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Looking Through ‘Black Mirror’

Ever since its arrival on Netflix, I have been completely enthralled with Black Mirror. If you are under a rock and unfamiliar with the series, I think it’s fair to call it Twilight Zone meets futurology/media commentary; All but the first episode are based in a gritty sci-fi future – not gritty in the Mad Max sense, more that the series not only displays fantastic concepts, but also dour consequences.

Black Mirror is an anthological series, consisting of six episodes original episodes, six “Netflix original” episodes, and a Christmas special. For the heck of it, I decided to rank them from my least to most favorite – because lists are fun! There will be spoilers as we go, but hey, if you haven’t seen any of it, this may (or may not) persuade you. But here’s a hint: I definitely dug the original British run over the American involvement – for the most part, anyway.

13. S3E6: Hated in the Nation
Kinda coincidental, I suppose. Once you follow through the harrowing fantasies of this series, the finale is disappointing, to say the least.

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Bees?

One of the biggest critiques regarding the Netflix expansion is that these episodes stray from the formulaic pacing of the originals – also the narrative tends to lean more on characters than world-building. Hated in the Nation offers neither. Personally, I felt this to be a drawn-out sci-fi Law & Order episode rather than an introspective commentary on society.

Okay, sure there was the whole twist where the public put their money where their mouth was, but it all felt very shallow, if not boring, compared to the girth of previous episodes. Also just a waste of Kelly Macdonald. Moving on.

12. S3E2: Playtest
As much as I appreciated the Twilight Zone-esque zinger at the end, I feel like that wasn’t enough to warrant sitting through 30 minutes of travel montage. The AR was cool and all, but ultimately mediocre when set against heavier subjects. As mentioned, since this season had more character focus, I think it’s worth mentioning that this protagonist didn’t really garner much empathy from me either.

11. S2E3: The Waldo Moment
waldo-600x399Picture Triumph the Comic Insult Dog on acid, and then place him in this year’s election. That’s pretty much this episode. Being a more character-focused episode, this one lost me a little bit, because I found myself more interested in how the government was to be run rather than the comedian’s spiral into dissociative madness. Maybe I’m a little heartless, or maybe I just wasn’t that into it.

10. Black Mirror: White Christmas
There are many things to appreciate about this Christmas special: the accumulative use of technology, multiple emotional gut-punches, Jon Hamm… But really, this is an episode that sends you reeling. My only issue is wondering how Hamm’s character is supposed to survive if he’s completely blocked out (maybe he can just order groceries online), but at the same time, this is an incredibly interesting take on solitary confinement – more about “blocking” later.

The story itself is enjoyable (in that edge-of-your-seat sense), and was ultimately a great one-off. Definitely finish the series before watching this, if you haven’t yet.

 

9. S3E3: Shut Up and Dance
Much like a later entry on this list, Shut Up and Dance is a more realistic parable rather than morose fantasy. Extreme realism sure, but still frightening. I feel like this is what my parents thought would happen if I had a Myspace.

8. S2E2: White Bear
One of the grimmest episodes (arguably), that makes one wonder what kind of punishment is truly justifiable. The tension is pretty fantastic throughout, with a twist that sends you reeling. I really did enjoy this episode, alas there were others I liked more.

7. S1E2: Fifteen Million Merits
This was an episode where things started getting cool. We have a distopia, set with multiple commentaries of daily life: reality tv, fat-hate, living through social media, etc. Take all of this and crank it up to 11 and you have Fifteen Million Merits – sort of. This is an episode that truly needs to be seen and experienced. It’s surreal enough but still has heart.

6. S3E1: Nosedive

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Welcome back, Bryce Dallace Howard.

This episode was a great start for a new season (especially aiming for an American audience); despite the social downfall of our protagonist, she rediscovers the power of self-expression…albeit behind bars. So yes, a cringey high-note, but a high-note nonetheless. If Charlie Brooker decides to do another holiday special, I’d love to see a cameo of Lacie doing some sort of menial job with a smile on her face.

5. S1E1: The National Anthem
The National Anthem is less about futurism and more a satire of modern media, and frankly, it’s a weird start for the series. It’s the perfect “what would you do?” scenario where truly no one wins, but it’s such an amazing stinger: the world would rather watch a man screw a pig rather than ensuring a woman’s safety. It’s so devastatingly dark, not to mention played to my Dogme 95 fandom. Why I prefer The National Anthem over Shut Up and Dance: That twist was more satisfying than bad wolf internet trolls.

4. S3E5: Men Against Fire
As Agent Teddy Daniels once pondered, “Which would be worse – to live as a monster, or to die as a good man?” Take this question and mix in some warfare, a massive dash of augmented reality, and you have Men Against Fire. This episode was an incredibly heavy experience, especially considering that the AR didn’t end in the warzone.

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3. S3E4: San Junipero
This episode has led to some rifts between cohorts, but I’m standing my ground on this. Yes, it is comparatively “too happy,” but I love the amount of depth in these characters. The end of this episode sparks all sorts of discussion of theology and second-chances. Despite the heavy-handed nature of these topics, it was so nice for this episode to breathe some levity and hope – even if a massive hack or crash could destroy everything, but we’re not thinking about that. Let’s keep riding that nostalgia wave, just for a little bit longer.

2. S1E3: The Entire History of You
I personally see this episode as the flagship for the series. It’s got a crazy concept with tons of societal implications, and we get to see everything go wrong for someone because entire-history-of-you2of their own paranoia. You know how right as you fall asleep, the most embarrassing memory pops into your head? Imagine having access to that and being able to zoom and enhance.

This concept also allows people to be “blocked” and forgotten, taking selective sharing to a whole new level. It’s interesting to think about forcing someone out of your head so literally, especially when they are trying so hard to be there. It’s these ideas, as well as the imagery, that makes this episode so haunting.

1. S2E1: Be Right Back
In an age where facebook profiles become literal, living shrines, people are finding new ways of coping with loss. Be Right Back essentially personifies the struggle of letting go in a time where reminders of lost loved ones are just a click away. This is an episode that brought me to ugly tears, and thusly I tell everyone to watch.

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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.

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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

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…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.

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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.

 

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

 

 

 

Netfix: Escape from Tomorrow

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I wish the movie was as good as this poster, tell you hwat.

When news broke of this cinematic venture, it was hard not to be curious – a whole film secretly shot in Disneyland? A sci-fi horror film? This had my creepypasta meeter just spinning. After much controversy, this little number finally made it’s way onto Netflix. So how’d it fare? Hush now, synopsis first.

On the last day of the White family’s Disney vacation, Jim (Roy Abramsohn) is told that he’s been fired. Despite this news, he does his best to keep a happy face for his family. Little did he know that this day would get much, much weirder: what began as a wholesome family trip became a torrent of sex, lies and possessed animatronics. The White family’s facade comes tumbling down in a venture that is not only the end of innocence, but the dissolution of sanity.

This was a movie was really just a hot mess of ideas: sci-fi, infidelity, loss of innocence – it all sounds good on paper, especially with a background as wholesome as Disney World. Personally, I love this kind of stuff. And there’s a definite appeal of something that’s gone through this amount of red tape and altercation.

I think that what first put me off was how incredibly unlikeable the protagonist was. Granted there are two sides to every relationship (and the portrayal of the wife really wasn’t helping), but the way he was ogling the jailbait (and every other woman) to the point of neglecting his children really wasn’t making me care if this man lives or dies by whatever horrible means.

Though this does happen, which is pretty cool.

Though this does happen, which is pretty cool. More of this.

The ending was also, er, problematic. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it, but it left something to be desired. Or maybe the last bit just went over my head.

The Good
As mentioned, I love the idea of Disney world as a horror backdrop, especially because they didn’t take the zombie route. Not to mention the concept of false memories crossed with temptation – it’s perfect! The sci-fi tangent was without a doubt my favorite. Really, I kind of wish the movie was more like it’s inspiration.

The Bad
Though I was left with a lingering unease (good thing), that does not help the incoherent cluster that we’re left with. Maybe if they only stuck with the science fiction and developed that more, the story would flow a little easier. Or if they did a Pleasure Island route, that would be pretty cool too. But that’s just, like my opinion, or whatever.

The Impressive
Maybe I’m just whining too much. Escape from Tomorrow definitely sticks with you, and there’s a certain charm to the guerrilla aesthetic. In the end, it comes off as a moderately-budgeted student film, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. If anything, I say it’s worth checking out.

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.

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.

Under the Skin

In this delicious little existential sci-fi, Scarlett Johansson is an alluring creature who preys on unsuspecting males. After making an attempt on a kindly, deformed bystander, our protagonist is compelled to take a journey of self-discovery, despite unsavory consequences. I suppose I should warn you with a spoilers sticker, but considering the visual heaviness of the feature, I really don’t feel as if you’ll be missing out on much by spoiling the story.

There's going to be a lot of this.

There’s going to be a lot of this.

Essentially we’re dealing with a film that is pretty much completely visual, only occasionally complimented by non-diegetic sound and a sprinkle of dialogue (when it helps). We’re given scenes that are beautifully shot and composed, ultimately providing a tantalizing, often haunting experience, stringing together themes of  loneliness and longing – predator and prey.

6a00d8341c730253ef01a5116a1913970c-800wiPersonally, I enjoyed the clear disconnect between viewer and protagonist, after all, she is an alien. But when she attempts to discover herself as a person, that’s where I got kind of pulled out of the story. There’s a certain charm and awkwardness involved…mostly awkwardness – but isn’t that what being human is all about?

Well, in unnamed protagonist’s case, it’s actually a step back, which was kind of surprising. (Her awkward discoveries keep her from being a person, that is.) More so, it seemed as if some of the transformational bits were fairly forced, making her story become clunkier as it went on.

Or maybe I just wanted more scenes of skin being sucked off of peoples’ bodies. Hard to say.

This film is definitely something to experience, but I couldn’t help but feel that it was hindered by the need for a paradigm shift. The protagonist’s desire for identity leaves the audience drifting off with her…maybe I’m just jaded but it eventually felt incredibly try-hard, but the finale left time for pondering and reflection. On the whole, I dug it, but I could definitely see many-a-disappointed film-goer.

Final Grade: B

Filth

Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) is a misogynistic, alcoholic cokehead with a penchant for kinky sex and sick mind games. He’s also a police officer. Usually tormenting his friends and coworkers, he now focuses his energy on the chance at a promotion on the force, with only an unsolved murder standing in his way. Naturally, chaos ensues when the twisted web he weaves inevitably collapses on him, forcing Bruce to finally come to terms with himself.

Sort of.

Thank you.

Thank you.

This was probably one of the best McAvoy performances I’ve seen – he’s just this raw psychotic force, and you just love to hate this character. And then when those tender moments hit, they hit hard, but not in a way unbelievable for the character.

However regardless of the strong character study, Filth seems to be suffering from an identity crisis – most noticeably, throughout the film there are numerous references to A Clockwork Orange (with an explicit 2001: A Space Odyssey reference thrown in for good measure). What perplexes me about this choice is that though I appreciate a good reference, I really don’t understand why they chose to use them so continuously.

"Awake at last, yes?"

“Awake at last, yes?”

It’s neat for trivia and I suppose it helps frame Robertson’s mental frailty, but on the whole it feels like reference for the sake of reference – Alex DeLarge and Bruce Robertson are very different people, and both stories have very different commentaries (and it’s not like the film/book are on Robertson’s mind or in the background).

I mean, I guess some points could be argued, but I better stop myself from diving further into an infinite Kubrick loop. I bring this up because I feel by using these references so overtly, it draws away from the real originality (as if it already wasn’t fighting away from being another Trainspotting).

Overall, I felt that Filth was a raunchy good time, despite the identity crisis. Sure it gets really dark fairly quickly, but that’s what I expected, and wanted. After seeing this movie, I actually want to read the book. So I say come for the McAvoy and stay for the ride.

Final Grade: A-

Nymphomaniac: Volumes I & II

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Subtle.

At last Lars von Trier’s “Depression Trilogy” has come to a close. First, the infamous Antichrist, then the underrated Melancholia, and now Nymphomaniac – a story so explicit, it had to be split into two volumes.

Nymphomaniac is the epic of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a self-diagnosed well, nymphomaniac, whose addiction has spun entirely out of control. She is found  by a gentleman named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), to whom she recants her tantalizing tale. Fortunately for yours truly, both volumes have been released for rental on iTunes, so I was able to watch both parts sequentially. Unfortunately for everyone else, spoilers abound.

Volume I
The first volume establishes Joe’s self-discovery and self-proclaimed loss of innocence. Pushing her towards redemption, Seligman challenges many of Joe’s constructs and muses her tale with various digressions.  This provides a unique story-telling experience for the audience, filled with metaphors and allegory – a technique not unfamiliar to von Trier’s other works. So if you were worried that you wouldn’t get enough abrupt cuts and odd cutaways, no need.

Speaking of von Trier tropes, Volume I does not hesitate to remind audiences of his crippling mommy issues. It is quickly established that not only is mostly everyone a terrible person in this film (except maybe Joe’s dad, good job Christian Slater), but the women of Volume I are the worst. However, it would be inappropriate to dwell on a gender study so soon, so we’ll save that for later.

Pictured: Mommy issues.

Pictured: Mommy issues.

Quite frankly, Volume I establishes a fantastic mix of eroticism, intensity, and in a word, emptiness. Joe has established that in her youth, her sole purpose was to rebel against love, which in her mind is only a combination of lust and jealousy. However, she’s questioning her beliefs once she realizes that she’s become obsessed with Jerôme (Shia LaBeouf – save your boo’s, he’s not that bad in this), the boy she had lost her virginity to years before.

"The secret ingredient to sex is love."

“The secret ingredient to sex is love.” – B

The commentary on relationships and love games was most refreshing. Personally, I felt like I could connect with the fact that Nymphomaniac calls out the cliched bullshit behind most love stories. Instead we’re presented with something tantalizing, confusing, and at times just plain ugly.

When Jerôme suddenly leaves her life unexpectedly, Joe copes the only way she knows how, by hooking up with enough men to lose count. Of course, this behavior doesn’t come without a price, as she learns when she meets a lover’s wife, Mrs. H (Uma Thurman).

It is clear that Mrs. H’s role was to wake Joe up from her somnambulistic state – and Thurman’s performance was enough to do the same for the audience. As the very personification of desperation and despair (but still humorously empathetic), Thurman’s electric.  She had maybe five or ten minutes of screen-time tops, but she was completely memorable.

Volume I sets an ideal stage for the rest of Joe’s story – a roller coaster of erotic ups and downs, ecstasy and disgust. Just when things seem to go so well, a dramatic turn is destined to follow. Enter –

Volume II
Once Joe discovers she needs a harder fix, it is clear that she has descended into her own personal Inferno of kinks and deprecation. That is, until she can put her skills to good use. Volume II establishes a new breed of hunger. When Joe must rekindle her spark, so to speak, she soon delves into the seedy underworld of sadomasochism, while her family is forced to pay the price (almost getting a little too close to Antichrist). But soon with therapy and a new job, Joe finds herself more empowered than ever – an indestructible force to be reckoned with. That is, until she falls in love again.

I could think of worse pet names.

I could think of worse pet names.

I feel that Volume II focuses more on a matured dichotomy – that line between being controlled and being in control – expression and oppression. Throughout this chapter Joe becomes more comfortable with herself, while Seligman becomes increasingly, and more subtly, insidious. This duality cannot be more appropriate, considering  the nature of addiction itself. More so, the story ends with the notion that the traumas in Joe’s life are destined to continue, based on choice alone.

Oh right, the gender stuff.

In the beginning, Joe admits that her only real sin was to desire more from the sunset. Seligman notes that desire is natural, and as a woman, she’s really not a bad person, making a point that if Joe were actually a man, most of her adventures would hardly be unusual. But because she is a woman, her actions have caused her more guilt and hardship than it would a man, presumably.

Prelude-to-a-Wholesome-EveningThere is congruent criticism on male sexuality as well, considering the how far men such as Jerôme and K (Jamie Bell) are willing to go in order to not be belittled by a woman who clearly has the upper-hand – not to mention N (Kookie – seriously, that’s the guy’s name on IMDB) and his brother, two men who are want to have sex with the same woman at once, but decide not to because when their dicks accidentally touch it’s icky.

I could probably go on about the gender dynamics in this feature, but maybe that’s best for another time.

For those who believe that Lars von Trier has simply made an epic porno, you are grossly mistaken. Nymphomaniac is an erotic drama about addiction that pushes every taboo to its limit, and it is damn proud of it. Sometimes hard to watch and even more difficult to look away, Nymphomaniac will certainly leave you something to think about.

Final Grade: A

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.

Her

The future is a strange, mysterious place, where letters are artificially hand-written and men wear high-waisted pants. In this version of tomorrow, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a introverted-sweetheart-writer-soon-to-be-divorcee with a penchant for video games and nighttime sexychats. After buying himself an AI-based OS who calls herself “Samantha” (Scarlett Johansson), Theodore becomes fascinated with her love of discovery, and through her finds the means to enjoy life again. Sorry, but there are some spoilers.

Sad face

First I was all –

Originally I was thrown off by the OS-angle, only because I felt it’s been done so many times before. We as people are absolutely obsessed with technology, and this is not the first, last or only time this commentary has been made. In fact, there’s a whole genre of anime that is based on the concept of an other-worldly women changing the lives of their men, while simultaneously criticizing technological reliance.

Additionally, I found Samantha’s adaptive ability to be a little ridiculous – for instance, how does she understand humor so quickly? Or how does she experience the equivalent to a female orgasm? Not that she says that’s what was going on there, but how did she know to replicate that kind of sensation, audibly? (Great call blacking out the screen on that one – very immersive.) How does she “feel” exactly? Does she just pull from a massive database of reaction videos, or is the concept of feeling programmed? Why not make a movie on programming subjective behavior – I think that would be a more fascinating analysis.

Sorry about the digression. I need to stop myself from picking at these technical things – I realize that really these nuances don’t really matter in the context of the story (until it has to be an inevitable plot point or two), so I’ll get on to the heart of the matter – the complexity of human relationships and emotion, as well as the cruciality of communication.

But then I was all -

But then I was like –

Despite my gripes of technological fabrication, I really to have to commend Spike Jonze’s ability to blend the lines between artificiality and organicism. For instance, the opening piece of music blends from electric distortion to recognizable acoustics. More so, whenever we hear Samantha or any other OS speak to Theodore, there is no distinct separation between voices, which is to say that that the artificial voices are closer to viewers than the humans’ – it’s as if we are in Theodore’s mind with Samantha. Suddenly in a world where people are just perverse, characteristic shells, we get a glimpse that there still is a soul in there.

By allowing us a taste of such closeness, we are granted a look at the fact that people are flawed and are forever trying to figure themselves out. We turn away when we are most hurt, we desire connections but fear the intimacy of a conversation. Fortunately Theodore isn’t the only human in this film with these problems. With the help of a mediator, Theodore finds that he can be comfortable with another “being” again, and more importantly, with himself.

I know I didn't talk about them much, but Adams and Phoenix once again work  wonderfully together.

I know I didn’t talk about them much, but Adams and Phoenix once again work wonderfully together.

I think it’s fair to say that Her is one of those movies that I like more and more as I think about it. I’m still not sure where I stand when it came to the self-aware AI character, more so Theodore’s expectations of her. Is it weird that I found his possessiveness creepy? I mean, he does technically own her after all – did that conversation ever come up? Isn’t Samantha really just a hired therapist/personal assistant/sexbuddy? Sorry, sorry, I’m thinking too much about this again.

Technobabble aside, this film does a great job externalizing otherwise internal emotions… which Jonze unfortunately beats to death with his use of shapes and color schemes, but beautifully juxtaposed through Phoenix’s and Amy Adam’s performances. Though I harp on about the questionability of the technology in this film, I still find solace within the portrayal of the message that we’re all in this together. There may be ups or downs, but there’s always a forward.

Final Grade: B+