Formerly "Dave's Blog About Movies and Such"

Monday, December 31, 2012

Breakin' (1984)

dir. Joel Silberg

Raising kids is a terrifying ordeal. And I don’t mean the whole, you know, making sure the young’uns don’t die thing; I’m talking about instilling values and whatnot. Not that I have, nor will ever have, any experience parenting (definitely getting a vasectomy at some point in the future). And there’s a reason: aside from the fact that I’ve simply never wanted to raise children, I am also horribly afraid of parenting wrong. No, I don’t mean creating emotional scars via neglect; if I were forced to raise kids I think I’d bite the bullet and love them. I’ve an even greater worry: what if I’m wrong about everything?

For better or worse, parents are the Gods of their kids’ universes. You can be the greatest parent in the world, giving shit-tons of love, meting out the proper discipline that will instill good manners without creating psychological scars, the whole kit-and-caboodle—and still fuck up. You see, every parent has a core set of values and beliefs; and all parents are a-hunderd percent right about their particular beliefs and their values are the exact right values. “Can you believe such and such parents, raising their kids to believe such and such nonsense. Those kids have no hope, being brainwashed as they are to believe what their parents believe. Unbelievable. We’re never gonna do that with our Billy; he’ll be his own person; he’ll—stop whining Billy and come with us into this organization that represents our core beliefs. You need to learn about this stuff; this stuff is important stuff. Because I said so.”

Of course, as kids get older, as they break into the world, experiencing the vast multitude of viewpoints humanity has to offer, their original worlds begin to crumble ever so slightly. “Wow, mom and dad taught us such and such, but these other people believe a different such and such, and their such and such actually makes a little more sense than our such and such.” But even if kids’ beliefs begin to incorporate those of the outside world, chances are the core of their beliefs will always be centered on those values instilled by mom and dad.

But what if the kids never see the outside world? Like the progeny featured in the Greek film Dogtooth, perhaps the greatest cinematic representation of my parenting fears. A dark comedy, this film explores the lengths that two over-protective/psychotic parents have gone to to ensure that their kids never stray from their parenting shadow. Their now-adult kids have lived their whole lives inside a compound being fed the wrong information about everything. The parents are basically the dictators of their very own Little North Korea. The young’uns will continue believing all the lies their parents have told them because they’ve never had any outside information to inform them otherwise.

So, instead of worrying that my values and beliefs might be wrong, if I ever had to raise kids, I think I’d go Dogtooth style. I’d cut them off from the outside world and feed them nothing but wrong information. I think you can see where I’m going with this: my children would watch nothing but movies like Breakin’. They would be led to believe that not only are all conflicts resolved with dance, but that a dance challenge is actually something to fear and train for with same fervent energy applied to things that actually matter. A dance-off could happen at any minute, and those who enter one unprepared would forever live to regret it. “Timmy, you don’t ever wanna get played for a chump. You can’t pop and lock with the best of them, you might as well open-mouth kiss a shotgun. Because the only thing worse than losing a dance-off is living with the shame afterwards.”

Dave's Rating:

Friday, December 28, 2012

KL5-FILM Podcast Episode 99 - Holy Motors (Also, Raccoons still Suck)

dir. Leos Carax

On today's episode, Roger and I talk about how much we love Holy Motors/still hate raccoons. You can listen to the episode here.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Cleanflix (2009)

dir. Andrew James and Joshua Ligairi

A few days ago I whined about the shitty DVD transfer afforded Tarkovsky’s beautifully shot Stalker. I argued that not only did the low-quality image do a disservice to Tarkovsky’s picture, it actually worked against the auteur’s vision. A shitty passed-through-dogshit-before-being-transferred-to-soap-opera-video-stock transfer for the work of a man so devoted to impeccably crafted images is about as respectful a tribute to the artist’s original intent as rereleasing an edited version of Dylan’s “Masters of War” repurposed as a gung ho tribute to ass-kicking. Except in this case it was harm from neglect.

After watching the documentary Cleanflix, however, I feel I owe the folks responsible for the upkeep of Tarkovsky’s picture something of an apology: unlike the moral-crusader film-sanitizers profiled in this doc, at least their damage wasn’t intentional. But yeah, these movie cleaners...good fucking Christ balls does that shit piss me off. Not only have they seen fit to sanitize all that Hollywood has to offer, not only are they profiting from the purposeful altering of other artist’s work, not only are they detracting from the artistic economy by providing to customers inferior versions of already complete movies (under the original artists’ names, no less!), they are under the delusion that they are providing a valuable service—that they are performing good by castrating the naughty bits from other people’s work.

The thing of it is, I generally love repurposed art. During the heyday of Hip Hop sampling, for instance, the very best DJs were able to transform the music of their youth into entirely new entities. Yes, I can understand the anger of the copyright holders of these pieces of music: you gonna profit from my shit, I best be getting’ a taste. But I would never argue (though some might) the artistic integrity of the samplers. Just try to listen to DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing, for instance, and not be awed by the man’s artistry with a turntable.

More than anger, however, I was actually struck by sociological curiosity while watching Cleanflix. As I mentioned in my podcast on Breaking Dawn Part 1, I am always fascinated by the ways in which repressed people, people whose views are antithetical to the very forms of popular culture they are nevertheless drawn to—how these people attempt to reconcile the two. In the vampire-tale-as-metaphor-for-the-greatness-of-abstinence saga that is the Twilight series, everything leads to kinky, violent S&M boning. As the revelations in Cleanflix’s final act show us, however, the real-life results of an inability to reconcile repression with the realities of life are usually not so fun/consensual.

I ain’t gonna tell you what sort of shit is revealed about the pious “Hollywood is destroying our moral fabric” movie sanitizer featured in Cleanflix, but you can spin the “Which Skeletons Reside in this Moral Crusader’s Closet” and come up with a pretty good guess.

Dave's Rating:

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

It's a Christmas Miracle

I'm sure I've posted this clip before, but I don't care; I think I'll make it a Christmas tradition to post this every year. It's the true spirit of the season—even if I am a day late with this.

Movie Theme Song Wednesday: Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955)

dir. Henry King

"Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing" - The Four Aces

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

KL5-FILM Podcast Episode 98 - Tuff Turf

dir. Fritz Kiersch

On today's very Christmasy Christmas episode Roger and I discuss the high school classic Tuff Turf, in which James Spader plays an emotionally manipulative sociopath surrounded by enablers. Happy Holidays. You can listen to the episode here.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Stalker (1979)

dir. Andrei Tarkovsky

Much ink has already been spilled over Peter Jackson’s ill-advised decision to shoot his Hobbit trilogy in the puke-inducing High Frame Rate of 48fps, so I’m well aware that my two cents on the subject are about as essential as a warning about a fire hazard long after the blaze has been extinguished—especially considering I’ve no plans to watch these Jackson films. Oh, and by the way, I should clarify that my decision to avoid these new films has less to do with Jackson’s shooting methods than the running time (Really? Three goddamn films to adapt a single, quick read of a book? The same running time for The Hobbit as for the entirety of Tolkien’s massive Lord of the Rings trilogy? Really? Really?). But this 48fps hogshit certainly hasn’t helped matters much.

Indeed, when I saw a 48fps trailer for the first Hobbit, I thought there was something wrong with the projector. You see, I didn’t know Jackson shot his film in HFR, so it was something of a shock when his usually sumptuous photography took on the look of a cheaply produced eighties-era telenovela. What the hell happened here? Did someone curse the theater? Did someone decide to run poop through the projector? And when I found out this was intentional, I was even more flabbergasted: wait, he made his movie look like crap on purpose?

I guess a little explanation on HFR is in order for those not in the know. Movies have traditionally been shot at 24 frames per second. Although there was some frame-rate variation in the silent era, by the time sound rolled around, studios needed a standard frame rate because recorded sound would have to sync with the image. 24fps was fast enough to create the persistence of vision illusion, but not fast enough to be completely life-like: shit blurs when shit moves too fast while recorded at 24fps. This gives film that kind of grand larger-than-life quality lacking in the more realistic HFR. Indeed, one of the reasons video and digital looked so shitty for years is that those formats have long used HFR. It was only after 24fps digital recording was introduced that digital could truly give film a run for its money.

Video games have also long used HFR. Which explains the differing generational reactions to Jackson’s use of HFR. Apparently the young’uns, raised as they have been on these newfangled videogames, have failed to see a problem with the image quality in The Hobbit. In fact, they’ve quite enjoyed it, complementing the smooth, sharp, life-like quality. So, as much as I’d like to hope this HFR shit is just a fad, I’m afraid that I, and other non-young movie lovers, might be that Japanese soldier stuck on the island, unaware that WWII has been over for years.

I guess you’ll have to chalk this one up to me, yet again, being behind the times. Yes, someone may in the future justify 48fps—taking advantage of the cheap, creepy image quality to complement a cheap, creepy story—but I’ll always fight that shit tooth and nail. I certainly don’t, as of yet, see the point. By the way, to any young’uns who might happen to read this piece, I’m well aware that I’m probably coming off like one of those old-timers in the twenties lamenting that talkies will ruin the pictures: shit changes all the time, new norms are developed, and those of us raised on the old norms piss and moan when we’re told that what we’re used to will soon disappear.

So why do I bring this up in what is supposed to be a review of Tarkovsky’s Stalker? Well, the DVD of Tarkovsky’s film that I recently watched—and the only American DVD available of this picture, as far as I can tell—was marred by a botched HFR conversion. I could be wrong on this, but it certainly appeared that Tarkovsky’s film had been knocked up to HFR for a video release sometime in the eighties, and this DVD was simply copied from that shitty transfer. Indeed, in addition to being HFR, the image was quite degraded; and this deteriorated image seemed more the result of video than film decay.

How much should a DVD transfer affect my feelings on a movie; how much should it inform my review? Until now this is an issue I haven’t had to address; but I really couldn’t look past it with Stalker. It’s just that I was really looking forward to the photography here. Even when I haven’t completely loved a Tarkovsky film, I’ve always been awed by the images. The man had an impeccable eye. I knew, no matter how I would feel about the movie, I’d at least be in for a visual treat. So, I tried to look past the transfer; I tried to focus on the man’s intentions—not the destruction to his vision.

And indeed, whenever the image was stationary, as long as characters remained still and the scenery stagnant, I was reminded of Tarkovsky’s seemingly intuitive, impeccable eye for framing. But as soon as any movement resumed, it was back to One Life to Live. It was like listening to a Mozart piece as performed on kazoos by untrained grade-schoolers. Clearly, there was genius to be had here; it was just obstructed by layers of poop. Criterion, you gotta work your magic on this one.

Dave's Rating: It’s impossible to rate this one (read above).

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Trailer Time: This Is the End (2013)

dir. Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen

This is the first I've heard of this and holy crap is this This Is the End Red Band trailer funny.

Friday, December 21, 2012

KL5-FILM Podcast Episode 97 - Chasing the Kidneystone

Roger and I discuss Chasing the Kidneystone, the Norwegian children's film about a boy who gets shrunk by his Jewish teddy bear so that he can enter his grandpa's body and destroy a kidney stone. You can listen to the episode here.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Special When Lit (2009)

dir. Brett Sullivan

How can such an expansive documentary feel so inconsequential? Perhaps it’s the lack of narrative focus that prevents the pinball documentary Special When Lit from maintaining any level of viewer interest. Bouncing around between all facets of the sport—the history, the machine collecting obsessives, the game-playing obsessives, the yearly tournaments, the decline of pinball, comparisons to pinball’s adversaries (video games, home entertainment, what have you), philosophization on pinball’s place in the American psyche, and every other aspect of pinball fandom—Special When Lit never devotes enough time to any one subject to build emotional involvement. Somewhere among what must be the vast raw footage for this documentary are the makings of one or two narrowly focused, compelling stories. But it certainly ain’t here.

Dave's Rating:

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Rampart (2011)

dir. Oren Moverman

To call Dave Brown a dirty cop would be an insult to all those upstanding dirty cops whose reputations would be tarnished by association with Officer “Date Rape” Brown. About the nickname: back in the eighties, Brown, with premeditation, killed a man he believed to be a serial rapist. But hey, as we learned from Harry Callahan, it takes an unhinged rogue to bring down the truly dirty people out there. Unfortunately, Brown’s actions had unintended consequences that left an even greater trail of suffering in their wake. Not that Brown would care, however. Completely amoral, he lives by no other code than his own survival.

Taking place at the height of the Rampart scandal that engulfed the LAPD in the late nineties, the James Ellroy-scripted Rampart focuses on one corrupt cop not directly involved in the scandal. That Rampart was written by Ellroy was actually something of a surprise to me. No, Rampart doesn’t traffic in territory unfamiliar to Ellroy: indeed, LAPD corruption is Ellroy’s bread and butter, and the characters here—particularly Woody Harrelson’s Dave Brown—would not feel out of place in any of Ellroy’s other celebrated works. Rather, it was Rampart’s purposely unfocused narrative that flummoxed me.

James Ellroy, in his own words, is the greatest crime novelist who ever lived. Now for damn near anyone else to pose such bold a claim would be downright laughable; but, for better or worse, Ellroy’s got the chops to back up his tumescent ego. So it was rather surprising that with Rampart, Ellroy eschewed anything resembling a typical plot. Ellroy, so renowned for his intricate swiss watch plots, decided this time around to tell present the rambling tale of one crazed, selfish, misanthrope’s self-propelled journey into the abyss.

And the results are winning. Indeed, a traditional narrative would have actually failed this story. Brown, in addition to his many other faults, is a complete paranoiac: he sees conspiracies everywhere. As the hammer continues to fall on him, as he is brought to task for his multitude of crimes, he imagines himself the victim of one elaborate set-up. Perhaps Brown even sees himself as the central character in a typical Ellroy plot. What he fails to come to grips with, however, is the fact that everything is of his own making. The trap he finds himself in was one that he set years ago and that he continued to work toward.

And so, in lieu of a conclusion, Rampart leaves us with ellipsis. There is no traditional resolution to be had here; but we don’t need that: we know where this road leads.

Dave's Rating:

Movie Theme Song Wednesday: Charade (1963)

dir. Stanley Donen

"Charade" - Chorus (written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Monday, December 17, 2012

Blind Spot Series: Fatal Attraction (1987)

dir. Adrian Lyne

[This post is part of my Blind Spot Series, in which I watch, for the first time, famous movies I should have seen long ago. And seeing as the movies in this series are generally well known and regarded, I don't necessarily discuss their plots or thoroughly critique them. These movies have already been analyzed to death; so anything I could bring to the table would be superfluous at best. What follows is merely my reaction to watching Fatal Attraction for the first time.

By the way, to those who may be regular followers of my blog or, at the very least, are familiar with my blind spot series: yes, I know I was supposed to review Dances with Wolves for this final entry of the year. Unfortunately, Netflix seems to have an issue with this disc. I added it to my queue at the number one position a few weeks back and it has still not arrived. So I checked what Netflix had available for streaming and settled on Fatal Attraction as a replacement. (To be honest, though, the Dances with Wolves disc problem was kind of a godsend. I was kind of dreading having to sit through Costner’s long-as-fuck picture, which is why I waited until the final month of my series to add it to my queue.)

Also, at the risk of pointing out the extreme fucking obvious, this specific “review” is a blatant piece of satire. It is not meant to be taken literally as any representation of reality, nor as a statement of any of my opinions or beliefs. Nor, to point out the obvious again, is it meant to be taken seriously. With that pointless warning in mind...]

In a rare, exclusive find for KL5-FILM, I have discovered an unpublished Op-Ed penned by the writer of Fatal Attraction three years before the release of said film.

“Psycho Bitch Mistresses—When Will Enough be Enough?”

You are the typical American male: a junior partner at Manhattan’s second best law firm (hey, everyone’s gotta start somewhere), you represent the upstanding Wall Street bankers who work their damndest to make this country a better place, even despite repeated disruption by intervening regulators claiming the noble bankers’ actions are impeding the long term financial sustainability of the country and yadda yadda yadda; you know the drill (but, hey, that’s a topic for another op-ed). So, after a long day of battling frivolous lawsuits, you hop into your German car and head home, ready for the usual: finely aged scotch, a Cuban cigar, and a quick blowjob.

As you nut on your wife’s face, you notice, to your horror, significant growths above both cheeks. Could these growths prove fatal to your marriage? You don’t know. You hope not. You hope that you caught it in time to do something about her worsening condition—crow’s feet are spidering further into her face. Yes, despite repeated warnings, your wife continues to age.

Though most men in your situation would kick that aging snatch to the curb, you do the honorable thing and stick by her, promising that, for the good of the kids (Timmy and Janey, was it?), you’ll stick with this marriage, despite her repeated attempts to sabotage it. (Also, you never signed a prenup, so you don’t wanna take any chances.) You even represent the finest plastic surgeon in Manhattan (exonerated on all charges of malfeasance, thank you very much), who has offered a freebie for the bang-up job you did defending him. You tell your wife that she can get the marriage-saving surgery she so desperately needs. She quickly agrees, excessively nodding her head in acquiescence. So you tell her to wipe the tears and orgasm from her face before she drips anymore—all that head-nodding is staining your Persian rug; the help charges extra to clean that—and hop into bed. She has a long day of surgery ahead of her, after all.

But the surgery doesn’t go as planned...well, maybe it does, you don’t know. You don’t know. Her face just looks more plastic than you had hoped. It’s not quite what you wanted. Sure, you knew she was supposed to look different—but younger, not demon Barbie. Whether your doctor (who, need I remind you, was exonerated on all charges) or your wife (who, need I also remind you, has up to this point found no low she wouldn’t stoop to in her interminable quest to destroy your marriage) is at fault for the better face failing to take hold on her skull, is not for anyone to say.

But, either way, you’re left with no other option: you have to get yourself a mistress. And not just any barfly cooz; you want classy tail. You hit on a professional colleague, a woman whom you’re sure will have the common sense and decency to practice discretion, to keep what’s between the sheets between you, her, and her four walls. You get her liquored up and she’s powerless to resist your charms.

You hit that shit raw dog (condoms are for pussies who don’t like feeling pussies, am I right?), and it’s the best sex since you’ve had since you can’t remember when. None of that selfish me, me, me talk you get from the typical woman these days: no “what about my pleasure,” no “I can’t breathe,” and no “the restraints are too tight; they’re cutting off my circulation.” Just pure uninhibited fun.

So you have a night of fun just to get it out of your system, to make life with wife a bit more tolerable. One and done—that’s it. But then everything goes wrong at once. Your wife hassles you about a new burning sensation in her crotch, as if there’s something you can do about it. Then this other woman complains that you lied to her about having a vasectomy, before telling you she’s got a bun in the oven, as if you had something to do with it. You’ve been down this road before: paternity suits, divorce, failed poisonings, alimony payments, etc... What kind of woman would steal a man’s seed and use it to incubate a money-stealing creature in her womb? The kind who would also boil a bunny she slaughtered—that’s who.

How often does this have to happen to us, typical American male, before we say enough is enough?

Dave's Rating:

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Friday, December 14, 2012

KL5-FILM Podcast Episode 95 - Christmas Evil

Roger and I discuss—among many other things—Christmas Evil, a movie that should be a holiday classic. You can listen to the episode here.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The American Scream (2012)

dir. Michael Stephenson

I really don’t know why I’ve been so obsessed with documentaries lately. Maybe it’s an attention span thing. No, not that focus isn’t necessary for a doc, but there’s usually a lot less to follow. There’s less, “I can’t remember whether the DA or his evil twin was in cahoots with the local crime boss,” and more, “these are interesting people; I’ll watch them exist for a couple hours.” There’s a lot less thinking involved, is what I’m saying.

But that don’t mean I ain’t emotionally invested in these films. No, in fact, these movies frequently move me in a way a fiction film never could. It’s just that—well, they’re real. I think this is self-explanatory. The success or failure of the heroes and villains of fiction, is something you stop caring about as soon as the credits roll. But a doc that leaves you happy or sad or anxiously hopeful will continue to grip your emotions: these are real people you’re watching, whose lives continue to exist long after the cameras stop rolling.

What I’m saying: I really hope Victor Bariteau’s new haunted house business becomes a success. The focus of the new documentary The American Scream (time is also devoted to two other amateur house haunters in Fairhaven, MA) Victor is the most obsessive haunter in his New England town. Because a strict religious upbringing left his childhood holiday-free, Victor has spent his adult life over-compensating by delivering the most grandiose, detailed haunted house his backyard can deliver.

Again, continuing a theme I’ve covered in previous doc reviews, The American Scream has proven that artistic inspiration knows no bounds. Where some of Victor’s neighbors house haunt as a lark, Barbiteau is truly committed to giving more than his best. Never satisfied, scorning the amateur quality of his previous houses, always aiming to top himself, Victor has been rewarded with the accolades of thousands of fellow townspeople. And now that he’s been laid off from his IT job and has decided to devote his free time and savings to going pro as a haunter, I'm really anxious that his hard work can pay off.

The American Scream—come for the haunted houses, stay for the awesome New England accents.

Dave's Rating:

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Young Adult (2011)

dir. Jason Reitman

Three times. Three times. Three times I had to pause Young Adult so that I could get up, walk around, and take a breather. I had to repeat to myself, “It’s only a movie, it’s only a movie. I can do this” Then, after I had composed myself, I returned to the movie, only to shout at the screen few minutes later, “Oh my God, take a fucking hint! What the fuck are you doing? Leave him alone, goddamnit! Seriously! What the Christ!” When I finally finished, the whole experience left me emotionally drained. This is one serious comedy.

Man, I recently put myself through the ringer, movie-wise. Between Snowtown, Salo, and a whole host of other movies, most of my viewing experiences of late have been harrowing. But none of them have been like Young Adult. I didn’t even have to take a breather while watching any of those aforementioned movies. Yes, they were painful, but I powered through them. I suppose the difference is relatability: most of Salo may have been hard to stomach, but at least I have no experience of being a sex slave; that movie didn’t dredge up painful memories. With Young Adult, however...I mean, is it possible to go through life without encountering at least one Mavis Gary? And hell, we’ve all been in at least one extremely awkward social situation we wish we could teleport from. Young Adult forces us to sit through these situations well past the breaking point.

The genius of the movie is that, surface-wise, it’s actually no different from a typical rom-com—a thirty-something woman revisits her hometown and her past and realizes she still has feelings for an old flame who is now married; so she tries to win him back. The twist here, however, is that the subject is approached in a realistic manner. Our protagonist is an unstable, mentally ill narcissist who’s viewed with a mixture of scorn, pity, and annoyance by all with whom she comes into contact.

And Jason Reitman’s style-free direction actually enhances the experience. Now, I suppose it’s not fair for me to judge, seeing as I had previously only seen one Jason Reitman movie (Thank You for Smoking), but I’ve never considered him much of a filmmaker. Don’t get me wrong, he’s certainly competent (and Young Adult has proven to me that he’s great with actors); but I always thought his workmanlike direction was out of step with the accolades he’s received for his work. And though my opinion hasn’t changed much after watching Young Adult, I think his non-style actually works in his favor this time around: whether intentional or not, he’s produced a more subversive film than a distinctive auteur could. Young Adult has the bland, impersonal sheen of a typical studio-churned rom-com. Indeed, if you were to watch Young Adult with the sound off you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

Where another cringe-inducing (and equally brilliant) movie like Rachel Getting Married examined a mentally-ill narcissist through the mode of the Oscar-friendly important picture, Reitman and Diablo Cody have snuck this shit in the backdoor. Not only have they produced an achingly painful character study, they've dissected a seemingly disposable genre, laying bare the psychosis at its heart. If every rom-com were this self-aware, I’d probably be a huge fan of the genre.

Dave's Rating:

Movie Theme Song Wednesday: Disco Godfather (1979)

dir. J. Robert Wagoner

"Disco Godfather" - Juice People Unlimited

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

KL5-FILM Podcast Episode 94 - Moonrise Kingdom and Salo

In possibly the unlikeliest combination of films we've covered yet far, Roger and I discuss Moonrise Kingdom and Salo. You can listen to the episode here.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Play Dirty (1968)

dir. Andre De Toth

[I generally don’t include spoiler warnings for the older movies I review, but this is a special case. I mean, yeah I include massive spoilers in everything I review, but the World War II film Play Dirty is a gem that I really want everyone to see. And it packs more of a punch if you go into it fresh. If you haven’t seen Play Dirty, stop reading right now, watch the movie, then come back and read my thoughts on the picture.]

“If he betrayed us, he deserves to be shot.”
“What does it matter who betrayed us? The Germans can catch you; you can trip over a mine.”
“It’s the principle of the thing.”

It’s been said that “anti-war film” is a contradiction in terms. No matter how well-intended the message, no matter how fervently a movie happens to argue against the idea of war, this sentiment is at loggerheads with the purpose of narrative film. The aims of motion pictures do not jibe with those of pacifism. Movies—if they are to make money—have to entertain, they have to keep us excited; and action scenes are exciting. No matter the message a filmmaker is trying to convey with a war picture, we the viewers come away with: “Yeah, man, war is hell. I can’t believe we—oh my God, I hope they make it out of that scrape. They’re gonna—holy shit! Did you see that explosion? Loud noises, bright colors, flames: me entertained.”

Additionally, even would an anti-war movie do its damndest to not entertain us with the action and the violence and the excitement and the explosions, it would still present the problem of identification. In narrative film, because we are stuck with the same characters for two hours, we are forced to identify with them. Whether we like or despise any particular kind of character, we ultimately view each film universe through the eyes of our main characters. They are our guides. Maybe it’s Stockholm Syndrome, but we have grown attached to them and want them to survive—which in a war film means killing the enemies. And so, these films, despite any idealistic intentions, still present a world of us versus them. We want our guys to kill their guys. You can’t very well claim the anti-war mantra when your film asks the viewer to root for one side against the other.

With Play Dirty Andre De Toth seemed to recognize the limitations of the anti-war film and so worked his damndest to subvert all war film expectations, chief among them being the issue of identification. For instance, here is a partial list of the actions our British heroes engage in:

  • Intentionally not warning allies of nearby enemy troops
  • Robbing the corpses of dead allies—the very same allies who were killed because they weren’t warned by our heroes
  • Killing unarmed medics
  • Killing an unarmed nurse after employing her help

And this isn’t a simple case of flawed anti-heroes who ultimately save the day. You know the type: the gruff, tough-talking, slightly amoral bastard who is a hero by default simply because he does ultimately accomplish the goal that saves us all. We may not like this bastard, but he is our bastard, damnit; and he gets the job done. No, as we soon find out, the very goal these men are out to achieve is ultimately pointless. Yes, we are given the climactic mission scene: in a very tense, suspenseful set-piece, our heroes infiltrate a German fuel depot in North Africa, set charges, and engage in a firefight with enemy troops.

But in a previous scene we find out that the original mission of destroying this fuel depot has become null and void. The allies have been moving across Africa much quicker than expected, so these German fuel depots will come in handy for the American and British once they arrive. So not only is this mission pointless, it’s actually counter-productive. But our heroes, stuck in the desert, have been cut off from communication; there’s no way of telling them to call off the mission. No worries, reason the British high command—in a cold, calculated meeting that would not be out of place in a Wall Street boardroom setting—we can just warn a double agent behind German lines of the sabotage plan. They’ll stop our heroes. Problem solved.

Yes, the mission scene is expertly filmed and would deliver the thrills in a different kind of movie, but we already know the futility of the mission beforehand. It’s like a baseball team winning a game against a hated rival after already being knocked out of the playoffs. There is no satisfaction to be had. And then everyone is killed. De Toth has knocked the wind out of our sails before the excitement has even begun. And then he offs our heroes with quick, matter of fact deaths.

Except for the leaders Leech and Douglas. When these two escape to a nearby animal stall, the traditional, idealistic Douglas is incensed that their own side would try to have them killed; Nihilistic, jaded Leech, on the other hand, doesn’t understand the point of getting upset. If they get killed, they get killed; a dead person is incapable of caring who pulls the trigger. War nullifies all meaning. To quote My Cousin Vinny: “Bam, a fucking bullet rips off part of your head. Your brains are laying on the ground in little bloody pieces. Now I ax ya’ would you give a fuck what kind of clothes the son of a bitch who shot you was wearing?”

When British tanks invade the area, Douglas and Leech—still dressed in their undercover German uniforms—raise a white flag in surrender. And then are gunned down.

And with all the passionate contrition of a McDonald’s employee who’s realized he forgot to include a toy in the last happy meal, the gun-toting soldier who did the deed addresses his superior, “Sorry, sir. I didn’t see the white flag.”

To which the commander dispassionately replies, “Don’t do it again.”

After sharing their story for two hours, we are not even granted the typical war film trope of a dignified, heroic death. There is no grandstanding, there are no flowery speeches; there is only death and destruction. In war there is no romantic cinematic sentimentality; there is only a struggle to be the last guy not killed.

Play Dirty is the closest I’ve seen to a genuine anti-war film. If only it wasn’t so damn entertaining. Curse Andre De Toth and his superior filmmaking. But regardless of your particular feelings on the issue, Play Dirty is an under-valued gem begging to be rediscovered.

But then again, what do I know? Here’s an insightful Netflix review of De Toth’s picture:


Dave's Rating:

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Friday, December 7, 2012

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Marwencol (2010)

dir. Jeff Malmberg

After Indie Game: The Movie proved to me that video game design can be every bit as creative, personal, and emotional as the arts I actually have an interest in, I started looking for inspiration in other odd nooks and crannies. And what better “what the hell” inspiration source can there be than GI Joe and Barbie art.

Honestly, I feel dickish even bringing myself into this review, suggesting Marwencol as an inspiration for my creative endeavors, as I’ve never experienced the kind of trauma, pain (emotional and physical), and personal hardship Mark Hogancamp has dealt with. After a severe group beating left Hogancamp brain-damaged, the artist had to struggle to relearn basic life skills: reading, writing, and pretty much everything one needs to know just to make it through a day. And although he managed to relearn most skills, his memories were mostly destroyed. He had to begin anew in more ways than one. And because his hands became shaky after his trauma, he was no longer able to draw—his main artistic outlet prior to the attack. So Hogancamp adapted. To occupy his brain, to occupy his time, he began constructing a miniature WWII diorama in his backyard: the fictional Belgian city of Marwencol, with the focal point being a bar run by the figurine stand-in for himself.

Make no mistake; Hogancamp didn’t do this with some grand notion of making an artistic statement or gaining recognition: it was simply his version of therapy, his way of dealing with the emotional trauma wrought by the vicious youths who beat him mercilessly. Hogancamp has retold his own personal struggles through the medium of the diorama, taking photos of the various incidents in his fictional universe along the way. Not only has he managed to construct a beautiful, brutal world, he’s used it to tell an intriguing story, which he’s expertly photographed.

It was only after outsiders happened to discover the meticulously detailed world Hogancamp created that he gained recognition. Again, as I mentioned, this project has been the brain-damaged Hogancamp’s version of therapy, not a statement. So, the reason Hogancamp’s vision is so vital, the reason it has touched so many people is that there is not a trace of irony. As with all great art, his fictional world is an extension of himself. Even had he never been discovered, Marcenwol would have continued to thrive. I defy you to watch this and not get choked up.

Dave's Rating:

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini

[I couldn’t find a poster for this movie that didn’t make me sad. No poster today. Here's puppies instead.]

As much as I like to praise films that take the rug out from under me, that eschew convention, that bully me to a pulp, that espouse a “there’s no meaning and we’re all fucked” ethos, occasionally I’m reminded of just how square I might actually be. I worry sometimes that I ultimately do crave cinematic order, that I want sunshine and puppies that fart rainbows. Maybe I desperately want to believe that there’s a reason for everything and everything will be ok in the end. Yeah, I like to claim out-there-cinema cred, but then a movie like Pasolini’s Salo comes around—or, that is, came along five years before I was born—and leaves me cowering in the fetal position, hoping that an army of adorable puppies will come along and make all the bad, bad nastiness go away.

So, Salo...yeah,, goddamn.

An updating of the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom, Pasolini's film transplants the events of the novel from Eighteenth Century France to the waning days of Fascist Italy. Basically, a group of rich douchebags kidnaps eighteen youths and subjects them to endless sexual abuse, humiliation, torture, and eventually murder. Also, people eat poo. Lots of poo. Just so much poo. Classic literature adaptation, yo.

Um, that’s Salo. But, of course, it is more than that. There was something of a purpose with this movie—I think. In fact, I actually kind of respect what I think Pasolini was going for with this movie. You see, though Salo is not based on specificactual events, it is an emotionally accurate deposition of Italy’s Fascist past. Pasolini’s attempt to expose his country’s criminal past is, in fact, more true than most national cinemas’ attempts to examine their respective countries’ crimes. How often, for instance, has the cinema dealing with America’s slavery past attempted to soft-shoe around the whole issue of people owning people? How often have these films depicted the Antebellum South in a wistful, nostalgic light? (What I’m saying, fuck Gone With the Wind)

We do this because, our countries being extensions of/elements of our individual psyches, it’s just damn hard to admit past wrong-doing. With Salo, Pasolini was rubbing his fellow Italian’s noses in the shit of their collective criminal past. ‘Bad, bad. Fascism bad. Don’t do it again.’ Of course, you don’t have to be Italian to get offended by Pasolini’s film. Few countries have met this film and not either outright banned it, or at least imposed heavy cuts on it. Few of us want to admit that people have the capacity for so much cruelty. (Also, poo = eww)

And Salo doesn’t let up. Though most films that subject audiences to this kind of abuse end on a cathartic note (the abused get revenge), Pasolini offers no respite. After the victims have endured endless torture, when all hope and meaning seem lost, when the night is darkest, they all get murdered. And as much as we may crave catharsis in cinema, the folks who suffered under Fascist rule bemoaned it much more than we the viewers of fiction ever could.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna watch this video on an endless loop.

Dave's Rating: A rating would be pointless

Movie Theme Song Wednesday: The Human Tornado (1976)

dir. Cliff Roquemore

"The Human Tornado"

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

KL5-FILM Podcast Episode 92 - The Human Tornado

dir. Cliff Roquemore

Roger and I return to the Rudy Ray Moore well, this time for The Human Tornado. Dig it. You can listen to the episode here.

Monday, December 3, 2012

DMT: The Spirit Molecule (2010)

dir. Mitch Schultz

For thousands of years our hunter-gather ancestors roamed the wilderness: a constant struggle, their lives were devoted to acquiring sustenance. Nothing else mattered. When some early humans accidentally imbibed some water in which sprouted grains had managed to ferment into delicious, delicious beer, they were gobsmacked. They didn’t know what this was but they loved the way it made them feel. They didn’t understand the chemistry behind it but they knew they had to make more. They knew that it involved grains and water; it was just a matter of trial and error—figuring out the ratio of grains to water, and time required to transform the clear liquid into something a little less pointless.

Once they figured out how to mass produce this shit, they couldn’t stop with just the random jug here and there. They needed more. And more. And more. And so agriculture was born: humans banded together to plant and harvest this grain with the goal of producing more awesome booze. And hey, there was enough grain left over—which did also perform the job of sating hunger, after all—that humans could use these newfound collectives and agricultural techniques to ensure that people didn’t unnecessarily starve to death.

And hey, now that folks’ lives weren’t endlessly devoted to acquiring food, they could use their newfound leisure time to make advancements in technology and public knowledge. And now, with so many people banded together living in close proximity in primitive societies, a little law and order was in order. They had to enact governments and laws to ensure that these new societies ran as smoothly as possible. Society continued to flourish. Humanity continued to advance. And beer was always at the center.

But though beer, more than any other substance, is responsible for advancements in humanity, I would never—even in my drunkenest booze-loving days—even think of calling it a mind-expanding drug. I would never even pretend that booze’s attributes extended any further than facilitating the awful task of making small talk with strangers.

The fact that human civilization was birthed from a desire for drunkenness proves nothing more than that people will do damn near anything to chase a fix: even become civilized. That’s how great is the desire to get fucked up. This is no different than the smack junkie performing cum-dumpster duties in exchange for junk—only the outcome is different: public good through the collective effort of humans working toward a common goal with one; syphilis with the other. People wanting to get fucked up will do whatever it takes to get fucked up.

So why are some drug users so goddamn pretentious about their addictions? I don’t know; but if you, like me, are put off by talk of mind-expanding trips, man; cleaning your third eye; and acquiring the key to unlock the doors of perception, stay as far the fuck away from this movie as possible.

Dave's Rating:

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Hell Yes

Ok, so this video is a couple years old, so it's old news, but this is the first I've heard of it so I'm posting it.