Monday, November 23, 2009

TOERIFC # 11 - MISHIMA: A LIFE IN FOUR CHAPTERS (1985)

It's lucky number 11 (totally the new "7") today as the TOERIFC debate/analysis of another cinematic work gets kicked around by the smartest film people on the internet.

If you care about Paul Schrader or his film Mishima : A Life in Four Chapters, there is only one place you need to be going for the rest of 2009, and that place is Crips and Mutes, the blog of film blogger Krauthammer.

Paul Schrader did much more than just right the script for Old Boyfriends, so go on over to Krauthammer's today and learn something. And bring your boyfriend.

Monday, November 16, 2009

2012

Slinging arrows at Roland Emmerich is about as easy as propping up Michael Bay on an easel for some critical target practice. Having said that, let's get some universally accepted truisms out of the way: Roland Emmerich makes very dumb movies, and, in turn, is a very dumb artist. So, to call 2012 ethically disgusting would not be to necessarily indict co-writer/director Emmerich as a scabrous, agenda-driven sociopath who fantasizes about ethnic and social cleansing through mass population reduction. He's simply not that intellectually gifted (the man has a mural of Mao in his house without any clue as to how wicked that actually is). No, 2012 is simply Noah's Ark with the unfortunate boarding pass prerequisite that you be one of the world's few billionaires... or one of John Cusack's fictional offspring.

Near the end of what feels like a fourteen hour slog of a movie, U.S. Presidential aide Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt) exclaims, "Oh, for God sakes!" in reaction to some last minute do-gooderism. Though he plays a villain, you can't help but sympathize with the guy, for he's in a film where the moral centers - geologist Dr. Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and the President's daughter (Thandie Newton) - pat each other on the butt for saving... five hundred extra billionaires. A few weeks later, after both of their fathers have suffered drowning deaths, Ejiofor and Newton are seen flirting and giggling about some future whoopie that will help kick start Human Race 2.0 by producing a baby of their own. Cut to Cusack, a tranny-looking Amanda Peet, and their kids out on the ship's deck sailing towards Africa (the only land mass still above water). Having already digested the horror of a billion corpses that are roting underneath, how does Emmerich bring a little human levity to this scene of cuddly characters? By dropping in a diaper joke, of course. Cue Adam Lambert song, roll credits.

Amazingly, critics seem to be giving 2012's ugliness a pass because they view it as a "popcorn spectacle", "formula done to perfection", and "a laugh riot". To be sure, it is none of those things, and you should stop reading any paid-per-word goofball who would go to print with such nonsense, but something that really sticks in my craw is how 2012 has come out of the critical gauntlet somewhat celebrated while Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen has been regularly branded "one of the worst movies of the decade"? Look, both films are bad, but, damn, if I was forced to choose between Blu Ray copies of either, you can be sure I would be grasping at the hand which held Bay's monstrosity instead of Emmerich's.

Is it because critics take offense to T:ROTF's marketing of high-priced autos and high-thighed hos to an under PG-13 audience, but play pussy when Emmerich pops up with some of his phony eco-sensitivity? Or maybe it was the ghetto slang and gold toothed grins by two of T:ROTF's go-to comic relievers that rubbed the critics raw. Fine, but may I remind you that 2012 ends with a boat full of mainly super-rich white people sailing towards the continent of Africa. Neo-colonization fantasy anyone?? "Lighten up, man!". Trust me, I'm as light as they come, and I can get off on grandiose visual nonsense with the best of 'em, but if you're going to strap me in a seat for two and half hours, at least stimulate my senses. Heck, the animated "car chase" scene in G-Force was more magnanimous than one puff off of 2012. Even its most entertaining facet - the sub-plot of Woody Harrelson's militia-minded conspiracy rat - disappears way too soon.

It's understandable that a filmmaker would get all tickled-up and excited at the prospect of blowing up the world on film, but Emmerich simply takes this idea too seriously. What's worse, after deciding to go down that straight-lipped path, he plays the extinction of billions of humans completely wrong. No, I wouldn't expect any director to be able to bottle the genuine emotions of a plane full of people who are witnessing millions of their fellow citizens descend off the coast to their deaths, but could you at least try? I don't think I've experienced a more disturbing sequence this year than when plastic surgeon Gordon Silberman (Tom McCarthy) tries to guide a plane through a split-in-half building while people fall from all floors of torn cement and wiring. When out of the rubble, a punch line comes.

Psuedo-psychologists worry about the desensitizing effect of video game culture on our youth. I think they'd serve our society better if they checked up on the sensitivity of secluded millionaire filmmakers instead.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

ON DVD: HOMICIDE (1991)

It didn't dawn on me until the quietly dynamic "toy train shop" scene, but what David Mamet accomplishes with his recently-to-DVD film Homicide, is a bringing to screen of some of the truest instincts we human beings have in relation to our own ethnic identities. Although the shadow of race plays a part in almost every scene in Homicide, the film isn't interested in any divisive eye-poking like those cartoons made by the socially angry and ridiculous Paul Haggis. Without condemnation, what Mamet is expressing here is almost a scientific fascination with the way people will slide into the comforts of social, racial, or religious segmentation in order to find strength and power and purpose. Much like the famous mob scene in Fritz Lang's Fury, a majority of the people who play prejudices and sling slurs in David Mamet's Baltimore are decent people, they've just been seduced by the elixir of group think.

Joe Mantegna plays Bobby Gold, a homicide detective who is Jewish, but in - what seems like -that very strictly non-practicing way. By chance, he is assigned to the murder case of a white Jewish shop owner in a predominantly black part of the city. At first, Bobby treats the investigation like it's a bit of a chore. He has his sympathies for the loss of life, of course, but when the shop keeper's family lays forth the notion that politics and/or hate were motives in the killing, Bobby shrugs it off as quickly as he can roll his eyes and jerk his knee. But slowly, as that small specter of ethnic identity awakens inside him (simply by being near the customs, history, and elements of his heritage), Bobby lets it become the guiding force in his research. There is a burgeoning sense of cultural allegiance now driving the operational dirt digging. Emotion has trumped logic.

None of the transformations taking place in Bobby are, for a second, meant to imply that the fears and concerns of Homicide's Jewish characters are unwarranted. Not at all. Clearly, there are real forces of hatred and tension present in the city as witnessed in the backroom of the previously mentioned toy train shop (Mamet wonderfully contrasts shots of Mantegna reacting to the innocence of tiny toys with that of the rage in neo-Nazi flags and fliers) and in the off-handed comments of policemen and members of the community. However, the issue remains that Bobby has let the ideas of what he wants to find, how he wants to see it, and who he wants to blame create a tunnel vision in his brain. For a man who leads the life of a lonely homicide detective, a new sense of belonging and identifying must feel invigorating.

It is with this new sense-of-self burning inside of him that Bobby lets the word "nig*er" fly from his lips during a police raid. The slur comes out not because Bobby is a racist, but because his chest has been inflated by the gauntlet of cultural branding he just recently emerged from. His behavior is a sociological phenomenon, much in the same way a black council member calls Bobby a "ki*e" earlier in the film following a heated exchange over a racially sensitive matter. Is the council member a racist? Doubtful. He too is reacting in an emotional setting, with a hurried heartbeat, and a duty of cultural preservation on his mind. But what's brilliant about Homicide is the way it never plays these outbursts as signs of a greater hidden division. In fact, made in 1991, Homicide is a film made by a man who seems to have accepted the reality of a post-racial society. Mamet is simply interested in the natural wonders of tribal identification, something that will forever exist.

By the way, I've just skimmed the surface of what goes on in this film. Homicide begs repeated viewings. There's much to dissect here, and it sort of feels like David Mamet's masterpiece.

Monday, November 02, 2009

STREAM-OF-CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION: SURROGATES


[NOTE: This is where the blogger gives himself a strict 10 minutes to rattle off whatever about a movie he just saw that he doesn't feel deserves a thoughtful edited review but still feels the need to feed the animals anyway. Quality is of no concern.]

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I suppose me walking in three weeks after the fact, the fact being that everyone else has already weighed in on Surrogates, is a little cheap on my part. I don't particularly take pleasure in being the 47th person to stroll in and punch something sucky in the face. In fact, I'd rather be the one who gets the first punch in and then tell everyone else "hey, settle down, he's had enough". But hey, I need some space to fill, and I also went and saw Surrogates after work today, so what else to reach in and scrape off my brain than this new boring Bruce Willis movie. Don't get me wrong, i'm a fan of Bruce Willis movies (I will defend Hostage), I'm just saying that this latest one of his is beneath any other further qualification. Some guy directed it that has directed other things. I guess some other things that people like. But whatever, he's pretty shitty if you ask me. Maybe he directed Surrogates in a "method director" fashion. meaning, maybe he made himself into some zombie surrgogate droid blob while he directed this film. Maybe he directed from some futuristic lounge chair or la-z-boy like "The Lawnmower Man", or something. If Surrogates is a warning about our f'ed up future, then I'd rather squint through Dee Snider's Strangeland all over again. Really. What's the point of making a movie like this PG13? Really, all anyone wants to know about people who have their robot selves running around town being controlled by their brains back home is what happens when their robots climax during sex. Do they actually ejaculate or vibrate in their genitals when they orgasm, or does all that imprortant stuff happen back home in the depressing confines of some Idiocracy-type apartment. I don't know. Maybe I'm being too hard on Surrogates. I guess it was kind of neat to see Bruce Willis in glossy paint like he went through one of those pottery kilns that makes things shiny. I also felt bad that he loved his wife so much but she was so addicted to being a "surry" that he was lonely all the time. What was up with that taser thing that the surries got off on at the party? It made me think of tha that orb egg thing from Sleeper that gives all of the guests orgasms. Isn't that what the future really all comes down too? Who cares about war or the environment or population or food or the economy. All we really wnat to make sure about is that our sexual experiences don't get messed up. Cuz, really, when everything else in the world is totally gone and yoou don't even have a rough over your head, well, at least you can give yourself an orgasm. Do homeless people do that? I wonder. Maybe they are too depressed to get those hormones going. What am I talking about? This is depressing.