Category Archives: Feature

Miscellaneous essays, commentary, opinion pieces, et cetera.

Creepy, But Nice

Oh boy, who doesn’t love a list?

Lately, when I’m not working or playing videogames, I’ve been drifting around YouTube for just random things. When it’s not cats, creepypasta, or children falling over, I find some nice short films to watch. So here’s a list of four short films, in no particular order, that I’ve found to dub creepy, but nice.

He Took His Skin Off For Me
2015, Directed by Ben Aston – 11mins

Behind this gory facade lies a lovely tale of the sacrifices we make for loved ones, and the love we show and return. Sweet, intimate, and at times, uncomfortable, He Took His Skin Off For Me is a lovely metaphor for trust and vulnerability – not to mention how far we’re willing to go for the ones we love.

Elefante
2012, Directed by Pablo Larcuen – 9mins

This is a movie that genuinely melted my heart to the point that it was oozing from my eye sockets. Elefante is the tale of Manuel, an average pencil-pusher who hates his job, his only friend, and struggles to be loved by his family. Things only get worse when he discovers that he’s turning into an elephant. Just watch and see.

Skin
2015, Directed by Jordana Spiro – 13mins

Oh hey, there’s that word “skin” again. This one’s a little…different. More of a coming-of-age story about isolation, puppy love, and just generally wanting to be accepted. And there’s bad taxidermy, which is a plus.

Death and the Robot
2013, Directed by Austin Taylor – 11mins

This short is beautiful. Two lonely entities discover one another, creating a legacy to change their world, despite heartbreaking sacrifices. Not really “creepy” per se, but nice none-the-less.

That’s all I wanted to share for now. Perhaps I’ll throw together more lists in the future. Have any to recommend? Please feel free to share!

WYSHW: Mary and Max

You know how I feel about stop-motion.

You know how I feel about stop-motion.

This is a film I came across some time ago. It stuck to the back of my memory and never left. Sadly, it is no longer streaming on Netflix, but you should see it if you get a chance; Adam Elliot’s Max and Mary– an animated tale of isolation, second-chances, and condensed milk. Among other things.

Mary Daisy Dinkle (Bethany Whitmore/Toni Collette) is a lonely Aussie girl who lives with her alcoholic mother and removed father. Max Jerrry Horovitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is an obese 40-something with Aspergers living in New York.

After a mishap with her mother at the post office, Mary reaches out to Max on a whim, with the hopes of gaining a pen pal. Max obliges, and the two strike a friendship which spans years, complete with misunderstandings and ups and downs – without ever meeting face-to-face.

What struck me most about Mary and Maxis it’s odd combination of charm and crudeness – the same sort of traits found in Elliot’s Oscar-winning short Harvie Krumpet. Additionally, there’s something wonderful, magical even, about the heaviness and intangibility of depression and anxiety crossed with such tangible media as clay figurines. Personally, I’m also a fan of more adult-themed stop-motion films (the more that disbands the thought that all animated features are for children, the better).

Perchance this film is not for everybody, but I think that Mary and Maxis at least worth a glance for the dry wit and dark humor.

Next time on What You Should Have Watched, let’s get some Julie Taymor in here.

WYSHW: Nightcrawler

Watchin' you weave then breathe your storylines.

Watchin’ you breathe your storylines.

Oh hey, it’s been a while since I’ve written one of these. But, at least this time has nothing to do with untimely tragic deaths. Anywhoo, recently in some sort of stupor, I stumbled on this little beaut on Amazon and thought, “Oh yeah, I really wanted to see this.” I was not disappointed.

Not unlike Locke and Tom Hardy, if you can’t stand the sight of Jake Gyllenhaal you’re gonna have a bad time.

Nightcrawler follows the wacky misadventures of Louis Bloom, an obsessive, quick-talking thief who stumbles upon the exciting career of nightcrawling (or stringing): prowling the streets to record crimes, profiting by selling the footage to local news stations.

Bloom takes an extraordinary liking to this newfound activity, and aims to get this footage by any means necessary.

"Aw shit, ketchup on the carpet."

“Aw shit, dropped my fries.”

Frankly, Gyllenhaal carries this movie – he is the movie. Nightcrawler serves as a character study of a single-minded individual and his unsettling determination. Yet, as boring as this sounds, this movie gets you hooked. Gyllenhaal’s sheer intensity is absolutely electrifying (I’m kind of surprised he didn’t at least get nominated, but yeh know…), and in combination with the score (as distracting as it was at times) and cinematography, this film creates an incredibly haunting atmosphere.

Speaking of haunting, I’m not going to spoil the ending, but there’s something absolutely chilling about Bloom’s resolution. In essence, Nightcrawler is in many ways like American Psycho sans memeability…and the psychosis, sort of – it’s fairly subjective.

At least, having worked in a standard corporate environment for over a year, it was terrifying to think of how someone like Lou Bloom is the ideal boss. At least when considering his passion and forward-thinking attitude (considering extortion, blackmail and obstruction are typically frowned upon).

Even if you’re not the biggest Gyllenhaal fan, I still say Nightcrawler is worth a go. For the next What You Should Have Watched, let’s get animated.

WYSHW: World’s Greatest Dad

Last Monday, August 11, the Internet exploded. Everyone all over social media began to scramble to answer one simple question – “is it true?” Sadly, yes. Robin Williams, beloved actor, comedian, and all around cool guy, took his life at the age of 63.

worlds-greatest-dadI don’t want to harp too much on this – after all, there’s not much left to say. In return, I’d rather celebrate this man’s legacy by talking about a lesser-known Williams film that’s all about, well, legacy: World’s Greatest Dad, directed by Bobcat Goldthwaite (which is also currently streaming).

I would like to start out saying that given the content of the film, I could see quite a few people getting upset about this one. So, take some time on this one.

Alright.

Why Juni, why!?

Why Juni, why!?

Lance Clayton (Williams) is a failed writer turned English teacher (aren’t they all), who is father to probably the worst teenage boy in existence, Kyle (Daryl Sabara). Okay, to be fair I say that sort of thing about a lot of teenagers, but we’re talking lord-god-king douchebag. One fateful day, Lance walks in to discover that Kyle accidentally killed himself in an act of autoerotic asphyxiation gone awry.

Crushed by his discovery and wishing to save his son (and more likely himself) from the embarrassment, Lance poses Kyle’s body as a suicide and writes a heartfelt note on his son’s behalf before calling the police. The note is later obtained and published in Lance’s/Kyle’s school newspaper, and Kyle soon becomes a posthumous icon for the students. Having finally been recognized for his writing, Lance decides to pen a journal under Kyle’s name, which soon becomes published as a national phenomenon.

Admittedly, this is a film about terrible people. Simultaneously, it’s a fantastic satire on the cult of celebrity. And again, I warn you (and as if you couldn’t tell by my little synopsis there), this movie is dark. Not to mention especially heartbreaking given the circumstances.

Though it’s been a couple years since I sat down and watched this movie, but one thing that stuck out in my head was how absurdly funny the whole thing was. That, and William’s incredible range on display. Despite being crass and about terrible people, World’s Greatest Dad is an unexpected gem worth checking out.

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Though he may be gone, his legacy of laughter will always remain in our hearts and minds. And with that, we will miss you.

WYSHW: Synecdoche, New York

Poster

Japanese poster is best poster.

As you may have noticed in my last What You Should Have Watched that I posted forever ago, I had alluded to a Tom Hardy movie (which I’ll do next time)However, due to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s sudden and tragic passing, I’ve decided to tell you about the enigmatic masterpiece that is Synecdoche, New York. Of course, assuming you have yet to see it.

Much like The Fountain or even Beyond the Black Rainbow, I could see why a film like Synecdoche would be a daunting experience. In fact, there are those who would argue that Synecdoche is just Charlie Kaufman’s pretentious self-absorbed opus. I, on the other hand, think that this is a treasure trove of metaphor and meaning, built by incredible talent and fantastic set design. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Synecdoche, New York is the story of Caden Cotard (PSH), a playwright who is caught between his work and personal life, while obsessing over his own mortality. His marriage to a micro-painter named Adele (Catherine Keener) soon crumbles under the stress, and she’s off to Germany with their only daughter, Olive. Despite these troubles, Caden soon receives a MacArthur Fellowship, and sets on creating a play which will be far more brutal and honest than his previous works – reality and fantasy spiral and entwine as we embark upon Caden’s über-meta oeuvre.

For instance, Hazel (Samantha Morton) lives in a house that is perpetually on fire.

For instance, Hazel (Samantha Morton) lives in a house that is perpetually on fire.

The unreliability of this world is not solely based on our protagonist – there are other characters who experience what we as viewers would see as lapses in reality. Thus Synecdoche presents for us a strange but entirely original environment, which compliments the storytelling in creating/portraying visual and contextual metaphor. More so, not only are we given a playfully surreal atmosphere, but we also deal with the heaviness of Caden’s isolation and obsession.

Okay, now I can see why people would start rolling their eyes – but really, this movie is worth checking out! Despite the heavy nature of Caden’s attempts to portray his meaning of life, the universe, and everything, his story is depicted with a fine balance of humor and sympathy. Not to mention the metaphors alone – personally, each time I watch this film I discover a new aspect or theme. Also there’s no shame in consulting wikipedia for some explanation.

Perhaps sometime I could give a better analysis of the many meanings weaved throughout this film, but for now I’m going to stick to a general WYSHW recommendation: Synecdoche, New York is a remarkable film. Charlie Kaufman has not only proved himself as a gifted writer, but as a substantial director as well (as if he needed to prove himself to anyone). Likewise, the cast is exceptional. Philip Seymour Hoffman breathed so much life into this performance – Caden is a broken man striving for excellence while discovering the purpose of his existence, and ultimately, well, I’m not going to spoil anything this time. His journey is sad, true, and beautiful – most importantly, it is something we all can relate to.

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I’ll miss you.

Excision

There will be blood.

Oh yes, there will be blood.

Ah yes, high school – a volatile time where adolescents believe they are at the cusp of adulthood, while simultaneously thinking only of the present with little regard to consequence. Unless you’re our protagonist, Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) – she has everything worked out. Pauline doesn’t have many friends and she doesn’t seem to mind. She has better things to do and much to learn, considering all she wants in her life is to become a surgeon. What’s a better way to focus her hematolagniac fantasies?

Excision features a protagonist unlike any other, namely because she is neither male nor a vampire. This is a teenage girl who loves blood, but fortunately she wants to help people, if only her parents would understand. More so, she recognizes that she has some psychosexual delusions and she would like to work them out. Though she begs for psychiatric guidance, her disapproving mother (ex-porn star and John Waters collaborator Traci Lords) simply pushes religion and cotillion – both of which Pauline sadistically exploits.

For once, we have a weird girl protagonist that is legitimately weird. That’s a good thing: Pauline’s not evil by any means, nor is she incredibly annoying or promiscuous in that “geek girl” manner. Okay, so she has retaliation issues, so what? Not all of us can handle awkward situations as well as the next person. And in the end, she decides to put her well, bloodlust, to good use. In a twisted sort of way – but with good intent.

What makes Excision a cult hit in my mind is just what I’ve been going on about: an original character-based story with striking visuals, and that’s just weird enough to make you feel a little uncomfortable while throwing in some humor. And it’s also underrated. Of course, a story like this does not go without fault; considering high tensions are only built between Pauline and her mother, the father and younger sister characters are about as dynamic as a pancake (still thicker than a crepe) at best. Likewise, Excision also suffers from this ongoing fad of the anti-ending. Although this film leaves much to be desired, the ride’s still pretty intense.

WYSHW: Red State

The Westboro Baptist Church has been the subject of much anger and controversy – duly so, considering these pious cretins have gone to the point of brainwashing children in order to protest funerals in the name of “God hates Fags.” This fascinating bunch is also the subject of many-a documentary and exclusive interview, not to mention inspiration for fictional backlash.

Enter chatterbox, filmmaker and all-around groovy cat Kevin Smith, a man not unfamiliar with religious satire. Inspired by leader Fred Phelps’ fanaticism, Smith drafted Red State, a tale in which a group of horny teens get caught up with some dastardly fundamentalists. Shenanigans most brutal ensue as the boys try to escape this backwoods fortress.

Pictured: shenanigans.

Pictured: shenanigans.

Red State is a pretty wicked experience. And an impressive one at that, considering that no one wanted to touch this picture. Of course, with controversial topics comes much well, controversy, so needless to say opinions on this flick were mixed. Filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino and Ben Affleck hailed the film, whereas many-a-critic were felt that they were either bored, grossed out, or didn’t care for being preached at. As for me? Well obviously I think it’s worth at least checking out.

Showtime.

Showtime.

Frankly, I really dug this story. Perhaps I got a little caught up in the topical nature of figuratively attacking groups such as the Westboros (or in this case, the Five Points Trinity Church), but there’s something primally satisfying about a bloodbath of a showdown. And considering we’re dealing with a story of escape and survival – complete with sudden, heat of the moment turns – that just makes the situation all the more captivating.

I think my favorite aspect of this film, other than the concept itself, is the performances. Veteran actor Michael Parks nails this role as Abin Cooper – a man of charisma and tyranny. Personally, my favorite kind of villain is one I can love to hate, and Parks does not disappoint. Likewise, John Goodman and Melissa Leo give solid performances as the good-guy agent and the lady you want to punch in the face, respectively.

Intense, gritty, with a bit of dark humor tossed in there – Red State is worth a go if you’re in the mood for a decent shoot-em-up horror. Personally, I would have liked to see how the original ending would have turned out, but I think what they went with does the job nicely. Next time on What You Should Have Watched ….mmm Tom Hardy.

This is the Way the World Ends

Where to begin...

Where to begin…

Personally, I feel as if cult classic Donnie Darko has received more than enough recognition as that, a cult classic. Not that it doesn’t deserve it. However, I feel that its all-grown-up cousin film Southland Tales deserves similar cult status. Much like Darko, we’re dealing with the time paradoxes and end of the world – only this time with sex, drugs, and government conspiracies.

After twin nuclear attacks in Texas in 2005, the country has fallen into disarray, and World War III has begun. Our story focuses on three men: an actor, Boxer Santaros (Dwayne Johnson) and identical twins Roland and Ronald Taverner (Sean William Scott) and their collision between government agencies, neo-Marxist groups, and a new energy source known as Fluid Karma – thanks to an ex-porn star called Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar). Confused? That’s okay, because we have reciting vet Justin Timberlake to talk us through everything by means of allegory.

"Scientists are saying the future is going to be far more futuristic than they originally predicted."

“Scientists are saying the future is going to be far more futuristic than they originally predicted.”

It’s understandable that a film like this can easily fly over a person’s head. It even took me a couple of watches just to get the full picture. This does not mean that I wasn’t the least bit entertained. The performances are earnest as well as over-the-top, creating caricatures of everyday media icons while simultaneously mocking the infotainment industry of our time. On the other hand, some of the situations and dialogue are just too ludicrous – but that’s okay! We’re given a reality that allows us to accept these things. I mean, we’re dealing with the end of the world here – I think a little suspension of disbelief is not too much to ask.

As mentioned, there is a massive ensemble of actors in this picture, and about twice as many cameos – many are beloved SNL alumni. Even Frank the Bunny makes a couple appearances. Additionally, these performances are equally matched by fantastic videography and a score by Moby, creating a most electric atmosphere for this confusion and chaos.

Southland Tales did not receive much recognition…or positive reviews for that matter, but I believe that there’s some sort of oddball charm to this feature. It may not capture the youthful, withdrawn nature of Donnie Darko, but it also doesn’t deserve to be held back by such a comparison. A genuine sci-fi for our time, complete with Orwellian undertones, Southland Tales is a cult classic waiting to happen. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

WYSHW: I’m Not There

In case you are unfamiliar with the legendary artist formerly known as Robert Zimmerman, I would suggest you take a good day to discover all that you’ve been missing out on. It’s okay, I can wait – because if you have no knowledge of the man’s life and career, this film is practically inaccessible. Now, if you think Bob Dylan’s one of the worst song writers of all time, you can see your way out.

Unlike with Howl, it helps to know a bit about Bob Dylan before diving into this layered collage of a “bio-flick.” Not only does I’m Not There undertake multiple depictions of Dylan’s actual life, but also depicts his figurative personas and influences in a unique fashion. It also helps that none of these characters are referred to as “Bob Dylan.”

there

I’m Not There is a different kind of non-linear story, considering it shows the many faces of one person, which is not to say that Dylan himself had anything to do with this film, because he didn’t. In fact, I think the charm of this feature is that it follows an icon of many musical movements, and each character takes on a given persona:

Woody Gunthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin, the child) is Dylan’s displaced musical beginnings (an anachronic “imposter”); Arthur (Ben Whishaw) is the interrogated poet; Robbie (Ledger) is the superstar who struggles with his family life; Jack (Bale) is the documented folk singer turned born-again Christian; Billy the Kid (Gere) is the mythic wanderer and outlaw; finally, Jude (Blanchett) is our surreal musician – the closest to matching the perceived 60’s Dylan, played with both delicacy and ferocity.

Sorry Franco, David Cross is the best Ginsberg.

Sorry Franco, David Cross is the best Ginsberg.

Though I’m Not There can easily be dubbed as a pretentious mess, I beg to differ. Okay, so maybe I have my Dylan goggles on, big deal. This aside, I can’t get over this intertwining construct – it’s just full circles upon full circles with amazing musical intervals. Another bias: I really love intertwining nonlinear stories. This aside, I’m Not There beautifully depicts each era almost as a genre of its own design.

So yes, it does help to know a thing or two about Bob Dylan, but I guess you could easily enjoy this film as perhaps a schizophrenic portrait of the everyman, caught in the midsts of his desires and obligations. As well as the occasional trip with Allen Ginsberg.

If you dig on Dylan, I’m Not There is a prime choice. Or if you’d rather have some colorful background noise with some choice covers, that works too. It’s a win-win.

Next time on What You Should Have Watched, let’s talk about that fat Kev Smith.

Beyond the Black Rainbow

Beyond the Black Rainbow is essentially the Canadian lovechild that occurred after Kubrick and Cronenberg had an epic hookup while listening to some trance – then David Lynch popped by to say “hi.” Check this out –

Unfortunately, this lovechild didn’t really pop out as perfectly as that glorious trifecta would imply – but I’ll get to that later.

All hail Barry Nyle

I believe in Barry Nyle.

The plot, what little we have, revolves around the dynamic between Dr. Barry Nyle and Elena within the realm of the Aboria Institute circa 1980. As somewhat established, the Institute was built to help reach transcendence through science – Elena being the only proof of this phenomenon. Meanwhile Barry, Aboria’s #1 guy, lives a rather asinine existence – part putting up with his stuporous wife, part tormenting Elena simply because he can. Really though, Barry’s contempt for Elena stems from a deep-rooted jealousy, that she was in fact the only arguably “successful” outcome of Aboria’s treatments. Barry on the other hand, is a monster. After his exposure to Aboria’s…techniques, Barry is rendered a psychopath most fragile – a violent madman behind a composed facade.

After a round of hazing most cruel, Elena is soon set free by one of the Institute’s underlings, beginning her escape through Aboria’s labyrinth. Almost simultaneously, Barry strips away his disguise, revealing the creature Aboria unintentionally created. Finally accepting his true identity, Barry relentlessly hunts Elena dies as she rediscovers the world around her.

How can this story be almost two hours long? Mind-bending cinematography at a snail’s pace, that’s how. Not that it’s a bad thing – sure was a lot more fun to watch than Tree of Life. This picture is so beautifully filmed – sitting through it is a sometimes disturbing, but absolutely sublime experience. So while you’re given plenty of time to digest possible themes (and there are a few – control and identity, for instance), your eyeballs are subjected to all sorts of pleasures. I suppose I could also describe Beyond the Black Rainbow as a really long, glorified music video, but really I’d like to give director Panos Cosmatos (if that is your real name) more credit than that.

Isn't black-haired-creepy-girl a motif in itself by now?

Isn’t black-haired-creepy-girl a motif in itself by now?

As mentioned, there is a downside: the style outweighs the substance. Did it really need to be two hours long? No, not really. Though Cosmatos even mentions that the “hypnotic” pace was deliberate in order to create this self-described trance sub-genre, on found it’s far too easy to space out on the visuals than to piece together a coherent theme or themes. Again, such is the risk of creating a two-hour trance music video. On the upside, this warrants multiple viewings if so desired. Despite this, Beyond the Black Rainbow is definitely worth your time, if you’re up for it.

It would seem Beyond the Black Rainbow  does not have the cult film recognition it deserves. Perhaps it’s not old enough, or maybe because it’s one of those sneaky Canadian films that, like so many, were swept under the radar. The world may never know.