… well, sex. It’s already a strike-out for me for music to announce itself like that, but to come in at the wrong point making it less a cinematic tool of terror and instead just some really cool music that’s on while “It” attacks Jay just makes it one of a few things that makes me say I love this movie, but it ain’t perfect.

Which is probably not helped by the sound mixing (and I’m willing to also call the editing out on how its recorded its ambient tone or effects) as while the music is able to stay level, there’s a few points in the film where I catch audio peaks and thought “ok, it’s an indie flick and it totally wears that like a badge (a couple of my friends afterwards referred to it as a “tumblr. movie”), but when its cinematography is so impressively polished and creative and its audio isn’t as much… that’s like half of the movie cheated for me.”

But the major off-put for me with It Follows is its final act, starting with its climax. Which was a scene that is very fantastically shot and edited in a coherent manner that makes us recognize the stakes, keep track of the relative location of characters (there’s some line-crossing, but quick enough before it snaps back into place that it doesn’t dizzy us too much), and consistently maintain a sense of dread towards the well-being of characters even when we know all the cards on the table as well as they do. Like, action films can’t even reach that peak sometimes (and that’s kind of a bold statement to make when we just came out of a year that had The Raid 2John WickEdge of TomorrowX-Men: Days of Future Past, etc., but roll behind that year and… yeah, you see now.)

If only that climax were as well written, because it makes no sense within either the faulty logic of its characters or terms that the movie earlier established (having fallen into the Dragon Ball Z/Iron Man 3 problem of “we have not established a way to defeat the antagonist; we have established a way that doesn’t work; let’s use that same way… only hard”). Many of that scenes defenders (and it already has a lot of defenders) tried to claim that it was meant to be stupid and that these characters ARE young, but I don’t buy that when they’ve otherwise acted pretty smartly towards their situation for the majority of the movie prior. And plus, the movie takes so many gambits that I’m willing to abide by (its opening scene is not the best; the ambiguity of two major plot points in the film that – while the answer doesn’t CHANGE anything, making these moments ambiguous doesn’t help either; the lack of parents) that this “possible” gambit marks that threshold I’m not willing to simply cross for love of the movie.

And moving back to the rest of the final act, the moments after the climax don’t exactly communicate themselves that well and while it makes for something great to talk about, there is a point that the movie is trying to make with its ending that I could easily see it going over the heads of everybody in the audience and it took me the 2 hour post-movie-Ihop-eating-and-then-ride-home that I spent thinking about the movie to get its point. And I don’t think its the audiences fault when the editing (probably knowingly) skips over imperative points of its denouement which leaves the film hoping to catch the audience holding its breath by the time the credits roll, but it’s just as likely to catch them still saying “what the fuck” in regards to its climax (and saying “climax” when talking about a movie like this feels weird to me).

And then… for a movie that is very healthy about its depiction of teenagers knowing, discussing, and having taken part in sex… it’s still a movie about teenagers dying because they had sex. Which I know leans the picture even more towards that STD reading that I want to avoid, but oh well, it needs acknowledgement.

Still, it’s damned fun, damned creative, and even the failures of itself (save for the sound) are worth praise for its fearlessness in trying to make a more metaphorical presence for the horror genre, while obviously struggling to wean from the Mitchell’s clear admiration for John Carpenter and George Romero. I ended up smiling a lot more and didn’t look at the time once. And in the end, I’m glad it followed me from France all the way to my local theater and now that it’s in yours, I will hope you follow it.

All the King’s Horses and All the King’s Fools

I need to let off a bit of steam before I type a single word of this review. A bit of a warning towards whatever bias somebody might understandably accuse me of having.

I fucking hate Mark Millar.

Which is not to say he lacks any decent comic book work I’ve ever read. I do enjoy Superman: Red Son and I loved The Ultimates. But that’s about it as far as having read anything by him that doesn’t nauseate me with its absolutely tasteless content or which reads extremely amateurishly constructed and edited to the point that it feels like an illustrated movie treatment instead of a fully fleshed comic book story…

The Kick-Ass trilogy (+ Hit Girl), WantedThe Secret ServiceNemesis, Ultimate Fantastic FourCivil War (and I know a lot of people – Marvel fanboys and comic book readers alike – really love Civil War, but it’s maybe one of the most inconsistent and betraying disregards to character development and arc that I’ve ever read in the Marvel Universe) and so many other works of his that I’ve read kept having me put it down disappointed at the depletion of any true substance and ugly nihilism only to be able to read the author names and realize “Oh… that’s fucking why.”

Actually, nihilism is a very generous way of putting his work. It reads instead like he honestly is a little kid who just found out he’s allowed to be edgy and just wants to put as much affrontive material as possible, except it really offends almost no one (instead arousing the very wrong people) and comes off as trying too hard at the cost of dignity.

But, to now segue into the true subject of this post, one of the biggest things to sort of make me want to punch the shit out of Millar is how, constantly popping its head in his work, happens to be some hefty throwaway misogyny. Like, it’s hard to believe the dude who uses rape solely as a shock tactic with absolutely no regard or interest in its real-life impact is a self-proclaimed devout Catholic who refrains from swearing.

Or maybe it’s not. I don’t know, I’m not that into religion.

Anyway, for this reason it was a very joyous and pleasant shock when director/co-writer Matthew Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman (both of whom had also collaborated on a previous Millar adaptation Kick-Ass, which I also grew away from being a fan of – in general, Vaughn is a filmmaker I’m also not a fan of but more into that in a minute) were able to astoundingly refrain in Kingsman: The Secret Service from having any actual sexism, full-on contempt for its audience, or even any overt attempts to make controversy for controversy’s sake like Kick-Ass did well at (well, there is one very obvious jab to a certainly world-famous political figure, but hell, it was one of the few moments that actually made me laugh, even as a liberal-leaning lover of America). The movie did not have as dismissive an attitude towards women as expendable meat to be either fucked or killed like one would expect in a Millar work – as I discovered watching the movie how loosely the graphic novel The Secret Service was actually adhered to – and even took care to feature two… not well-dimensioned (since I don’t think any character is well-dimensioned in the film)… but role-breaking characters on either side of the central conflict without at all calling attention to the idea that “HEY THEY’S R GYALS!!!” portrayed by Sophie Cookson and Sofia Boutella (side-fact nobody will probably give a shit about, but Boutella, who is primarily a dancer – explaining just why she fit into her role in the film – is not only Algerian like *ahem* yours truly, but she’s also from the same neighborhood as my Dad, Bab el Oued).

Of course, this pleasantness ends the moment it throws out all of that dismissal of sexual commentary to add a really dumb and unfortunately popular sex joke right as the movie is about to conclude, presenting a literal princess character as a sex prize for the hero.

It was the moment I definitely decided I don’t like the damn film after being on the fence for so long.

But how about the movie that led up to that moment? Kingsman: The Secret Service tells that there is a London-based intelligence agency that dedicates itself to protecting the world all over while somehow being self-governed by its upper-class English men (sort of reminds me of how we tend to claim a particular nation continuously acts as world police). As we are introduced to them, we witness two of their ranks die in separate incidents seventeen years apart, the latter taking place in the present time and instigating an agency wide search for the next young man to take the deceased’s place. Harry Hart (Colin Firth), who was responsible for recruiting the first dead agent, ends up risking making the same mistake twice when he sees potential in the agent’s very own son, Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), an intelligent and fit yet troubled lower class youth. In the meantime, while Eggsy undergoes training and testing to become “Lancelot” (the agents are given codenames based on Arthur’s knights), Hart is journeying about to investigate the second death – that of the previous “Lancelot” (a stupendously sleek cameo by Jack Davenport) – and finding its connections to telecommunications billionaire celebrity Richmond Valentine (an irritating caricature by Samuel L. Jackson).

If you could tell the movie was intended to be a comedy, you’re one ahead of me while I was actually watching the film. The popular consensus is that Vaughn and company were attempting to make a parody of the James Bond film series and having all these regular franchise moments subverted outright (such as how that final beat that I mentioned ended up swaying my opinion towards the film), but there’s some kind of doubt I have with it. Partly because Vaughn’s comedy doesn’t make me laugh at all. Yet humor is subjective, so that’s not going to cut why I don’t think the movie works as a parody of James Bond. Let me delve deeper:

Vaughn’s past films, particularly Layer Cake (which I actually really like) and X-Men: First Class (which I actually really hate) but in general of his pictures, act on a sort of suaveness that they feel they’ve already earned and tries to build on that. Cake gets away off of Craig’s brilliant performance and even Stardust has its ass covered in the knowing wit of Neil Gaiman’s writing, but X-Men: First Class fails on really supporting its attempts at coming off as a 1960s Espionage Flick (coming off instead as a particularly annoying episode of Skins) and Kick-Ass kind of immediately draws contempt out towards the comic book fans it ideally wants to attract as an audience. In the meantime, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a concept where the ingredients of the film actually give Vaughn all of that license to be suave, to be sleek – the characters are all hip in their own manner (unless you are Valentine) with defining attributes to each of them that are a bit more unique than “this guy is stern. this other guy isn’t.”, the costumes are poppy or reservedly sophisticated suit work, etc.

And Vaughn, like having been given the keys to this new fucking cool looking car, just relishes in this all the way through. Making moments like the “we can do it in the asshole” line seem a lot more dried of any humor. It feels like little room for actual satirical levity is given both by the fact that it seems to be the picture Vaughn has always wanted to make and from the fact that… well, any satire Vaughn would have wanted to say would be hurt by how the film isn’t that intelligent towards the themes it tries to talk about…

And oh does Kingsman: The Secret Service think it has something to talk about. It comes from the Kanye West school of attitudes towards classism but, even worse, it comes off as somewhat confused about its stance on classism to begin with. The focus of the film is that the upper class it exclusively represents as the main intellectual hub of the world is not entirely fit for the power it has and that the world should make way for a new type of gentleman based on merit rather than privilege. That is sort of undercut from the moment Eggsy uses his get-out-of-jail free card to make his way into Kingsman and even moreso when all of his opportunities are, perhaps deliberately, handed to him on a silver platter as chance, making him no differently privileged than Firth’s or Michael Caine’s characters. And then it gets a bit more worse when characters we are meant to know and love savagely massacre an entire building full of innocents – even in spite of making them an obvious parody of the Westboro Baptist Church, despicable and repugnant as they are – and expecting us to hoot and holler in joy alongside how energetic and exciting said battle scene is shot and cut. And then moving on to a climax implying most of the laymen are just savages waiting to be triggered into murdering each other, with an honestly way too sobering image of peril towards an infant who is probably a bit more lucky than a majority of infants in the world during that same moment who don’t have a door standing between them and their bloodthirsty assailants.

Yeah, it’s just not good at its preaching basically and ideally just wants to get on to the next frenetic action scene.

I do believe there is some things of worth to find within the film. We’ve got a pretty great co-lead performance by Colin Firth for the most part, who also seems to be relishing in his role but somehow mixing his excitement with impeccable impatience and just all-around obvious British-ness that stands as the poster child of taste. And then, there’s the fact that action scenes (even regrettably the Church massacre I mentioned – which has instantly lived-on along with the terrible sex joke as the most famous moments of the film) are not entirely bad in themselves. I was not impressed, but I have to say its climactic finale makes both enormous economic use of its conceptual complexity (involving hand-to-hand combat, gunfights, exploding heads, time-counting, etc.) and using cross-cutting effectively to keep track of its stake-heavy objectives and where our hero stands between his enemies and shaking us right into the fray of his battles. It’s a pretty fantastic multi-setpiece moment that becomes the only moment the film becomes a huge amount of fun for me with having Firth around to hem-hem.

But I stand by what I originally claimed when I hinted at this review a few days ago – I can understand if you think the movie is overall great for those action setpieces and its lead performances and even maybe how its structured as a story, but if you really think its substance as a plot or its themes are laudable you are possibly a shitty person. Sorry. It doesn’t seem Gentleman-ly to me to be a fan of muddled politics, sudden sexism, and guys who are obviously supposed to be making fun of Spike Lee with a lisp. And since being a Gentleman is all that this movie is about, it is a shame enough for me after watching it that it doesn’t succeed in practicing the ideals it attempts to preach.

But it is the closest Millar has gotten in a long while to being tolerable. Vaughn and Goldman should disregard him more often.

Dead On Arrival

I feel kind of stupid. I really do. I had so many hopes for The Lazarus Effect (which, I will warn in advance, I keep accidentally calling “The Lazarus Project” sometimes so forgive me if I mix it up a few times in this review). Its trashy allure of its concept, the minimal production value that implies indie filmmaker ingenuity, especially how it seemed to attract a way too talented cast than such a lowbrow concept should have attracted – You do not expect Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Donald Glover, Sarah Bolger, and Evan Peters (ok, maybe those last two but you’d feel they’d have something to do).

And yet here I was, sitting at the end of the credits of The Lazarus Effect, still in the damn theater. And I should have expected the empty half-assed fuckery that I have witnessed. It’s not an outright rarity for me to deem some movies a waste of time, but that is absolutely what The Lazarus Effect felt like the entire way through. A waste of talent for a movie with a primary cast of five and – maybe if we’re generous – supporting of two, of money for a movie that was made out of 3 million (and, in the cruel reality of economics, the movie has made its profit), of resources for a movie that largely has one major set, and – directly to me – of time. Though I do weep for those two months Childish Gambino spent on set that could have been spent on a new album.

Frank (Duplass) and Zoe (Wilde) are two of the lead researchers in their own personal medical project “Lazarus”. They also happen to be engaged, although the length of that engagement is indeterminate and dependent on how long it takes them to complete a prototype of the serum that is the focus of “Lazarus” – ideally intended to allow coma patients further window time to be rescued by their doctors. They also happen to be almost entirely unbelievable as a fucking couple, since the script by Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater wants to shoehorn some Faith vs. Reason tangent that does absolutely nothing except drive a wedge into the dead-air chemistry between Wilde and Duplass. The dialogue has to remind us that they are engaged and it doesn’t bother half as much as it does to remind us that Zoe’s so Catholic she might have been stolen from the set of Mean Streets. That Religion vs. Hard Science “debate” that the movie has going about it is also the first of many tangents in the film I will mention that goes absolutely positively fucking nowhere. As the movie’s story seems to be an untangled ball of yarn that is still trying to convince itself to fit together.

Working with them is the crass and lazy Clay (Peters) and the so-obviously-having-a-crush-on-Zoe Niko (Glover), who are characters who literally only fit those particular descriptions and have no other dimensions to them as people, but that’s not quite as bad as the newcomer to the group – undergraduate Eva (Bolger), hired to film their experiments and damn well not to have any sort of personality within the film whatsoever. Anyway, what Eva ends up capturing for the crew is that the serum ends up successfully bringing back to life deceased subjects rather than prolonging the coma of a dying patient – riffing off of Re-Animator – and bringing the deceased back enforce as physical performance – riffing off of Lucy and Limitless and so many other “hah what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger than you ought to be” movies.

But then suddenly a thankless cameo by Ray Wise informs the audience that a local corporation has waved their dollar bills and contracts to the university to legally take away all of our five subjects’ work and then shut them away from the university outright (tangent that goes nowhere #2). Obviously that doesn’t play for our plucky blank slate “heroes” so they break into the lab one last time to capture their success and FUCKING ZOE IS OBVIOUSLY NOT WEARING GLOVES OR ANY PROTECTIVE GEAR IN THE MOST UNBELIEVABLE DISREGARD OF MOVIE LAB ETIQUETTE AND FUCKING DIES BECAUSE SHE DESERVES IT.

Upon the unfortunate mishap, Frank remembers he’s supposedly in love with Zoe and decides to put her through the Lazarus serum. It works and brings her back to life but it also makes her heightened mental abilities turn out to be a bit more dangerous to our group and brings out a bit too much mental instability that the script implies was always inside of her.

Anyway, from here on, the movie goes wild on itself as a plot. It’s basically “we’re boxed in with a supernatural killer. Let’s try to prolong this to avoid less than 60 minutes of screentime by making no sense and introducing more tangents that get addressed once and ends up never again elaborated on.” We’ve got teases of childhood trauma, we’ve got a timeclock scenario that no longer matters the moment Zoe comes back to life, we’ve got the possibility of Hell being a factor, and not one of those gets as much time devoted to it than the movie devotes to scare tactics that imply two things – that the movie is so “student film” it doesn’t know how to cover its seams than just having the lights not work when it is convenient and that the movie’s idea of “scary” is haunted house tactics of flashing imagery and not even committing to making such flashing imagery come off as perilous to the characters themselves. One such moment is when the current survivors watch the lights work only to witness body bags surrounding them… and immediately one of them rationalizes like a buzzkill “they’re not alive”. Before we even get a chance to register what kind of bullshit is this, the movie tosses it aside for the next half-baked concept.

And then to top it off and toss it into “I cannot believe I wasted 83 minutes in this dark ass room watching incoherent shit”, the movie ends in the most inexplicable ending that seems think of itself as a twist as there is nothing at all suspenseful about what it reveals and it denies us any motivations or reason to believe that the final moments have any actual anchor in events either past or future. It’s such a loose thread, such an afterthought of a moment that, I shit you the fuck not, I sat my ass in the theater all the way through the credits expecting… no, hoping… no, PRAYING there was something that would tie that ending back to the actual circumstances that we were meant to believe kicked off the film in the first place.

Nothing. Just emptiness. Probably just as the actors felt when they tried to find something in their characters to build upon. Probably just as the set designer must have felt when director David Gelb told him to just make the most sterile cliche lab set you could make and do nothing. Probably just as the editor probably felt having to sift and sieve through the footage to create something that would add up to all its threads.

I’ll tell you, I felt dead after watching The Lazarus Effect and it took a hell of a lot of movie soda to give me the energy to walk sadly back to my car again. “It could have been so much better” doesn’t cut it as a declaration for my disappointment. And I should have known.

Only in Hollywoo

Well, I can at least say one thing. Maps to the Stars is a David Cronenberg film, alright. It’s got that acidic venom towards its subjects, it has that hyper-real feel and it gets bordering creepy at points. It’s not filmed in Canada – for once, Cronenberg had the conviction to shoot the majority of the film on-location, but it’s absolutely jaded and mystifying enough to fall into the Cronenberg canon.

It keeps reminding me of how immediately alienating Cronenberg’s post-body horror phase has had to grow on me, though. Since A History of Violence onward, I’ve get a hell of a lot to think about from his films… Have to look over some of the incoherence that will constantly be present, tread softly on what I’m meant to take seriously and what I could possibly laugh at, and follow along with what is almost always an unorthodox structure of storytelling.

So, that’s how much of a bitter pill to swallow Maps to the Stars was when I first saw at Cannes and having seen it again in Miami now that it got its US release, I’m still not quite sure I digested it all. But there have been a bit more pieces I was able to find hidden within the film. I’ve been able to click on what’s just part of the film’s biting humor and what is meant to be a shock.

In either case, the movie’s primary focus is on the trials of the Weiss family – Father Stafford (John Cusack) is a celebrity therapist (in both meanings of that phrase) whose best known patient is the close-to-dust movie star Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore in a part that won her Best Actress at Cannes), son Benjie (Evan Bird) is a 13-year-old child star who you can probably figure everything about from the fact that he is fresh out of rehab at that age and has carried all the worst traits rehab ideally gets rid of, and mother Cristina (Olivia Williams) is stuck managing their son and taking that job very very seriously. Paralleling this screwed-up houshold, Segrand deals with her own familial issues by both having Stafford try to soothe her psychological and emotional issues with the possibility that her own late movie legend mother Clarice Taggart (Sarah Gadon) might have sexually abused her. And because Segrand is desperate enough to be in the limelight again that she’d go with some bad ideas, the real mother of her bad ideas is trying to secure the same role that made her mother famous in the upcoming remake of that film.

Meanwhile, a woman who is largely covered in either black latex or burn scars by the name of Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) comes to Hollywoodland and takes on a job as Segrand’s assistant, while taking a more active interest in the Weisses. And it’s pretty clear from the start that she’s going to be the monkey wrench in these gears that aren’t exactly rotating correctly.

So seems almost plotless, right? I swear I’ve made it sound worse than it is.

See, between Cronenberg and the writer of the film Bruce Wagner, the film constantly dedicates itself to a sort of freestyle construct between its five major character focuses (although I don’t think it’s a stretch to claim Cristina herself is more an accessory to Stanford, Agatha, and Benjie’s tales than a center for her own) and constantly anchors itself by little visual or thematic keys – the poem Liberte by Paul Eluard, the laugh out loud “you better be fucking kidding me, Cronenberg” presence of Carrie Fisher (she is friends with Agatha… through Twitter. Oh my word.), the concept of incest, and all that other icky icky jazz to provide an absurd and hellish amount of skeletons in the closet of people who live their lives by performing however they need to – to be a powerhouse of a guru, to get the hell out of rehab, to keep characters the hell away from each other, and so on.

And that might explain why most of the characters feel less genuine when they’re giving off pleasantries, allowing the actors portraying them to get caught acting than when we get to the ugliness behind them. Cusack, in one of the few points of his career where I find myself standing him, is the posterboy of smug self-confidence while reciting psychological textbook bullshit even he doesn’t seem to believe. He actually reminds me of Kirk Cameron’s performance in Left Behind and it’s kind of great to have that feeling here. Moore… Well, by now we kind of know Moore is capable of whatever is asked of her as an actress, even and especially when characters are meant to be washed-up balls of contempt and pathos all at once. And Wasikowska’s never not creepy in her cold representation of false innocence. Her costuming and very subtle makeup work (on the first screening it took me a while to catch the burn scars, in spite of being in plain sight) actually really compliment her performance, making her come off more as an inhuman creation of horrible events and terrible circumstance than a person who had a chance at living normally. Only Robert Pattinson’s chaffeur character is the person on screen devoid of any bullshit in all of his aloofness.

And one of my favorite things about Wagner is that the ugly truth behind these characters is constantly alluded to subtly enough that we can guess well enough where the film is getting to and so we don’t feel as much cheated when pretty much everything in the second half of the film, where all the secrets are revealed and all the stories come to a ghastly end for everyone involved, is done absolutely unceremoniously and even moments are… sort of “caught-being-a-movie” moments, if you get what I’m saying. Like Maps to the Stars really starts to let up its seams as a motion picture and we’re catching them as the movie slows to an end.

That said, we still probably will feel cheated and one can’t begrudge an initial audience member like me who literally said “Is that fucking it?” once the credits rolled. The structure, whether you are aware of its basis in poetry or not, will leave the film to feel like a slog as it winds down. And sure, there’s always the humor, the cast, and the understanding from the get-go of what the movie is about – not hiding its themes in its sleeves but being extremely overt about its disregard for Hollywood – may give some comfort to that slogging feel. Whether or not it outright saves the film for me is just what makes me conflicting feelings about the film such a pain. So, it should be clear I still haven’t decided how I fully feel.

Well done, Cronenberg. Like I said, you gave me a lot to think about.

Don’t Bother Saving Me

You know, for a genre that is supposed to be dead, the Western has had so many “the West is dead” films. Seriously, the Revisionist Western is something of a niche culture has kept itself alive by latching onto the idea that it can give that genre a funeral as many times as it can, since the 1969 The Wild Bunch. And for the most part, it’s not like that genre has entirely failed us, given The Wild BunchUnforgiven, and even The Homesman all standout even amongst the best of the more orthodox Westerns from the 30s and so on. So I give The Salvation the benefit of the doubt on that factor…

I also don’t buy into a sort of too prevalent idea that the Western is a strictly American genre. Bullshit and a half. We have ourselves an entire branch of that genre basing itself in Italy and look at the classic to have come out of that era – The Good, the Bad, the Ugly is arguably THE Western for most people. So I wouldn’t even call that giving the Danish film The Salvation the benefit of the doubt.

And yet, here we have The Salvation and if it weren’t for the US release recently this year, I might have totally forgotten about it altogether as a revenge film, as a Western, or even as a vehicle for Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen. All of which might be fine, especially the latter since Mikkelsen has been living off the fat of his praise for The Hunt in 2012-’13 and the hit TV series Hannibal (which I have not seen a single episode or even clip/trailer of, but am getting more and more close to giving a shot).

Brothers Jon (Mikkelsen) and Peter (Mikael Persbrandt) are Danish dodgers of war in the late 1800s who took their flight over to the American West. When we meet them, they’re at a train depot waiting for Jon’s wife and child (played by Nana Oland Fabricius and Toke Lars Bjerke respectively) to finally arrive to the West and meet with them for a nice family reunion. Peter goes on to add to Persbrandt’s fashion since The Hobbit of being shafted in terms of movie screentime by bidding Jon and his family ado and never being seen at all again in the film. As said reunited family begins to head to its new home altogether, the stagecoach they catch back happens to include two other bundles of trouble take the coach with them and spend the majority of the trip making incredibly unsavory remarks towards Jon and his wife. The rest of the trip is spent kicking Jon the hell out of the coach so that they could rape his wife and murder both of Jon’s family.

If you didn’t think that wife and son were doomed – the reason of me not bothering to remember their names being that they’re obviously, from the very moment that coach goes off, meant to be meat puppets of revenge for Jon – that Jon had a shot of rescuing and that that was the premise of the film, well, I wouldn’t scold you but I’d think you haven’t seen many dark Westerns because Jon catches up only so well after the fact of the savage murders.

And so if you thought that the revenge was Jon’s to have for the film and so the premise was his hunt for the men who took away his family, well, I’d be a lot more forgiving, but no, that ain’t it either. You see, Jon catches the men almost immediately and kills them on the spot without mercy.

The premise is the consequences of that revenge as it turns out that one of the men who Jon has killed is the brother of Delarue (the ever ruggedly despicable Jeffrey Dean Morgan), obviously the biggest and baddest around there, who has now decided to set his gang on one or the other: Either the local town or the killer of his brother that they will enthusiastically give up to avoid burning to the town. And Delarue intends to have his own “justice” witnessed by his sister-in-law, the widowed mute Madeleine (Eva Green).

And now is where the premise begins.

So, if you don’t get what I’ve been going at by such a lengthy synopsis, it’s that the movie takes a hell of a lot more time than it has right to to kick the hell off. I have barely even touched on the reason that the movie is called The Salvation to begin with and the way that theme is established feels so much like an after-thought as some social criticism that I think the movie actually aids by not having me refer to it any further.

What I would prefer to address is how everything else about the movie is not exactly bad so much as it’s just tired and tried as a generic trope. The cowardly townsfolk (including and especially its officials), the self-righteousness of its villains, the dismissing of womensfolk (in some tales leading to some interesting story points, in others leading nowhere), the hefty violence.

And oh how proud director Kristian Levring is of his violence and his Western tropes. In a genre is that now practically characterized by how many blood splatters it can collect in a frame of interrupting the quiet with the sound of a gun and the silence that follows is all different, The Salvation kind of seems convinced that its somehow able to shock us with its gruesome violence, but it’s kind of more of the same of that revenge tale genre with nothing behind it to make it stand-out with its own white noise.

It’s unfortunate because there are parts of The Salvation that try as best as it can to salvage itself. Jens Schlosser has a very interesting way of attempting to shoot this Western by refusing to bleach all of the color out of it as would be the norm (to characterize the dryness of the environment) but has it smeared looking whenever it rises above to make this atmosphere seem just as messy as it is dusty. It’s very eye-catching at points and certainly the source of some of the more thankful shots – like how astonishingly blue the night is as Jon chases for the carriage desperately in the opening or how the flames during the climactic gun battle between Jon and Delarue’s gang seems fixed in its own spot as a freckle of red and orange surrounded by the washed-out greens and browns. Mikkelsen as well has been better but he does well enough to deliver emotional checkpoints when its called for before using his screen presence to be the bigger badass between him and Morgan.

The only really unforgettable thing is Eva Green, who has been making ’14 her year like many others, providing a very tense source of anger and further depravity from and towards the other characters surrounding her. Without saying a word, she registers further than the film gets allowance on the merits of its surface screenplay that this is a darkened unsaved world and that there will be so many different things bad people will attempt to take advantage of.

But it doesn’t cover the film’s tracks in the mud and it doesn’t save The Salvation overall as a picture. There’s nothing to learn or gain and its value as entertainment can also be tapped from pictures that have long preceded it. Oh well. It seems just as well that Levring has some idea of the ingredients in a modern Western – the screenplay, the directing, and even Morgan and Jonathan Pryce’s otherwise unimpressive acting all give off that idea – and might some day give it another shot…

2015 Capsule Reviews – NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN

So, because I’m still making myself too busy, I also noticed that literally the only 2015 US releases I have reviewed so far have been Jupiter Ascending and Blackhat. In the same damn post.

I’m leaving this as an I.O.U. of sorts to come back to often. I intend to review each of these nine films for the next nine days, so by the ninth day past today, we will have ourselves nine brand spanking new reviews of 2015 films so I don’t feel too behind (trailing on the Lynch retrospective and my second no-longer-Women’s-Day post notwithstanding). Yippee, kind of…

Kingsman: The Secret Service (dir. Matthew Vaughan, UK) – If you like this film for the style and execution of its action setpieces – bombastic as they are – whatever. I personally did not find them overall gracing the film, but that’s fine. If you like this film for the things it tries to say about people and its story, you might be a shitty person. I dunno.

The Lazarus Effect (dir. David Gelb, USA) – I TOLD DONALD GLOVER A THOUSAND TIMES I NEVER WANTED TO SEE THIS MOVIE!!!! I JUST WANTED A GOOD PICTURE!!!! YOU CAN’T BE DISAPPOINTED BY A GOOD PICTURE!!!!!! AHHHHHHHH!!!!!! I HATE YOU CHILDISH!!!!! No but seriously, it was bad. And an angering waste of time. Like frontrunner so far for worst film of the year.

Maps to the Stars (dir. David Cronenberg, Canada) – Ugh…. ??? I’ve seen this film twice now (the first was when it premiered at Cannes, but the second time, a local theater I like to support was playing it) and it is ragingly funny, very subdued about its profundities towards Hollywood without really making its themes less than obvious, and the cast are all doing pretty well including a (usually unimpressive) Cusack. It just also feels like a mess and while I am aware of how it anchors itself by the poem Liberte, it doesn’t exactly clean up how it feels like a cinematic surgery gone wrong by Cronenberg.

Mommy (dir. Xavier Dolan, Canada) – Telegraphs itself way too much as a film to be very profound with its emotions or themes (and it doesn’t hide how it telegraphs itself either), but the leads make a terrific anchor to the story just enough for its final act to pack a very shocking punch.

Predestination (dir. the Speirig brothers, Australia) – Even if this movie were terrible (which it isn’t thankfully – it’s even better than the short story), Sarah Snook is a goddamned revelation. It’s like on RedBox for some reason in the US and it deserves a theatrical release. Go watch it already.

The Salvation (dir. Kristian Levring, Denmark) – Yeah, the Danish have definitely seen Death Wish. And Eva Green rescues her own respect in another not entirely impressive film. And this time, she doesn’t even need to have her top off or even speak a word.

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (story by Stephen Hillenburg, USA) – Well, it’s SpongeBob. It’s about as good as classic SpongeBob has been. Which, for my book, has been fantastic.

The DUFF (dir. Ari Sandel, USA) – Surprisingly pleasant given how much I don’t take for a high school comedy. Very intelligent and mature towards its concept (which is based on being a judgmental high schooler to begin with, making that maturity a hefty feat) without feeling overtly like an adult trying to think like a high schooler (though it does get caught that way a few times in a manner Mean Girls doesn’t). I guess I can get used to high school comedies now if Mean Girls, Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You, and The DUFF are indications that it can be smarter than the generic white noise.

Timbuktu (dir. Abderrahmane Sissako, Mauritania/France) – You guys already damn well know I love this movie. It was in my top 10 of ‘14. Just now I have a chance to explain it since the movie apparently had its official US release in 2015, in spite of the fact that a local theater of mine was screening it late December. Huh.

Women in Need of an Honorary Oscar

It’s no longer International Women’s Day here in Miami at 12 am, this post having been delayed from once again my heavy workload outside of Motorbreath (I seriously feel like I need a secretary), but regardless, it’s not like there’s ever a bad time to recognize that we need more women working in the industry beyond just costume design and being an actress. We don’t get enough of a female voice in the industry and there’s many factors more than just that the boys don’t want the girls to play with them, but that doesn’t allow us to ignore that severe depletion.

So, as my first delayed I.W.D. post, I want to recognize the women who I feel stand-out amongst other cinematic legends, on-screen and behind the camera alike and hope that one day they might get the Honorary Oscar that’s coming to them.


Elaine May
Yeesh, talk about being blackballed. Based on the unfortunate one-two turn-out for The Heartbreak Kid and Ishtar (which I have personally never seen), it seems like all of Hollywood has outright forgotten how much of a real comedic talent May still is. Constantly cracking social and cultural norms with her screenwriting while giving it enough wit and humorous charm to soften the blow, May still keeps on kicking (having garnered two Oscar nominations in her career) even if the studios aren’t as quick to buy her anymore.

Setsuko Hara
More likely than not Hara would not show up to collect. Since 1963, she had lived a life of seclusion and never acted again in her life, but that doesn’t change the fact that she is inarguably not-up-for-a-fucking-debate the most internationally famous actress in Japan and that comes from being the muse of one of the most humane and grounded filmmakers of our time: Ozu Yasujiro. In Hara, Yasujiro’s themes of devotion, optimism in the surroundings of tragedy, and bittersweet living while grabbing the heartstrings of the viewer. The fact that she has not been publicly seen since just adds mystique to her screen persona, but what an unforgettable persona.

Doris Day
Sure, we could just recognize that she is a hell of a singer – undeniably legendary. Or how much of a hit maker she was once she got into the motion pictures. But I’d also like to just mention how very devoted she was to the welfare and treatment of all animals. I mean, that’s the main thing I remember her for… her activism off-camera. What can I say? I like animals.

Sally Menke
I’m really cheating with this one (women who are deceased are unfortunately disqualified for an Honorary Oscar). But anyone who has seen a Quentin Tarantino film between 1992-2009 has seen the pinnacle of her work and knows that, as much as most of Tarantino’s effect is “stealing” from other films, it’s also just as much her sharp intuition on when to stop lingering on a pretty interesting conversation to the next jive shot and keeping the pace as cool and collected as it needs to be before turning it into a ballet of violent shots. Her talent and brilliant collaborative chemistry with Tarantino’s directing style is sorely missed (don’t tell me you don’t feel Django Unchained is 30 minutes longer than it needs to be) and if she were still alive, I’d still be gunning for that Honorary for her.

Kathleen Kennedy
You want to talk about upward mobility? How about the woman who co-founded Amblin Entertainment so that Spielberg could make his greatest hits like Jurassic Park and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial? Or how about the fact that this same woman is now sitting as the head of LucasFilm (and honestly if it ain’t George, I’d rather it’s Kathleen. And if it is George, I’d still rather it’s Kathleen, but George can hang around)? Yeah… give Kennedy some.


Liv Ullmann
I’m too crazy about Bergman for anyone not to have expected Ullmann to have been brought up here, but she’s more than just Bergman’s muse. She’s a fantastic actress – hypnotizing in performances like Cries & Whispers and Persona – that Bergman was lucky to catch… I have no doubt that even without being under the direction of maybe the greatest male director an actress could have had, Ullmann would have stood out. That being said, we can’t forget how much of a jack of all trades in the business Ullmann became, taking over producing and directing duties for herself and earning the attention of many prestigious accolades from competing for the Palme d’Or to BAFTAs. She’s a Swedish treasure of cinema.

Chantal Akerman
She’ll say it wasn’t necessarily her design. She’ll claim it’s not meant at face to be read so. But that doesn’t matter to me. Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is undeniably a shocking and seat-stirring look into the dullness of roles that a woman is expected to play in society and whether Akerman accepts it or not, her film spearheaded the concept of feminism beginning to take a presence in international cinema from a female standpoint. And then there’s her avant-garde aesthetic and, boy, am I sucker for avant-garde.

There’s also a recognition I’ve been seeing on The Film Experience (the page that I lifted this idea from) for Gena Rowlands and Agnes Varda. I’m going to be frank. I have not seen Cleo from 5 to 7 or A Woman Under the Influence yet (It’s kind of hard for me to try to stomach Cassavetes since I had seen Shadows), though they have been on my watchlist for years now and since I have Hulu now, I intend to watch them tonight since I might as well see what all the rage is about. I have nothing I can really say about either artist without sounding like I’m talking out of my ass… since I actually would be doing so. But I guess their influence is no joke whatsoever – especially when Varda herself is an artist of the French New Wave and, motherfucker, the French New Wave is not something that just happened to cinema and left as quick – and so I’m going to give them hype at least.

I mean, I have seen The Notebook but I doubt anyone (let alone Rowlands) wants to be remembered for The Notebook. I just imagine John talking to Nick going “Son… I am disappoint”.