Category Archives: Analysis

Welcome to the Cortez

Holy guacamole. What. Did. I. Just. Watch.

Well, let me tell you – if you haven’t watched the latest season of American Horror Story, go away for now. I also wrote about the other seasons here. Meanwhile, I’ll be here jotting down my thoughts and musings on this last season.

Now, I find hotels as eerie as the next occasional traveler, so I thought the concept of AHS: Hotel was interesting on a very base level. Add some real-world creepy inspirations? Great! Old Hollywood? Even better! Vampires? Well…they hadn’t really tackled them yet, so okay…

I’ll be frank. This season’s a hot mess. It’s a Jackson Pollock of concepts and casting, marred with copious amounts of sex and bloodshed. Not all of it was terrible – for instance, we were given a new hero, Liz Taylor (Dennis O’Hare).

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In Liz we trust.

Pros
Liz is awesome. She’s an ideal role model for the modern audience – confident, intelligent, and fierce as hell. However, everything was fine until for some reason, they decided to throw in a completely asinine romance angle with the Countess’ (Gaga) flame, Tristan (Finn Wittrock).

Now, I’m not man-hating for the fun of it, but what I’m upset about is that this angle came from absolutely NOWHERE. The only time we get any idea that there was any sort of chemistry is after we see Liz and Tristan in bed together – no buildup, no conversation, not even any eye-contact, for all I know. I suppose the heart wants what the heart wants, I guess. I’m just glad she got the happy(ish) ending she deserved.

Another character I loved? James Patrick March.

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This guy.

Honestly I never gave Evan Peters a second glance until Hotel. Finally, after four seasons of moping, we get someone charismatic, cartoony, and impossible to ignore. Think of James P. March as Gomez Addams and H.H. Holmes on coke.

Hotel was an incredibly divisive season, an odd combination of cartoony and violent – in some cases cartoonishly violent. It seemed as if the creators didn’t know where to draw the line in terms of disturbing content – or which direction this show was going, for that matter. I think the idea was to bridge the gap with the “Ten Commandments” story…or maybe the vampires? Jeezus.

The Ten Commandments
Admittedly, this was a very cool, bold way to start the season. Granted, it is a total Se7en ripoff – that, and hearing the phrase “Ten Commandments” over and over again is clunky and exhausting.

matt-bomer-cheyenne-jackson-max-greenfield-wes-bentley-finn-wittrock

Almost as exhausting as trying to tell this cast apart.

And when we learn the truth about our protagonist, John (Wes Bentley), I’m not sure if it was more unexpected or annoying. Much like Liz/Tristan, we had no leads of any sort – it just seemed so poorly thrown together. On the other hand, when John accepted his identity, that was a nice change of pace.

There seems to be a string of shrugging off events when things get too weird – for instance, when we are introduced to Countess’ erm, child, it goes on a wacky’s “Baby’s Day Out”-style adventure. As if that wasn’t stupid/annoying enough, there is literally a scene where John’s daughter, Scarlett, is very upset and crying, and then less than a minute later we see her chilling on the couch with some popcorn. What kind of poorly written bullshit is going on here?

Okay okay, that’s a little nit-picky, especially considering some bigger problems…

The Addiction Demon and Hypodermic Sally

CShFCg1UEAEbkMe.jpg

…Who was this? Why was this? What purpose does this serve? Other than disturbing for disturbing’s sake.

Speaking of which, it was never really explained why Sally (Sarah Paulson) was sewing folks into mattresses. It made a nice eyecatch I suppose, but again, ultimately pointless. Like that Human Centipede-esque nonsense later.

On the topic of nonsense, last but not least –

The Vampires
To be fair, they never really call these creatures “vampires” – but for the sake of simplicity, that’s what I’m going with. I honestly enjoyed how this season played with this vampirism disease, especially when combined with other diseases. Though they did hit us over the head with the-ever-so-topical vaccination “debate.”

Upon the announcement that Lady Gaga was to be involved with this season of AHS, I honestly didn’t really care – I guess I was more looking forward to the sheer spectacle she would surely provide – and thusly delivered. I was more annoyed by the irrelevance of her vampire clan and their terrible hair-dos.

American-Horror-Story-Lady-Gaga-645x370

I’m talking about you, Holden.

The Countess represented the glamour as well as the menace that LA has to offer (throughout time, so it seems) – an ideal seductress. Apart from that, we have a concept that’s terribly drawn out and ultimately uninteresting.

In A Nutshell
I’m sorry, I took some time writing this because I often found myself getting ranty and all over the place. Kind of like this season. Simply put, there were way too many ideas going on here at once; near the end, it was painfully obvious that they needed to tie these stories up. Yet, despite my complaints, I still enjoyed this season. It doesn’t hold a candle to Murder House, but at least it’s better than Coven.

 

ahs-hotel-iris

“I couldn’t pick my butthole out of a lineup.” – Academy Award-winner, Kathy Bates

 

 

 

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Of Freaks and Monsters: American Horror Story

If you didn’t notice, I haven’t posted much in a while. Perhaps it’s due to distraction or laziness, but also because like any red-blooded American twenty-something, I’ve been mooching off of my parents’ various cable subscriptions and marathoning old HBO shows. (Seriously, I think Oz changed my life. I’ll have to write about that one sometime.) …That and I renewed my WOW subscription. Anywhoo, I’ve been fortunate enough to stay active with the newest installment of everyone’s favorite Freudian fanfare, American Horror Story: Freakshow.

I’ve been a fan of this series since the get-go, and yes, I accept it’s flaws as much as I bitch about them with friends and co-workers and anyone else who will listen. If anything, I always follow each season ’til the end, even Coven. So I decided to write a bit about each – the good, the bad, the freaky, and the just plain awful. Spoilers ahoy! (Mostly pertaining to Freak Show!) I’m not gonna give any real plot synopsis, but overall if you haven’t seen it, watch it dammit – all but the latest seasons are on Netflix.

Murder House

American Horror Story: making families shift uncomfortably in their seats since 2011. This was the beginning of something new and exciting, with an opening that dares you not to look away (not at all unlike that of Se7en‘s).

"Bring out the gimp."

“Bring out the gimp.”

Granted, I haven’t seen this since it’s airing (or any of the other seasons), but needless to say, some things just stick with you. Being that this was a season of firsts, Murder House took some serious balls – we’re talking rape, S&M nightmares, school shootings, and straight-up child abuse. And this is on cable.

Love you.

Love you.

Now, it’s one thing to have shock factor, but fortunately we have a pretty gripping story to go along with.

That, and a new generation has fallen for Our Lady of Perpetual Ferocity, Jessica Lange.

I believe it was Entertainment Weekly that described Lange’s portrayal of Constance Langdon as “Southern Comfort with a hint of venom.” Lange would later prove that she can keep this balance consistent throughout the seasons, weighing each outrage with vulnerability.

In retrospect, Murder House was probably the most solid of the seasons, and one of my favorites. Next to Asylum.

Asylum

Though Asylum polarized audiences, I believe this one is my favorite: it has a cohesive plot, exciting characters and just enough weirdness and camp. That, and I think that Dr. Thredson (Zachary Quinto) was probably, arguably, the scariest AHS villain to date (which I will happily defend).

I only have three gripes: lame zombie reveal (though Nazi experiments is a new angle), disappointing deaths of not one, but two amazing characters (granted, they were heavily linked), and the serial killer’s name was “Bloody Face.”

Yeah, I've got nothing.

Yeah, I’ve got nothing.

Some people hated the aliens, but I really didn’t mind them. I was just glad to see something different. Oh, and bravo James Cromwell – in only one scene, you destroyed my childhood memories of the kindly farmer who sang to a pig. Thank you.

MmmmmMcShane. (Insert obligatory naughty Santa pun here.)

MmmmmMcShane.
(Insert obligatory naughty Santa pun here.)

I also have some soft spots for asylums and Ed Gein types – that kind of horror feels, I dunno, nostalgic? Yeah, that’s the best way to describe it. So I guess that’s another perk of following AHS – if you don’t like one kind of scary, another’s just around the corner!

By Asylum, I caught on to some tropes, reoccuring cast members aside:

  • Horrible monster (key villain)
  • Murderous rape-baby
  • Holiday episode
  • Religion
  • Gratuitous sex
  • Butts (because why not?)
  • Mommy issues
  • Something horrible to watch (or potential triggers)
  • A historical figure

Now that I think of it, this series might as well have been called Mommy Issues: Seriously, Call Your Mom. When it came to Asylum, I’m not sure which was more scarring: watching Sarah Paulson’s DIY abortion, or the fact that Lana Winters’ exposé on Briarcliff was practically a recreation of one of the most abhorring and infamous scandals in the history of Staten Island.

Coven

I wanted Coven to be good, sincerely.

It had so many chances to do something well, but it went wrong at every turn:

  • Predominantly female cast?
    Better make them fight all the time about stupid things! At least they look good doing it, right?
  • Delightfully unnerving new monster?
    Better have an amazing actress awkwardly try to bang it and then never talk about it again.
  • Learn they have a certain type of power (like X-Men)?
    Let’s not show how they learn new magic – that’d be too much like Harry Potter.
  • Show how they can do really awesome magics stuff?
    Whoops, gotta kill them off – guess they forgot how to witch.
Make sure your leading character has the personality and mental acuity of a goldfish.

Also make sure your leading character has the personality and mental acuity of a goldfish.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. I think Buzzfeed also made a nice list of everything wrong. (Also I stand corrected on one of my tropes – I think the murderous rape-baby stops here.)

Also is it weird that there was more racism in Coven (presumably modern day, mind you) than there was during the 1950s (i.e. Freak Show)? Speaking of which, moving on-

Freak Show

This is my favorite opening. Maybe I just like toy pianos.

Sideshows/freak shows have also always appealed to me. Again, just one of those weird things. Plus this season was filled with ’50’s kitsch and David Bowie – pretty much everything I love right there. Not to mention numerous references to Tod Browning’s Freaks, one of my favorites, but we’ll get to that later. Oh, and awesome job with that Elephant Man theme near the end!

Love it love it love it.

Love it love it love it.

On the whole, I enjoyed this season a lot. Even though there wasn’t really an overarching storyline, I felt that it worked well as a character study/spectacle piece. Though, honestly, I still find it troublesome that there was so much focus on the music videos (at least until it was realized that the show needed to progress).

At first, it made sense: it was Elsa’s show and she’s a singer. That’s obvious. Now the twins come in and they need to be special – they better sing too. And now we’ve got Jimmy all angsty so he’s headlining with Nirvana? I mean, I know they’re pushing for more Evan Peters (especially because he mostly just got drunk and sulked all the time halfway through), but that was really, really pointless.

You tease.

You tease.

Oh and speaking of pointless, what was the point of talking about Stanley’s big wiener if they’re never going to do anything with it? I’m sorry, but I was at least hoping it would be chopped off and put on display at that Morbidity Museum – which would be wonderfully ironic – of course, not that they’d show it, but it’s the principle of the damn thing.

Needless to say, I feel that Stanley’s demise (a là Freaks) was satisfying, but the end of the show was so rushed, they never brought him up again or did anything with him – kind of like how they never mentioned if the Lizard Girl’s dad even survived the tar-and-feathering (or if there were repercussions). I guess someone remembered that we couldn’t just be distracted by jingle keys any longer and the show actually had to be finished.

This brings me to Dandy.

Dandy-Mott

Oh Dandy. Dandy, Dandy, Dandy.

If ever there was a character you could love to hate, it was this kid. I could seriously not look away. This was the epitome of villainy: a spoiled, rich brat who makes Kanye West look humble. He also progressed the most throughout this show, which made his ending so…disappointing. Especially after seeing what they did to Stanley – why not make Dandy’s death ironic, at the very least? The water trap was too easy. Easy and boring. There, I said it.

I really wanted to see them doing more stuff, you know?

I really wanted to see them doing more stuff, you know?

There was still plenty to enjoy: Sarah Paulson does a fantastic job as Bette and Dot Tattler, and they brought back Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett – plus we now have TV debuts of the likes of Mat Fraser, Erika Ervin and Rose Siggins. Like I mentioned before, Freak Show mostly served as a spectacle of characters, which was still fun to watch.

For now, it is still up in the air as to whether or not this was  Jessica Lange’s last season. At first it was believed to be, but since that rumor, creator Ryan Murphy has been begging her to stay. Believing that Freak Show was her last, it makes the last episode, rather her last performance (more Bowie – yay!), to be particularly heartbreaking. Not as heartbreaking as “Orphans” though. That was like…jeeze.

Personally, I hope she stays.

The Fascinating Metamorphosis of Walter White

I know I haven’t been going to the theatre less often lately, but honestly I’ve been too preoccupied catching up on Netflix. As we all know, Breaking Bad has been rocking the small screen ever since its emergence in 2008. Apart from the gripping, well-written story, I believe that the performances on this show are probably the most impressive displays of acting prowess I have seen in a long, long time. In order to discuss the metamorphosis from dead man to death dealer, I will do my best not to spoil key events of the show that are not already known by means of advertisement or whatnot. Granted, I’m still catching up myself (only getting what I can from Netflix) so I may be a little more in the dark than some. Regardless, I will do my best to dissect the psyche that is Walter Hartwell White.

Much like Bruce Willis, Walter White gets cooler with less hair.

Much like Bruce Willis, Walter White gets cooler with less hair.

The Birth of Heisenberg

In the beginning, Walter White is a pathetic little weenie of a man with a bad mustache. Walt is a high school chemistry teacher who also works at a car wash in order to make ends meet for himself, his pregnant wife, Skyler, and their disabled son, Walt, Jr. Just to paint a little picture of his family life, there seems to be a small power struggle between Skyler and the influence of his in-laws, while his own son prefers to be called “Flynn” as opposed to “Junior” – so the discontent with his home-life has been well-established.

Season-1

A true image of desperation.

After months of being afflicted with a pestering cough, Walt visits a doctor and discovers he has inoperable Stage 3A lung cancer. For some reason, Walt doesn’t tell his family about this discovery – not right away at least. I’m not sure if it is mentioned as to why, but I think it’s because he wants to regain a sense of control over his own life as well as the future of his family. Obviously, control is a constant issue with Walt.

Not wanting to leave his family in financial ruin, Walt takes it upon himself to find alternative means of income. Considering he’s a chemistry genius, cooking meth seems like a desperate but ideal outlet – he figures he can cook the stuff and have someone else handle the business end. No big deal right? Get in, get out – an easy business transaction with a huge payoff. Though he’s aware that his brother-in-law, Hank, is a DEA agent, this does not deter him from his easy-money scheme. After contacting former student/drug dealer Jesse Pinkman, their business is soon established, and Walter White is cooking meth so pure, it comes out looking like blue rock candy.

Once Walt’s blue meth hits the market, this causes all sorts of trouble with rival distributors, as well as earning attention from cartel. As these tensions rise, Walt builds a new identity to face these local mobs: Heisenberg. Behind this guise, Walt finds within himself the ability to be intimidating and thus earn respect. Now we’ve created the anti-hero.

The Transformation

Come season two, Walt is caught between being hunted by the cartel while struggling to keep his work a secret from Skyler. Jesse has become less inclined to help Walt due to the jeopardization of his friends/dealers. On top of this drama, his medical bills have become increasingly daunting. He needs to stay in this business, but will need more help in order to protect himself and his family. Walt’s choices not only determine the future of Walt and Jesse’s partnership, but we also witness the cogs in Walt’s brain turn as he determines what is really the “greater good.”

breaking-bad-gus-fring-walter-white

Business is business.

What we learn from season three is that fear is not only a great motivator, but also an excellent catalyst. In this season Walt becomes under the employ of Gustavo Fring, a fried chicken tycoon with strong ties to the cartel. Giancarlo Esposito plays this character exquisitely: this is a man with two faces, the exceptional and the terrifying. There is very little we know about Gus’ past, but from what we can tell, Gus understands the sacrifice needed to build an empire. It is only when Gus intimidates Walt and Jesse in order to keep them focused, that’s when things go downhill; Walt understands this man’s potential, truly fearing him while simultaneously envying his control. Ultimately, Gus acts as the catalyst for Walt’s full transformation.

It is in season four when the villain emerges from Walt. He believes Gus has driven him to take drastic measures to protect his family. Though it is true that Gus threatened his family, Walt never tries to call his bluff. It is this season that Walt performs actions that are desperate, cruel, and powerful. I’d give examples, but again, I don’t want to spoil things. I will say we also see the dynamic between Walt and Jesse shift even further – Jesse is teased with the idea of partner-hood, but Walt manipulates him to the point of near-insanity. One could discuss the growth and potential for our young accomplice, alas this article is all about Walter White.

"I won."

“I won.”

As we enter season five, everything has been set into overdrive. We know that Walt is building an empire, but in the process has become a total monster. There is no longer the man who simply wants to provide for his family. For all Skyler can tell, he doesn’t care about his family, he wants control. The same message can be read by the audience, though some take this badassery to heart without realizing that the Walter White that we grew to empathize with is dead and gone.

Or is he? I don’t know – like I said, I haven’t seen the newest episodes yet.

Walter White began as an underdog, became an anti-hero, then morphs into a full-on villain. While his actions have been impressive, his intentions have often had bafflingly terrifying implications. It’s great to see the little guy win, but to quote JoBlo “even Tony Montana had his limits.” Additionally, Skyler’s behavior, though having received much flack, is completely justifiable. By all means, I am not saying that I am not a fan of the character – I just find this transformation to be incredible. I can’t wait to see what happens to him and Jesse. I want to know what becomes of Walt’s empire, and the aftermath that will surely reign upon his family.  All I can tell is this is going to be good.

In memory of Gale Boetticher.

You Never Forget Your First

Cheeky.

Cheeky.

Ever see a teen movie that makes you question conventions about relationships – plutonic or otherwise?  I mean, I’m sure you have.  Ever about zombies?  No, this isn’t Warm Bodies.  I’m talking about Deadgirl.

This movie’s pretty darn nasty, but I think I have a penchant for finding things to discuss in regards to nasty things.  On the surface, we’re basically looking at zombie-rape teen drama.  What?  I told you this movie’s nasty.  Key phrase here, “surface.”

Deadgirl is about a pair of friends, Rickie and JT – your typical 20-something high school students who would easily fall in the loser/burnout category.  One day they decide to skip class and do their typical loser/burnout things, such as get crunked and explore an abandoned psychiatric hospital.  Deep within the catacombs they discover a something most strange – a naked girl strapped to a bed.  Upon this discovery, we instantly discover the boys’ respective moral compass: Rickie wants to call for help, but JT simply sees a sexy little number looking for action.  Insert feminist groan.  Then JT inevitably finds out that this stranger is indeed a nameless, mute zombie, and becomes his own personal play-thing.  Queue a far more disgusted groan…and a little bit of controlled vomiting.

High-schoolers.

High-schoolers.

Yes, I realize this is an incredibly extreme situation which transcends all we know as reality.  I mean, there’s no way we’re dealing with an “average kid” who’s as twisted as JT.  Well, except for maybe Daryl Sabara in World’s Greatest Dad.  That’s for another day.  When looking at this movie, I think it’s best to think in terms of extremity, as well as just pure rawness.

I see the Deadgirl herself less as a victim and more of a metaphor.  Because really, I don’t think this movie was made with human rights implications in mind.  Are zombies really a people?  They’ve always been objectified, clustered as an ominous horde, like hornets or mimes.  Furthermore , being that “extreme” is a common theme throughout this film,  the catalyst for these boys’ dichotomies is something as putrid as it is mystifying (because I struggle to say “alluring”).  Similarly Joann, the object of Rickie’s affection, is, well, objectified – he desperately clings to this construct of her, that same girl he fell in love with in his younger years, when clearly she has moved on.  Such is the simplification of angsty teen romance.  Just a note, the climax with Joann – best part.

Yeah...it's rough.

Watching this movie is no walk in the park, but there’s something about it that gave it a special place in my weird little heart.  It’s undoubtedly Donnie Darkoesque, which is not to say that it’s nearly as good, but that’s beside the point.  It’s this atmosphere combined with its raw content that creates an original work that is either loved or hated.  I mean, I really dig it – and I know I’m not the only one:

Forget what you’ve heard.  Past any controversy, Deadgirl is a film beautiful in every way: about friendship, love, rejection, obsession, and all the horror that comes along with such teenaged emotions.  See it and make it the classic it deserves. – Fangoria

The Male Gaze Wide Shut

…Or using feminist theory to defend the work of Stanley Kubrick.

This is my thesis, to sum up everything I’ve done in college.  I plan on making more videos like this, so please feel free to send me feedback.

WYSHW Double-Feature: In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths

Like I said last time, I want to give Martin McDonagh some lovin’, so here it is, my (very) brief analysis/review of two very underrated dark action comedies, In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths.

"In fucking Bruges."

“In fucking Bruges.”

 

In Bruges

In Bruges is an assassin story unlike any other.  After a rookie (Colin Farrel) accidentally murders a child in his path, the big man sends him off to recuperate in kitschy Bruges, Belgium – only to have him killed off.  We are presented a classic game of cat and mouse but with some weird twists, involving film making, tourists, suicide, and dwarfs.

It’s easy to see how a film like this can be seen as a cult hit: it had a limited theatrical release in combination with a layered bait-and-switch plot which doesn’t fail to satisfy.  Admittedly, the ending is wide open, but never-the-less enjoyable.  Simply put, there isn’t another film out there like this one, at least, not that I can think of.

Featuring a bunny-loving Tom Waits.

Featuring a bunny-loving Tom Waits.

 

Seven Psychopaths

… That is, until Seven Psychopaths came along.  Granted, SP does have a bigger budget and greater star power, but it’s still inexplicably weird.  Most of you may recall the trailer focusing more on the dog-napping plot, but like In Bruges the actual story is much more layered.

The focus is actually on a struggling screen-writer (again, Colin Farrel) trying to put together a story that will blow people away, basing it on lives of those he considers to be “psychopaths.”  The result is an action-comedy-meta-explosion (metasplosion?).  The film itself was fairly successful, though it received mixed reviews.  Perhaps some people just thought it was too strange – I say it gives the movie flavor. Seven Psychopaths is a good time all around, but there is still heart – you just have to find it.

Both of these films are wonderful and gritty in their own right, and ultimately incredibly surprising.  If you were looking for a typical shoot em’ up, I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere.  Now if you were after entertaining crime thrillers sprinkled with existentialist themes, you’ve come to the right place – and you’re among friends.

Next time on What You Should Have Watched, Bill Murray.

WYSHW: The Fountain

Sometime between Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler and Black Swan,  Darren Aronofksy made a gorgeous sci-fi epic entitled The Fountain, a film which I notice isn’t talked about often.  Why is that?  I feel that The Fountain is a beautiful romance of Mayan mythology and multi-verse story telling that is very much overlooked.  So I guess I’ll just break it all down for you – sorry but spoilers are ahead.

It was the space monk tree bubble, wasn’t it? That’s why no one wanted any part of this. Space monk tree bubble.

A Story Within a Story

By the way, the music in this film is fantastic.

Our film begins in the year 2005, where we learn about a neuroscientist named Tommy Creo (Hugh Jackman), and his ill wife Izzi (Rachel Weisz).  Izzy has been diagnosed with some sort of unnamed brain illness, to which there is no cure.  Izzi has accepted her fate, but Tommy becomes obsessed with the idea that death is a disease, and will stop at nothing until he finds a cure.  After she dies, Tommy finally reads a book she had previously begged him to finish – a book she wrote about love during the Spanish Inquisition.

Cut to 16th Century Spain, Queen Isabella (Rachel Weisz) is under siege by the grand inquisitor and begs her betrothed, a conquistador named Tomàs (Hugh Jackman), to search for the Biblical Tree of Life in South America.  After battling with countless Mayan protectors (and one with a kickass flaming sword), he finds the tree, and desperately start drinking the sap only to become one with the earth.

Then we have the year 2500 with Tommy as Tom, an astral monk soaring through the cosmos in a biosphere containing a tree – a tree that was planted on Izzi’s grave.  Tom is on a mission to find Xibalba, the Mayan spirit world, said to be where souls are reunited.  He has survived this journey because of his desire to be with Izzi once again, if not for eternity.

The Road to Awe

This all sounds quite crazy, doesn’t it?  Some people would venture as far to say ridiculous.  I don’t really understand why people have such a hard time suspending their disbelief, especially when it comes to science fiction.  If you just go with it, the overall piece is just so beautiful, it’s really quite indescribable.

First off, if you haven’t guessed, the visuals are astounding.  One of the coolest things about this film is that there were barely any CGI effects used – space was filmed with trick photography and shooting light through petri dishes.  With such stunning visuals partnered with a powerful, driving score, really what you’ve got here is a fantastic setting for something splendid – in this case an epic romance.

I really believed they loved each other.

What’s different about The Fountain is that it’s a romance that only deals with the relationship between Izzi and Tommy.  By placing the focus on these two characters, and only these two characters, you get this wonderful dynamic between the two of them, which just lets you believe in love and destiny and sacrifice and all that mushy crap.

Tommy’s obsession is another interesting element of the plot, because I’ll be honest here, the plot really doesn’t move much.  You’re there suffering with him, and you know there’s no point in finding a cure – that was the idea all along – Izzi knew that, and that’s all she was trying to say but he wouldn’t listen.  Sometimes you just need to let go.

Death is Not the End

Trivia: Tom’s distressed persona was inspired by a certain famous character from a song.

I think one of the most important aspects of The Fountain was how it portrayed death.  By adding the relationship element, it’s like witnessing the seven stages of grief, but told through three different stories with the same ending: acceptance.  At one point in the film, Izzi tells Tommy about when she went to South America and her guide told her about how his father died and they planted a tree on his grave.  The tree grew and blossomed, and birds came and carried his father away with them – “death was his road to awe.”  After she tells him this, she says that she is not afraid anymore.

This is probably one of the most beautiful metaphors for death I have ever witnessed in a film.  Filled with comfort and wonder, you want Tommy to find that it’s okay to move on, death is not the end – that’s all Izzi wanted to tell him all along, that’s why she wrote Tomàs’ death.  Sure that moment was confusing, ridiculous and a little frightening, but hey, we can’t always choose how we go.  That’s just part of the process.   I don’t know, maybe deep down I’m more of a romantic than I’d like to admit, but I’d rather go with a transgressive astral monk over a Nicholas Sparks piece any day.  Gotta admit, it’s pretty groovy.

Next time on What You Should Have Watched, a modern film noir that isn’t Brick.

That Movie People Don’t Like To Think About

Oh how cryptic, what could it possibly be?  Deadgirl? Antichrist?  Perhaps another time.  Today I’m going to bring to light probably one of the most intriguingly disturbing films to ever grace my eyeballs,  A Serbian Film.  I’m serious.  If you know of/seen this movie you’ll know what I’m talking about – if not, well, this isn’t the sort of movie you recommend to people, hence why I made this a Kool-aid feature (because I honestly believe this movie could hit cult standards with a little time, effort and therapy) instead of a What You Should Have Watched.  I’ll probably lose some readers over this, but I’m over it.  This movie is fantastic.

Taboos, Taboos, Taboos!

Let me get you folks up to speed here: A Serbian Film is well, a Serbian horror film from 2010 directed by Srđan Spasojević (no, I have no idea how to pronounce that).  The film stars a semi-retired porn star named Miloš, a man who has settled with a wife and child but has issues keeping food on the table.  One day Miloš is approached by an old co-star who has a proposition for him: meet with a mysterious director and he will be paid copious amounts of money for a project.

Be thankful her face is out of view.

Intrigued, Miloš travels with her to meet this director, an “artist” named Vukmir.  Vukmir offers Miloš a contract, but the catch is he cannot know what the project is or what it requires, lest it ruin his performance.  Miloš begrudgingly agrees, but immediately regrets his decision when he discovers a project of unimaginable consequences to which he has no escape.

This movie has absolutely every taboo imaginable: pornography, violence, child abuse, rape, necrophilia – the list goes on and on.  To say this film is “pretty graphic” is like saying Hitler was “kinda grumpy.”  Within the first five minutes, you’re already subjected to some pretty crazy stuff – and then without apology this movie quickly snowballs to capture some of the most heinous actions imaginable.  Some so despicably disgusting, there are reaction videos on YouTube.  (Here’s a hint, it involves an infant.)  This is the kind of movie that proves there’s no God and then rubs salt in your paper cuts while murdering your parents.  Too much?

“The Victim”

To film atrocity for attention’s sake is just obnoxious – not to mention, completely uncalled for.  I would not waste your time if this was indeed the case.   When Miloš learns the truth about this production, he immediately asks Vukmir why him, why a porn star?

Not pornography, but life itself! That’s life of a victim. Love, art, blood… flesh and soul of a victim. Transmitted live to the world who has lost all that and now is paying to watch that from the comfort of an armchair. … Victim sells, Miloš. Victim is the priciest sell in this world. The victim feels the most and suffers the best. We are a victim, Miloš. You, me, this whole nation is a victim.

If you haven’t taken a peek at the wiki entry yet, you’ll learn that Spasojević’s main concept behind this film was a parody and critique Serbian film culture, being that it is ran by means of foreign funds and is now a comical shadow of its foreign self.  Thus Spasojević decided to focus on the extremes…extreme extremes.  I’m paraphrasing of course, but that’s what the hyperlink’s for.  Personally, I found the quote far more interesting than the political stuff.

This image is cropped for your sanity’s sake.

It seems that these days the victim is the new hero.  What makes the hero so relatable most of the time is that they are victimized in some way or form, and from this victimization comes passion for justice (this occurs on various scales, the “revenge-flick” being the most obvious).  Then immediately after Vukmir says this, he tells Miloš that he is the only one in the film who is not a victim.  This presents an interesting argument:

Vukmir presents the idea of an inborn need to see people get revenge – usually this is the reflection of the political/economic times (in Serbia’s case, capitalizing on suffering by destroying the film industry with run-of-the-mill fluff) – but Vukmir’s film has no revenge in it whatsoever, it is merely Miloš doing the victimizing.  Now from a meta standpoint, we want Miloš to get out of this because we can sympathize – he has a family and just needed some extra money, and he didn’t know what he was bargaining with.  At the same time, Miloš did sign a contract and has an obligation to uphold (not that we as viewers want him to, but these guys have atrocious methods of persuasion – you do not want to piss them off).  Such a glorious paradox, ironically presented in a pornographic snuff film.

Sweet dreams.

A Serbian Film is absolutely wretched but you cannot look away, mostly because you can’t believe what’s going on.  It’s also hard to gauge which is worse: the fact that this was filmed or the fact that it was greenlit.  I’d be lying if I said this didn’t disturb me, but man this film is just so darn interesting!  This is why it’s impossible to recommend because you don’t want to look like an absolute monster, but the conversation that can occur and the analysis – it just tickles my brain just thinking about it.  Or I could just be a perverted psychopath, you never know.

 

WYSHW: The Fall

Tarsem Singh has received a lot of guff for his work – lest we forget Nostalgia Critic’s annihilation of The Cell (perhaps a tad too harsh, but that’s for another day) – granted, he hasn’t made many films, but I’ve noticed that they’ve either been notably shallow or tries too hard to be deep.  I feel that The Fall is an exception.  On the surface, the film does appear to be a pretentious work, but that’s merely on the surface.  The Fall tells us a story about…well, stories – both spoken and seen – and the power they have to reveal to us the truth of the human condition.  Because this story is so involved, I’m going to break this one down – and yes, there are spoilers.

The Introduction

I could see how people could find an introduction like this a little daunting.  No, the whole movie’s not like this – this just sets the scene, providing the origin of our main character’s demise while being a homage to the film industry, which appears more-so at the end.  This shouldn’t throw you off-guard too much, this intro is merely for you to sit back and take in.

Alexandria and Roy

After the intro we fade to “California, Once Upon A Time,” presumably the 1930s.  Here we meet our main character, Alexandria (amateur actress Catinca Untaru) who is hospitalized with a broken arm.  It isn’t before too long that she meets the hospital’s newest patient, Roy (Lee Pace of Pushing Daisies fame), a bed-ridden stuntman.  Roy isn’t really doing too hot – after paralyzing himself doing a stunt, he has learned that his girlfriend left him for the start of the picture he was working on.  After meeting Alexandria, he whips up a scheme to relieve his suffering, regardless of the consequences.

“Are you trying to save my soul?”

What I enjoyed most about these characters is the chemistry between them – most of which was based on misunderstanding, which in retrospect is quite charming.  For one, Catinca actually believed that Lee was a paraplegic, which allowed a much more sympathetic delivery on her part.  Secondly, much of their dialogue was improvised, so the smallest of comments became crucial to the details – such as Alexandria misreading the letter E for the number 3, or the idea of ones’ strength being in their teeth.

The Epic

The concept Roy spinning an “Epic” is similar to the tale of Scheherazade, only instead to keep his life, Roy intends to end his.  He starts a tale of a motley crew consisting of an Indian, an Italian demolitions expert, Charles Darwin, an ex-slave, a mystic, and a Masked Bandit.  All they have in common is a hatred for Governor Odious, a tyrant who does nasty things for the sake of being nasty.  I don’t mean to sound cheesy here, but there really is something magical about this story.  It seamlessly weaves together the lives of a pair of strangers, with Roy’s experience and Alexandria’s imagination, which makes the climax so much more profound, visually and emotionally.

I cry every time.

I’m just going to say it: The Fall is a truly beautiful film.  I know I didn’t go into the unfathomable beauty of the visuals, but seriously, words cannot describe.  Despite the surreality of this movie, no special effects were used – it was shot in 28 countries over the course of four years.  The story itself strives on the idea of stories as a powerful medium – they tell us how to live and why – not to mention, they bring strangers together despite the odds.

This tradition carries on through generations to come through the power of movie-making.  As mentioned, the intro is somewhat a homage to the film industry, and then the movie ends with a montage of some of the most impressive stunts from the silent era.  One could say this was a self-absorbed move on Tarsem’s part, but it gives one time to think about the sweat, blood and tears that went into films back then – and how much has never been seen.  It’s a thought anyway.

Next time on What You Should Have Watched, a love story everyone should see.  I’m serious.

The Hunger Games and Fan Culture

            Since its arrival on bookshelves all over the US, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games has become a phenomenon among young people everywhere – seriously, I can hardly keep count of the amount of mockingjay tattoos I’ve seen on girls on campus – let alone the internet.  Ironically, The Hunger Games symbolizes the worst kind of fans in our culture.  Before I get into details, here’s a quick synopsis for anyone who happens to live under a rock and has no idea what this thing’s about.

The Hunger Games takes place in a dystopian North America, now named Panem, which is made up of twelve districts.  Governed by fear and famine, the Hunger Games is held each year – representatives from each district are chosen to fight to the death on live TV in order to win food and honor.  Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is a girl from the poor mining community of District 12 who is cast into a world of multicolored decadence, forced herself alluring to millions of strangers who are literally betting on her life. 

After reading some fans’ racist tweets about the casting choices, I wasn’t sure how to approach this film.  If this is indeed how “die-hard fans” are reacting, then what does this say about the story itself?  Apparently back in March upon seeing the casting choices some fans of the book were upset with the choice of African American actress, Amandla Stenberg, being cast as Rue, a Tribute from District 11 and ally to Katniss.  In the book when Katniss meets Rue she is described as having “dark brown skin and eyes,” a description which apparently flew over peoples’ heads, being that they were upset enough to make the following tweets:

why does rue have to be black not gonna lie kinda ruined the movie

cinna and rue werent supposed to be black / why did the producer make all of the good characters black smh

 EWW rue is black?? I’m not watching 

Why does a person’s skin color make a difference?   Everyone has different personal expectations for character appearance when reading a book.  I could understand if they made a drastic change that would affect that character’s personality or the story, but to be upset that a person who’s described as having “dark skin” is being portrayed by a black person is inexcusable.  Luckily, the remaining fanbase does not share these opinions.

The concept of fan culture and controversy is carried whole-heartedly through the film.  In the beginning of the film, Katniss meets her drunken mentor, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), who has won the Hunger Games once already.  Haymitch knows the tricks to survival, but rather than telling Katniss and fellow District 12 Tribute Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) secret combat or survival skills, he only tells them to “make people like you.”  These Tributes are pampered and put on display – eventually they are each individually interviewed by the master of ceremonies, Caesar (Stanley Tucci).  Caesar treats these kids as if they’re celebrities – but I guess one ought to pander to them, seeing how the majority of them will be brutally slaughtered soon enough.  Part of his pre-Hunger Games ritual is interviewing the Tributes and asking questions about their personal lives and their talents.  When Peeta reveals to Caesar that he has a crush on Katniss, at first she is livid, thinking that he made her look “weak.”  Haymitch on the other hand thinks this is perfect for the two.  People enjoy a good love story, and what does it matter that Katniss is faking it?  It’s just a TV show and there’s nothing better than a pair of star-crossed lovers to heighten the tension.  In short, sponsors would want the lovers to stay together by any means necessary.

The Hunger Games brings out the worst in people, both in and out of the film.  Parents are watching children being slaughtered, and we as spectators are doing the same.  Everyone at the end of the film was rooting for the death of Cato, reinforcing the Capitol’s oppressive groupthink mentality.  Granted this was a kill or be killed scenario, but why should audiences feel more strongly about one Tribute than another?  A majority of the Tributes’ names were never announced to begin with, so the audience never has a moment to care about these people who are essentially slaughtered for the government’s amusement.  This concept of this poor mentality also reflects the aforementioned ignorance of the fans, and one can appreciate the sardonic irony of the racist fans sporting a mockingjay which a revolutionary symbol for the oppressed. 

       There’s also something to be said here about Hunger Games and reality TV.  With reality TV, things that would normally be seen as disgusting or barbaric have simply become entertainment, not unlike public executions of yore.  Why do people watch “Toddlers in Tiaras,” “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” or “Jersey Shore”?  These are examples of humanity at their lowest – so, why are they celebrated?  Why do these people deserve our attention?  How many people watched “The Bachelor” thinking it was a real love story?  Collins’ story is essentially a parody of modern pop culture.  We will gradually become so desensitized to the atrocities of the world – I’m sorry, of people – that when the times get tough we won’t bat an eyelash at broadcasting real-life gladiators.  The Capitol used spectacle to confirm their political control, so what would stop our government from doing the same?