Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Prometheus: Faith, Religion, and Death

At the onset of "Prometheus" we see a large humanoid alien walk to the edge of a waterfall as a spaceship descends from the clouds. The humanoid pauses and removes its robe, revealing a well-muscled torso. It pulls a small cup from from its pockets and sets it down on the rock, looking like it is offering up a sacrifice to the ship descended. But then it drinks whatever was in the cup and writhes in agony as its DNA is fractured and shattered and it turns into smoke and liquid, falling into the water and regenerating into new life somehow. The title card goes up and the movie begins.

This unexplained moment from the film is the source of a lot of hatred against the movie. Many people criticize the movie's narrative for not answering the questions of "Alien" and, in fact, raising more issues than the original. This had such an effect on the movie that when it was released to DVD and Blu-ray, it's tag line read "questions will be answered", something that I think a marketing team who never saw the movie made up.

"Prometheus" is a coy movie, a sly movie, a smart movie, and one of the current science fiction masterpieces. Not only does the movie look great; but the thought behind it, which is so often critiqued and mocked, is actually very fitting for what the movie attempts to ask and answer.

In college I had a philosophy professor who said that sometimes his teachers would structure a final exam with only one question: "why?" The appropriate answers were two "because" or "why not?" In a large sense, "Prometheus" raises the question "why?" from a religious point of view. In one of the first scenes, David, the android, peers into Elizabeth Shaw's dreams and sees her witnessing a funeral. She asks her dad, presumably a Christian missionary, why he doesn't help these people. He answers that their respective gods are not the same.

When the ship Prometheus arrives at the planet, having followed a set of coordinates from cave drawings spanning millennia and continents, and the people are released from their artificial sleep, the first thing we notice is the crucifix hanging from Shaw's neck as she violently retches into a bowl. She is, in a sense, reborn before our very eyes. Yet rather than adopt a new way of thinking, this baptismal introduction allows us to understand this is a character who will not change her faith, no matter what comes across her path.

Immediately upon entering the atmosphere of the Earth-like planet, the crew conveniently notices a line of structures. Shaw's partner Charlie Holloway notes, "God doesn't build in straight lines" as the ship sets down. On a religious holiday, Christmas, the crew sets out to explore the dome-like structure. Giddy and excited, Charlie and Elizabeth descend down into the labyrinth and come across remains of a previous civilization. These are the Engineers.

Shaw tells the crew early in the movie that Engineers are the predecessors of humanity. They are the reason that we are here and the maps of stars found across the world suggest an invitation. Shaw is determined to find out the answer to her questions and, make like in the Christian dogma's view of heaven, she assumes that these questions will be answered as soon as she comes face-to-face with her maker. Yet all this time, the cross remains around her neck.

As David peers into Elizabeth's dreams he loses connection when her dad asks the question, "What do you believe?" This one question become vital when observing "Prometheus" as a whole. For the movie becomes a religion of some sorts. Charlie loses his faith as soon as the crew uncover a mysterious room with a large mural and pods that begin to sweat as soon as they enter. Their presence begins a chain of events, facilitated by David, that will bring about their ruin.

David represents an intelligence that branches off from humanity and is reflective of it, yet can never hope to attain humanity. He is, if at all possible, smug because of his superiority; yet envious. After David steals a pod and takes it back to the ship he meets with Peter Weyland who tells him, as is later revealed through coercion, that he must "try harder" to find life on the planet. "Trying harder" turns into playing God. The soul-less android dissects the pod and infects Charlie with something, maybe because he knows what it will do. or maybe just our of curiosity. I tend to think the latter. In order to get the momentum building, David takes a risk.

The theme of death is impossible to ignore in the movie. The native people of the planet, the natural inhabitants have been wiped out by some mysterious evil force. Their history is never explained fully though hints of it are seen throughout. In some sense, "Prometheus" plays like someone uncovering an archaeological dig, providing theses for origins. The massive death brings about life, as noticed in the first first scene of the movie.

Yet the movie starts to raise questions before it can answer them. Why? How?

Earthworms seem to morph into large snakes that infect and possess the crew, turning them into monsters. Shaw becomes pregnant with an alien child as a result of David's interactions with Charlie. The movie's most graphic scene shows her removing the fetus from herself and killing it, though it comes back at the end. It begins to feel like a Rube Goldberg machine. One thing leads to the next to the next all while the film juggles and fails to answer the question of origin. Why did you make us?

Before Charlie's death by infection/flame-thrower, he talks with David as the android prepares to poison him. Provoking Charlie, the robot asks what he expected from the encounter. What did he expect to hear from his makers? Charlie says during this conversation, "We made you because we could" to David, who replies that if that answer was provided to humans, think of how unsatisfying it would be. As the film continues, this idea is crucial to hold onto. The dissatisfaction of a creation for the sake of creation is almost inevitable.

The actions picks up and characters start to fall but Shaw remains. She clings to her faith, searching desperately for an answer, yet unable to find one. Here is where the movie is the smartest. The question "why?" is far more powerful than any answer. "Why?" is the site of creativity and innovation while the answer allows for passivity and lethargy. The narrative of the movie is pushed by the question "why?" which ultimately is never answered though one could make several plausible alternatives. "Prometheus" reminds me of "Upstream Color" in that, the story doesn't have to make sense because questions will always be more potent than answers.

When the action dies down and Shaw is left clutching the remains of her faith and her purpose she tells David's head that she wants to keep moving forward, not going back to Earth. They leave behind the set-up for "Alien" quite nicely; yet not explained. The themes of the movie ironically challenge what a "prequel" is 'supposed to' accomplish. "Prometheus" is like a religious text or a story about people struggling with a religious text. The interpretations are vast, the message is clear; but the analysis expands on and on, ostracizing some and welcoming others.

Like David quotes from his favorite movie "Laurence of Arabia"—a film about a man devoid of religion celebrating his own hubris—"Big things have small beginnings."

What is smaller than a simple question? Why?

Monday, August 3, 2015

My Favorite Movie Props

Can we first address how awesome am I not to give into the temptation to make a corny pun about movie props in the title? Okay, glad we got that out of the way.

Recently, I was asked by Invaluable.com—an auction marketplace website featuring antiques, collectibles, and everything in between—if the rules were lifted and I could have any movie props from any movie, what would they be?

First of all, I shall institute some parameters (although I will break them later on, because that's how I roll). These props can't be super famous, like the ruby slippers above. I like to think out of the box, that being said, I'm probably not a hipster so this plan will crumble very soon. I'd just like to point out that my intentions were always good. This means we won't be seeing anything from "Star Wars", or "Lord of the Rings", or "Harry Potter", or any other franchise of extreme fame.

The mask from "Brazil"

The Orwellian fantasy of "Brazil" seems hardly complete without its last scenes. While everything in this movie screams of collectibility (not a word, but one that I think should be), the very last scene in which a baby mask become the scariest thing you can imagine, is the movie's most successful. The greatest of all Gilliam's movies, with a set design that dwarfs all contemporary pieces, perhaps we'd like to own the entire set...but we'll settle for the baby mask instead.

The top from "Inception"

Okay, so I broke my own rules already. This one is obvious, since "Inception" is always in my tops movies. The spinning top, the final frames, they don't really capture the movie's aching poetry and its heist like speed, the adrenaline, nor the complexity of the movie; but with only a top spinning round and round for perhaps eternity, there seems no better prop to condense this movie to a single object.


The coffee mug from "Usual Suspects"

If you haven't seen this movie, you need to and the mug is an obvious pick. There's something incredibly delightful about the way "The Usual Suspects" blends crime and intrigue together for a masterclass in screenwriting. It's seasoned, mature, goofy at times, and always full of quotable moments. The mug itself is sort of the linchpin in detective work that comes perhaps a bit too late.


The hat from "Breathless"

The king of hipsters himself, Jean-Luc Godard. This movie is by far his best work and Patricia Franchini's hat is simply the coolest. Technically both Jean-Paul Belmondo and Franchini wear this hat, but it looks way cooler on Franchini. The tale of romance, intrigue, lies, and life itself (well, maybe not), "Breathless" would be incomplete without its style. The hat serves as the best reminder of that.


The gloves from "Funny Games"

"Funny Games" is a viewing experience unlike anything else. It's brutal, playful, teasing, and infuriating. This is probably why the white gloves that both the young men wear are so curiously out of place, and yet perfect. Donning all white, that is mostly unstained by the end of the movie, their gloves are just another layer of the genius costume design. This innocent and careless superiority is one of the reasons "Funny Games" smacks you in the face.


The makeshift gun from "No Country for Old Men"

Who wouldn't want a stunner of a gun? Okay, that was lame, but seriously. Anton Chigurh's makeshift death device is present from the very beginning of the movie and it helps to make his presence one of extreme terror. Every time his figure looms on the screen, you know something's about to happen, part of this is due to his relentless killings and this unique gun is perfect for his part.


The camera from "Memento"

 Nothing sums up "Memento" better than the camera. For a movie about a man who cannot make new memories, the camera is the best example of a picture never saying a thousand words. Interpretations change, the meaning shifts, even as the photo develops before our protagonist's eyes. "Memento" may not be Christopher Nolan's flashiest movie, but it is certainly one of his most complex and his grittiest.


The pod from "Prometheus"

"Prometheus" I will defend to the death. Its complicated commentary on religion, origins, and faith is just flawless to me. The writing team and Ridley Scott try to one-up the chest-burster scene from "Alien" with the medical pod that, among other uses, provides and emergency C-section for the main character. It's beyond claustrophobic and almost epic in a way. This would be cool to have if you had the space for it and the willingness to hear from every other person why "Prometheus" is actually stupid. People, calm down. It's subjective...and also I'm right.


The beaver from"The Beaver"

This is a great example of a prop actually being a character. In Jodie Foster's "The Beaver", a puppet serves as the gateway between a man's depression and the lives of his family. Not only does the film manage to somehow give puppetry a serious place, it also manages to weave the oddities of its story together without feeling fake or insensitive.

There, I think I've exhausted my immediate thoughts. Of course, given years these would change and I'm sure I would like to include props from "Laurence of Arabia" and "Casablanca" or even "La Dolce Vita", but I can't think of any that stand out to me at this moment. So there you have it, those are the props I'd like to have. Thanks to Invaluable for this entertaining question which I'll leave all of you with. What movie props would you like to have?

If you're interested in Invaluable's collection of movie props, say no more and simply click here.

Friday, July 31, 2015

I Killed My Mother: An Open Letter

I don't know what it was exactly that made me stumble onto "I Killed My Mother". I think a large factor is Xavier Dolan's babe-ness. Either way, I was unsure of what to expect from the Canadian indie film and what I got was far beyond most viewing experiences.

At the time I first watched the movie, almost a year ago, I was still in the closet, still stifled under self-inflicted rigors of what coming out would feel like, and still terrified daily of what my parents would think. I've always had a close relationship with my mother that seemed dependent on the closet. If you want to preserve integrity, keep your mouth shut. This is probably why "I Killed My Mother" hit me—and still hits me—like someone punching me in the stomach, squeezing my heart like a tube of toothpaste.

The lead, an attractive boy named Hubert (naturally played by Dolan), is in the throws of teenage angst under the pressure of a mother who couldn't care less. Their relationship is volatile to say the least. The very first scene views Hubert glaring his mother down because he is disgusted at the way she eats. The next scene has her driving her son to school, they get into what becomes a typical fight. Insults are thrown, he accuses her of having Alzheimer's, and she lets him off on the side of the road so she can get to work on time.

Hubert is a brooding hero, he likes to shout his mind, or write it down and let it burn on the pages. We often see him shouting "I hate you" to his mother, only to be replaced by "I love you" in the subsequent scenes. This back and forth of extreme emotions make "I Killed My Mother" entertaining if nothing else; but it also lends a style of restrictiveness and openness. We get the sense that neither Hubert nor his mother  (Anne Dorval) can accurately say exactly what they want to each other. Their peculiarities only make the situation worse.

Hubert occupies a comfortable space with his sexuality, an undisclosed, nonchalant area where he and his boyfriend Antonin (François Arnaud) are able to be romantic and intimate. Antonin's mother, Hélène (Patricia Tulasne) is then seen as the mother Hubert would like to have.

The last piece of the puzzle is the stereotypical teacher with a heart of gold, Julie Cloutier (the effortlessly lovely Suzanne Clément). She takes a liking to Hubert and often is the sole voice of praise and support in his life, when his mother cannot manage to say the words. Julie's is a love that Hubert gravitates to because it is based on actions, words that people say and gifts they give.

As Hubert struggles under the strain of his mother and she finds that she cannot understand her teenage son and his mood swings, the movie reaches a climax by never letting us truly know what the end result might be...and no, it's not as dark as its title implies.

I think the thing that hits me so hard about the movie is the unspoken (for the most part) extreme love that Hubert and his mother have for each other. You can't tell this by the way that they scream at each other in the car or the way that his mother threatens, and often carries through on her threats, to leave Hubert and drive away because he's taking too long at whatever. But their love is so intense that when their facades finally crumble (cleverly never at the same time) we see them speak to each other and finally admit their feelings. When Hubert, high on speed, comes home and wakes his mother up in the middle of the night, he says that if he had time to say everything he wanted to say to his mother, it would take him 100 years.

The moment that breaks my heart is when Hubert is being sent away to boarding school. He tells his mother that the moment he turns 18, he will never speak to her again and that he hates her. This isn't the first time that he's said such things; but we get the feeling that for once the words are really hitting home with Chantale (his mom's name, though rarely used in the film). Eventually he screams at her "What would you do if I died today?" and then stalks off to the bus, taking him off to a boarding school he really does not want to go to. What he doesn't hear is her response, which she whispers at his back with no overblown sentimentality: "I'd die tomorrow".

Hubert's sexuality is not known to his mother, not because he is afraid of her response, and yet maybe it is. She learns from Antonin's mother about their sons' relationship, which is possibly the most #lifegoals  gay relationship I've seen in a movie. Chantale is shocked by this and is seen walking in a stupor for a few minutes afterwards, not upset, yet obviously perplexed by it all. She later confronts Hubert about this and says that what hurt her the most is that he didn't say anything to her.

Communication is not good between the two even for all the talking they do. Yet what child really has a good two-way channel opened to his mother? I know that as close as I was to my mother, I never shared everything with her, though certainly we were never as violent or as mean as Hubert and Chantale.

I think that's why the movie hits me so hard, because of sons and mothers, because we see Hubert and his mother fall out, come back together, scream, break, shout, cry, and embrace.

In the review I did, when I first saw "I Killed My Mother", somehow I managed to compare Dolan to Woody Allen which I think is somehow still accurate but a rather naive comparison. I don't think Dolan deserves to be compared to someone else, not because he is that much different from other directors or terribly original, but because he holds such a special place in my mind. The intimacy of his work, seen best probably in "Laurence Anyways" is mixed with highs of emotion—"Mommy"—but I think "I Killed My Mother" will always be the one that I return to.

Dolan has gone on to make better looking films with higher budgets, yet his debut remains so potent. The French (which I don't speak) is gloriously beautiful. The acting is superb. I can't find faults with the movie, mainly because it severs heartstrings with its cinematic knife.

To my mother, who I don't think will ever read this because I don't think she knows it exists: Je t'aime
We've never seen eye to eye on everything and I know that you'll never watch this movie because you don't like subtitles; but I think all the right emotions are there that somehow mirror our relationship. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Six Feet Under: The Cruelest Show Ever Made

Well hello there, it's been a while hasn't it? Well, the reason for my absence is that not only is my schedule slammed; but apparently I had to watch "Six Feet Under" to gain a better understanding on life, which I think is preposterous. Time and time again the show popped up on "best of" lists and I decided to give it a shot. After the first season, being unimpressed, I only heard rave things about the finale, so I stuck it out another four seasons and voila! Today I finished! I could cry from happiness.

In order to better serve my arrogant whims, I have decided to make a detailed description on my reactions to the series as a whole and thus will be SPOILING every last facet of the show which means that if you're read past *this*, you're probably going to get angry if you wanted it all to be a surprise...then again, you're just doing it to yourself at this point.

"Six Feet Under" concerns a family of undertakers and their dealings with life and death. Yes, it's kind of easy to shrug off the entire show and its complexities as such; but then again with such an ambitious goal, it can seem that I can do nothing better than just shrug it off. It's nonsense.

I made the running joke while I was watching the show about retitling it "Assholes Who Cry All the Time" or "Getting Bad News on a Phone Call" or even "People Who Cheat on People and then Get Angry When They're Cheated On"; but I actually think the best retitling the show could undergo is "The Dysfunctional Red Headed Stepchildren" because by all means that's what's going on here.

Now before I go any further, I should give the show its dues; it's trying to be realism. It's trying to show that life is a bitch; but it can also be painfully beautiful. Just flashback to the moment in "American Beauty" when Jane and Ricky and watching a plastic bag float around on the screen. That is beauty. That is powerful; but Alan Ball seems to have stretched himself to his limits because he attempts to inject that beauty in everyday life into a barrage of unsightly characters who always make the worst decisions, have the worst things happen to them, and deal with each other in the worst possible ways.

A brainchild of Ball's, "Six Feet Under" was a critical success on its release and has never let up since. It remains one of the most loved shows of all times and consistently ranks in with the best of the best and all I can do is just be all like...."but why?"

Here, I've complied a list of what I thought were the show's most heinous faults as well as trying to give credit where deserved.

The Gays

"Six Feet Under" was one of the first places on television you could spot a gay couple, and they weren't just gay, they were biracial which is a plus for diversity. Still, the arc of the couple plows through betrayal after betrayal and their relationship is seen in a constant state of contention. They fight, physically sometimes and often envelop other people into bizarre menage a trois and the viewer is still supposed to care for them. They are stripped of their humanity time after time as they scream and fight with each other, having anonymous sex in bathrooms and sometimes even going beyond their orientation for a nice screw. Sex is used as a weapon, as a deal-breaker, as a casual state of affairs. In the last seasons they are seen becoming even more casual with the idea of each other getting blowjobs from strange men and seeking retributions through orgasms. It's almost revolting what happens.

But there is a moment when it seems to take a breath. When David (Michael C. Hall) tells Keith (Matthew St. Patrick) that he wants to become monogamous and the very next scene has David screwing a man in bed while Keith is away on a job. Ah, romance.

Not only do they cheat and does the show deny them their nuances, the show makes sure that plenty of trauma goes around for everyone (I've warned before, but I'll warn again MAJOR SPOILERS!). One long story arc has David picking up a hitchhiker who steals the car and mentally tortures David before letting him go. The ghost of the hitchhiker follows David the rest of the show, even to the point where it becomes ridiculous. After Nate dies in the final episodes of the show, David can't cope with the death of his brother because he keeps hallucinating the man wearing a red hoody trying to sneak up and kill him. It's only a confrontation in a dream that allows David to have release and after a season and a half of build up, it's actually not that rewarding that it can all be solved with a hug. That's just insulting.

While it is nice to have gay representation in the show, it's almost like the writing is too committed to portraying these people as flawed that it doesn't bother to give them any redeeming qualities. David and Keith eventually adopt children and the two kids they end up with have a troubled past. Although we see one of them pull a knife of Keith it's only a few sweet episodes later that he's speaking kindly and "yes ma'am-ing". That kind of character development doesn't happen overnight.

The Torture

In the show's first season, it seemed like it was David's show. After all, a complex, troubled, emotionally unstable gay man? That's drama, right? Well, I guess not because after that the show shifted to Nate (Peter Krause) and he became the shining star of the piece ever since...which is really annoying. His story arc is nothing is not absolutely twisted and vile.

On the day that his father is killed, Nate hooks us with Brenda (Rachel Griffiths) and then starts the whirlwind of their relationship. They start seriously dating but Brenda randomly turns into a nymphomaniac and a drug addict and after one too many handjobs to strange men, she leaves to find herself while Nate is left behind with a brain condition that means it could be his time to go any moment.

In walks Lisa, the walking plot twist. Played by overly cheerful Lili Taylor, this girl is from Nate's past and she is pregnant with his child. Oops. Well, I guess while Brenda is off finding herself, Nate marries Lisa and they start having sex problems. Lovely.

But Brenda has to show back up and naturally the show does the only logical thing it can do: kills Lisa. After Nate reels from the death—and he does so for a good seasons if not two—he starts casually having sex with Brenda again while she's in the best relationship of her life. She was dating this adorable French horn player and he was into kinky sex, but their relationship was so healthy and they were going to have kids together. In walks Nate—who by this time in the show has been degraded to a crying mess of emotions—and you can say bye-bye to French horn, dude; because Nate is so much more attractive as a mentally unstable character dealing with the loss of his first wife. Wow, hot.

Brenda and Nate get married and want to have a child and this is where it gets really fucked up. Nate meets his step-father's daughter (it's complicated) and the glances from each other indicate that this is going to go somewhere. So while Brenda is cooped up, pregnant with his child, he's out screwing a Quaker.

This isn't even the coup de gras, the best moment comes when Nate finds out that Lisa has cheated on him with her brother-in-law. When he confronts the man about it, the cheater blows his head off right in front of Nate...the very next scene has Nate going home and telling Brenda that they should start a family together and get married.

Pardon me but what. the. fuck? Mind you he's still covered with his brother-in-law's blood!!!!!! Can you explain to me why it is acceptable to put a character through this much torture just to get some sort of sick, "life is hard" altruistic nonsense out of it. It is insultingly bad.

Nate isn't the only character whose narrative arc is far from satisfying or pleasant. Ruth (Frances Conroy) is another abused character. It's her husband's death that starts the show rolling and she never really recovers completely from the loss. Although she bounces from partner to partner, eventually she becomes a catatonic mess and shuts down completely, only finding comfort in the fact that Nate was happy after screwing his step-sister right before blood hemorrhaged into his brain.

Ruth has a bizarre stream of lovers from Russian mafia florists to hairdressers to George (James Cromwell). She meets George when she cries into his chest for no apparent reason—none that I can remember anyway—and then the two fall in love. George is a little anal about a few things and he has quite a past. Ruth gets pushed into hysterics time and time again because she wants to know all of his secrets. Then one day, the writers decided that George should go crazy. That's right. Crazy. He loses his mind and builds a Y2K-like bomb shelter and stocks up on everything, haunted by the ghost of his mother who overdosed while holding his hand. Geez! Does anyone in this show not have an entirely screwed-up backstory? Anyway, George is treated with electro shock therapy and Ruth turns into an angry bitch while caring for him, eventually separating from him and turning into a mess upon the death of Nate.

She is often seen clutching her chest, sitting catatonically, or proclaiming that she wished she was dead. No actor she be put through what she was.

This isn't a show like "The Killing", which I greatly enjoyed, that revels in the depressive state of its characters. No, this show is cruel for 'life's sake' whatever that might be. It is so mean and so bitter, that the only reaction I feel appropriate is a sad shaking of the head.

The Sex/The Comedy

It might be a shocker to you, but "Six Feet Under" is supposed to be funny. Not ironically funny; but genuinely funny, like sit-com funny but without all the laugh tracks. It's not even comically (in the most traditional definition) funny—that is, ending with a wedding and for this we look at Brenda.

This character's arc goes as follows: she hooks up with Nate at an airport and then sticks around for emotional support, i.e. because she has a vagina. Nate uses Brenda like a refueling station for whenever he's feeling depleted and this isn't even the worst of it. As Brenda comes into her own as a character, the writers have her become a sex addict and she fools around and then disappears, showing up after the death of Lisa.

Once married to Nate, things go downhill fast because Nate isn't interested in her anymore and goes off with his step-sister. I'm not exactly sure what about this is funny or maybe it's just too hyperbolic...so that makes it funny. As stated before, these characters suffer such traumas time after time that I begin to wonder what was so funny about the show. I think that I only laughed twice through five seasons, this does not constitute as a comedy.

Yet the comedy is not alone in the "light-hearted" approach, because sex is treated with lack of care as well and here I have to re-title the series "Assholes Who Cheat". There is not one main character, besides Claire (who rarely has a committed relationship) that does not sleep with someone else. Brenda, Nate, Ruth, Nate again, Brenda again, Rico, Brenda's parents, Nate again, David, Keith, etc. Sex is so casual and the tropes of the show are so established that you can literally predict who is going to sleep with who. All it takes is a longer shot of a sexually viable character and voila three episodes later, they're making hanky panky. Not exactly subtle. This treatment of sex is so frustrating because it is so inconsistent. Half of the time it's uncaring—for example David telling Keith that a plumber blew him—and the other time it's exaggerated—Claire breaks up with Russell because he cheats on her and it sends her into a downward spiral. Sex is a normal part of life and maybe I'm naive but I don't think that cheating is, particularly if you've made it clear that that is not what you want from a relationship. "Six Feet Under" does not agree with me because everyone cheats.

The noises of sex are another problem...also I don't think Peter Krause has a good kissing face. Let me explain: we hear a lot of macking in the series, like a lot, wet, wet, wet kisses. It's not that I don't like a good peck once in a while, but I don't think I need a ratio for spit exchange. Whatever, that's just an artistic difference. Peter Krause's face is another issue. He always looks so awkward when he's kissing...oh well.

The Crying

Buckets! Literal buckets of tears in "Six Feet Under". So much crying that it doesn't even make sense anymore and the worst offended here is Ruth; but Claire (Lauren Ambrose) is a close-runner up only because she's the worst actress in the show. She can't make herself cry so she cringes a lot and turns red and thrashes around in "agony"...it's not convincing in the least. 

This just goes back to the thought of suffered trauma, because all the family has gotten screwed, ergo, they all must cry. And cry they do.

The Death/The Hallucinations

One of the motifs of "Six Feet Under" was the way it treated death with ghosts. Often times when David or Rico (Freddy Rodríguez) was working on a cadaver, the deceased would appear to them and talk to them, usually about some pithy truth of life; but that wasn't always the case. In the later episodes, the hallucinations began to encompass always darker things like Rico's stripper friend, Infinity, who he had an affair with. He sees her, as Jesus Christ, bleeding from her breast implants while his wife and this stripper start to undress him. That's a lovely scene right?

Death is just part of the territory. I mean, we're talking about a show about undertakers, it's bound to be a lot of death. The way that the idea of death is treated could have been great. In an early episode, Life and Death are personified for Nate and he sees them having sex. It's actually a wonderful scene about how the two are inseparable; but the show just left that behind and decided it would be best to torture these characters for another three and a half seasons.

The Final Season

Finally, this is where I've wanted to go. The last season is supposed to be the best, and it's far from it. The nuances of the fourth season implied that this might be the ending we all needed; but it wasn't...and shit got cray-cray again.

I think the best way to explain the melodrama is with the description of Nate's fortieth birthday party. It's a surprise party and he blurts out that Brenda is pregnant when he should have, even though she just had a miscarriage. Anyway, a bird flies into the house, a mysterious and beautiful blue bird. The guests stare at it perplexed and decide that it can find its own way out.

Then it gets real. Ruth starts screaming at Claire, Brenda and Nate have a spectacular fight. Claire and her boyfriend break up and the bird is still in the house. Everyone gets drunk, Claire sleeps with a forty year-old man and Nate goes crazy. He takes a broom and screams at everyone, telling his pregnant wife to "fuck off" and then attacks this bird, whatever symbolism it had, now destroyed.

Then the episode ends with him placing a garbage bag over the bird's corpse in the trash can looking straight into the camera and the viewer and saying smugly, "sorry".

That wasn't nearly enough of an apology.

The Rest...

The finale of the show is good, I can't deny that. It's quite an episode and very emotional. Is it as good as everyone says it is? Not nearly; but it is good. That doesn't make up for the injustices that the show committed.

If you liked "Six Feet Under"...I'm happy for you, because I feel like I just wasted years of my life to a show that was unequivocally cruel to all its characters and writing this blog post isn't nearly enough to save my sense of lost time.

Sorry to get existential on you...but, yeah, whatever.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

2015 Oscar Predictions

Unfortunately, I don't think that I'll be able to witness the glories of The Oscars this years. #bummer.
But that doesn't mean I can't participate in spirit...without (or with, whatever floats your boat) ado, here are my Oscar predictions with some needless opinions thrown in there for good measure.

Best Picture:
Prediction: "Boyhood"
Preference: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

There's nothing wrong with Linklater's "Boyhood", it's a fantastic movie and one that really hits you in all the right soft spots; but Wes Anderson's film is nothing if not flawless. The competition here will be from "Birdman" which looks highly likely to knock "Boyhood" from its awards throne; but I don't think that will happen.

Best Director:
Prediction: Richard Linklater
Preference: Wes Anderson

Anderson deserves this one not just for his body of work, but for a stellar job in directing. I think Iñárritu might win, since he just won the DGA but the whole "12 Years in the Making" thing I think will propel Linklater to a deserved gold.

Best Actor:
Prediction: Eddie Redmayne
Preference: Eddie Redmayne

Not to pull a total hipster move, but I liked this dude before the Academy. Redmayne's performance was the central part of "The Theory of Everything" and it will earn him his dues.

Best Actress:
Prediction: Julianne Moore
Preference: Rosamund Pike

I should clarify something here, I haven't seen "Still Alice" but I hear that Moore is tremendous in it, so I don't begrudge her the Oscar because she is a sensationally talented woman. Pike's performance was excellent so it's the only thing I could prefer, since it's the one I've seen.

Best Supporting Actor:
Prediction: J.K. Simmons
Preference: Mark Ruffalo

Again, I haven't seen "Whiplash" but Mark Ruffalo was the best part of "Foxcatcher"

Best Supporting Actress:
Prediction: Patricia Arquette
Preference: Patricia Arquette

This one is for sure. She is golden.

Best Original Screenplay:
Prediction: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Preference: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

This will be Anderson's first Oscar and totally needed. His screenplays are ridiculously wonderful and quirky.

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Prediction: "The Imitation Game"
Preference: ?

I'm not really invested in this. Some think that it will go to "Whiplash"; but I couldn't really say. The Academy loves the Weinstein Company and a gay rights movie mixed with wartime sentiments and period costumes and British actors...seems like a good bet.

Best Cinematography:
Prediction: Emmanuel Lubezki
Preference: Emmanuel Lubezki

I always like to include this one. Lubezski has been such a favorite of mine for his work with Malick and it's so good to see him finally getting rightfully honored. Back-to-back wins for "Gravity" and now "Birdman".

There you have it, I feel more confident than last year, particularly with the acting categories; but we'll see.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

2015 Oscar Snubs

Who knew that the year after "12 Years a Slave" won Best Picture would raise so many issues with racial diversity in Hollywood? Oh, that's right. It's Hollywood. Nevermind. Lol.

I'm just going to jump right in here and point out that this year more than the rest, there have been a load of mistakes and these are the most memorable mentions:

Best Picture:

With no apparent reason for why the Oscars have only eight nominated films this year, the biggest omission is Bennet Miller's "Foxcatcher" which garnered many other nominations, including Best Director...the two categories hardly ever deviating. "Pride" felt like it could have possibly snuck in there, but with no nominations whatsoever, this LGBT banner-flying British film is left out in the cold.

Best Actor:
Ralph Fiennes for "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
David Oyelowo for "Selma"
Jake Gyllenhaal for "Nightcrawler"
Timothy Spall for "Mr. Turner"

I think the most surprising is Oyelowo here because The Academy loves a good biopic and a good imitation and as Martin Luther King, Jr, Oyelowo is as close to perfect as you'll come. Spall won the Cannes Best Actor award and yet got forgotten completely. Fiennes was so much fun and Gyllenhaal's embodied performance seemed clear to garner nominations. I guess not. If it were up to me Steve Carell, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Bradley Cooper would be outta here.

Best Actress:
Charlotte Gainsbourg for "NYMPH( )MANIAC"
Scarlett Johansson for "Under the Skin"

I can't believe Scar-Jo isn't getting more love. "Under the Skin" was a perfect movie for her.

Best Director:
Ava DuVernay for "Selma"

Kick Miller out of there and bring Ava DuVernay in. It seemed like a no-brainer, given that she would have been the first black woman nominated for the category...I guess not.

Best Animated Feature:
"The Lego Movie"

One of the biggest disappointments was the lack of our favorite animated movie getting left out completely of this category. Only nominated for "Best Original Song". Boo!

Complete Shut-Outs:
"Under the Skin"
"A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night"
"The Babadook"

Alas, maybe next year we'll be better people.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Horror! The Horror!

At one point in my life, I thought that I hated horror movies, mainly because I don't like to get scared. Yet as I started looking back in the history of cinema, horror stands up better than most genres. I can't think of a single other sub-genre whose movies are so influential in pop cultures. There's the knife scene in "Psycho", the chest-burster in "Alien", the rotating head from "The Exorcist"...the list goes on and on. What makes these moments? It's because they're unique, identifiable, quotable, frightening, and new. With cheap sequel after cheap sequel hitting the theaters, it's a wonder that any horror movies managed to be exciting or frightening. Here, for your pleasure, I've compiled a list of the great horror movies as well as some notable exceptions with explanations for both. These are the musts, not just for horror, but for cinema.

Best Horror Movies (in no and yet some particular order):

Top Five:

The Blair Witch Project
This one tops my list as my favorite horror movie and yes, I already can hear the controversy. The film is poorly made; but that's its appeal. I think the distinguishing factor with "Blair Witch" is that the performances are so genuine that I understand why a generation was quasi-convinced that the film was real. It also was the first of its kind and a movie that proved that the unseen was far more scary than the visible.

The Exorcist
Perhaps the quintessential horror movie and certainly one of the most talked about of the decades after its release, "The Exorcist" is so much more than a jump-scare movie. It's a film about loss of belief, about doubt, about certainty, about sacrifice, about human demons, and about the devil himself, metaphorical and physical. Friedkin's movie is a symphony of terror and it plays out more like a ballet than an actual movie.

The daddy of monster-movies, this one reintroduced the genre to new viewers. Working from a Peter Benchley book Spielberg's trials with Bruce the mechanical shark are legendary and made the film even better. Never losing its human element (as if Spielberg ever could) this movie stands as the director's least sentimental and possibly his most iconic. Plus, we all have the music to remember.

This one holds a special place in my heart because I consider it to not only be a great horror movie, but one of the greatest movies ever made and Hitchcock's finest work. It's voyeuristic, it's twisted, it's sick, it's spooky, it features amazing performances, intrigue, guts, and the most infamous death scene in cinema history.

The Conjuring
Oh yes, how interesting to see this one here. "The Conjuring" was a blissful return to something operatically challenging and scary as hell. It's the kind of movie that gives you chills of fright and amazement. What "The Conjuring" did was create a renaissance in horror that finally strayed from gross-out horror movies and the prospects have looked up since then. I include it in the top five, because it's the best most recent horror movie out there.

Films No One Talks About:

Cat People
The slightly misogynistic film about Serbian women transforming into huge panthers and killing their sexual mates. Wow, no wonder people don't talk about it. The fact is that "Cat People" established some of the tropes that we see in modern horror movies. The unseen here is exemplified and it has a fitting and poetically disturbing ending. The souls of those evil are impossible to turn around.

Okay, this one has just slipped pop culture's mind. Talk to any enthusiast and this movie is sure to come up. The first interpretation of Bram Stoker's "Dracula" gives us a chilling and sometimes comically frightening vampire movie. It is a silent gem.

There is good reason that no one talks about this film, we'd all rather not have seen it. From the graphic nudity to the almost unbearable physical horror—being termed 'torture porn'—"Antichrist" is another film that only von Trier fans seem to adore. I must admit, it's ingenuitive and horribly terrifying. The most gasps will come from this movie.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Most of the truest horror gems that are undiscovered in modern day views are the oldies. "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" was far beyond its time, stretching ideas of perception and the horrible idea that sanity should be questioned. It's stylistically one of the most recognizable films and also one of the most jarring.

The Wicker Man
Ah yes, the original with, not the Nic Cage "bees" one. The original film is a gloriously creepy fest of paganism and rituals. It sacrifices a happy ending in turn for the "one last scare". Beautifully shot and curiously sexual, fascinating on its own level, it's a truly "one-man-versus-an-island" situation.

Funny Games
This one almost made it into my top five because it's so freakin' good. The movie relies on the tropes discovered in the genre and plays off of them like no movie ever would before or after. It makes "Scream" look like "Finding Nemo".


The Evil Dead
Sam Raimi's original is full of gross-out moments; and yet, it is so perfect. It's funny, it's manic, it's cliched, it has an infamous sex scene that involves a tree....there's a lot to love here. But what doesn't escape the movie is that it is also genuinely frightening and this is what lands it in the mentions here.

Yeah, this one belongs here too.

I'm a little split on this one because I didn't care for the movie that much; but boy, are you in for a surprise. "Audition" is one of the nastiest horror movies you can pick up.

Like the previous movie, "Oldboy" doesn't exactly belong here; but it is horrifying enough and gross enough to place itself on the list. We are talking about the original here, the squid-munching original.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Okay, horror at its most obvious. Horror that can just steal your breath away, a horry

If you ever thought that horror was just about ghosts and jump scares than David Cronenberg's "Videodrome" can teach you otherwise. It's a movie about transformation and some of the body horror and shock that Cronenberg is able to throw in there is enough to make anyone's skin crawl. Long live the new flesh!

The Fly
Another Cronenberg, another transformation. If you thought the process of turning from human into fly was fun, think again. We watch as Jeff Goldblum goes from suave and surprisingly muscular (considering he's a scientist) to a slimy and deteriorating mass of flesh.

Other Essentials:

Rosemary's Baby
Pregnancy seems like such an apt time for a horror movie to occur and Roman Polanski's movie is just about that. It's not terribly frightening and yet it belongs on every essential list of horror movies.

The original version of what American audiences would be introduced to as "The Ring", "Ringu" is beyond what any other film makers were creating at the time. It's terrifying and beautiful and complex.

Wait Until Dark
More thriller than actual horror, "Wait Until Dark" makes you think it's just going to be another cheesy Audrey Hepburn movie...but not so. Alan Arkin comes in as the bad guy and the torments start to begin as a blind girl is caged in her house.

"In space no one can hear you scream." If this was meant to be anything else than horror, they would have had a different tag-line. "Alien" also managed to solve the problem of the haunted house...you can't leave because there is nowhere to go.

The Haunting
Perhaps not as good as everyone seems to think, "The Haunting" can play out like a "bitches be crazy" movie; yet it can also be seen as a shift in the horror genre towards the modern day jump scare.

The Silence of the Lambs
More thriller like "Wait Until Dark", "The Silence of the Lambs" intimidated the Academy Awards and has been one of the most indisputable kings of horror ever since its release.

I've made no secret my distaste for Wes Craven but "Scream" is a movie that was so right for its time. It mocked the horror genre and also made us realize that these cliches could still be frightening. It's rare to find a film so self-aware of itself.

One of the first horror movies ever made, "Vampyr" can not be questioned as a beautiful work. It's terror is questionable; but the bizarre shots and wonderfully macabre themes make it unforgettable.

Let the Right One In
More vampires, more children, more surprisingly dull moments. "Let the Right One In" has no jump scare moments; but it does pull you into its world and it doesn't shy aware from violence and in the same breath it does not have to have graphic violence on screen. It's a very muted and curiously savage movie.

The Devil's Backbone
Guillermo del Toro's best movie and the most easily accessible horror movie. This is a great place to begin if you're working you way up to scarier movies.

What is most curious about "Changeling" is that it manages to make the inanimate scary. Wheelchairs and bouncy balls, yep, those are scary.

The Night of the Hunter
Love and hate...enough said.

Controversies of Note (movies I didn't like):

The Shining
If you talk to anyone about horror they will always pull Stanley Kubrick's movie out and wave it in front of you like you have to conquer it before you will be able to accurately define the horror genre. "The Shining" is a snooze-fest and it's never scary; but be prepared for people to cite its "atmospheric terror" as the reason it is successful. "The Shining" is a dull boy indeed.

I don't understand why people think this movie is frightening. It is uncomfortable, pervy, and it rips off "Psycho".

Should have been titled "bad guys who can't die standing at the end of hallways".

Nightmare on Elm Street
This movie can be original and Wes Craven tries his best; but the fact is that it's almost laughable at times. It says more that people know the movie because Johnny Depp is in it rather than why it is horror.

The Hills Have Eyes
Another Wes Craven, another ruined idea. "The Hills Have Eyes" is just plain goofy and it never feels real enough to be scary. Don't go "atmospheric" in defense, because no one's buying that.

Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night
Not to be confused with the original silent horror movie, this Werner Herzog remake is all about the humanity and the horror of being a vampire...and it's boring.

An American Werewolf in London
The transformation scene is best known...the fluffy dog biting cars at the end and the weird human/wolf love is forgotten.

Cabin in the Woods
I'm sorry. Whatever. Joss Whedon and horror shouldn't mix and while it tries to mock the horror genre it tries to hard to be original at the same time, making it fall flat on its face at times. It is good; but it could have been so much better.

Don't Look Now
For sure one of the biggest head-scratchers in horror, "Don't Look Now" is positively infuriating. I don't care how long it takes one person to deal with grief, the ending is so random. It's a critic's darling because it is Nicolas Roeg; but that doesn't make it even close to good.

Roman Polanski can make good horror, it's just not seen best here.

And there you have it. Entirely filled with my opinion.