It Has Nothing To Do With The Hall-u-cen-o-gens: Seven Psychopaths (2012)

The hyper-masculine world of the works of Martin McDonagh have been criticized for their terribly misguided use of gender as a means to appropriate hipness and violence, and while this criticism certainly holds a degree of validity, I would contest that artistically speaking, McDonagh's male-oriented films exist partially as a undermining of masculine dominance, as well as a reappropriation of gender divides, ones that cause the male figures to immediately accept the illogical nature of their existing within a wholly single gendered dichotomy, after all, McDonagh is coming out of a post-war Ireland that still seems uncertain on its own future, certainly as it relates to a male ideology.  Furthermore, the detractors of McDonagh's work seem quick to attack the unconventional playwright and filmmaker, without giving equal consideration to the work of Tarantino or Mamet who engage in similar practices with, often less guided motives.  It is rather clear that MacDonagh uses his hyper violence, hyper-masculinity and penchant for political incorrectness, as a means to create a conversation through the absurdity, essentially not much different than the way in which Stephen Colbert uses a falsely absurdist variation of conservatism to undermine the illogical nature of the outdated mode of thinking.  Sure it will be difficult for Seven Psychopaths to obtain the sort of cult following that MacDonagh's earlier work In Bruges received, but this is near entirely a result of the film being championed from the get go by fans of the playwright turned directors earlier work, not to mention the casting of a decidedly cult oriented cast with Waits, Walken and to some degree Harrelson.  What can be said in relation to the directors earlier work is that it takes a decidedly poetic turn in the closing moments of the film, something that In Bruges certainly does, however, in the metacinematic nature of this most recent film by McDonagh, the viewer is provided with very clear foreshadowing to such events, although no amount of preparation truly informs how badass a McDonagh shootout will prove to be, certainly not the multiple and multifaceted ones within Seven Psychopaths.

Seven Psychopaths, like a class McDonagh offering, begins in the hyper-violent and only excels from there with the introduction of a masked killer known as the One'Eyed Jack killer, who is apparently one of seven psychopaths who are to comprise the plot, the title of which is to be the inspiration for the films main protagonist the writer aptly named Marty (Colin Farrell) who is struggling formulating his script aside from knowing that it includes a vengeful Amish man and a suicidal ex-Vietcong.  In fact, his relatively absurd plot seems mundane compared to the unusual job of his friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) and his partner Hans (Christopher Walken) who specialize in dog kidnapping to obtain larger reward money.  Unfortunately, Hans and Billy make the mistake of kidnapping a dog named Bonnie who happens to belong to a high end mob boss named Charlie (Woody Harrelson) a man whose devotion to his puppy is so great that he undertakes a veritable killing spree to assure its safety.  All the while, Marty attempts to properly formulate his script, taking inspiration from the events surrounding the dog, as well as the newspaper articles about the One'Eyed Jack killer, not to mention meeting other psychopaths along the way, particularly the enigmatic Zachariah who, along with his former lover, took it upon themselves to be serial killers of serial killers.  Needless to say, no matter how well Billy, Hans, and eventually Marty, cover their tracks Charlie chases them down, although at this point it is a meeting well-embraced by the crew, especially Billy who believes the shootout to be the perfect ending to Marty's script one with a ton of gore and the quick destruction of Charlie.  Yet when the actual shootout occurs it pans out considerably differently, with a varying set of deaths and a damn perfect use of music.  Luckily for Marty, a message left on a voice recorder helps Marty to find a perfect idea for his films closing moments, although an intercut after the credits begin remind Marty of some of his failed obligations, which may or may not have some deathly results.

What then is the moral/social commentary/philosophical pondering of McDonagh's most recent offering.  It is certainly not a poignant reflection on the state of violence within a global community, because many of the characters fail to be reprimanded for their agressive choices, just as it is certainly in no way an evocation of gender equality, as the female characters within the film serve as narrative boosts for some of the more reserved characters, but with that in mind it also does not create a clear divide between those who are inherently good and those who have a chance to be good, but succumb to the bribery and falsity of wrongdoing, which seems so integral to In Bruges.  Instead, within Seven Psychopaths, McDonagh appears to draw a line between those who are the necessary observers and recorders of change and revolution and those to are direct harbingers in its occurrence.  As the narrative reveals, Billy is actually the One'Eyed Jack killer and sees violence as an absolutely legitimate way to deal with the wrong in the world.  Destruction, to Billy, is the only way to assure the cessation of evil.  As for Marty, he seems far more inspired by considering how this corruption or insanity evolves and emerges, often becoming so lost in its possibilities and misguiding that he clings to alcohol as a means of coping.  In the middle ground are the characters like Hans who seems to traipse perfectly between Billy and Marty's methodologies, thus creating a sort of aggressive passiveness (which I have decided is distinctly different from somebody being passive aggressive)  that can drive a guilty person to take their life out of fear and frustration, not to mention Zachariah who clearly cannot come to deals with his passivity in the face of his aggressive lovers violence, although his choice not to be aggressive when his lover was actively killing a man takes on an aggressive connotation, because he clearly has come to disapprove of those actions.  Thus the closing scene involving a self-imolationg Buddhist monk takes  on another level, in so much, as he is engaging actively in an act that is intended to be passive resistance against the war, even if completely self-destructive.  All of this, of course, results in some unusual religious and social commentaries, but I think it only proves the intense and introspective elements of this film without question.

Key Scene:  Waken, voice recorder, fire and considering of sexual-orientation terms...what more could one ask for in a film.

An action heavy film with quite a glorious soundtrack, Seven Psychopaths is a bluray purchases through and through.


I Beat Up The Bathroom, I'm Sorry: Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

I must admit, my first experience with what has proven to be Paul Thomas Anderson's most overlooked work was far less than receptive.  To be fair it was when I had first found myself getting into film and preferred the super obvious "cool" films like Pulp Fiction and V for Vendetta, at that time in my viewing history, my palette had yet to be introduced to even Boogie Nights, and certainly not There Will Be Blood, as such I was by no means prepared for the incredibly introspective nature of this film and was certainly not mature enough to detach Adam Sandler from his previous persona.  Fortunately, I brought it upon myself to revisit this film, after falling in love with The Master, which still holds steadily in first place as my favorite film from last year.  Punch-Drunk Love falls into the similar vein of Anderson's most recent work, although this fare is decidedly more comedic and certainly not as existential, in fact, the only point of connection one could initially make stylistically between the two films and their director is the use of Phillip Seymour Hoffman.  While Magnolia certainly proves to be Anderson's most deconstructionist film to date, Punch-Drunk Love certainly holds its own, often completely detaching itself from any sort of identifiable image and favoring abstraction, even going so far as to display images of stars as if to suggest that the struggles of the characters, the absurdities of life and the artifice of order are, ultimately, subjected to the higher importance of some transcendent entity or state of mind.  Although, knowing the complexities of Anderson's films, there is certainly an equal possibility that it is truly intended to capture the very real and human woes of an individual dealing with his own bouts of insanity.  Regardless of its, ultimate meaning, a couple of things are rather certain when considering Punch-Drunk Love, it is a profusely cinematic film, beautifully shot and expertly acted and certainly far more respectable than some of the more theatrically and critically well-receive films of the year, in fact, as I reflect on other films from 2002, it seems as though it was the year of the over looked film, if ever one exists.

Punch-Drunk Love focuses on the rather unusual life of Barry (Adam Sandler) a clearly unstable novelties salesman, who has taken up wearing a blue suit as a means to change his life in a minor way, although when he steps outside to look down the street he watches an intense accident occur, which is followed by a harmonium being dropped off from out of a passing van for no clear reason.  The somewhat detached Barry flees initially, only to be approached by a woman asking to leave her car there momentarily.  Eventually, Barry retrieves the harmonium which becomes a point of obsession throughout the remainder of the film, as the trouble man deals with the constant nagging of his seven sisters, as well as obtaining the perfect amount of pudding cups to get the best deal relating to a free air miles giveaway.  During a party, at which Barry snaps and breaks some glass, he is made aware of a friend of one of his sister's who has taken an interest in him and would really like to meet with him, unfortunately, she fails to make it to the party.  In loneliness, Barry finds the number for a phone sex line, which invariably turns out to be a fraud that engages in small time identity theft.  This organization begins to hound Barry, but assuming that it will eventually go away he meets with his sister's friend Lena (Emily Watson) who is incidentally the same girl who asked to park her car outside his job days earlier, in fact, it is revealed that she had seen a picture of Barry much earlier and had taken a liking to her.  The two have an instant chemistry and Barry even flies to Hawaii to spend time with her, despite still dealing with the aggression of those involved in stealing his identity, going so far as to side swipe Barry and Lena when the two return from Hawaii.  Barry in an adrenaline rush attacks the group in their truck, then hunts down the person responsible for his harassment, a Utah based matress salesman named Dean Trumbell (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) whose foul mouth and anger tremble in the face of Barry who claims that he has found a love so great that it makes him unstoppable.  The film then closes with Barry and Lena embracing the uncertainty of their now shared future.

There is a large proponent of this film that deals with the problems of individualized suffering, it is impossible not to feel some degree of sympathy, or even pity for Barry who just seems to have terrible people skills and a lack of assertion as it relates to the world around him.  His coworkers seem only to exist as free floating figures in his life, so much so that the only one who communicates with him, Lance (Luis Guzman) does so with a noticeable degree of disconnect.  Even Barry's sisters and their husbands seem to have a degree of judgement and misunderstanding Barry's suffering criticizing him and calling him and idiot, even going so far as to betray his trust when he breaks down in front of them in momentary defeat.  Barry cannot even buy companionship, as his attempt to find somebody to simply talk to ends up in his drawn out financial exploitation, although he undoubtedly corrects that situation.  Although a few moments of research relating to this film helped me reaffirm my own considerations of the film suggesting that it is about two people connecting on a cosmic trajectory.  Lena and Barry are veritable soul mates in that a set of seemingly bizarre and inexplicable events lead to their unification, even if it also required some direct will on their own part, particularly Lena who initially stalks Barry, but that is not to say that Barry does not return the favor later on within the narrative.  Almost as though the two share a similar orbit, the narrative suggests that it is only a matter of time before the two coalesce, making for the ultimately moment of happiness for each character, something that is reaffirmed by the visual art pieces installed throughout created by the late Jeremy Blake, which come together to reveal the couple at the end of the film.  It is perhaps this that explains the specific absurdity of everything else that occurs within the filmic space, precisely because it is completely irrelevant to everything else except the unison of two destined souls.  Of course, I could be reading into this way too much and missing the point, but it is all to direct on the part of Anderson to ignore.

Key Scene:  The supermarket scene will blow your mind on a surface visual level, but as I discovered after reading the film, there are some layers to the scene that will not be picked up on the first viewing and each moment within the supermarket foreshadows something larger within the narrative.

Buy this film, although it appears not to have a bluray which is a god damn shame, who knows perhaps with enough sales that will change.  Either way the DVD is so cheap it is almost free, and thus an easy purchase.


I'm An Apex Predator: Chronicle (2012)

I am constantly in the favor of the found footage genre, as has been proven through many reviews on this blog, beginning with my surprised fondness of the Paranormal Activity film, and more recently considering one of the breakout films of 2012 in V/H/S, in fact, between a hopefully final fourth installment to the Paranormal Activity franchise, along with the other previously mentioned film it was already a highly touted year for the found footage film, add the surprisingly watchable and incredibly bold Chronicle to the mix and you do indeed having something decidedly revolutionary within the genre, begging for a push towards something grander, more artistic, but still considerably underacted. Hell, I have yet to see End of Watch and while it has not received rave reviews it sounds as though it is worth checking out and certainly not void of value, especially when considering that it incorporates a rather strict use of the found footage mentality.  While the story within Chronicle is admittedly forced and somewhat overembelished, especially in the closing scenes which are the best portion of the film, despite technically breaking the found footage barrier for a couple of shots, it is something quite enjoyable to watch.  Josh Trank makes the use of CGI, heavy special effects and clever camera tricks seem quite well-integrated and demands that the unique and often mocked genre possess some degree of respectability, even, I dare say, artistic credibility.  One could certainly make the argument when it comes to Chronicle, as a good portion of the scenes seem more appropriate for a experimental art house film than what is essentially a deconstructionists consideration of the superhero film.  Trank really does something special by making both the characters and the camera they use a thing to move through and around the space, considering the supernatural as a thing experience both within the filmic space as well as, I  would argue, transcendent of it, especially relating to the way the camera is decidedly fixated on one character's experiences, even when he is removed from the control of its movement.

Chronicle begins with an introduction to Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) a social pariah of sorts who figures that the best means for dealing with his abusive father and deathly ill mother is to take up a video chronicle of his life, one that is all but hopeful, as it becomes apparent that besides being quite downtrodden by his home life, Andrew is also victim to constant bullying and degradation at school.  In fact, were it not for his loose relationship with his cousin Matt Garetty (Alex Russell), Andrew would be entirely void of any quantifiable friendships.  During a party one night, in which Matt invites Andrew in hopes of breaking him out of his shell Andrew ends up being victim to yet another bout of bullying at the hands of an individual who assumes his videotaping to be some sort of voyeuristic perversion.  Awaking from being knocked unconscious Matt and his friend Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan) demand that Andrew brings his camera to an underground passage where they discover some bizarre crystal formation that glows a variety of different colors.  During this moment, the crystal explodes in some bizarre light formation blowing the trio away onto the ground and the tape then cuts to the group experimenting with new powers that allow them to apparently telekinetically control the objects around them.  Reveling in their enjoyment it becomes obvious that the powers can have positive and negative consequences, whether it be to boost their sex lives, or to cause a belligerent driver to go veering off the road into a lake.  In hopes that they can keep their new powers a secret and avoid any conflict, Matt suggests making rules against using the powers on people, and certainly demands that they do not use them when angry.  Yet, Andrew whose powers do not equate to an increase in social status begins using his telekenisis against bullies and even his own father, and act that leads to accidentally killing Steve.  In a moment of last ditch desperation attempts to use them to rob a convenience store, only to cause a shotgun to accidentally blow up a propane tank, landing the angry Andrew in the hospital.  It is here that his father berates him again, only this time Andrew's rage explodes into an uncontrollable mess and Matt attempts to stop him, leading to a rather intense telekinetic shootout through the skies of Seattle.  Matt realizes that it is necessary to kill Andrew in order to save the entire city, doing so defeated and saddened, although in a touching final scene, Matt travels to a place where the trio agreed to go with their new powers, asking for his deceased cousins forgiveness and understanding.

Chronicle, like so many movies I have reviewed recently appears to be a multitude of things, perhaps a commentary on mental handicap and learning to embrace it within an individual, or even a statement about youth and their attachment to a technological world.  Hell, it is even on a very basic level a run-of-the-mill high school coming of age story, yet what I cannot stop considering is the manner in which the film clearly fixates itself on the woes of bullying and understanding the effects such ignorant behavior can have on an individual and the way in which they engage with the world around them.  It is a pertinent topic for this year and one that clearly needs to always be considered within films marketed at this age group, it was not but about a half a year ago that a college student took his life after discovering that his roommate videotaped him engaging in intercourse with a partner of the same sex, ultimately, shaming him in the process.  It is no doubt that the degree of bullying occurring within Chronicle has a certain amount of heightened intensity to it, after all, it is a piece of action cinema, but one cannot ignore the lack of parental figures around the school to take a strict stance against such actions, not to mention the complete nonexistence of a welcoming environment for Andrew outside of the public space.  In fact, one must note that it is not until he is literally able to fly away from his problems that he claims to be enjoying his life, yet as the narrative suggests, even these moments of escapism do not mean complete removal from his very grounded and very real issues, many of which center on his own internalized failures as a masculine figure.  Certainly, it is during a party in which he fails to consummate a sexual act that even Steve and Matt criticize him, undoubtedly, leading to his downfall and breaking off from any sort of sane connection to the world.  While the narrative could certainly have ended with Andrew taking his own life or something in that vein, it chooses another equally viable outcome, the enacted social rage against those in the world around him.  Andrew attacks everything, because in his bullied eyes everything is his enemy and it is really hard not to say that the individuals involved did not have it coming.  It is a film that severely critiques unbridled othering and degrading of individuals, calling for an embracing of those even the most wildly different in society.  A pertinent film now, but hopefully not forever.

Key Scene:  While the closing battle does technically break from the found footage tradition momentarily, it manages to stay true to it to a considerable degree and makes for solid fifteen minutes in which my eyes never left the screen.

If you love found footage films this is certainly a new level stylistically and is something of considerable notoriety.  I would suggest snagging the gorgeous looking bluray if you have the finances.


One Chimpanzee, Two Chimpanzee...: The Loneliest Planet (2012)

The mood film is an incredibly tricky style to navigate, where if a viewer is offered too little it can prove underwhelming and lacking considerably, where as if it i s too grand and distancing it is easy for it to become deemed pretentious and result in the dismissal of the work by critics, and, subsequently, moviegoers who often foolishly assume that if a critic cannot grasp the movie then it is certainly not for them.  Yet, when a mood piece is able to find the middle ground between serene simplicity and grandiose existentialisms the result can be profound, and, almost always, quite watchable, at least this proves to be the case for Julia Loktev's The Loneliest Planet, one of the early releases from last year that seems to have become lost in the hype of Big Hollywood films and the liveliness of Oscar Buzz, which is a bit of a tragedy because like so many low budget films this year it is something both mesmerizing and polarizing and considers the neo-couple in a less than comforting light.  In fact, I would closely compare it with Take This Waltz, only this film specifically finds itself set in the mountains of Georgia(the country), as opposed to the urban landscape of Toronto.  Both films consider with equal weight the woes and aftermath of one misstep in a assumedly perfect relationship, while carefully plotting all parties involved, never taking sides in the matter, often still careful to remind viewers that no party involved is truly free of blame.  I am also usually hesitant to praise a film where the landscape completely consumes its characters, for one this is a tool often used to detract from narrative formation and plot gaps, at least this was certainly the case in something like The English Patient.  I will make an exception with The Loneliest Planet, because the narrative is driven by a couples decision to venture forth into a foreign land far from their familiarity inundated with threats both natural and human, invariably crowding in on their inner emotions and ability to engage with one another.  Finally, with the exception of a couple of students the film contains only three main characters, an ever risky endeavor that pays off magnificently in this film.

The film begins with the jarring image of a naked Nica (Hani Furstenberg) jumping up and down attempting to keep warm as she waits for Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal) to fetch a pitcher of warm water to help heat up her manual shower.  It is revealed in this moment that the two are rather expert travelers, engaged to be married, who have decided that their next expedition shall take them through the mountains of Georgia, again that is the country, not the state.  Knowing little of the Georgian language aside from basic bartering skills, the two hire Gato (Bidzina Gudjabidze) a season guide whose decent understanding of English assures their safety to a degree, even if it means paying a bit more than initially planned, mostly because Gato shows open concern for having a woman traveling.  Regardless, the trio makes a decent group and they travel through the rocks, waters and windy valleys of Georgia, all the while Alex and Nica share in their intimacy, only occasionally concerned with Gato's ability to hear their actions.  Unfortunately, Georgia is not a politically stable area and the trio run into some rather angry locals who do not take kindly to foreigners traveling about their land.  An older man in the group goes so far as to hold a gun to Alex's face which leads him to unconsciously place Nica in front of him as a human shield, only to quickly realize his mistake and move back in front.  The man eventually backs down and the trio are allowed to go, Nica packs quickly and moves along clearly infuriated with Alex.  It is during the next few days as Nica deliberately ignores Alex that Gato begins to make moves on Nica, conversing with her and opening up about his own life, yet she eventually realizes that Alex was only acting in a matter of ear and the two rekindle their relationship.  However, before this Gato makes a pass at Nica who is not receptive and runs back to the tent where her and Alex engage in somewhat uncomfortable intercourse.  The final scene of the films shows the three packing up their tents as though it were the first day of the trip, ignoring the very real betrayals and deceptions which have unfolded in the past few days.

As scathing and biting as The Loneliest Planet proves to be towards the idea of marriage, romance and faithfulness, one cannot help but consider the very international appeal of the film, beginning firstly with its setting.  I am admittedly unaware of any other films set in this remote part of the former Soviet Union, but was more than welcoming of the lush landscapes and eerie chilliness of each scene, not to mention the latent tension of its very foreign elements.  It is always rewarding to see filmmakers go out of their way to find locales that are not represented in cinema often enough, let alone in a non-fantasized setting.  Sure lots of people film in New Zealand, but it is rarely in realistic tone.  Even the director Julia Loktev represents a certain amount of internationalism in her Russian-American identity, one that is very much the combination of two opposing ideologies in a historical sense and given Loktev's age I imagine it was a very real experience.  The cast is also multi-national including what appears to be a handful of Georgian actors, one Israeli actor and the well-established Bernal of Mexican heritage who is a staple of Spanish cinema, particularly the films of Pedro Almodovar.  If all of the production were not enough to make this film international, the dialogue is often varied and never subtitled, allowing for yet another level of multi-nationalism, one that in order to fully comprehend demands a proficiency in at least four different languages.  The topics shared by the characters though also expand beyond one nation, Gato speaks about his own past, while also considering the role that China plays in his country, not to mention some rather specific opinions about the Western world, ones that are understandably negative.  All of this muddling together, certainly adds a poignancy to the films closing scene of the separated identities breaking down their thin tents, perhaps spaces of separation, and accepting a connectedness, even if said connection is the result of some rather unfortunate engagements.

Key Scene:  The moment when Alex unknowingly betrays Nica is so simple that it is nearly deceiving and if you do not pay full attention to its occurring may be perplexed as to why it matters.  However, it is a brilliant moment of filming and acting that might be one of the best scenes of last year.

This is a great thing to watch on Netflix, although I recommend doing so when it is dark out, as much of the movie is set against a black backdrop and it can be difficult to judge a frame with any sort of light messing up the screen.


Beau-ti-ful: Air Doll (2009)

Air Doll is a film destined to be something I thoroughly enjoy.  First, it was directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, whose film Still Walking received a more than favorable review and heavy admiration for its clear admiration for the late Ozu.  Secondly, the film focuses on issues of body and gender as it relates to East Asian cinema, a personal and well-vested research interest of mine.  Finally, if those two things were not enough, the film also includes the amazing Doona Bae, whose performance in Cloud Atlas was among one of the many enjoyable portions of the film.  Of course, a set of favorable things in my favor does not necessarily mean that it will equate to a good movie for other people every time, however, in the case of Air Doll, I think its cinematic leanings, Westernized cultural references and somewhat melodramatic soundtrack lend well to most film palettes, not to mention it involves artificial intelligence, allowing for even the most strict of sci-fi enthusiasts to find something to love in the film.  While the critics who claim the film to be a bit lengthy in its execution certainly have a right to do so, I cannot help but defend its drawn out nature as a necessity in regards to Koreeda's clear desire to promote the issues of human suffering and loneliness as realized through a being whose just come to terms with their own realization that they have emotions.  Hell, I would go so far as to describe Air Doll as a work influenced heavily by the ideas and writings of Albert Camus, although if said ideas were to be incorporated in to a Phillip K. Dick world.  Rarely do I ever possess a desire to go out of my way to read manga, although I probably should begin considering it since it does have ties to my research intestates, I really cannot deny my desire to read the graphic text on which Air Doll was based, because it is such a decidedly philosophical film that I cannot help but consider the ways in which the novel either intensifies or overlooks these reflections.  With is existential woes and considerable understanding of generational issues within contemporary Japanese culture, both in this film and Still Walking, I have began to actively seek out this directors other works as I can only hope they are filled with and equal degree of vigor and poetic earnestness.

Air Doll begins with the introduction of Hideo (Itsuji Itao) a middle-aged man working in a clearly draining and financially unrewarding job, taking solace only in his ability to come home and enjoy intercourse with a blow-up sex doll named Nozomi (Doona Bae), leaving the next day to return to his job of under-appreciation.  It is during his leave from the home that Nozomi begins to come to life as an almost spectral essence, one with a human form, but an opaque shadow.  Having only the realization that she has a heart, Nozomi attempts to navigate the world of urban Japan mimicking the actions of those she sees around her, whether it be an older woman bowing around various businesses or a girl singing a children's song.  Nozomi's curiosity with the world around her is so real and engaging that she actually finds herself successfully landing a job in a video rental store, all within the time frame of her owner being at work, thus being completely oblivious to her changed form.  As the days grow and Nozomi learns better how to navigate the world she is able to express emotions and intelligent conversations to the world around her, whether it be an old man reading poetry at a park bench, or with Junichi (Arata) whom she begins a relationship with, one which allows her to experience young love as well as continuing her curiosity with the world around her, taking particular notice of a young girl being sang "Happy Birthday."  Yet when she falls during work and accidentally punctures herself, it is revealed to Junichi that she is an air doll, something he reacts to by willingly filling her back up with air, in a noticeably sexual manner.  After this accident, Nozomi becomes considerably connected with the lonely individuals around urban Japan, sharing their sadness, as well as coming to terms with Hideo's own loneliness.  She eventually seeks to end her life by releasing her air, after talking with another woman and claiming that she did briefly find happiness in her moments of emotion.  Although it is implied that her sacrifice is witnessed by another woman who draws on its serenity to change their own life and seek out moments of beauty for herself.

Air Doll could be read as many things, an existential reflection on modernity and loneliness, a warning for our seeming willingness to attach emotional outpourings to artificial intelligence, or even a demand of its viewers to appreciate fleeting moments of beauty in a world of continued tragedy.  These are all very real themes within the film and certainly worth intense expansion, however, I cannot help but consider the feminist awakening considered within Koreeda's film, whether accidental or on purpose.  At the films onset, Nozomi is a body objectified, an issue faced by women for centuries, and still problematically confronted today, it is not until she realizes that she is capable of being a emotive and rational being that can seek her own desires that she comes to life.  This life could be read as a socio/political/economic awakening as a metaphor for women in contemporary East Asian cultures where they are still objectified within traditionalism.  As such, it is no accident that she seeks employment at a video store that draws heavily from Western culture, a means of inspiration on a very large level for non-Western feminist rhetoric, although they are beginning to create their own feminist voices and identities completely influenced by non-Western histories and philosophies.  Nonetheless, Nozomi's awakening allows her to move out of the domestic space and create her own sexuality, one that is awakened when she is "blown back up" by Junichi which could easily be read as Nozomi having her first orgasm and realizing that she too is capable of sexual gratification.  In regards to sexuality, it is no accident that the tube to represent Nozomi's vagina is constantly being cleaned both by herself and by Hideo, showing a far larger concern for the female sexual body than medicine tends to do so even in contemporary heath and body discourses.  Finally, her death at the end of the film suggests a feminist martyrdom, no different than Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc, one that pushes another woman to seek beauty outside of a domestic space, a veritable call to action which will hopefully open the eyes of a handful of other oppressed persons as well.

Key Scene:  There is a scene where humanized Nozomi is pretending to be a doll while Hideo lays beside her and watches TV, in which Doona Bae delivers the robotic movements of a doll, while also expressing a look of entrapment that is acting beyond perfection.

This pseudo-adaptation of The Little Mermaid is a must-own piece of cinema, and while it is a bit pricey the DVD transfer is gorgeous.


Buzz, Buzz, Buzz Went The Buzzer: Meet Me In St. Louis (1994)

I have a handful of genres or moment in film history where in I find myself rather certain that I will like everything from the are, whether it be New Korean Cinema, German Expressionism or Italian Realism, however, if you were to ask me four or so years ago when my love for cinema was initially burgeoning, I would never have even thought to guess that one of my favorite films genres would prove to be the technicolor musical, yet me deep affinity for Guys and Dolls, as well as a considerable admiration for Singin' In The Rain, it has come to my attention that, in fact, I do very much enjoy this particular time in musicals, although I can certainly name ones from the surrounding eras of which I love.  As such, it should not have come to a surprise that I too would enjoy Meet Me In St. Louis, which is a dazzling bit of music oriented cinema, one with some catchy, all be it simplistic songs, a segment of an unusual creepiness, not to mention one of the single greatest deliveries of the word "what" in the history of film.    However, what proved to be the greatest and most welcome revelation in the film was none other than Judy Garland, who like Marilyn Monroe was initially somebody I had boxed into a corner of Hollywood disaster icon, however, as I have done more film theory reading, particularly that related to feminist theory it has led me to appreciate certain performers in a new light, for Monroe it is her ability to perform against her objectification, while with Judy Garland I have come, within a single viewing of Meet Me In St. Louis, to understand what has allowed for her to become one of the most stalwart of icons for the gay community.  Her surprising amount of androgyny, personal life plagued by societal scorn as her constant desire for some form of comfort within her films explodes in a way very real and pertinent to the struggles of many gay individuals, males in specific.  Meet Me In St. Louis, in particular, shows viewers a Judy Garland that is clearly a little uncertain in her own body, but, nonetheless, embraces it in a manner so rich and rewarding that I could rewatch the film countless times only for her incomparable crooning...I am talking a Bing Crosby level of mastery.

Meet Me In St. Louis is a film centered on the Smith family, which is headed by the cantankerous father figure Alonzo (Leon Ames) whose desire for his family to attain middle class respectability and conservative normalcy affects every interaction, whether it be his eldest daughter Anna (Mary Astor) and her desire to be proposed to by a high school sweetheart, or the passing of his masculine privilege on to his son Lon (Henry H. Daniels Jr.), or simply trying to find a reasonable course of action for his daughter Esther (Judy Garland) who appears to be moving through her teenage years with a bit of confusion and uncertainty, although it is rather apparent that she has taken a considerable liking to the neighbor's son John Truett (Tom Drake).  It is precisely when a realization is made to Esther's feelings for John that big news shifts the household, it is realized that Alonzo will be required to move to New York in order to pursue a hefty promotion within his job, although this is much to the chagrin of the family who has worked so very hard to solidify their place in the ever growing St. Louis.  The narrative then focuses on the family preparing for their inevitable move, particularly Esther who must ween herself away from the loving John, in order, to assure her happiness in New York, void of her boyfriend.  It is during Christmas night when Alonzo hears Esther sadly singing Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas that he realizes his mistake in forcing his family on an exodus to the unwelcoming and bustling Big Apple.  At the last moment, before realizing that her father has changed her mind, Esther accepts a marriage proposal from John, although she warns him of the woes their engagement will face with a long distance factor, fortunately, they realize that changes allow them to pursue a life together within the city limits of St. Louis, ending spectacularly with the family, including their newest members enjoying the spectacle and wonderment of the World's Fair, which they all strongly believe serves as the moment to place the city on the world map.

So one could bemoan the problematics relating to the nuclear family as it relates to this film, just as easily as one could critique the film for embracing a clearly pro-middle class ideology and certainly these critiques would not be ungrounded.  However, I really want to consider the performance of Judy Garland in this film, one that is dressed and acted in androgynous manner.  While one could certainly chalk her specific look up to cinematographers and costumers/makeup artists adapting to technicolor, it is really quite hard to overlook the masculine features inherent to Garland in this film, whether it be her define jawline, or her unusually butch makeup.  Similarly, her singing in the film is notably deeper then her female counterparts, and often serves as a definably masculine aspect of herself within a feminine context.  Her appropriation of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, certainly hearkens back to Bing Crosby, as I noted earlier, adding yet another layer of androgynous performance.  It is also no accident that the two youngest daughters in the family perform cross-dressing for Halloween, not to mention Anna's tie dress, almost as if to add a layer of support to Esther and her divergent performance of femininity.  In an active sense, Esther also challenges traditional femininity in first her demand within her relationship to have a voice, one that discredits John's demand for an instantaneous marriage, not to mention disregards the lesser of male suitors, a decidedly unfeminine act for the era.  Ultimately, Judy Garland's performance within Meet Me In St. Louis is certainly not the most revolutionary ever enacted upon screen, but something is to be said about its divergences, if only to serve as a groundwork for her assured icon status within in the gay culture for decades to follow.

Key Scene:  The Trolly Song was a blast visually and aurally and well worth watching as a solo piece, although when Lon delivers a "what" in relationship to a bizarre proposition by Esther I could not stop laughing for the remainder of the film and well into the next day.

Buy this movie it is a cinematic gem, I plan to upgrade to bluray soon as the technicolor seriously drips of the screen at times.


You Have Poor Social Skills. You Have A Problem: Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Silver Linings Playbook may prove to be the biggest surprise for me from 2012, not because it is a particularly revolutionary film, or because it came out of nowhere as a huge surprise in filmmaking.  I enjoy David O. Russell, however, the seemingly onslaught of praise directed at this film, not to mention  the claims that it was deserved of every Oscar possible had me a little uncertain, particularly considering that it is essentially a dark romantic comedy.  Why then is it my biggest surprise of last year, well...I would have to say it has everything to do with it proving to be a really great film, regardless of me rooting heavily against it before ever watching even the trailer.  I am honestly trying to be better about actually viewing and considering a work before dismissing it completely, and has proven to benefit my opinion of a work like Silver Linings Playbook, as well as something like American Pie awhile back, although it does prove at many times to confirm my preconceived notions about the film, which is certainly the case with Gone With The Wind.  Hell, who knows, maybe this dedication to seeing before judging will eventually get me around to actually watching a Tyler Perry movie, but I know the likelihood of that is quite minimal.  I say all this digressing from the actual film at hand, which is a rather raw and subtly experimental film by the now well-established David O. Russell who proves to be  impossible to categorize as far as genre is concerned, making everything from his most recent film to the excellent The Fighter, as well as Three Kings, a war movie that I have heard only praise towards.  In a year that saw a lot of directors playing within their comfort zones what Russell offers in Silver Linings Playbook is not only out of the norm for himself, but for many of the performers as well, and while it is certainly not the flawless film people seem so sure it is, I will say that it is certainly worth viewing and evident of what is possible within in the comedic genre, both as a means to make audiences laugh, as well as a way to consider some of the more troubled aspects of a decaying traditionalist society.

Silver Linings Playbook focuses primarily on Pat (Bradley Cooper) an ex-substitute teacher who is being released from a psychiatric ward after being placed their for nearly beating a man to death after discovering him having sex with his wife in the shower.  Pat struggles to maintain any degree of normalcy after this event, especially considering that any sensory experience from the trauma triggers rage within him associated with that event, a particular Stevie Wonder song serving as a perfect example.  Knowing his serious condition, Pat's parents Dolores (Jackie Weaver) and Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) walk on eggshells around him, although Pat Sr.'s involvement with bookie work after the loss of his pension leads to some very heavy stress within the household.  Regardless of this, Pat seeks safety running in the streets and attempting to get in mental and physical shape in order to win back his wife.  Of course, this task is not easy considering that Pat attempts to avoid taking medication and is so mentally distressed that he has convinced himself of his wife's certain forgiveness.  At a party for Pat's recovery Pat meets a sister of a friends wife named Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who is facing her own psychological troubles after the loss of her husband.  The two instantly create a derisive chemistry mocking one another in their mental duress, yet clearly drawn to each other in a more than platonic way.  Tiffany convinces Pat that she is capable of assuring communication with his wife, despite a restraining order if he is willing to, in turn, serve as a partner for her in a dance competition.  Needless to say this task proves challenging, both in regards to their respective mental issues, as well as a slew of outside forces attempting to interfere, all culminating into their performance that, at this point in the narrative, has taken on a more than recreational element and indeed possesses very high stakes.  All the while Pat's wife has decided to make an appearance and see how he is doing, much the the dismay of Tiffany, although as the closing moments of the film suggest Pat may have grown to understand his own relationship to his troublesome past, as well as his own necessary detachment from it as well.

This movie takes the possibility of mental breakdown very seriously, positing that it only takes the right troublesome event to lead a person into a depressed self-destructive existence and is something that I think often fails to be appropriately considered within cinema, as was certainly the case with the terribly uninsipring Young Adult.  Sure the whiteness of Silver Linings Playbook, as well as the economic safety of the characters involved should not be ignored, yet it has no qualms showing the very destructive actions a person suffering from complete mental decay goes through, whether it be dangerous sexual engagements, or working out to the point of counter productivity, Russell makes it quite clear that people can snap and when they do it is necessary for those around them to become exceptionally unified.  Much of Silver Linings Playbook then becomes not about Pat and Tiffany's own struggle with their psyches, but instead; a film about those close to them learning to help their psyches evolve back to something remotely normal, at least this is certainly the case between Pat and his brother who seems to think that he can cheer his troubled brother up by boasting on his own successes.  Although the true narrative evolution comes via Pat Sr. whose own failures as a paternal figure have led to him being overly aggressive in stress, yet his has not resulted in the injury of another individual, therefore, he has not been othered by society like his son, although there are moments in the narrative where one considers whether or not he is more insane.  Eventually, however, it is Pat Sr. coming to his own senses about his failures and missteps that drives a major portion of the narrative along and makes viewers consider mental breakdowns and equally problematic mental barriers as they relate to interpersonal communication in the familial sense, one of the main underlying elements in this exceptional dark comedy.

Key Scene:  I am, and always will be, a sucker for Bob Dylan and the use of "Girl from North Country" in this film was beyond stellar.

Movie theater, go now. It helps one to appreciate this film if they see it with others around.


When You Lie To Me, I Hurt You: Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Kathryn Bigelow made a huge leap in terms of women filmmakers when she snagged the best director nomination for The Hurt Locker a few years back, a very powerful and poignant film, no doubt deserved of such merits.  Similarly, Jessica Chastain has supplanted herself into moviegoers minds with her presence as an actress, often playing omniscient mother figures with an ambient presence to the narrative.  Of course, one needs only to begin to explain the plot of Zero Dark Thirty to make a case for it not existing within the traditions of a what society deems a feminine picture, of course this is no surprise considering that Bigelow often enters a very masculine world in the films she creates, not to mention possesses a very keen consideration of military imagery in American cinema, yet it is certainly worth considering her choice to center the narrative of the lead up to the assassination of Osama Bin Laden within the perspective of a female, furthermore via the actress Jessica  Chastain, who many felt to be playing against her character type.  I personally found Zero Dark Thirty to be an absolute cinematic spectacle, not to mention yet another performance by Chastain, leading me to wonder if she is not the best woman working in Hollywood as it stands.  The subject matter focused on within the narrative of Zero Dark Thirty is certainly not something to take lightly, particularly considering the amount of life lost on both sides of what ended up being a decade of warfare and violent attacks.  Bigelow briefly provides viewers with a reminder that her story is drawn from the descriptions of a handful of accounts surrounding the decade, however, this reminder of her involvement in the, ultimately, fictional narrative, nonetheless, proves to be profusely well-researched, and save for a couple of anachronistically placed songs and cultural references manages to lend a very earnest camera to considering a very pertinent rhetoric on America's post-9/11 relationship with the rest of the world.  Bigelow has received some heavy handed criticism for her depictions of torture, political machinations and the raid on Osama Bin Laden's quarters, yet how one stands on the issues leading up to the eventual assassination of Bin Laden should prove irrelevant, and, ultimately, do, as Bigelow provides an account of events as she envisions them, specifically through one woman's attempt to navigate a system that proves incredibly unreceptive to her presence.

Zero Dark Thirty begins quite intensely with a black screen paired with the distressed calls of victims inside the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001, creating a clear line as to where this films desires to go, only to follow this up with images of Maya (Jessica Chastain) sitting in on her first torture session for the CIA led by Dan (Jason Clarke) a sporadic, scruffy man whose extensive education in human psychology has led him to be a nightmare to any political detainees possessing information relating to then alive terrorist Osama Bin Laden.  Maya proves to be a well-established expert in the field of Middle Eastern terrorism and proves an asset to Dan as they attempt to discover all persons with close ties to Bin Laden, particularly one alias known as Abu Ahmed, the alleged highest courier for the elusive Bin Laden.  However, despite Maya's incredible work, the bureaucracy involved in finding such individuals proves burdensome and Dan extracts himself from the situation, choosing to move back to Washington D.C. and work within the safety of his own country.  Maya struggles on for many more years attempting to locate the elusive Abu Ahmed, while also facing a rash of criticism from American citizens and the global community who believe their actions with suspected terrorists to be inhumane, while also feeling the pressure of higher officials who demand results in the face of repeated terrorist attacks on a global scale.  Maya nearly gives up hope completely when she is led to believe that Abu Ahmed has died, however, information suggesting that it may well have been his brother, leads the  beleaguered Maya to throw one last effort into finding the seemingly nonexistent courier to Bin Laden, yet when luck strikes Maya is certain they have found the compound housing the terrorist leader.  After months of jumping through hoops for government officials, Maya eventually gets a task force together to raid the compound, which, as history has shown, proved quite successful, although if the closing image of the film is to be taken for anything, Maya clearly reflects on how worth it the sacrifice was to a nation, but, most importantly, to herself.

I thought with some certainty that Django Unchained and its problematic racism would prove to be this years most divisive film, however, the issue of America and its relationship with the use of torture has instead led to a huge critical divide as it relates to Zero Dark Thirty.  It appears as though figures on the side of conservative loathe the film for reminding viewers that it was the Obama administration that killed Bin Laden, although to be fair, regardless of a film existing it is still a true statement.  On the left, outcries are directed at what is assumed to be a favorable view on torture as a means to obtain information, and, yet again, while the integral piece of information necessary to finding the man closely tied to Bin Laden did come from torture, at least in this films depiction, one cannot overlook the amount of research and persistence on Maya's part as it relates to finding Bin Laden.  Furthermore, one cannot argue with the character of Maya clearly struggling with her choice to have ties to torture, especially since it involves the degradation of yet another human life.  It is a heavy moral cloud that exists over Zero Dark Thirty one that Chastain clearly depicts on her face throughout the film and manages to retain even in the films closing moments, yet, Bigelow is also careful to paint the other individuals involved in an equally unbiased light whether it be Dan, whose seemingly detached violent persona is undermined in a moment of tranquility he shares with some monkeys, or any handful of Maya's superiors who are clearly trying only to assure the safety of the global community.  Finally, it is Bigelow's careful choice to minimize the screen time of middle eastern bodies in the film, not because their story is not important, indeed it is quite pertinent and in need of telling, but as far as the narrative is concerned, Bigelow is aware that to assume the actions of the otherside in the film would be foolish and  would counter her well-researched work.  Furthemore, while the film is about finding and killing Bin Laden, he hardly plays the villain, instead it is the idea of human disdain and extremism hindering global community at the heart of the struggle for each character, one that at times leads to sacrifice and bad decisions, but when met with persistence assures a safer world in the end.  Zero Dark Thirty is not a film to be taken lightly and demands many watchings, something I intend to do with hopes of navigating the troublesome world of post-9/11 politics.

Key Scene:  This film possesses the single greatest closing scene in a film all year and makes the nearly three hour screening well worth it.

You will be surprised at the stillness that comes over the theater while this film is on, partially because its cinematic nature captures you, but more so because it sets up viewers with an ethical dilemma for which it hardly provides an answer, and this is one of the rare cases where that is completely acceptable.


All Right, Gentlemen! He's Got One Barrel Left: Unforgiven (1992)

One is quite hard pressed to find a genre more challenged by the elusiveness of critical acclaim than that of the western, in fact, if one were to not include No Country for Old Men as a pseudo-western then only three Westerns, to date, have received a Best Picture award at the Oscars, one being the very excellent and incredibly watchable Unforgiven, by Clint Eastwood a director I find myself appreciate more and more with each film I watch of his, especially those of the Western persuasion.  I am quite aware that in terms of "respectability" as a film genre, Westerns certainly fair much better than say the horror film, but I feel it necessary to remind readers that the horror film was born and exists in a world of low-budget and in a counter culture vacuum as well, whereas the western is a thing of prestige, often requiring an insane budget, a set of well-established actors to assure ticket sales, not to mention some rather versatile filming equipment.  Of course, in 1992, Clint Eastwood was still finding himself as a director, far from the assumed respect attached to him for films like Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino and certainly earlier than his masterful romantic drama The Bridges of Madison County, yet to call Unforgiven a outright Western is to misuse the term, since it both adheres to the traditions of the genre, as well as completely turning them on their heads as necessary.  The inclusion of persons of color and women into central plot points are only the beginning of the revolutionary elements within Unforgiven, a film that manages to contest the entire notion of what constitutes certifiable good and to what degree a persons past should have on their engagements years down the road.  Between the moments of broad cinematic landscapes and one of the most magnificent casts ever assembled for a Western that did not have the world "magnificent" in its title, Unforgiven is not only what a person would come to desire out of a contemporary Western, but, more importantly, what they seek in an exceptionally good film as well.

The film intertwines various narratives beginning with the events at a "billiards room," a term intended to refer to a brothel, in which one woman's face is horribly scarred simply for her giggling at one customers lack of endowment, leading to the town sheriff Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) demanding that the perpetrators promise to bring back a set of horses to the women at the brothel as a form of payment for their wrongdoing.  This retribution is deemed quite unfit in the eyes of the women and the go about hiring a bounty hunter known as The Scofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) to kill the man and his pal in retribution.  The Scofield Kid realizes that the task is quite difficult given that the men he is to kill are in their own right quite keen on murder, leading to his attempt to bring former assassin Will Munny (Clint Eastwod) out of retirement.  Will, who is still reeling from the death of his wife quite a few years back has all but vowed never to pick up a gun again, a life choice he associates with his past alcoholism and debauchery prior to meeting his late wife.  Yet, when informed of the high award along with his own disdain for his life as a pig farmer, Will takes up the job, but not before asking for the help of his former partner and equally infamous assassin Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman).  While The Scofield Kid is initially hesitant of the extra help he realizes how integral firepower will be in making sure of their success.  Of course they are not the only individuals seeking the reward and must come to odds with English Bob (Richard Harris) and his biographer, who after English Bob is sent out of town decides to stay about and chronicle the exploits of Bill.  A series of misplaced attacks and failures at killing their target lead to Ned deciding to leave the task and return home, unfortunately, Bill has decided to make an example of him and kills Ned leaving him on display in the village as a warning against assassins entering the town.  Enraged Will returns to the town and shoots Bill, as well as his lackeys down, already possessing the money from the kill.  Will then returns to his life of solitude, although viewers are led to believe that he has done so with the addition of some much needed adult companionship.

This fim takes a handful of the elements of Western films as a skeleton for the plot and cinematic relationship between viewer and film.  For example, there is clearly a unwritten code of ethics helping individuals navigate the wild horizons, whether it be a code of honesty concerning bringing weapons into towns, or the notion of a ceasefire, in order to allow a dying man to enjoy a last drink of water.  Eastwood's familiarity with the genre explodes of the screen, apparent in many of the shootouts as wel as the sets, props and landscapes occupying the space.  Of course, as I noted earlier it is not what Eastwood does within the tradition that is worth considering, but what he does to reconsider it that seems so important.  Firstly, he incorporates a black character into the narrative a thing that may seem redundant now, but as an undergraduate history teacher helped me understand the notion of the black cowboy was very much a part of the world of the American West and proves to still be one of the most ignored and purposefully overlooked elements of the time and place.  Yet, it is also Eastwood's fascination with pride, memory, and glory as they relate to an individuals methods of law enforcement.  Bill is by no means a wholly evil character, but the way he uses the townsfolk and the bodies of others (figuratively and literally) to create his messages evoke the images of a corrupt politician much more son than that of a just deputy, his depicted job within the onset of the film narrative.  In fact, one could make an argument that Bill exists as a sole character of moral certainty.  Bill only agrees to take back the act of assassination as a means to assure safety for his children, yet his paternal performance also extends to The Scofield Kid when necessary and the constant referral to him as an old man take on greater meaning in this context.  It is clearly Will's age that allows him to reflect on the absurdity of human violence and aggression, although as his actions show, wrongdoing always needs to be met with justice, regardless of one's personal attachment.

Key Scene:  A riding scene between Eastwood and Freeman in which the use of hands factors heavily into the conversation as a hilarious moment, so perfected that it almost seemed out of place.

Buy this on Bluray it really pops of the screen in fiery, almost incandescent manner and certainly proves necessary for any burgeoning Western collection.  Not to mention it is super cheap.


They Came In Here And Played God Damn Songs For Kids: Miami Connection (1987)

Stupid Cocaine!, was only one of the many phrases uttered in what may well be one of the greatest rediscoveries in the history of film.  Sure Miami Connection, is not on the level of somebody unearthing a great haul of Japanese Silent Films, nor is it really even something of great social relevance, however, what Miami Connection is indeed, is a reminder that sometimes a really awful movie can have enough heart, earnest misdirection and absurdity to emerge like a phoenix into the loving arms of cinephiles with even the most refined of tastes.  I often wax poetic on this blog about films reminding me that there are some serious issues occurring in our society as they relate to oppression, inequality and ignorance and while this is certainly not any less true on the blog today than it was before viewing this b-movie magic, I can say with a heavy degree of certainty that Miami Connection provided me with a welcomed escape from concern into a world of b-movie bliss.  One review of this rediscovered, now cult-classic suggested that it stands alone as a singular proof of the existence of God, and while I am certainly still an atheist at heart, I kind of got where the reviewer was going, because the perfect combination of absurdity and earnestness appears otherworldly almost transcendent of explanation.  A uneven stew of jump cuts, accidental breaking of basic filmmaking rules, the most incomprehensible storyline ever produced, and some of the most insanely misguided acting ever provides viewers with a spectacle for the ages.  Often when I am engaged with a film and can sense my own being pulled towards the screen it is for a deeply perplexing or philosophically engaging film, when it comes to Miami Connection it is due entirely to my own inability to comprehend the madness unfolding before my eyes.  Often with classic of a cult status they begin decent and split at the seams within moments, however, Miami Connection never has itself together, yet the film has so much heart and passion poured into it by the director, actors and all others involved that it almost formulates a perfect film in effort alone.  In all its synth rock and tae-kwon-do gloriousness, Miami Connection is a film for the ages and begs to be brought back to live and viewed by anyone willing to reconsider their understanding of cinema, a veritable gift from the movie gods if you will.

Miami Connection centers on the challenges faced by a Orlando based synth-rock band named Dragon Sound, who also happen to engage in tae-kwon-do during their free time.  The group consists of an ethnically varied group of men, including their leader and tae-kwon-do grandmaster Mark (Y.K. Kim), the bass-slapping lanky new wave kid John (Vincent Hirsch), the jerry curled Jim (Maurice Smith) whose quest to reconnect with his father proves a major plot point, as well as the unusually hairy John Oatesesque Tom (Angelo Janotti), as well as the soft-spoken, yet anti-drug use spouting Jack (Joseph Diamand).  The group struggles to be taken seriously as a musical act, considering that club promoters and musicians assume them to be a child's act with their kung-fu heavy performances.  Yet, while they do indeed get into a series of street fights over this issue of what could be described as band territory, it is, ultimately, a run in with a set of cocaine dealing ninjas that seems to push the narrative along, and yes you read that absolutely correct, the eventual villain within Miami Connection proves to be a ninja who deals in drugs in Florida, although that may not be as absurd as it sounds, after all it is Florida.  John, in all his Michael Phelps look-alike glory is also forced to contend with one of the ninja cohorts, who has not taken the dating of of his sister by John lightly leading to yet another set of fights, one in which the bearded brother is killed, although Jim reminds his girlfriend that it had to be done, and she certainly seems quite indifferent to it all happening.  Although the fights are important and the band's success is key to the plot...in theory, it all boils down to Jim finding his father and the last act of the movie certainly causes one to consider its possibility of occurring, ultimately, ending with a message of world piece and unity through nothing other than the martial art of tae-kwon-do, and of course, by ridding the streets of that "stupid cocaine."

I almost laugh at myself for trying to consider the critical theory as it relates to such an absurd piece of cinema, that is essentially about using the tenants of a martial art to create unity, however, there is seriously something to be said about how homoerotic the film Miami Connection proves to be, in fact, if it were not for the presence of John's girlfriend it would be really easy to describe the members of Dragon Sound as a group of gay orphans living in Orlando while practicing tae-kwon-do and music.  I mean nobody ever appears to wear a shirt and when they do it is lacking as much material as humanly possible, take for example their band shirts, which I would go out of my way to own, were it not for a considerable lack of sleeves.  While it may seem in jest to consider the homoerotic tendencies in this film, one must remember that it is assumed to be a group of young male orphans under the tutelage of an older sagely tae-kwon-do master, even if it is completely paternal, one cannot help but to consider the latent sexuality present in such a relationship, even if purely unconscious.  Again, I cannot ignore the severe lack of shirts being worn within this film, by both the members of Dragon Sound, as well as the villains they face who are disgusting and evidence of everything gross I experienced a few years back in Daytona Beach, and what my friend describes as equally disgusting in Panama City.  It is a particular strain of hypermasculinity in which the half-naked violent body seems to be praised, again tying to some obviously latent homoerotic desires, especially considering that the bad guys seem intent on using passive homophobic slurs as a means to criticize Dragon Sound.  Hell there is also something to be said about an Asian-American ninja dressed in white and his lackeys all dressed in black riding around on motorcycles, although it is much easier just to use the 80's as an excuse for that.  Ultimately though, Dragon Sound does some rather nice things in terms of promoting racial unity in America, and it is solely the result of group tae-kwon-do.

Key Scene:  The scene in which Jim professes his desire to take a shower before everyone else evolves into some god damn poetic realist art in a matter of minutes.

Buy this movie and buy extra copies to send to your friends with no explanation whatsoever.  It needs to be as much a force cult classic as it is an accidental discovery.  Trust me, there is a time in your film viewing life before Miami Connection and one after, the latter being much more enriched.  The folks at Drafthouse Films saved this work from obscurity so buy a copy from them or Amazon immediately as a  much deserved thanks.


We Must Always Be On Guard For The Mischievous Lip Drift: Bernie (2012)

I can only describe Bernie as one very specific thing and I realize how obscure it sounds even as I elaborate, but to me, one could only define this absurdist masterpiece as a Louvin Brothers song that has been put to film in an homage to the mockumentary stylings of Christopher Guest, while clearly taking heavy influence from the underlying social tensions of American Psycho.  Seriously, that is exactly what I felt while watching this film, which technically came out in 2011, but has not seen wide release until the past year or so, making it a contender during awards season, as well as proving to be one of the most overlooked works of the last year, in a very literal sense, considering that people did not simply watch it and dismiss it, but actually completely avoided it all together.  I am fully aware that he film contains two of the most off-putting actors in Hollywood, in Jack Black and Matthew McConaughey, but both are doing some excellent work in this film, particularly Black who goes against his garrulous and bombastic traditional role, for something much more reserved, but equally grandiose in its spectacle.  It is great to see Richard Linklater back in the game providing viewers with some really great work, quite reminiscent of his early films, Slacker in particular, wherein a society is clearly in a state of crumbling disillusion but can only manage to deal with such issues by either condemning those around them or living vicariously through those doing far better than themselves.  It is clear from the onset that viewers are to take Bernie lightly, the title cards intercut throughout the film, along with the incorporation of interviews by the townspeople manage to undermine any sort of legitimate commentary on the nature of deception and psychological breakdown, but as Linklater reminds viewers, on more than one occasion throughout the film, as much as one may mock the characters within the film, at the end of the day they are truly based off of real individuals making the humor become far less laughable and incredibly real, much like The Informant!, but with an even higher degree of scathing social criticism, directed wholly at the "heart of America."

Bernie, centers on the title character, played by Jack Black, who is a flamboyant, but well loved assistant funeral director in the small Texas town of Carthege.  While everyone is rather certain on the homosexuality of Bernie they do seem intent on claiming him to be one of the most standup guys they have ever met, and find him to be a true gift to the elderly community, particularly the older women who welcome his hospitality in a time of great sadness.  Bernie, in fact, takes a particular liking to one of the older women in the community, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) who is initially dismissive to the awkward advances of Bernie, but comes around after a few visits, realizing that he is indeed the only nice person in the entire town, never mind that Marjorie made a reputation as an incredibly mean individual turning down those who requested loans at the bank she ran in place of her late husband.  Things boil over for Bernie, when, after quitting his job at the funeral home and becoming solely dependent on Marjorie, he realizes that she is only using him as a chauffeur, caretaker and general servant with little care for his happiness, going so far as to openly chastise him for spending too much time with his two hobbies: flying and musical theater.  During one day at Marjorie's house, Bernie becomes incapable of starring at the old woman over-chewing her food any longer and shots her with a hunting rifle and subsequently stuffing her in a meat freezer.  The town goes on assuming that Marjorie is simply suffering from a bad stroke, yet when Marjorie's stock broker expects fowl play on the part of Bernie he manages to obtain a search warrant, where in they discover her body.  At this point Danny Buck Davidson (Matthew McConaughey) a Texas district attorney enters the picture with hopes of prosecuting the murder, yet when he realizes that even after Bernie openly admits to the crime, the townspeople still believe him to be innocent, leading to Danny moving the trial to another county, a rare occurrence, especially since the notion of a "fair trial" would hinder Bernie.  Within his new trial Bernie is found guilty and sent to jail, where he continues to receive visits from the people of Carthege who presume him innocent.

This movie is a scathing film, although its lightheartedness and concern for the opinions of the common person would lead many a viewer to assume otherwise.  Linklater, however, manages to even trick viewers into believing Bernie to be an incredibly likable guy.  In constructing the narrative in such a way the film causes one to consider what effect community involvement and outreach play into the judgement of a character.  Sure Bernie is a great role model within the church and goes out of his way to spend money on those less fortunate than himself, but the narrative constantly sneaks in reminders that he is not an entirely functional person and certainly exploits others when the situation proves beneficial, whether it be the sale of coffins, or the use of an aging woman's money to engage in lavish world travels.  Bernie's dandy veneer is always to be questioned, yet Linklater's incorporation of praiseful words by the townspeople make that difficult to do, not to mention how likable Black makes Bernie seem, nonetheless, he is quite capable of murder and deceit and certainly has no problem using devious tactics throughout the film.  Secondly, the film questions the notion of a "good and wholesome" middle America, one where nothing bad can happen and when it does it is clearly the result of muckraking by outside forces, in this case the folks of Carthege believe Danny Buck Davidson to be using his political aspirations to destroy a stand-up guy like Bernie, and while this may have a degree of validity, it is clear that Danny really does realize how disillusioned everyone in the town has become in relation to the town hero.  It is no accident that it is only through creating a cultural/social difference between Bernie and the common folk in the trial that Danny is able to secure a guilty verdict, by a simple question of what wine pairs best with fish.  The townspeople point to this moment in the trial as an assured moment of his demise, it made him certifiably different and therefore capable of fault.  Linklater seems to suggest that as long as an individual can obtain insider status within the "heart of America" they can get away with anything...even murder.  However, one cannot forget that Linklater is merely adapting a very real story, one that causes me to consider my understanding of human nature far more than I imagined I would upon initially viewings this superb dark satire.

Key Scene:  I laughed the entire time Jack Black sang "Love Lifted Me" in his car, and proceeded to laugh through the rest of the film, but his opening moment is so ridiculous that it is hard not to become entirely occupied in the narrative unfolding.

Another gem watchable on Netflix, do yourself a favor and watch this film, I can only assume that you will want to pass it along as did I, because it is in need of as many fans as possible.


A Friend Of Mine Went On Carousel, Now He's Gone: Logan's Run (1976)

The very nature of the dystopian sci-fi thriller is to lull audiences with awe-inspiring imagery only to counter such beauty with jarring realities of a nightmarish and terribly Orwellian futurescape, however, very few films manage to take the concept and stretch it out over a feature length film and not completely lose steam halfway through, this certainly happens at times during The Omega Man and Soylent Green, perhaps Charlton Heston is to blame.  However, when a director and its subject matter gets it right the result can be quite astounding, as is certainly the case with THX 1138, which is both a visual feast and a narrative masterpiece.  While not quite on the level of the early Lucas work, Logan's Run does indeed manage to be an impressionist vision of the future that substantiates itself with a stellar narrative and commentary on the future.  Hell, it even proves to have come out in one of the most seminal years in filmmaking, setting along side Taxi Driver, Cria Cuervos and Nashville, all films that i have provided praise for to some degree in on this blog, although the latter was, technically, released a year earlier.  Logan's Run is particularly good, because while it certainly makes viewers aware of its showy elements, whether they be the expansive miniature sets intended to display the future, or the heavy emphasis on stop-motion special effects and hand drawn animation, all elements exist as a means to expand on the story, as opposed to distract viewers from any degree of lack, although it is admittedly hard not to become completely overwhelmed by something like the carousel scene, which works on a highly poetic level, as well as a grounded undermining of the notion of moving on to a "better place."  I would argue that very few contemporary directors within the sci-fi genre manage to comprehend the future in quite this way, except maybe The Wachowski's but even then their works clearly exist with a degree of homage to this works Platonic philosophy.  If all of this fails to sell this cinematic masterpiece, there is some glorious hair going on that even includes the likes of a young Farah Fawcett.

Logan's Run is set in the future, 2274 to be exact, wherein lifespans cut off at the age of thirty and individuals are sent onto Carousel a spiraling upward magical ride that leads those at cut-off to a sort of rebirth, meaning, of course, that no individual within this society is old, nor has ever seen an old person.  While a majority of the citizens gladly embrace their assumed rebirth a considerable amount of individuals are suspicious of the carousel as a form of population control and attempt to avoid their turn on it, becoming known as Runners in the process, precisely because they must run away from the world in order to avoid such a fate.  In comes Logan 5 (Michael York) and his friend Francis 7 (Richard Jordan) as Sandman, whose jobs within this society are to prevent runners from escaping, even if it means killing them to do so.  Logan 5, unlike Francis 7 begins to reconsider his role as a Sandman, and his eventual fate at the carousel when he takes one runners possession to a processor, and discovers their ankh necklace to be a symbol of eternal life.  The computer in rebellion pushes Logan 5's processing date ahead, forcing him to flee in fear of carousel, becoming a runner himself, acquiring the help of another runner Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter) to help escape the colony.  This escape leads them deep underground where they discover a frozen underworld in which the bodies of those runners frozen, as well as food kept from the outside world.  Box (Roscoe Lee Browne) a robot attempts to stop them from running, but Logan 5 and Jessica 6 eventually escape relatively unharmed, even managing to find the overgrown world of Washington D.C., although they are unfamiliar with it, finding a the aged statue of Abraham Lincoln quite bizarre.  During their exploration they met an old man, played supremely by Peter Ustinov, who explains to them the world outside of their colony, as well as the joys of growing old.  This revelation, in the eyes of Logan 5 and Jessica 6, must be shared with their colony, and after fighting off those who disagree, including Francis 7, they share the experiences of the old man with their colony, as they all begin to rise out of the cave of lies and false hopes of recycling.

While the main theme of this film certainly concerns issues of overpopulation, sustenance and fears of growing old, as do many science fiction works, it is hard not to consider how excellent of a consideration this is of Plato's Allegory of the Cave.  I know I refer to this quite regularly on the blog, but Logan's Run is truly a stellar adaptation of one of the great philosophers most universal teachings.  I will assume readers are quite familiar with this work and, as such, will not elaborate to heavily, however, I do want to note that it is essentially about living in metaphorical darkness, and seeing a light,  or becoming educated and attempting to share those realizations with persons still living in the darkness of ignorance.  Director Michael Anderson extends this notion to argue that the ignorance of people living in Logan 5's colony is a direct result of consumer excess, as much of the colony is quite reminiscent of a large shopping mall.  They chose to agree to young age and the comforts of conspicuous consumption, even fearing wrinkles or old age, let alone a person who even begins to question the possibility of something aside from carousel.  The film deals with seeing the light in a very literal sense, in that Logan 5 and Jessica 6 emerge from the cave into a blistering sun, although it to occurs in a educational sense, as they purposefully emerge in a dilapidated Washington D.C., a veritable locale of knowledge as guiding light.  However, it is their interaction with an individual who is equally, if not more, happy than they living outside the colony and growing old that inspires them to share their experiences, particularly those relating to learning.  It is also no accident, that the old man quotes T.S. Eliot, whose poetry would personify the idea of expanding the human consciousness to things beyond even the tangible, although as the closing moments of the film do emphasize, it is quite often the quantifiable elements that help move people from blind ignorance to enlightenment.

Key Scene:  The entire "face change" sequence is a god damn vision of cinematic dystopia, that is at once beautiful and nightmarish.

Buy this on bluray, it is a spectacle and well worth seeing in the highest quality possible.


Right, I'm The Chosen One, And I Choose To Be Shopping: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1992)

Leave it to me to not realize until a couple weeks ago that Buffy The Vampire Slayer originated as a campy, satirical teenage comedy, much in the same vein as Clueless, although considerably less scathing, and tragically without the ever welcome presence of Wallace Shawn.  Where the television series would leap into some more gothic elements and clearly embrace special effects and romantic involvements, this original manifestation of the cult character considered its relation to high school experiences, as well as a surprisingly realized emergence of one girls own feminist politics.  For a variety of reasons films like this seem to fall to the wayside, perhaps a direct reflection of their revolutionary style and commentary, or a fact of it simply not fitting with viewers palettes for the era.  One cannot deny that this clearly independent film emerged well before it was made cool by Quentin Tarantino to reference other films within a film and wink at the audience.  Clearly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer manages to do this, particularly with the cinematic means by which it considers the history of Vampires, as well as what I can only assume was a conscious choice to cast Paul Reubens and Rutger Hauer in the roles of the two lead vampires.  Joss Whedon's script shows signs of the evolving writer who would come to be associated with some of the most socially conscious scripts, as well as the ones which prove to completely deconstruct everything associated with a genre piece, something which occurred with a hefty amount of zeal in 2012's Cabin in the Woods.  To call Buffy the Vampire Slayer a high-school comedy is to incorrectly categorize it, yet one cannot simply refer to it as a vampire flick, because while the title clearly suggests such a film, within the narrative of Whedon it constantly reconsiders, undermines and eventually reappropriates everything viewers have come to understand about a genre.  I would even be so bold as to suggest that Whedon is very much picking up where Harold Ramis left off concerning socially situated satirical filmmaking and boy does it exude within the brief insanity of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The narrative of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, while not reflective of the television series, nonetheless, still focuses on a girl named Buffy (Kristy Swanson) who seems quite content to live the life of ditsy high school cheerleader, while batting off the secretly desired accosting by her male classmates.  Yet, when a  bizarre sickness begins spreading around her high school Buffy begins considering her own identity, particularly one tied to consumerist ideologies and a rather vain attachment to the performance of cheerleading, yet it is not until some of the members of her high school begin dying or going missing that she really begins considering thing more. A confrontation with Merrick (Donald Sutherland) a professional vampire hunter, who informs Buffy that she comes from a lineage of vampire slayers, causes her identity to completely change, although Buffy tries for quite a bit of time to avert this change and adhere to her traditional ideal.  Yet as the vampires begin taking on very violent forms, even attacking her at points, she agrees to training an action that leads to her eventual awakening into her own powerful person, one capable of kicking some serious vampire ass, while also not relying on the guidance and protection of a male figure.  Yet even her strong independence does not afford her the avoidance of falling in love, in fact, she begins taking a liking to an other-side-of-the-tracks guy named Pike (Luke Perry).  Buffy's job as a vampire slayer begins to unfold from simple back alley fights, to all-out brawls at her high school prom, ones that cause her to reconsider her previous friendships, as well as her burgeoning relationship with Pike, whom she decides to ride of into the sunset with at the end of the film, after of course she a icon of good destroys all the evil in the world of vampires, or at the very least drive stakes through them and leaving them suffering well after the credits begin.

The feminist label to this film is often attached hesitantly, not because it only passively adheres to some of these constructs, but because, as I genuinely believe, many critics are quite afraid to admit a schlocky satire work could be capable of such high levels of social commentary.  I would be willing to at least acknowledge this possibility were the writer anybody but Joss Whedon who constantly proves himself quite attune to social identity issues, hell, look at Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog, which exist primarily to undermine the writer's guild, but also manages to completely deconstruct masculinity in a post-feminist rhetoric.  However, when considering Buffy as a burgeoning feminist one must look at the way she moves from a vain cheerleader reliant on others for her identity to a ass-kicking vampire slayer.  One manner this occurs is through her wardrobe which begins with a attire that exposes her body in an exploitative way to a far more butch look, appropriate for her fight and moving about in self-protection, this is one instance in which her awakening as a feminist allows for her to change her identity not to please others, but instead to adhere to her own identity.  Secondly, her evolution into a vampire fighting master is reflective of her movement towards an individual who challenges oppressive forces, in which Rutger Hauer plays a magnificent metaphor for patriarchal oppression, considering he is an old, white and quite European male.  Buffy directly challenges the groundings of patriarchy eventually undermining it.  Even her relationship with Pike is one in which she clearly asserts control, particularly considering that she is always seen in a dominant place, aside from the films closing scene, although to read to heavily into the riding off into the sunset scene, would be to ignore everything leading up to the occurrence.  Sure they are leaving with Pike driving the vehicle, but one cannot forget that were it not for Buffy, Pike would be far from capable of operating any heavy machinery.

Key Scene:  The conversations between Buffy and Merrick could be totally forced, but under the guidance of Whedon's dialogue the flow naturally and prove some of the better moments in the film, if not, the entire prom section of the film is quite awesome.

A DVD is rather easily obtained and well worth owning, particularly if you fancy your films with a heavy amount of feminist empowerment.