Current in Theater Post: Insidious

Anyhoodle, Insidious is fun like a decent haunted house ride; there are scares, and the atmospherics in the beginning are pretty awesome. It’s a shame the ride had to make a stop in Clichetown along the way. And it introduces one of the more creepy haunted house characters i’ve seen recently, a character I shall only refer to as Darth Goat. See it for him, at least, but maybe wait until it’s on video.

How is her veil not catching fire? How?
Is your washroom breeding old lady ghosts?

If a friend had not asked me to go, I would probably not have seen Insidious in the theater, and truth be told it probably would have flown right through my radar without making much of an impression, otherwise. A lot of horror movies come out these days, and few of which are worth my time or money.

I’m definitely glad I went, though.

It’s not a diamond in the rough, it’s not a secret success–Insidious is one part atmospheric haunted house movie in the vein of The Others, one part magical realist/dark fantasy like House of Leaves or Clive Barker’s Thief of Always, and one part lurid freakfest. Unfortunately these themes are as clumsily meshed as the three acts of the film are mismatched, but each one on their own was entertaining.
 
The nonexistent segues made if feel as if I was watching one film made up of segments by 3 different directors; it reminded me of the old Tales from the Crypt series, which was a little 30 minute vignette written and directed by a variety of Hollywood’s finest and most creative. But while that works for a tv series, it doesn’t lend itself well to a film.
While the trappings of the movie–creaks, groans, mysterious things moving about, and eventually some pretty batshit-weird looking ghosts–are all fine, the story was fairly creative. There were flashes of some really interesting and innovative ideas here, but they just didn’t pan out.
Also problematic for me was the uneven tone of the movie. It starts out with Renai (Rose Byrne) and Whatsisface (Patrick Wilson, of Watchmen fame) and their three kids moving into a big old house where weird shit starts to happen. And of course, it begins happening to the wife, because when you’re driving this model of cliche wagon you had damn well better trot them all out. Women are emotional, so they have these dumb feelings, and that’s why ghosts go after and attack them. Cause they’re unable to ignore dumb shit like feelings.
What’s telling is the creepily static gender roles espoused in the movie: in the first half, when ghosts are passive-aggressively making their presence known, only the female notices and reacts predictably, freaking out, screaming, crying, etc. When things get serious and action is needed, the movie literally switches protagonists and the male becomes the center of focus.
If they had wanted to do something really interesting, they might have taken a leaf out of The Devil’s Advocate’s book; in that, we did not see the things that were happening to the wife, which made them that much harder to accept as real, and that much easier to dismiss her problems as imagined or the result of a mental illness. Imagine each day the guy comes home and his wife is acting weirder and weirder, to the point where he doesn’t know if he trusts her with his kids anymore.
Here’s my theory on the current psychology behind these ghost movies where women are the protagonists:
The ghosts, who are being passive-aggressive with their ‘walking around in the background’ and moving objects around shit, are weakly requesting attention. The stereotypical assumption is that women are better at noticing nuances of behavior, and are more likely to notice these types of behaviors. Men need more direct interaction, and only become involved when furniture flies around and the walls start oozing blood, again on the assumption that men don’t recognize nuanced behaviors as well. All of which is horseshit, but is the faulty logic upon which haunted house/woman in peril movies operate. /rant
Anyhoodle, Insidious is fun like a decent haunted house ride; there are scares, and the atmospherics in the beginning are pretty awesome. It’s a shame the ride had to make a stop in Clichetown along the way. And it introduces one of the more creepy haunted house characters i’ve seen recently, a character I shall only refer to as Darth Goat. See it for him, at least, but maybe wait until it’s on video.

‘My God, Someone Paid For this To Be Made’ Entry — GI Joe: The Rise Of Cobra

GI Joe starts out in France in 1611. I know, because despite the fact taht I was drunk, I took copious notes. They are stained and festooned with question marks and mad scribblings, but overall still valid.

What kind of bullshit is that? FRANCE? WHAT?

Asinine. Who gives a shit about the historical heritage of Cobra. Please raise your hands if you were demanding historical significance from a movie based on toys that you played with in the sandbox or bathtub.

Once upon a time, I had a vision.

A glorious vision, the sort of vision that got people burned as heretics in the Dark Ages, yet was no less true for its ostentatiousness.

I dreamed I stood on a cliff, staring out at a roiling sea. Clouds skirted the horizon, the sun burned like a vengeful eye, and below me the cliffs were alive with plumes and torrents as the sea crashed and raged.

A sea of absolute bullshit.

 

And don't tell me, 'Oh, it was based on toys, what do you expect?' You know what else was based on toys and won buttloads of awards? 'TOYS.'

 

It’s possible I was biased against the GI Joe movie from the very start. Watching the trailers gave me a horrifying clarity, a window into what it must be like to be an epileptic who habitually gets trapped inside a washing machine full of neon lights, pleather, airborne vehicles and shitty laser effects.

Now, I played with Joes as a child, albeit I didnt’ play by the rules. For some reason I was stuck on monsters and aliens mode, so the only Joes I had were ones that had animal sidekicks, or some kind of weird mutation. I had Spirit Wind, the Military MP guy (his German Shepherd was a werewolf to my Lego people), Killer Croc, Outback (warthog accessory! BOSS!) Some kind of guy with a Cobra as a hat, and Big Boa, because he came with removable and adorable boxing gloves. I didn’t give a shit about patriotism, vehicles (Except that crazy ass Cobra Commander flying skiff, that was amazing) robots, guns, or tanks. It was also common for GI Joes to go to war with the mutants of Outworld, which were comprised of my He-Man and Ninja Turtles figures.

I went into the GI: Joe movie thinking ‘Well, I’ve had like nine beers, and even folding laundry has usually become fun by then. Therefore, this will be fun.’ Ipso, facto.

My fake Latin philosophy math was wrong.

Watching GI: Joe – The Rise of Cobra was incredibly similar to being in a car accident, and I’ve been in no less than 5 in my life so I know what I’m talking about. There’s a lot of noise, a lot of shit suddenly moves around, your whole perspective on life has changed but you aren’t sure why, you just know SOMETHING HAPPENED.

Which is what watching the film was like.

Usually, I pull my punches with hating on a movie, but By God and Sunny Jesus, I will NOT do so today. This movie was way, way too expensive to get the kid glove treatment.

 

This movie is also unforgiveable for wasting Adewale Akinouye -Agbage's time. I refuse to believe he doesn't have better things to do than this.

 

GI Joe starts out in France in 1611. I know, because despite the fact taht I was drunk, I took copious notes. They are stained and festooned with question marks and mad scribblings, but overall still valid.

What kind of bullshit is that? FRANCE? WHAT?

Asinine. Who gives a shit about the historical heritage of Cobra. Please raise your hands if you were demanding historical significance from a movie based on toys that you played with in the sandbox or bathtub.

Other scribblings from my note:

‘why is the military using a civilian H2?’ Nathan pointed that one out.

This observation was closely followed by ‘why are you questioning the logic of the GI:Joe movie?’

‘Duke- Dude can’t talk right. Sounds like he’s going blublubblubblub.’

Seriously. Channing Tatum, from his IMDB entry, seems sort of respected as an actor, and yet I could barely follow his dialogue because of his weird novocaine mumbly-mouth. Plus, the man’s eyes were so dead and glassy I could clearly see his paycheck reflected in their surface, because no other thoughts animated his corpus.

‘Science says emotions don’t exist? WHAT?’

Scarlett, that most cartoonish of hotties (and played by some girl with red hair and boobs, it’s totally not worth it to look her name up), makes this weird assertion as to why she won’t date Marlon Wayans (who MUST have better things to do than this movie, for christ’s sake, he was in REQUIEM FOR A DREAM) when he makes his move on her. This is not only story bullshit, it’s scientific bullshit. Science has no problem quantifying emotions–they’re caused by subtle synaptic shifts in hormones, by adrenaline, by all kinds of math and numbers and chemicals and things that ARE REAL. So being attracted to a dude is totally valid. She’s just a racist.

 

I was also enraged by the Baroness character.

Spies are also known for being inconspicuous, which involves wearing costumes rejected from the Underworld series as too cheap-looking and giant belt buckles.

A brief digression:

In the Preacher books, the villain, a scarred German psycho named Herr Starr, is teaching a course on how to deal with terrorists to some soldiers in an elite anti-terrorist recruitment facility. He begins his lesson with the words:

‘Shoot the women first.’

He goes on to explain that any woman who has worked her way up to the top of a terrorist organization has worked at least FIVE TIMES as hard as her male compatriots in order to have her skills and dedication recognized. In short, in any terrorist situation, you had best kill the va-jay-jays because THEY would pose the greatest threat to you, and kill you five times harder than a dude. Anything a dude can do, a woman has already done, alphabetized, collated, and buried in the backyard before he even thought of it.

GI:Joe posits that Cobra allows someone to totally half-ass their way to the top of the organization. In an elite, worldwide terrorist group, how does someone FAKE enthusiasm? HOW? Baroness’s residual love for Duke leads to the Cobra organization’s fall, suggesting that women can’t be trusted in these situations because they get all emotion-y and fall in love with men and shit. God forbid they handle firearms, their estrogen might gum up the firing pin.

Someone looked at this pic and said 'Yes! Cover one third of his face in burn makeup, the other half in a breathing apparatus, dress him in a shitty wig and hire him!'

 

Which  brings me to my next point:

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is adorable.

Just look at that face! So much spunk, so much character! You wouldn’t just have a beer with him, you’d want to take him home and show him your band trophies from high school.

He was the most fun thing about Rise of Cobra, and brought a much-needed feel of pseudo-camp to the shenanigans. After awhile, I realized I was patiently waiting for the ridiculous action setpieces to end so I could get back to the much more interesting story of Destro or whatever he was.

Dick move, Hollywood: if your film’s basically a multi-million dollar recruitment product for the armed forces, don’t make the villain more interesting than anything else happening onscreen. I even stopped giving a shit about Christopher Eccleston when Gordon-Levitt was onscreen. ECCLESTON.

Every few moments in GI:Joe, I found myself whistling or humming the main song from Team America: World Police. It’s a little ditty that goes something like ‘America…FUCK YEAH! Coming again to save the motherfucking day YEAH!’ What’s tragic is that movie, starring puppets and a metric ton of sarcasm, was a much more fun movie than this one, and it was much more honest about what was going on. It also got me a lot more excited about blowing shit up.

So in short–I know I watched the GI Joe movie, and I have all these residual flashbacks and strange images burned into my mind, but I just don’t know what actually HAPPENED. There was a desert and the Eiffle tower and an underwater city and some kind of nano tech mask or something. The sad thing is that I am smart enough to understand all this stuff–unlike a car accident, I can go back and relive the experience, articulating complex emotional ideas and pieceing together what actually happened.

I just don’t give a shit, though.

What This Blog Be, and Be Not

Woo, quite a little ratings bump the last few days! Hi Y’all, welcome to the blog.

I thought with all these new visitors, I might post a little clarification about what this blog is, and isn’t. I’m not out to draw a line in the sand, unless it’s to help people see where the quicksand is.

What’s Going On?

1. I avoid spoilers on movies less than 10 years old, but anything more than 10 years old is more than likely going to be spoiled. It’s nothing vicious, it’s just because I want to be able to discuss some things without worrying about ruining the endings. I love films, I want other people to experience the thrills of twists and turns, but let’s face it–the chances of some folks checking out the movies I review are kind of slim, especially the older films. The older reviews are in the hopes that someone, somewhere is Googling a movie title in search of interesting commentary and comes across this blog.

This should catch you up on the last 50 years or so.

2. I am a dirty socialist liberal scumbag. I tend to look at movies through the lens of my socioeconomic background, and my politics. I have a liberal worldview but a very working class background–my mom cleaned houses and my dad worked as a lineman for a power company for 37 years, and was a Union man through and through. I take pains to expand my worldview as I can, but there are limits. I think our President is awesome, the war was for the wrong reasons but can’t be abandoned, green initiatives are great, organized religion is okay when it isn’t telling people how to vote or telling people to tell other people how to run their lives, and socialism isn’t that bad. Film is not an objective medium, so my film criticism is not objective, either.

Hot men? Yes. Entertaining? Yes. A movie to base your history paper on? Only if you already gave up on passing the class.

3. My understanding of film theory is kind of superficial– I’ve studied some film theory, but nothing MA-level. I want to be entertained, but I don’t want my intelligence insulted, either. I don’t think an entertaining movie should require me to ‘turn off my mind.’ I enjoyed the first Transformers movie, but I doubt I’ll see the sequels. I apply more literary criticism to film than film criticism — I don’t believe that films are made just for other filmmakers, in short.

4. I don’t read a lot of other film blogs–I read The Onion and Roger Ebert, and that’s about it. I don’t even check Rotten Tomatoes before I see a film, most of the time. After I’ve seen a movie, I read Wikipedia and IMDB, and check on the background of the film. The reason is because I don’t want my opinions colored by too many other peoples’. I may read more blogs as time goes on, I just don’t come across that many.

5. I’m pretty weird and contrary. I liked Transformers but loath Michael Bay. I hate fluff but don’t subject myself to a lot of ‘hard’ movies–I bitch about how much I hate the Sex and the City franchise but I’ll never see ‘Irreversible.’ I try to explore and understand these contradictions as I encounter them.  Even if I hate something, I try to understand why, and tend not to use unhelpful hyperbole like ‘This sucked so bad’ or ‘This movie can go to hell.’

Except this movie. This movie can go to hell.

6. I don’t like movies with lots of rape or an inordinate amount of domestic violence in them. I don’t like seeing animals or people tortured. I can take a lot of weird, even horrible stuff, but it depends on how it’s handled. A lot of horror has let me down recently in this regard.

7. Beauty Standards: I has them, and they are strange. I think the current trend towards tiny waifs and diamond-cut pretty boys is deplorable. It’s all style over substance, and it means there are amazing actors and actresses being passed over for roles because there’s something unique about them–meaning our world of escape is being populated by bland, flawless automatons. I would trade 10 Sam Worthingtons for 1 vintage Nicholas Cage, or 100 Jennifer Garners for 1 Bette Davis. It’s less because I have something against Sam Worthington (although I do-I will never forgive him for Clash of the Titans–EVER) or Jennifer Garner than I wish they would just be famous underwear models or something. They’re pretty people who can say lines–and that’s about it.

Jane Russell and her two costars.

8. Please don’t insult my intelligence. I like to think of myself and the majority of humanity of smart (although many people don’t think of themselves or others as intelligent, I have eternal hope for mankind) so I hate seeing movies where my intelligence is treated as an impediment rather than an asset. In short, it shouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility for some director/writer to have a production assistant make a pit stop on the old Information Superhighway to figure out whether something is plausible or not. I use the internet to figure out whether or not my cat’s behavior is normal, and millions of dollars are not riding on the outcome, no matter what he’s up to.

9. I don’t like mean-spirited comedy. Seriously. South Park makes me laugh, and Zoolander, and other things, but I hate Jackass, I hate comedies where everyone is a smarmy asshole out to use or degrade other smarmy assholes, and I am not a huge fan of Norbit-type humor. I like witty, I like slapstick, I like humor where everyone is in on the joke. I might just do a write up of my favorite ‘adult’ comedies–think ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Monty Python’ and the like. I’m not above dick jokes or dumb comedies –I love the Harold and Kumar movies, but again, I’m weird and contrary and some things rub me the wrong way.

So I hope that helps clarify for folks what this blog is, and isn’t about, and more importantly, the kind of things you can expect to find here in the future. I’ve been a little lax the last few weeks with posts, got a lot going on, but I’ll do my best to get back on the ball.

And to the new folks coming over from Twitter or being linked from other people’s blogs, welcome!

‘Jesus Christ bananas’ entry: Tommy Wiseau’s The Room

Logic has no place here. The film staggers to its conclusion less like a picturesque and drunken Irish poet than a paralytic hobo whose palsied fingers can barely hold onto his bottle of methyl alcohol.

I like a bad movie every once in a while.

There was a time when I spent a lot, a LOT of time on bad movies. Then I realized that my time on earth is finite, and that I’d rather fill that time with earnest films made by talented and creative directors than with films whose own makers were either slumming geniuses or complete whackos.

That said, I still like a bad movie once in a while.

The Room came at me sideways like a crack addict waving around the razor-sharp skeleton of a dead large-mouthed bass.

There was no way to see this coming. No warning, no review has yet captured exactly how execrable this film is. Nostradamus might’ve seen it coming, but he would have written it down as some vague ‘and there will come a stringy man of taut thews and stygian hair who is either madman or genius, who shall entertain and terrify in the same fell swoop. And that man shall not speak truths but mumbles.’  That could refer to any number of filmmakers. Hell, that could be Joaquin Phoenix’s recent dabblings with madness.

Yup. That's about it.

Anyhoo, I’d heard a few things about ‘The Room’ and when a friend invited us over to watch, I went willingly. For some reason I thought it was a horror movie.

I wasn’t completely wrong.

‘The Room’ is the story of Johnny (Tommy Wiseau, who is also writer, director, and executive producer), a man who loves his fiancee Lisa, has a job where he makes good money, and seems to be the risen messiah in every other aspect of his life. He ‘rescued’ a troubled youth and is sending him to college, no one can shut up about how great he is, and the only time people don’t like him is if he doesn’t loan them money. Otherwise, the rest of the cast stand around singing jeremiads for the man.

The inciting incident of the story is that the aforementioned fiancee suddenly decides she doesn’t love him anymore and that he is boring. The rest of the film unfolds (or maybe ‘metastasizes’ is a  better word) in a bitter lovers’ triangle with Lisa cheating on Johnny, having long boring conversations with her mother about it, and Johnny’s best friend Mark being sort of conflicted about diddling Johnny’s fiancee.

Logic has no place here. The film staggers to its conclusion less like a picturesque and drunken Irish poet than a paralytic hobo whose palsied fingers can barely hold onto his bottle of methyl alcohol.

Consider this scene: There’s Johnny (Wiseau) talking to his friend Mark (colleague Greg Sesteros) about Lisa.

Johnny did not hit Lisa, she just got him really drunk and then tried to convince him he did, and Mark is the guy she’s cheating on Johnny with. The acting on display here is on par with the rest of the movie. Erratic tonal shifts, bizarre dialogue, nonsensical actions taken by the actors, plot threads that never pan out or are abandoned (Lisa’s mother offhandedly  mentions she has breast cancer once and this is never again addressed) and sex scenes that make one reach for a bottle of Purell are all part of the package.

But while the movie is indeed embarrassingly awful, I can’t get into the spirit of mocking it as much as others have.  Mr. Wiseau spent five years of his life raising funding for the film, and it’s suspected he did so through ‘less than legitimate’ means: there’s a story about him importing leather jackets from Korea that sounds fairly shady, and other people have suggested the movie exists as an elaborate money laundering scheme for the mob.

Although now he promotes the movie as a Rocky Horror Picture Show-like parody and travels to midnight screenings where people throw spoons and footballs (it’s in the movie), some of the actors from the film indicate that Mr. Wiseau was absolutely earnest in his intent when making it in 2003 and that there was nothing tongue-in-cheek about his attitude.

I can’t help but imagine someone who managed to make his creative dream come true witness his film be reviled by the few critics who saw it, then embraced by an audience whose self-professed love of shit is damning praise. Maybe at that point he decided that any publicity is better than none. It’s my own secret dream (as it is most critics’) to make a film of my own, and since I don’t have the courage or means to pursue such a dream and I consciously know this, I can’t help but feel bad bashing the product of someone who managed to pursue it themselves. Even so, this is one incredibly bad movie. Let’s be absolutely clear on that.

There's a reason you always see this image in connection with the movie. You just have to see it.

I’m not someone who enjoys laughing at the efforts of others, unless they really want me to. If Mr. Wiseau convinces me of his earnest effort to create a black comedy, well, I guess I can laugh at his film then.

‘The Room’ is not available on Instant Watch but can be rented from Netflix or GreenCine. Check it out, but for God’s sake, know what you’re getting into!

‘I was surprised by how much I hated this’ entry: St Elmo’s Fire

First and foremost, I am totally a child of the 80’s. There are a lot of Brat Pack movies I missed the first time around, wholly because they were about people coming to terms with things and not little monsters who ruin things, unicorns, or singing and dancing magic men. I did see The Breakfast Club in high school, so I’ve got that going for me.

I am not fit to be a parent because I would spend all my time saying 'I wish the goblins would take you away right now' in hopes of meeting this man.

That said, I’ve slowly been catching up. When I saw that St. Elmo’s Fire was on instant watch, I thought ‘well, I guess now’s the time.’

And let me absolutely crystal clear–I am not posting this negative review just to bash the film–I was genuinely surprised by how much I didn’t like it. I usually like all the actors appearing in it–but in this case, the sum was somehow less than its parts.

From the very first few seconds, as all the recent graduates walk along with their arms slung about each others’ necks, I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. There’s no more facile way to show ‘We’re all friends!’ than the ‘let’s all walk together with our arms around each other’ walk.  No one does that except in photo opportunities and movies. It always comes across as fake to me, so my very first read on these people is that they are fake.

Then comes the opening scene in the emergency room, and I sort of already didn’t like anyone–especially when it turned out one of the friends was responsible for the accident. There was a little too much quipping, and the dialogue had that overly-rehearsed feel.

The rest of the movie went about the same–when Billy is on the roof of Wendy’s parents’ house and the whole family is outside clutching their pearls in shock it felt like overwritten, overwrought hysteria. Billy was less a badboy than a needy douchbag, Alec an entitled prick, and Kirby was just plain psycho. The female characters didn’t fare much better–I would have been more interested in Wendy’s arc if the film hadn’t tried to convince us she was overweight by having her wear bulky sweaters and embarrassing old-lady drawers. Mare Winningham is one of those actresses whose appearance always has me wince a little and say ‘Jesus woman, it’s called protein–make friends with it,’ so casting her as a ‘fat’ girl just felt like an insult. I’m 5’2 and go about 160–by this movie’s logic I would be a bedridden monstrosity, a human waterbed, and have to exit my house through a hole cut in the wall.

Leslie was a little more sympathetic, but felt like such a bland doormat that her epiphany towards the end of the movie felt less like her own doing than Kevin’s and Alec’s. If Alec’s infidelities hadn’t been brought to light, I doubt she would have refused his offer of marriage.

(That’s another reason I’m not crazy about this movie–relating all this bullshit makes me feel like I’m watching paint dry. I hate that I have to describe all this boring pap.)

Jules’ portrayal was a step in the right direction, but her asinine behavior at the homeless shelter (SEE? PAP!) completely negated any goodwill I had towards her. She’s an independent woman with a good career and her own apartment, when two of her male counterparts are sharing a little crappy apartment–except her Daddy’s rich, she has a severe coke habit and she’s sleeping with her married boss. See girls? Career women are never happy.

I’m glad I checked Rotten Tomatoes–apparently I’m not the only person who hated this movie. Even Ebert put it on his ‘Worst of 1985’ list, and if you’ve pissed off Ebert, you’ve seriously, seriously fucked up as a filmmaker.

The problem with this movie is that the problems these people are facing are the kinds that other people WANT to have. ‘I’m a privileged white person in the 80’s who is afraid of the possibility that the rest of my life won’t be as awesome as being a kid was. I’m going to bitch about it and make a few missteps but then everything will turn out okay.’

OH MY GOD! SOMEONE ALERT OSKAR SCHINDLER TO THE PLIGHT OF THESE PEOPLE!

'Some privileged white people in the 80's need help? That is truly a crime against humanity!'

I tend to think of the 80’s as a very good time for fantasy movies. But while some fantasy movies were overt about their messages and at least had the balls to have a few monsters or something to illustrate their point that you know, this was not based in reality, there’s another form of 80’s movie altogether that offered the same escapism but none of the honesty. I can’t help but think of St. Elmo’s Fire as an example of this latter–while the nation battled a recession, political scandals with the whole Iran-Contra thing, soaring rates in illiteracy and drug use, and a host of other REAL problems, the characters of St Elmo’s Fire dealt with some major First World Problems. You know what, not even First World Problems, because people in the first world can still experience racism, homophobia, mysogyny, anti-semitism and economic disenfranchisement.

These people are experiencing the horror of not having their Upper Middle Class dreams come true. Meanwhile, the real horrors of adulthood are things like compromising your dreams to support your family, having a child you can’t afford, taking care of an infirm family member or parent, or being passed over for promotions at work because you don’t know how to play office politics.

You know what this movie needed to give these people some perspective?

Principal Joe Clark.

'What's that? Becoming a grownup after you've graduated from Georgetown University is scary? WELL MY GOD, GET THIS BOY A BLANKIE AND A THUMB!'